Émeric Chantier's plant-based sculptures are awe-inducing creations that defy age-old conventions of both nature and sculpture itself. Manipulating organic matter to mirror the human form draws from ancient bonsai art and contemporary sculptural techniques and philosophy. It also makes a profound statement about the temporal nature of his work and the lives they represent.
Using techniques commonly found in world-building activities, like set-building, fantasy gaming and model worlds, Chantier constructs his figures from a base before adding to it the organic and natural elements that differentiate his style from other contemporary figurative sculptors.
Their ethereal and otherworldly appearance comes from the cracks below the mossy coating that reveal earth and dirt, like they've come to life from the ground, a mythical creature that belongs in a fairytale, whose twiggy hair is deep-set into the body of something far older and far more significant than us. Chantier's figures are folkloric beings, whose stories are there for us to conjure ourselves as we form composite tales built from fragmented memories of childhood stories.
Although Chantier has been working with this sculptural form for many years, the zeitgeist at the moment for ecological thought adds a particular resonance to his pieces and inserts them into a conversation that goes beyond art and into the realm philosophy and how nature and art are able to co-exist and how one can amplify the cause of the other.
The French artist acknowledges, and even reinforces this element of his work, but is wary to do so in a moralistic manner, focussing instead on creating a dialogue between the man-made and the natural world, bridging the gap between the two. Speaking of his work, Chantier said:
"On the one hand, my work is linked to the nature and the relationship that man can have with the latter, a confrontation with our origins, an ecological awareness of the preciousness of our "mother nature" source of all life, a subject that Is important to me and should, in my view, be part of a collective consciousness."
It's essentially a case of putting your money where your mouth is and being the change you want to see. Showing nature reconstituted in this artistic manner automatically inserts its properties and associations into conversation. It's about awareness, more than activism, for the French artist who, alongside the fantastical elements of his pieces, emphasises the need for meticulousness of execution so as to most successfully immerse his audience in the works, transporting them into a new space.
By focussing on the human form - whether that be a skull, entire body or just anatomical parts - is to make a deep connection between all that is living. It reminds us that the two aren't separate at all. Utilising dried vegetation and foliage enables Chantier to develop another idea - that nature reclaims and everything ends up back in the earth. The cycle of life.
A poignant treatment of mortality, reminiscent of a particular scene in the astonishing and thought-provoking film Annihilation, exists in the works. It's as if these bodies were frozen in time with organic matter - as it does in man-made sculptures - eventually growing over and becoming alive all over again.
In this sense, the man-made (sculpture), the human and the natural world are all interconnected entities, separate in make-up and appearance, but all as capable as the other to fill a space in our lives where we contemplate the importance of self, of respect and value for living things. For Chantier, that's in creating works of art with the bottom line being dialogue. It's an open conversation that needs participants - if the world is to begin to heal the damage from industrialising factors. It's a dialogue that wants to hear your voice - his work is a question for us all to answer. It's an organic call-to-arms that gently persuades all who gaze upon it.
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