French-born, Delhi and Marseille-based, artist Julien Segard has been hard at work for more than a year creating pieces for his solo show at Experimenter Gallery Ballygunge Place. The exhibition, titled A Second Coming, is a haunting look at how nature and architecture co-exist in urban spaces in India.
In the arresting ‘Najafgarh’ he creates a dystopia composed of discarded materials he found on the streets of Delhi. In another room wires, pipes and tubes hang suspended in air. His detailed portraits of abandoned chairs draw the imagination to occupants who once used it. In this way, he pieces together a dark and abstract portrait of the city that makes us linger on aspects of it we’ve rarely given a second thought to.
Art Fervour recently sat down with Julien for a chat. Among other things, he shared why moved to India, his unique practice of creating art from trash and what home means to him.
What made you want to be an artist?
It’s the only thing that made sense to me when thinking about what to do with my life. I am not scared to be judged when putting my work out there. My parents encouraged me to pursue my dreams. Personality wise, I’m quite unsuited to doing anything else. I was very shy and quiet as a kid and, to a large extent, still am. I spent a lot of time looking at things, daydreaming and being interested in inconspicuous details around me. I’ve felt a distance between myself and the world ever since I can remember. I’ve been an outsider looking in and it felt natural to record that way of seeing through art.
I loved drawing as a kid. It was a wonderful way to translate on paper the inchoate things in my head which language couldn’t grasp at. I was a Lego devotee. Constantly creating and re-creating the city landscape through Lego blocks fascinated me. I suppose I do that now in a way with my art. I explore the city, question its structures and recast them through my drawings and installations.
Why are you drawn to salvaging trash in your art?
It’s a practice I began in my student days when money was tight and reusing old materials was cheaper than buying new ones. But I’ve stuck with it because it resonates with me more than conceptualising and creating new works from scratch. I find it more rewarding to extract objects which already exist in the world and find stories around it. The reclaimed material is the starting point around which I base my art. A waste material comes with its own set of questions. Who discarded it, who valued it, what was its life like when it was in use, what will become of it now? There’s beauty in resurrecting it. I like how something which was once trashed can be given a second life and another meaning through art.
When you’re walking around the city looking for materials to salvage, do you have a particular kind of object in mind or is it about whatever catches your fancy at the moment?
It depends. Right now, for example, I’m making some sculptures with old tubes. So obviously I’ll be more attracted by items which will complement them. Otherwise, I don’t go looking for specific objects as such, but there are certain things I instinctively feel an affinity towards. Other times it’s completely random. Sometimes it’s not about the thing itself but the place it comes from. If it’s a neighbourhood, street corner or building I’m drawn to then I’ll memorialise it by consecrating an article from there.
Is that the process that guides your creativity – you set out on a walk around the city and try to find pieces to work with, or is there more to it?
It’s not always so systematic. I could be out shopping for groceries or picking up takeaway when I spy something appealing on the street. Sometimes it’s more planned. I start following the gutter knowing that it will lead me to something I’ll want to use.
You were born and raised in France. Why did you move to India?
At the time it was not a clear-cut decision. I came here to be with the girl I was seeing at the time. But then I stayed on even when the relationship was over. India was intriguing to me because here I was constantly wrestling with the unknown. I found myself teeming with inspiration to create. My life here was so different from that in France that the freedom of it exhilarated me. The cost of living helps too.
In the early days I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be here for. So, I always carried a sketch book with me and was constantly drawing and cataloging everything, trying to make the most of my time of being here. It’s a habit that I’ve retained and one that’s made me a better artist.
Now that you divide your time between an isolated cottage in rural France and the chaotic and bustling city of Delhi, where is home for you?
Home, I’ve come to discover, is a feeling more than a place. Many years ago, while in France, I was working on a project which required me to visit at night an area under a bridge. This area was frequently used as shelter by homeless persons and drug addicts. The first night I was terrified at, what I perceived to be, the menacing atmosphere of the place. But as I went there night after night and spent time with the people there, my fears abated. Soon I developed a camaraderie with those folks and hanging out there came naturally to me.
Home is any place we get used to, anywhere we develop connections and friendships. I instantly feel at home even at the most unfamiliar of places the moment I whip out my sketchbook and start drawing what’s in front of me.
Tell us about your solo exhibition The Second Coming?
I’ve spent more than a year working on The Second Coming. I started with some drawings and sketches. But then it expanded because of the space as well. It’s a big gallery with different rooms. I was curious about was how I was going to answer to this space.
The pieces came together in an organic way. The chairs that feature heavily in the show are like portraits of the people in public places from the mega-cities of India. These discarded chairs lying outside were being pulled up and fixed by individuals. Amidst the pollution, traffic and crowds these people were rescuing trashed chairs and fixing them before sitting on them out on the pavements. How the people were fixing the original designs and making it their own was pure creativity in motion.
How do you see your art and your life evolving in the near future?
I am moving to Goa soon. I’ve been in Delhi for the past 9 years and now am excited for the next chapter. But I’ve no idea what it looks like.
All images courtesy of Experimenter Gallery, Kolkata.