Valentin Abad

Artist Interview

Published November 2020.

Relational Ping Pong (2018) Courtesy of Valentin Abad ©

I bookmarked Valentin’s work the moment I discovered it. Whether it was down to the direction of his website, the energy of his work or the enigmatic, poetic approach to titling (all of which I am suckers for) it’s unclear. What was clear however, was an artistic voice, working consistently across installation, photography and sculpture, presenting an approach to visual art, undeniably fun, contagiously fascinating and curiously imperfect. His work is able to intrigue and entertain in equal measure, each creation serving as celebrated segments of a larger personal picture and story; one still unfolding by way of painstakingly elaborate compositions, unconventional displays of motion and other reminders that art need not be perfect nor formal in order to be memorable or enjoyed.

DM— With your practice spanning across installation, photography and sculpture, is there ever a priority to implement certain mediums within certain themes?
VA— I guess; I don't choose the mediums specifically because of the themes, instead with the reaction or feeling that I want to share with the viewer. Photographs are quite direct and straight to the point; you can share them throughout all the usual channels (exhibitions, prints, web, instagram…) and reactions to them are going to be nearly the same. It's totally different with installations and sculpture; for me it's time offered to the viewer to meditate and to feel the time actually going by. I have some pieces created with motors, deliberately going slowly and the viewer (if he wants to of course) has to stand there and wait. His brain and spirit can go away, so that he's just left standing there to appreciate the present. The slow, never-ending movement refers to me as a hypnotic technique to go into your unconscious because you leave everything else in your mind, aside. This kind of piece can not be appreciated on instagram— it has to be real.

DM— Did you train or study formally in any of these mediums, or separately perhaps? A great deal of your work hints at carpentry, or perhaps set-design skills...
VA— No I didn't study anything, I love DIY and I always try to understand how it's built. I often get more pleasure by building a piece than having it be completed.

DM— How much of a role would you say irony, or perhaps satire, plays within your works?
VA— I often say that I have difficulties in speaking and sharing my emotions so I talk through my sculptures and installations. And I am an ironic guy so I guess my works get this part of me in an unconscious way.

DM— Could you tell me a little more about one of your most recent works, ‘One of us can not be wrong’ (2020)?
VA— One of us can not be wrong is the title of a song by Leonard Cohen from his debut album. Poet, writer and then singer, this first album is quite understated— almost not produced. Leonard Cohen wanted only his monotonous voice and his guitar. This album ends with the song One of us can not be wrong. He sings the story of a relationship between two people with a surreal and poetic recital. What is astonishing with this song is that the end of the interpretation is totally saucy; he ends up singing loud and out of tune while walking away from the microphone as if he was drunk or completely letting go. This set of elements between Leonard Cohen's words and his interpretation made me imagine two shapes (here wheels) which are not the same size and are not in the same direction, but form a whole. Both are dented; the road/circuit is not flat but the wheels move forward. For me this association can represent a relationship between two people with its monotonous roll punctuated by jolts, as well as reflect the ambivalence of introspective feelings people can get through life.

Material resilience (2018) courtesy of Valentin Abad ©

DM— ‘Fun’ seems to also be a recurrent theme in your work. Are there any particular artists or writers that sparked this idea for you of art being able to be enjoyed, or even interacted with physically as opposed to simply observed?
VA— Yes, I guess Abraham Pointcheval, Dewar and Gicquel, Laurent Tixador, Theo Mercier and Maurizio Cattelan were some of my references in thinking that art doesn't need to be boring. I guess the most important thing is what your feelings are when you look at a piece of work or art. Even when I try to explore a serious subject, my point of view is often fun— I don't know why. I guess I need to have fun and I feel that dramatic points are even stronger when I explore it with fun.

DM— What is it about natural materials that makes you revisit using them? In ‘Material’ for instance, you use fir bricks; in ‘Relational Ping-pong’ and ‘X (excerpt from synchronicity and chance)’, beech balls and plywood, not forgetting wire mesh and granite in ‘Crush’, as well as various natural materials in your photographic sculptures.
VA— I think it's because it's easy to buy them, transform, cut and everything. Wood comes definitely from my childhood with all the cabins, swords, bows and arrows that I built. I love rough materials, from builders' shops. I'm fascinated by construction sites, cranes, concrete and machines. I would love to build my house on my own ;-)

DM— What would you say are the three main challenges that you face in being a contemporary artist today?
VA— Money, visibility and the ability to keep working.

DM— Have the worldwide events that unfolded this year impacted your relationship with your own creativity in any way?
VA— They didn't impact my creativity but it impacted my life. I decided to quit my job (I co-owned a creative studio for 13 years) and to go freelance, to have more time for my art. These two months and half months of confinement made me really think about life and how I should enjoy it instead of being unhappy. So in January, I'll be a newborn ;-) and I'm really happy (although stressed a little…).

DM— What would you say is likely to affect your output as an artist most significantly: the weather, music or your personal surroundings?
VA— Definitely my personal surroundings. I work a lot around emotions, feelings and psychology and I guess a lot of my thoughts touch a lot of people so that is why I try to translate them into something tangible. I guess, you make art as you are or as you live. When you see some pieces of art really brainy and not fun at all, I'm pretty sure that the artist won't be a clown at all. And the inverse is pretty true too. I'm overdoing it here but I feel that surroundings and the way you live will affect you so your productions unconsciously will be stamped by it.

Les Liants (2020) Valentin Abad ©

DM— Tell me a little about the last book that you read and why it was worth finishing?
VA— A book about Leonard Cohen: A broken hallelujah by Leil Leibovitz. It was amazing to read. Firstly because I love Leonard Cohen; his first album walked with me during my childhood and adolescence. Secondly, it was so interesting to understand his journey and how he kept doing what he wanted to do. He never gave up and had a lot of bad experiences but his resilient spirit took over everything. His experience and his life can speak to anyone who wants to live from their art.

DM— If you could destroy one priceless piece of art in the world, what would it be and why?
VA— I guess I would keep destroying all the statues that validate people that don't deserve it. For example, that of Colbert— (Louis XIV's minister at the time of Code Noir, which in 1685 legalised slavery within the French colonies) it’s in front of the national assembly in Paris. Symbols are important and politics should take their responsibility to take down these seriously. We have the choice to give value to other people than those who participated to things like slavery or other awful things.