In 2017, sculptor Simon Feydieu and painter Frédéric Houvert founded ZZ STUDIO, a nonprofit art space located in the outskirts of Lyon, France, far enough from the city center and art scene to not count on many visitors. Nevertheless, or for this very reason, they are organizing almost one show per month focusing on the potential of sharing skills with other artists and distributing exhibition views on social media. Being not supported by any big institution or the state often means being broke and being forced to move to remote areas of a city but, as Feydieu states, it can also mean being independent, working independently, and having a lot of fun.
ZZ STUDIO is part of the larger project called LaMezz (ZZ is simply extracted from the longer name), a nonprofit organization that currently includes 17 people: Three artists, two graphic designers, one sculptor/character designer, one set designer, one ceramicist, one carpenter, two furniture designers, one fablab manager, one milliner, one lighting designer, one architect, and one glass wall maker. We all agree that 17 is the ideal number even if there are many internships all year long. We collectively pay the rent, share the facility management, repairs, administration, etc. The way we manage things is really DIY. The fact that each of us is an expert in his/her field and can provide different skills and complementary professions is crucial and affects the way we choose our new residents when we are in need of a replacement.
Last year, Frederic and I, both permanent residents at LaMezz, had the opportunity to periodically occupy the entrance (ca. 60 square meters: one exhibition room and one bar/reception) of the in total 500 square meter building of LaMezz: ZZ STUDIO was born.
I’ve known Frederic for almost seven years now. We met at an opening in an artist-run space in the city center when he settled down in Lyon after spending four years in Corea. He is a painter and was actively looking for a studio at this time; that’s how he became one of the first residents of the brand new LaMezz project, which opened in 2011. Four years ago, I was expecting a child, so I stopped doing one residency after the other and started looking for a permanent studio. This decision also transformed my practice. Doing ephemeral site-specific installations before, I started to produce bas-reliefs, like a material library of my previous works.
»The shows at ZZ STUDIO are always collective. Even the name includes plurality.«
Fred was very helpful and managed to get me into the LaMezz team. Once I felt at ease with my coworkers, I started to improve the entrance a bit, reorganizing it and building new partitions in order to experiment with installations and to shoot proper pictures of my artworks. After discussing the difficulty to get people to visit us in the suburb, we considered opening a project space. We also wanted to make as many people as possible discover our workshops. On the other hand, we wanted to provide our coworkers with the chance to get to know the diverse ways of working of the contemporary artists we knew.
Besides ZZ STUDIO, I am also, almost on my own, in charge of Bikini (Fred gives me a hand for a while now), another artist-run space in a bobo (bourgeois bohemian)-district of Lyon, which was much more popular, dirtier, and cheaper when Bikini started in 2011. Bikini’s concept is to exhibit a single artwork in a large showcase, and to invite a writer (poet, art critic, philosopher) to create an unpublished text, legible on the window display. Even if I had other previous opportunities to curate collective shows, I wanted ZZ STUDIO to be a new challenge and a complementary format to Bikini. That’s one of the reasons the shows at ZZ STUDIO are always collective. Even the name includes plurality. There is no text edited for the show, little information available, no website, only Instagram: it may sound a bit superficial, but my work for Bikini includes working with graphic designers, translators, photographers, transporters, to update the website, to deal with hacking and fees, and so on. I just wanted to work with an easy-to-use contemporary tool, with no budget and as few colleagues as possible. Bikini is supported by the French Ministry of Culture and the region Auvergne-Rhône Alpes and it requires a lot of time and administrative tasks. ZZ STUDIO is purely DIY, fun, generous, and broke.
We consider ZZ STUDIO as the entrance of LaMezz, but more poetically as an airlock between the outside and our own private space as artists. It is the place Fred and I are on a common ground to share our taste, help each other for everyday artist stuff, like preparing canvas, wrapping, shooting, hanging. We do not consider ZZ STUDIO as exclusively dedicated to curating: sometimes we show a piece of work by ourselves among the works of invited guest – like a jam session. Taking part is a way to share and to learn and ZZ stays an extension of our studio. I know too well how curating shows as an artist can harm the artist’s practice and stifle an artist studio. We also pay attention not to be in a place of outrageous self-promotion, that’s really not the point. We like this gray area and refuse to specify which of us invites guests for a specific show. Curating sounds like a four-letter word in PB City! It is very hard to keep things informal: directing is not necessarily a curator’s thing.
Our communication on Instagram gets to the line of old documentary problematics such as »is documentation a pure construction?,« »how is it possible to take a good picture of a painting?« or »how can a single picture of a sculpture be relevant?« or »do you prefer to have someone posing as a visitor on the exhibition image to give an idea of the scale?«
»I just wanted to work with an easy-to-use contemporary tool, with no budget and as few colleagues as possible – ZZ STUDIO is purely DIY, fun, generous, and broke.«
Humor is an important part of our work as it is a way to say or do interesting things without in the first place having to deal with serious matters first as »press release«, »money-making,« »looking professional,« »being taken seriously,« »being considered as a part of the local art scene,« »having crowded openings,« »having plenty of followers.« But humor is also peculiar to everyone, that’s why we discuss, during our lunch ritual with the guest artists and our coworkers, the kind of fictional characters or animations we select and paste on the exhibition views. It is supposed to fit the pop-cultural approach of the guests or reveal the mood we were in.
