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Apollinaria Broche’s Imaginary Friends
Acne Studios AW2021-22
When the Franco-Russian artist Apollinaria Broche first met with Acne Studios to discuss a creative project for their AW 2021-22 collection with founder Jonny Johansson, their artistic interests instantly aligned. Eventuating as ceramic sculptures and jewellery, Broche’s creations complemented a collection that brought together a combination of soothing colours and comforting textures knitted into oversized duvet coats and Swedish country-side linens, inspired by a fantasy of prairie-dwelling nomads living in a dreamscape.
The marriage of oversized shapes and cushioned surfaces spoke to the times, and made the outcome a believable fashion proposition beyond the Swedish house’s digital fashion show captured by the director Casper Sejersen. Flower patches on quilted trench coats and the general sense of youthful mayhem were paired with intricate knitwear as models clasped the artist’s animal ceramics like minaudières, whilst miniature versions appeared attached to chokers or earrings. Fresh out of Les Beaux-Arts de Paris, the sculptor grew up in Moscow’s underground art world before making her way to the French capital.
Broche gave this interview from her workshops in Moscow, in a brief pause from working on her latest exhibition showing at Triumph gallery in central Moscow. “My mother is an artist and she introduced my French father to this whole underground art and music scene in the 1980s,” she recalls. At the time, underground music culture was populated by soviet rock bands such as Kino, headed by Viktor Tsoi, a group originally named Garin and the Hyperboloids after Tolstoi’s novel The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin, a scene both her parents quickly embraced. It was a decade filled with historical changes, starting with the grandiose Olympic Games and ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and political restrictions meant that much of the art and music scene remained behind closed doors. In turn, when Broche started making art, she believed in breaking away from traditional methods of creation. Initially she primarily worked with film photography before experimenting with sculpture and installations. Having studied cinematography and theatre studies, Broche then went onto the Beaux-Arts, manifesting a new creative freedom after having been previously trained in still life work and learning to reproduce the incredible albeit classical workings of Rembrandt. “Russian art schools are still very classical and produce masters of contemporary art rather than conceptual art,” she explained, “It’s very ‘welcome to the USSR’!”.
Creating ‘wearable art’ wasn’t an initial starting point for Broche — instead, she wanted to play against objects and their resistance. “Since ceramics are fragile, I liked the relationship between the fragility of ceramics when confronted with our hands as they are so easily breakable”. They can be broken, repaired and imperfectly beautiful in their final outcome, like the lifetime of an old chipped porcelain tea-pot so regularly pieced together and held onto for generations to come. In fact, she said, “emotions have a similar archetype when trauma leaves cracks and the archaeology of our memories is something we can finally talk about”. For a previous exhibition, Apollinaria had recorded her friends and family members and played their voices into a hanging vintage telephone placed at a height that made it impossible to hang up. “The question I had asked was ‘what is the first memory of childhood that we could all remember’ and they all spoke of a memory that transformed into a dream’”. For her latest exhibition in Moscow, she decided to create something that brought together installation, sculpture, mosaic glasswork and sound. With restrictions less stringent in Russia than in other parts of Europe, she has also started working with an 18th-century glass and crystal factory producing glass-blown mosaics, as well as preparing new exhibitions for Island Gallery in Brussels and Moscow’s Museum of Modern Art both opening next month.
When Johansson first contacted Broche, the artist just so happened to be visiting nomads in the tundra-like landscapes of northern Russia. “Artist collaborations can at times be radically different to their work, yet here it was a perfect link. The dreamscape and freedom of pastel colours and flower prints really piqued my interest”. And freedom she had, experimenting with creating her own hues from scratch. “I wanted to develop a way of enamelling because I like to create the enamel myself which creates the basis for the shine,” she added. Only once she had achieved her desired enamel effect did she add the pigment to create specific colours: in this case, creamy pastel blues, pinks and yellows. “I really wanted to use metallic tones which comes through and develops underneath the pigmented colours creating that old rusting effect,” Broche explained. Like a scientist mixing chemicals, she spent weeks testing colours to achieve the dripping sheen that travelled across her animals, learning the unpredictable ways of the medium when colours appear much paler when initially poured onto moulds.
Inspired by the porcelain figurines of the 1920s and 30s (often residing behind glass commodes), Broche’s pieces read like treasured heirlooms that could shatter into a million pieces against the slightest commotion of an unsteady child. “I wanted to create Bambi-like creatures living between zoomorphic and anthropomorphic emotions,” their wide eyes each conveying a separate emotion, like imaginary friends protecting their youth through all their endeavours. “Our emotions constantly change so these animals almost reflect our own totem whilst having this incredibly delicate and breakable reality”. One rabbit-like figure seems grumpy, marked by lightly tilted eyebrows. Others are dreamy and curious whilst some more melancholic almost perfectly depicting Snow White’s seven dwarfs.
As well as the animal figurines, elements of her creations were also translated through detailed ceramic chain straps on collapsible suede bags or miniature animals on wrap-around heel straps and accessories, as if underneath it all Johansson wanted to emerge from isolation wrapped up and comforted, never forgetting to bring along his most treasured friends large and small. To wit, Broche’s miniature renderings required an entirely different process when reproduced at such a small scale, as the team at Acne Studios scanned the larger volumes and then 3D printed smaller moulds to produce them in smaller, lightweight iterations. “When I tried to make them smaller whilst retaining the initial shape, the detail seemed to get lost so the digital renderings allowed us to downsize them without losing any details”. In sharp contrast, Broche is also working on a meter-high rendering of her animals for the Acne Studios head office at Floragatan 13. Her giant sculptures will soon sit amongst the many artist projects housed inside the historical Czech Republic embassy transformed as the house HQ and documented by Philippe Chancel inside Floragatan 13 Curated By Acne Studios (2020).
Words by Alexandra Castle
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