Exhibition «Empreinte Carbone » in Paris: The magic of artist Seth in a world without embellishment27 January 2023
This exhibition by the artist Seth on the Fluctuart barge, located in the heart of Paris, touched my heart. And yet I am not being sentimental! It touched me because it is discreet, humble and poetic; just like the artist. It touched me because it speaks to us of a universal subject, that of childhood. It touched me because it highlights extremely complex subjects in an almost equivocal sweetness. I came out of it with a little bit of an ache in my soul, which brings me back to the realisation that the children of our country are incredibly lucky. Before I tell you about the exhibition, a little about the artist is in order!
Seth, the most globe-trotting of our French artists!
Julien “Seth” Malland: Artist or Globe Trotter? It’s impossible to separate Seth’s two passions, they seem so inseparable. To introduce him to you, I think it’s important to remember how passionate this artist is about graffiti. At the end of the 90s he started to paint characters on the walls of Paris. Surrounded by graffiti artists, his curiosity led him to study and archive everything that was being done in the field of graffiti. Thus, with Gautier Bischoff, he published a book that has become a cult in the world of Parisian graffiti, “Kapital: un an de graffiti à Paris”. A mind-blowing book that lists tags, flops, … all the writing styles that were produced in one year in Paris. A must-have that has become a collector’s item!
I don’t know if having a sailor parent who sailed the oceans is the key to artist Seth’s passion for travel. But in 2003 he set off across the Atlantic to meet the people of South America, their customs and local artists. In 2007, his adventures and travel diaries were published in a book entitled “Globe Painter”, a status that now sticks to him. The same year, he was featured in a rather brilliant programme on the French TV Canal + called “Les Nouveaux explorateurs / The New Explorers”. A programme that my generation devoured avidly! For those of you who are a bit younger, you will discover below an episode that will tell you more about the artist Seth than all the words I could put together in this article.
For this exhibition “Empreinte carbone”, the artist Seth takes us with him on his many journeys. He offers us to see 10 years of encounters, sharing with the populations, and especially his works realized in the four corners of the world which left an imprint or which simply disappeared.
Entering the “Empreinte carbone” exhibition is…
To step into an intimacy that is not our own… without at any time feeling like a voyeur. It is on this thread that Seth exposes his travels in Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Palestine, Senegal, Haiti and Ukraine in warm alcoves. Each alcove allows us to enter a bubble of intimacy, the intimacy of Seth’s encounters with the inhabitants and children of these villages, the intimacy of the artist who gives us a glimpse of his sketches, but also of the path of his reflections by exhibiting the objects he has brought back.
We don’t find the flashy colours of the artist’s monumental works that brighten up our grey walls. Instead, the colours blend into a more hushed environment. Seth’s work serves as a backdrop for a juxtaposition of small frames, photos and sketches. They come to tell us their stories, the story of their meeting with this artist and also show us the role they played and the inspiration that came from it for the artist himself. A story of exchange, of sharing, of crossed destinies.
These “scenes” are like bubbles of sweetness where our feelings are shared… equivocal feelings. We contemplate an immense poverty in all tranquillity, it seems improbable but it is the case. We smile at the sight of toys made by children while wondering about our indecent overconsumption. Our hearts ache for the hopeful drawings of the children in this Ukrainian school, now razed to the ground by bombs.
The artist Seth tells us about the lives of these children and families in an extremely simple and humanistic way. It is up to us to discover their customs, which slip into the details. It is up to us to reposition these “freeze-frames” in the great history of these countries, which are very often mistreated. It is up to us to ask ourselves the right questions when we leave this exhibition!
The mask is a recurring theme in the work of the artist Seth
Until I discovered this exhibition “Empreinte carbone” I did not know, or I had not realised, to what extent the mask was a recurrent theme, almost a signature in Seth’s work. As I entered the exhibition, a huge fresco representing a string of masked children was facing the alcoves. It took me back a few years. I had had a brief exchange with Seth on the banks of the Seine in Asnières, and had told him how much I had fallen in love with Mexican urban art, and more precisely that of the artist Edgar Saner. Their customs, the use of textile patterns, animal representations, masks, myths and vanities are used systematically in urban representations. At the time Seth smiled as he had a very nice memory of his collaboration with Edgar Saner!
Today I realise to what extent the artist Seth immerses himself in the cultures he visits, not in those he visits, but in those he lingers in. The mask is an object with a strong symbolic value. Their meanings vary according to the people who make them. In some cultures they are simple headgear, in others they are used to venerate the gods, to heal, to fight,…
As I cannot theorise about Seth’s use of masks, I prefer to echo the little cartel he himself wrote: “While my characters are anchored in the modernity of the present time, their traditional masks refer to a connection with the place, with their culture, with a spirituality. It is a way of returning to their roots and communicating with their own history. The mask hides the wearer, but says everything about him or her.”
Throughout the exhibition, our eyes are constantly drawn to these colourful masks, which are often enhanced by very strong expressions. We discover another phase of the artist’s work through astonishing sculptures and installations. This obviously makes us want to know more about the meaning that the artist Seth gives to these masks, which appear as a leitmotif in his work.
Should you go and see the exhibition Empreinte Carbone by the artist Seth?
It is with a big yes that I would answer this question, which does not even arise. Apart from the exceptional work of scenography that has been done for this one. The exhibition shows us the exploration of the artist Seth, his approach to childhood which is far from the naive image that we could have of it. The urban artist gives us an exhibition that has meaning, depth and leads us to many questions. The countries he visits are very poor and the inhabitants often live in constant political instability. Despite this anxiety-inducing climate, Seth poetically manages to share with us a part of their culture without ever being intrusive in the intimacy of his encounters. This delicacy is more than welcome in our increasingly brutal world.
An exhibition to do with the family if you have children; they will certainly see something different than you do and this could generate some exciting interactions! His travel diaries and sketches were my real favourite part of the exhibition. I have only revealed a few of them, as you have to see them on site to really appreciate them.
The exhibition is free, like all the ones I propose on the blog, and visible until 26 February 2023. To find out how to get there and the visiting hours, nothing could be easier, the Fluctuart website is there , in english, to inform you.
If you are in Paris and want to discover more about the artist Seth, I strongly advise you to visit the Butte aux Cailles or the Belvédère de Belleville.
As for me, I’ll be putting on my trainers to go and discover new places for you to see. of course if you liked the article please share it! It’s the nicest gift you can give me 😉
See you soon for new Street Art adventures