Marc Leschelier’s work is truly a work in progress—or in construction to be precise. Trained as an architect, he has eventually found himself distancing from practicing architecture in the traditional sense, “because being an architect meant struggling between the desires of the client and the context.” The French artist and designer still commits to the material principals he learned at the architecture school, but the terms are entirely his, as well as the language.
“The idea is about being a practicing architect in a different context, as myself being the director of the work with an impulse to construct ideas and hopefully someone at a point says 'let’s exhibit this!’,” Leschelier says, and many institutions have. From Milan’s Salone del Mobile to Artishok Biennial in Tallinn, he has been constructing architectures that are inviting and provoking at once.
We spoke with Leschelier as he has recently joined SIZED’s collaboration with Concept for a series of drops, including his concrete textile sculpture, Cold Leatherette.
Could you talk about the performative aspect of construction: the gestures of piling, fixing, and stepping back on a continuous loop?
Performance is a very important part in my work which started from my interest in Viennese Actionists, which included a handful of artists engaging with performance with totally spontaneous random materials in the 1960s. They were mainly at the opposite of architecture, which is always planned and never spontaneous or chaotic, always drawn. I include the performative aspect, because I am interested in the making process, but also how to integrate spontaneity. I began trying to bring in design ideas that were the total opposite of architecture to actually create a certain anti-architecture. I tend to create a reunion of the opposites. The performative element also includes reducing architecture to simple gestures and to build until the exhaustion of the material.
How do you see architecture from a sculptural point of view? It’d be fair to say every building a sculpture.
Yes, there are different ways to read a building, and if you remove function, then everything becomes sculptural. That makes architecture interesting because it actually reopens it to fine arts. The problem, I think, in architecture is that we have reduced it too much to function. I’ve always been told a building without function doesn't make sense, so in my work, I try to disconnect function from architecture. I try to surround the viewer with elements that go against architecture; for example, often times there is not a roof, plumbing, or electricity.
Architecture seems to have two lives, one that we experience from the outside and the other once we penetrate a building. What do you think about this immersive aspect?
True—for example I always lay the blocks with their hollow sides visible to make inside visible. My walls are very porous and the structures are ubiquitous about having an interior. Or are they a continuation of the exterior? I love this ambiguity because architecture is very driven by a distinction between inside and outside and the threshold is really important. On the other hand, I wouldn't say that I simply want to blur the distinction between inside and outside—I always keep the properties of architecture and not fall into a purely sculptural aspect, because I think I have more to give on the architectural side.
The process of construction has an element of privacy—think of all the boarded up construction sites. It’s almost vulgar to expose the process until the building is up. You challenge that and bring construction to the forefront.
The private against the public is a very important challenge in my work, because the core of my ideas it to create a speaking architecture, a building that actually talks about its own condition. I'm French and decoration is very important in French culture—we hide the connection between the slab and the wall with cornices, for example. We as humans live in a total virtuality: think of me in this room, and I have no conscious of the weight and enormous stones that are above my head, which can kill me any moment. But I'm totally fine in a comfortable situation. Every detail is here to actually hide the raw reality of architecture from me. In my work, the idea is to underline a kinetic architecture, which actually can be more generous in the sense that it talks to the viewer and the viewer can grasp the weight of things, the connections, the plasticity of art.
How about its aesthetic—the oozing mortar between the bricks and metal rods sticking out?
This is about the symmetry, because when using a very chaotic language to balance it means I have to bring back symmetry. We can say there is a poetry as I use minimum elements to create actually a language. I reorganize the internal guts of architecture to make sense of it because they've always been hidden and reshaped. This has to be a structured balance between chaos. If I was to just a pile things, it would not be recognized as architecture—the language is in the symmetry and organization to maintain certain properties.
What are the strategic differences between exhibiting indoor and outside?
What I understand from feedback is that my work is much more understood outside, so I usually accept commissions that are outside. I’m also rooting my work in an architectural context, so if I bring a building indoor, it becomes a bit more unclear or difficult to understand. I try to focus more on the assemblage and the connection between the blocks to make something very appealing in an indoor space. In the end, the work is contextual, always regarding the surrounding space. My first rule is to never build scenes because I really want to build architecture; the second rule is to make a space that you can get inside of; and the third rule is to make things exclusively with construction materials that belong to architecture.
How about the soft and the hard. Cold Leatherette has many contrasts: textile but concrete; hard but folded; leather suggests warmth but it’s cold.
I discovered this material called concrete textile a while ago. They use it in the construction of highways to retain the rocks from falling on the road. The material fits with my approach because my idea is about spontaneity in architecture. I named the process direct construction to refer to construction without a plan. Concrete textile is perfect because you can shape this textile on site. I wet it and takes few hours until it gets strong and solid. For example, for a project in Salone del Mobile, I was able to sculpt on site and completely direct the whole thing at the scale of architecture by myself with the help of people and my arms. I am interested in the stiffening aspect just like cement in construction of a building. Also on the inside, there is a very leather-ish aspect—not warm, but cool because it is concrete. I had to suspend the material to get it wet on all sides with a hanger. Actually, you can see the marks of the hooks on the textile.
Tell us about your NFT work, Blocks of Blockchain, in the Venice Architecture Biennial last year and how has your relationship with the digital ream has evolved?
I have a friend who is an extremely good poker player and has won a lot of money playing poker online. Few years ago, he told me about NFTs when they had not boomed yet. He told me to sell work on the digital format. I was not really sure and had to understand the medium, especially as someone whose work has been always understood as a very physical matter. I actually wanted to change this aspect a bit in my work and show that it's not only about the material. The message is more about the process and how to actually build architecture in an extended field. The virtual space is a territory that I could connect to as a nonphysical material. I wanted to grasp it and understand its full potential, its program, and intelligence. The Venice Biennale project was actually was half done, because there is still so much that I want to achieve. The idea came from recycled fragments of my destroyed works. I had kept some of the fragments and 3D scanned them. Actually, I've done exactly the same as I am doing in the physical world—I've assembled fragments to build another vocabulary.
Finally, as a designer who works against the chronological aspect of architecture, where do you see the concept stage in your work?
Very primary ideas in my work are those I can consider as concepts. Those are the origins of my development. I would say this is first the idea of direct construction, which is the idea of being spontaneous in the construction process or being direct, to leave the construction not shaped or reshaped. This is the idea of also bringing some concepts that are totally opposites in the field of architecture, being spontaneous, and directing a construction.