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"Exploration is about more than finding the exotic": Raphael Giannésini, curator

"Exploration is about more than finding the exotic": Raphael Giannésini, curator
‘Seaway’ by Joris Henne & Natasha Lacroix, on display at Explorers in Paris

Explorers in London, which runs from June 25th-30th, 2016, is the second installment in this exhibition series, which launched in Paris in May. Curator Raphael Giannésini, drawing upon his past curatorial experiences in London and Paris at the Palais de Toyko, gathered eight French artists for the Paris exhibition. Giannésini is adding works by six, UK-based artists for the second leg of the exhibit's journey in London. The perspective of Explorers will expand through the addition of these British artists, as well as through the series of talks, workshops and readings that will take place throughout the duration of this show. The aim of this installation of Explorers is to facilitate and develop discourse and exchanges between French and British artists.



Paradise, Blue Curry, billboard poster, for the Jamaica Biennial 2014.



B.E. What was your inspiration for Explorers?


R.G. I can't exactly say when the trigger for the project happened. It was basically just one year ago, a friend that's in the exhibition, an artist, said, "What are you doing now? What kind of project are you working on?" and I thought maybe I should start working on something collective, not only for myself, but for the people around me. So I thought it's funny because I'm already working on a theme that a lot of artists do as well, which is the exploration of the way we question surrounding space, like the known in relation to the unknown, which is a question very related to the process of creation itself, but exploration involves a movement, a physical movement.


I was very intrigued by new talent and the way we can explore, the way we can appropriate things at a distance. In terms of creation, there are always these two sides: there is the window, the imaginary—walking at home, walking through a mental space—and there is the physical, the external movement towards something. There is always those two sides fighting each other: should I go? Should I stay? For me, this window is now the computer and that is an interesting thing to question, the computer as the window, in terms of the classical way, as the window to the world. That was my theme: how do absence and presence get together? How do the distance and the here connect, as well? What kinds of contradictions do these create in our minds, in our habits, in our relationships to the known and unknown? But then I thought, maybe there is not only this one process. Even if you look on the internet, everything is a representation of the classical exploration. The language itself mimics and plays with the idea of exploring and the first act of exploration. So that is the first process and maybe the second is a lot of artists playing around with this idea but with different ways, different techniques, different materials. So I thought, let's get together a community of artists, and I started looking at my close friends and then at artists whose work I knew to start creating a community of artists.


For me, that project was very meaningful in terms of I was French and leaving to live in London, so I had to build a bridge between these two cities. When I came back to Paris, I saw that the French crowd, the French emerging crowd, is very good, but it needs to be more open to the world, needs to be more tied to the surrounding scene. I thought I should create a project to support French emerging artists in a different city, so I started doing Explorers. That's the focus, but if I come back to going where I've been—that's the window.



B.E. You cite Xavier de Maistre's ‘A Journey Around My Room’ as an influence on Explorers. Could you speak to its impact on the show? 


R.G. My father bought me a book four years ago that was ‘A Journey Around My Room’. That book is a powerful book in the sense that it highlights the power of the writing, the power of the artist and the possible acts of metamorphose or creation. Everything can be twisted with an artist, and our perception of the known and unknown can be twisted.


In Xavier de Maistre's book, he starts describing every little thing as something extraordinary that's become important and deserves attention. It's become some kind of exotic landscape, a new continent just opened with the way Xavier de Maistre plays with this domestic environment and the way he can change it. That was very important to me to know that exploration is about more than finding the exotic. It is about—remember when I told you about the relationship between the here and the there? It is more about how can we put ‘there’ in relation to ‘here’ and how can we reverse it and focus on here. I think the most important place is here, because it is the place where stories are told. This is the place where the exploration actually exists.


I was very interested, because when I used to travel, every time I would travel, I felt more familiar to distant places. It really feels as though everything has become uniform, even though that's not absolutely true, but there is a lack of a clear distinction between the here and there. It feels like when you see something, or experience something, it is more that you are recognising stuff. Images are so potent. You always see the representation first—that ruins the surprise. It makes you feel like you are traveling to connect a picture to a physical site, and you're always connecting those two things together. There is not exactly any genuine experience now; everything has been mapped out, everything has been planned for you. 



Selected works by Joris Henne & Natasha Lacroix, Explorers in Paris, 2016.



B.E. Your digital resource project Giannésini Travel Agency, which utilises video or screen recordings installed in sculptural objects, also strives to challenge ideas of exploration and travel in contemporary society. How have these projects informed one another?


R.G. The Giannésini Travel Agency basically was a fake travel agency. The idea was traveling through representation, so getting this idea of making people believe they are in some exotic place and creating this disconnection between the place you inhabit and the place you want to go—disconnection that's created by the internet, the window. It feels like you are here but you are not really here. There is a void between those two places. I think that's something obviously connected to Explorers, but I mean, when I did this Travel Agency, I liked the idea of creating an 'x', something that is bigger than just one person, something that you can imagine there are ten-thousand people behind it. Explorers is just a concept, but behind Explorers, there are a lot of people working on that project, including my colleague Julia Klante.  



