The elasticity of the artwork: an interview with Fabrice Le Nézet

Chris Townsend
August 18, 2014

When the London-based artist Fabrice Le Nézet sent out a press  release for his latest work, a number of online commentators and arts  websites were justifiably excited. The photos showed four enormous  concrete blocks suspended at different heights by tenuous-looking metal  bars from the ceiling of Dalston Junction station in north-east London.  They seemed to amount to a striking and original piece of public art. In  particular, the website ‘It’s Nice That’  hailed the work as ‘ingenious’ and encouraged their readers to head out  to take a look at Le Nézet’s sculptures for themselves.

However, as quickly became apparent, it would be impossible for  anyone to do so. There were, in fact, no giant concrete sculptures in  Dalston Junction. The press release images were created using Photoshop  (see above), and the video was nothing more than a convincing use of computer generated imagery.  Le Nézet’s work ‘Elasticity’, it turned out, was less a contribution to  public art, and more a comment on how we consume art – through screens,  through images.

What is interesting about the piece is that it was universally  received as a ‘real’ work of art by critics and commentators online –  ‘real’ in the sense that it seemed to have a physical presence in the  world. At the centre of this has been ‘It’s Nice That’s coverage of Le  Nézet’s work. The website interviewed Le Nézet himself, who responded to their questions about his work as if it were corporeally manifest. They also wrote an editorial in  which one of their editors celebrated Le Nézet’s work, whilst another  wrote angrily about it as a ‘hoax’ and a ‘fake’, and described how he  had felt cheated by the artist. Yet they had failed to visit the site of  the ‘sculptures’ for themselves, despite Dalston Junction being less  than fifteen minutes’ walk from their offices. It has therefore raised  significant questions, about the relation of artist to critic, of truth  and lying, and of what might constitute a ‘real’ artwork. On behalf of  the King’s Review, I spoke to Le Nézet about a number of these themes  and about whether or not he felt he had deceived his critics.

Chris Townsend:

Fabrice, your most recent artwork  has gained some attention because it does not exist in material form.  You say ‘Elasticity’ ‘materializes the idea of tension’ and makes  ‘palpable’ the notion of weight, yet it exists only in digital form.  What was your intent for ‘Elasticity’? How seriously should we take the  notion that abstract ideas can be realized or ‘materialized’ without  existing in the physical world?

Fabrice Le Nezet:

Early this year, I started  thinking about making some massive sculptures, and I wanted those to  stand in a public space, so many people could see them. I found out that  Dalston Junction station would be a perfect space to develop a project.  It came to me it would take ages to get the authorisation, without  being sure this would eventually happen. Once designed, I eventually  ended up with the idea of setting up this project in two steps.

The first step was the creation of a viral video that would show the  installation as realistically as possible, as if someone had shot it  with a phone. I wanted the video to be an experience for the viewer, a  proper immersion with the sculptures already in context, not a classic  architectural preview. This was also a way to share this idea and a good  approach to find out if people would be interested in it.

The second step will now be the making of the sculptures. This  involves meeting the right people to get approval and funding, to study  the feasibility of the project and the potential safety issues. There is  a long way to go but hopefully this video will help me in selling the  project.

The project ‘materialized’ the elasticity concept because it gives a  visual representation of an abstract concept. Eventually, with this idea  of spreading the project without mentioning it doesn’t physically  exist, a second concept emerged that goes far beyond the initial  project.


At the heart your thinking in this second,  conceptual development, you seem to be concerned with a lost intimacy  between art and its audience, and with the mediation of images through  technology. Are we, like tourists who see the world through their  cameras, at risk of losing something ‘real’ in our experience of art?  Does this say something about how we interact culturally and socially  more generally?


Yes, I do think we are losing some connections  with the real world due to the amount of time we spend in front of  screens, but I am not here to judge if this is good or bad. While  working on this project, it came to me that it was raising some  questions and interrogations: What is the credibility of images in a  society in which most of the artworks are seen through a screen?

What interests me is the trust people place in pictures. People give a  lot of credit to images, it is pretty rare to question their reality.  Most of the time, we will look at thousands of pictures of places,  events or people that we will never see in our lives. The fact that all  those pictures are part of our daily lives makes it part of our own  reality. Maybe this is the emergence of a new kind of reality?

Also, nowadays only a few people are able to produce digital  photorealistic images, but I think in the near future everyone will be  able to do so. For this reason, these questions will become more  important, and more frequently asked. I am also curious about how this  might affect people’s memories, after some time. Even though they know  the project doesn’t exist physically, will they still have sculptures in  mind, standing in that train station?


An editor of ‘It’s Nice That’ mentioned that  they had interviewed you about the piece. I quote: ‘To carry on lying  when someone takes the time to find out more about the project seems  like an unfair extension of the original ideas he was exploring.’ How do  you feel about the suggestion that your project was an extended lie?  And do you feel, as an artist, that you have broken a pact with your  audience or perhaps with your critics — treating them ‘unfairly’?


First of all, having spoken to Rob Alderson  from ‘It’s Nice That’, I want to say I have a lot of respect for them.  Those art and design blogs are doing a great job, and my objective was  clearly not to hurt anyone.

Even though I understand the reactions of those people who felt  tricked, I think this was necessary to the project. If it hadn’t been  part of the work, we wouldn’t be talking about it now. People who have  spread the project over the internet were unconscious actors, part of  the actual development of the piece.

I think my goal is to surprise people, not to give them what they  expect from me. Audience and critics are searching for new subjects with  interesting approaches. So, in that spirit, I think my project  ‘Elasticity’ is justifiable.


The editors of ‘It’s Nice That’, though, suggest  that works like yours might burn a few bridges, reasoning that  magazines will be less likely to feature your work if they can’t trust  in the validity of it. They write, “Taking the decision to trick people  with whom you have an existing relationship also requires a lot of  nerve.” Given that your piece existed as a press release, I wonder if  you also had in mind, when working on the project, the marketability of  artworks?


Well, I completely understand that people can  feel destabilized by the nature of the project, but I hope they will  eventually think that the approach was interesting. Anyway, even though I  am thinking of further exploring some of the questions raised by this  project, I have no intention of doing exactly the same thing again. So,  next time I publish a project I’ll have to make myself clear as to  whether it is a digital or a physical project.


Finally, with the distinction between ‘digital’  and ‘physical’ in mind, I have read a number of comments to the effect  of ‘it’s not a sculpture if it was done on a computer’. Do you consider  ‘Elasticity’ as a work of sculpture? Do categories like this matter less  in our digital age?


Well, conceptually and visually, this project  shares a lot with physical sculpture. Those structures have been  conceived in three dimensions and are based on real materials. I can’t  pretend those are proper sculptures but I would definitely say those are  the result of a sculptural work.

I think this also questions the value of the digital: does a sculpture have less value because made digitally?


All by
Chris Townsend