ESACM students graduation show, October 2021
at Les Ateliers, Clermont-Ferrand (FR)
with Audrey Bapt, Alexandre Boiron, Vincent Caroff et Juliette Jaffeux, Hermine Chanselme, Charlotte Durand, Chloé Grard, Pauline Lespielle, Johanna Medyk, Margot Monier, Maëlys Plagnès, Capucine Portal, Ophélie Raffier, Gaël Salefranque, Nino Spanu, Florent Terzaghi.
Stephen King’s novella The Mist was published in the United States in 1980 and soon became a classic of horror and fantasy literature. It is set in the small community of Bridgton, in Maine, after a storm. The main character, David Drayton, is a painter at art studios for American movies. While the residents of Bridgton are busy clearing away the damage from the day before, a new blight – silent and barely visible – befalls them. The mist (as this is what this curse consists of) rolls surreptitiously in and does not at first seem to trigger any panic: it is, after all, a common meteorological phenomenon. However, its characteristics are troubling: it seems to shift according to its own whims and ignores the wind direction. It garbles radio broadcasts. By the time the residents start panicking about this strange mass that seems to want to engulf them, it’s too late: the mist has infiltrated everywhere, already surrounding them, and once inside it, its density is terrifying. It imposes its reality with the cruel relentlessness of natural phenomena.
The story then follows a group of people isolated inside the Bridgton supermarket, and keenly describes their shift from anxiety to fear, then from fear to terror, as the mist turns out to be populated by monsters. The isolation and separation from their loved ones gradually encroaches on the sanity of the protagonists. They nevertheless constantly try to organise themselves, with mixed results. While some establish a resistance to the creatures outside and the unknown threats that the mist has in store for them, others sink into noxious psychological and religious spirals that lead to their demise. In one-hundred and fifty pages, The Mist coolly examines a range of human responses to situations of crisis – courage, fear, despair, resilience, fanaticism, cooperation, or a gregarious spirit – and depicts this psychological panorama in detail, on a par with the upheavals that we have been collectively experiencing since spring 2020.
Like the residents of Bridgton, we face the unprecedented observation that everything that we hold certain can suddenly explode and reveal the fragility of daily life. Just like them, we have had to negotiate with the mist: advancing blindly while a silent threat attacks our sociability, our homes and workplaces, our very intimacy. And this negotiation has sometimes been undertaken to the detriment of our mental and physical health. Like many social bodies problematised by the pandemic, the student community has experienced the precariousness of a status that is usually the pinnacle of social life. As is often the case, the gaps in our systems of solidarity and redistribution have been filled by the collective mobilisation and activism of a few. As the mist lifts, it leaves behind countless challenges, ranging from the environmental crisis to struggles against the systemic violence for which our institutions are the theatres, and which could not have suffered from the time now lost.
For this 2021 ESCAM year-group, holding this exhibition is in itself an opportunity that didn’t seem straightforward just a few months ago. When I started my accompaniment of the students last January via unstable and depressing video conferences, the question was not, however, whether or not it would happen. It was posed more in these terms: how do we create when the world, and ourselves, are undergoing massive change? How do we take the legitimate and necessary time for such disorientation, loss of bearings, or even grief, while continuing to respond to the imperatives of productivity that are those of artists and authors? What is the degree of priority of the subjects that occupy us and to which we dedicate our energy and time, while daily life is a pathogenic rollercoaster? By taking the time required for them to weigh up the commitment of their practices, by separating what ought to be sustained from what was no longer important, these students refined – as we all did – the areas in which they were investing meaning. We are presenting their work at the Ateliers, emptied of its previous occupants, who had the generosity to offer us our chance to occupy this old shop, with its huge windows, in the industrial area of Brézet. Founded in 2012 by former students of the ESCAM, this place is an example of resources that launch art careers: pooling of spaces and means, support from regional bodies and local stakeholders, and finally, the need to spark new initiatives. Thanks to the Ateliers, we have designed an exhibition where everyone can show a plurality of works, and by the same token, the diversity of their practices. Since the coming years will most certainly be exciting and challenging, and because we are all, as cultural workers, a part of the artistic ecosystems that must do better in terms of the professional and economic guidance and recognition of young artists, let’s wish them patience and determination.
Our practices as artists and authors offer us the chance to constantly redefine their terms and contexts, diversifying and complexifying these. Qualities that prove again – as ever – that the wealth of artistic endeavour is that of engaging our emotions, perceptions, and concepts, so as to constantly weave together our experiences of the world and ourselves. I would like to express here to the artists of this exhibition just how privileged I feel to have learned to get to know them and their work better over the course of this year. I’d also like to thank them for being present, in their certainties but also their doubts, despite the mist.
photo credits: Philippe Eydieu
graphic design: Clémence Rivalier