Art

‘Les Mains sans Sommeil’: It’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it

by John L. Tran

Contributing Writer

The group exhibition “Les Mains Sans Sommeil” (“The Sleepless Hands”) at Maison Hermes is an ode to handiwork. Curator Gael Charbau, in an introductory video on the show, says that it sprang from the thought that “both artists and artisans have a point in common, which is that sometimes, the hand executes actions whereas the mind can do something else.”

The exhibits are the outcome of residencies at Hermes own workshops, and wrestle with beauty and desire in experimental ways that expensive knicks-knacks do not usually do.

Bianca Argimon’s triptych “West of Eden,” which features a colored drawing reminiscent of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” was created from a residency at Hermes’ textile workshops. Argimon portrays Adam and Eve engaged in different contemporary vices, such as urinating on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and abusing a whale. This design is recreated using four monochrome muslin layers of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, creating a blurred, ghostly version of the original image.

Io Burgard’s work “Que Vogue la Galere” (“Don’t worry if the boat rocks”) is a collection of unusual, abstract forms that can all be packed neatly into a floating capsule of leather and resin, which is also part of the display. There are drooping pink pouches, a sphincter in white leather, and metal bits and pieces inspired by the specialist tools at the Hermes Seloncourt workshops. The line by French poet Isidore Lucien Ducasse (1846 -70) often used as a summation of surrealism, “as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table,” is completely apt for Burgard’s work.

Plato’s concept of ideal “Forms” existing beyond tangible reality are challenged by artist Anastasia Douka, who asked “What is a shoe?” during her residency at the John Lobb shoe factory in the U.K. On seeing how many people it takes to actually make footwear, Douka opposes the idea of perfection with a consideration of collaboration and difference. The resulting work, “Le Collant — The Thing You Can’t Get Rid Of,” is an installation of colorful handmade shoes, individually designed for the different people working at the Lobb factory. Douka’s floppy, “imperfect'”objects question the fetishism of luxury commodities, but in a way that is respectful of the people that make them.

Lucie Picandet’s watercolors mix splotches of color and finely drawn lines, and from a distance seem decorative enough to be Hermes scarves. On closer inspection, though, there are shapes that resemble fallopian tubes, molds, onion roots or pubic hair. The French artist’s main piece “Qui Me Soit Chair” (“Who is Flesh to Me”) depicts a woman and a crocodile entwined in an unbroken circle, symbolic that leather is a skin that is given a “second life” as a design material. The bright luscious colors of the leather marquetry and the rhythm of the sinuous lines in this work have the joyful quality of a late Matisse.

“Pupa, Poubelles et les Betes” — a room of mirrors, mad dolls and misshapen soft toys from hell, by American artist Jennifer Vinegar Avery — turns textiles right up to 11. Avery’s installation mixes the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “a beautiful nightmare of my nana,” in a piece that has no time for boundaries.

“I’m really into garbage DIY witchcraft” Avery said, when asked her about her work. She also mentioned the symbolism of pins and needles in the story of Red Riding Hood, “The wolf asks her if she’s going to take the path of pins or needles. Pins means she’s going to be a good, straight-laced girl and needles (with the innuendo of threading the eye) means being a whore.”

“Les Mains sans Sommeil” at Ginza Maison Hermès Le Forum runs until Jan. 13; free admission. For more information, visit bit.ly/lesmainshermes.