When you look at our Instagram thread, the shows (except for the fictional characters) look really similar to those of a conventional art-space. However, the operation is really swift; the guest artists arrive on Saturday morning. We put on the show together, tidy up a bit, cook comfort food. There are usually around ten people for lunch and the visitors arrive in the afternoon. We take the shots and select the animations or filters on Instagram. In the evening, we pack up so our coworkers can use the entrance on Monday morning if they like. Nice and easy. It looks almost like a pirate or ghost project, sneaking in and leaving no trace but on a social network. The few residents at LaMezz who don’t show up on weekends have never seen a ZZ exhibition, for instance. How real can something you did not experience be?
»Welcome to the desert of the real« is a famous quote for two reasons. First it is extracted from the cult sci-fi movie Matrix I watched plenty of times and secondly it is the title of trendy philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s book, which I studied in art school (but have never read entirely). This mix of the pop and high culture is the path we choose in order to imitate the atmosphere of suburb we work in: currently a no-go zone for the contemporary art scene, a fake place-to-be area we started calling PB City (the actual name of the town is Pierre Bénite which sounds old-school-Catholic-poor-industrial-shitty-end-of-the-line town right now). The fact that our studio is located in PB City is of course for economic reasons. We needed space for a non-benefit activity but it is also symptomatic: we know perfectly well PB city is going to get more and more attractive. A new subway station is on the way, for instance. I think the artist is not a naïve and passive witness of gentrification anymore but one of its self-aware factors today.
»A mix of pop and high culture is the path we choose in order to imitate the atmosphere of suburb we work in: currently a no-go zone for the contemporary art scene, a fake place-to-be area we started calling PB City (the actual name of the town is Pierre Bénite which sounds old-school-Catholic-poor-industrial-shitty-end-of-the-line town right now).«
If Pierre Bénite sucks right now, PB City is an ongoing trendy virtual suburb. We try to stay away from the clumsy desire of local politicians to get in touch with us, but we know they are very fond of the activity, the attraction, and curiosity we gave rise to at LaMezz Workshop. They already offered us to do the program for the exhibition space of the local cultural center, like a gift but without any funding or staff! Volunteering with passion is a force but gives no extra life yet. ;)
The Project »Sharing Skills«
As the idea of sharing is deeply rooted in our working philosophy, for Soft Power Palace we demonstrate two different processes of sharing skills and means of contemporary creation. The projects realized by me and Fred are deeply inspired by the sharing structure we practice at LaMezz and a homage to the other artists and residents we’ve learned our skills from.
I will copy-share my works, sharing skills, techniques and concerns related to topics like electrosensitivity, hyperconnectivity, social networks, branding, and so on. The project has a background in the history of Lyon’s textile industry. Lyon got rich and famous in the sixteenth century thanks to the market for silk, and still celebrates its patrimony through its silk factory (»Les canuts,« turned into charming and typical apartments), a dedicated museum, and the prosperity of bourgeois families. A department of textile design also opened a decade ago at the Ecole des Beaux Arts de Lyon. My project is inspired by the works of the German artist Anni Albers, who studied tapestry at the Bauhaus in the 1930s. Albers is well-known for introducing plastic and other contemporary materials into her textiles. I will mix both these textile and cultural background to work on plastic sheet, sewed with metal string, creating frames with possible counter-electromagnetic properties (also known as the Faraday Shield). Electrosensitivity is a minor health problem right now but could easily become a major one, with sociological, industrial, architectural, and technological consequences. During Soft Power Palace, I propose some introductions to various techniques in order to coproduce my artworks. These techniques include dyeing, sewing, tapestry, modeling, and woodcraft with contemporary industrial material.
A sci-fi short story that I wrote describes a set of fictional and hypothetical uses and environments to his copy-share textiles. All work produced during the Soft Power Palace festival would be the transmission of skills, shared and learned from my coworkers, craftsmen and designers at LaMezz factory.
Fred, who is a painter, shares not skills but rather his copyright with a company, providing a non-limited quantity, context and use of the poetic association of a name and a color. La Seigneurie, one of the main companies producing paint, recently offered Fred the opportunity to create his own color. »Black Houvert« is now available on its catalogue and color chart. Since the 1950s, many painters, like Jackson Pollock or Frank Stella, have used commercially available industrial paints. It is relevant to notice the reverse situation, in which the industry directly asks which industrial paint the painter wishes to use. The artist licensing a color is like an exclusive discoverer of a poetic product like International Klein Blue (1960) or more recently Anish Kapoor’s Vantablack (2016). Far from desiring exclusive rights, Fred is all about transmission, like pollen gliding from one plant to another. A room in the Soft Power Palace will be dedicated to friend painters, Soft Power Palace members, students from the Kunst Akademie Stuttgart, and visitors. Fred will allow them to paint a small size canvas with his eponymous color. He will also create an original monochromatic wall painting, using a modified fire extinguisher, vaguely recalling the late Hans Hartung’s paintings.