B.E. Could you tell me a bit about how your work as a curator impacts your work as a mixed-media artist, and vice versa?


R.G. They are pretty much different. I have been working for a long time, and I don't really like to do my work by myself—it should be collective. When you are an artist, you are responsible for yourself. When you are a curator, you are responsible for others, so you can't have a selfish vision and you have to be very open-minded and let other people's opinions get into the game.


If you're too closed-minded, there is nothing happening. You should definitely have a vision, but you should let this vision grow through the opinions of people. Sometimes you project your opinions onto artists, but you have to discover exactly what the artists want to tell. You let go of your first impression, and then you start discussing with them what is the best way to execute what they want. And so, in that sense, as I said, the processes are pretty different.


There is absolutely a creative part in the curating, but it is confronted all the time with the logistics and the organisation. That makes the creative and the logistics fighting all the time, but they have to be connected. If you want to do something good, both have to work together. When you're a curator, you are definitely, as well, in the middle of everything—you're in contact with artists, you're in contact with galleries, with buyers, with brand merchandising and sponsorship. You're in contact with everyone, so you always have to figure those in, which is sometimes hard for an artist, because adaptation is not exactly the first priority.



B.E. What was the reception of Explorers in its first chapter in Paris?


R.G. I think it was very nice. A lot of people came, but that doesn't really say anything about the show. But a lot of people came, I think because the artists we are working with are between twenty-seven and thirty-five years old, pretty much emerging artists.


Also, we were in the Suzanne Tarasiève Galerie, which is a very famous gallery, and [Suzanne] has an amazing space. That was a good ground to play with and we tried to make a domestic environment. The gallery wasn't a gallery; it was a sort of loft, so it had two spaces. You have one space where is the central gallery, and the second space where she lives. That second space is sometimes where she's doing a project like this, so that was very important to me to play into this idea of the domestic setting—to put all the pieces of an artist integrated into the galleries or into the loft. That makes you feel like they overlap and what's the relationship between here and there. You know, how can we tell the story? How can we reinvent the way we document exploration? That was something interesting for me.


I think that for a collective exhibition, it's great, because there were something like ten different artists, and therefore ten different perspectives on the exhibition. It felt like an easygoing environment, something you can interpret and appropriate as you want to. There was not much scenography, no maps, nothing that is like an exhibition setting, so we tried to make the pieces speak for themselves and speak with their environment.



Explorers featured artist Sarah Fortais at her performance piece at Slade School of Fine Art, 2016.



B.E. How do you foresee the exhibition changing with the move to London and addition of six new artists?


R.G. In a project like this, I think you always have to renew the focus of the exhibition. I think it's very important that people go to the second one and it's expanded perspective on the exhibition that's going to create new links and topics of discussion.


I wouldn't do the same show in London--I didn't see the point in that. I though it would be interesting to bring some pieces from Paris to London, but at the same time, to do that in a new setting, with new pieces that can give us a second opinion of the first pieces we saw in Paris. This idea of seeing the same art in a different context, that gives the piece a second life, or a third life. That's the challenge of the second exhibition: creating something new, even with a piece you already saw, that would be new to your eyes in this environment. For example, even artists that have been exhibited in Paris are showing different pieces, and that is for them, as well, a possible point of evolution.


It's important to us that we tried to create narrative there, which can be the exhibition as a medium, as a story, but also that we integrate the narratives of artists and the ways they develop their works. This project having different chapters brings that element to the project.



B.E. What do you hope visitors gain from Explorers?


R.G. Oh, that's a good question. I hope they would be challenged. I hope they would be surprised, and I hope it would change perspectives on the known, local and global. How do we represent? How do we explain our surrounding space, as well as the global space? For me, it's very important to put the idea of art as more than narcissistic narratives--it can represent bigger ideas and perspectives on society.


The artist as an explorer--I expect that an artist is bringing me somewhere else with their work, is bringing me to a place I don't know with elements that I cannot master. That's what I expect from this show--that it brings people to a place they don't know, and if it's not exotic, that it allows them to rediscover a place they thought that they knew, which can be even more surprising than any place that is 10,000 kilometers away.



Explorers: In the pursuit of The Terra Cognita, June 25-30, 2016.



B.E. Are you working on anything else at the moment? What's potentially next for you?


R.G. For myself, I think it's important to create and to focus, but at the same time, it's very important to keep this idea that you can always collaborate. This project has emphasised that there is always something or someone around you who can influence or help you. The world is full of element that you can bring into your work. At first, I think I was too focused on my artistic practice as a solo process, but I think it's very important to open that up to collaboration. I want to keep doing curation, but I want to focus on my practice a little bit.


As for Explorers, I hope we could expand the show into different cities, as well as in a different manner. I think this project has a lot of different perspectives and potential, and I hope that we could explore fully the potential of this project. And I'm not working by myself, because I'm working with Julia Klante—I couldn't have done Explorers without her.



Explorers will be on display in the Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street E2 7DP London.


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