Combining unusual materials such as cigarette butts and staples with a sense of absurdity and forthright opinions, the French artist Baptiste Debombourg has been described as an idealistic troublemaker. His extraordinary output illustrates his attraction to making work in unorthodox ways, such as placing work in unexpected contexts or using destructive techniques. By his own admission the more something is forbidden the more he feels drawn to doing it by taking risks. However the notion of “beauty” in the nonsensical is very important in Debombourg’s work where we find beauty in the least likely places.
For Debombourg, “art has always been a way to escape from rules”. His early works were paintings but over time he found that sculpture or three-dimensional work appeared to be the best way to express his ideas more naturally. Since as he points out, “we are surrounded by and co-exist with objects and architecture, as they share our living spaces.” In keeping with Debombourg’s unconventional approach to art he often uses discarded scrap material found on the street as opposed to pristine purpose made art materials. In some cases these found materials are further degraded or dissected such as his La Redoute pieces. Using the well-known mail order catalogues he sculpted them in such a way that they resembled the contours of a map, representing a trend for people who are live far away from the city.
Finding inspiration from everyday life he often uses objects and materials that are ubiquitous and familiar but that are transformed in a new way. A good example of which are his Aggravure works, which use up to 35 000 staples as a physical interpretation of classical engraving. The first in the series called Airforce one is inspired by Hendrick Goltzius after Cornelisz van Haarlem and features the protagonist Icarus falling from the sky. The combining the pathos, beauty and unnatural movement of Italian Mannerists with a hidden aggression of the staple gun and the profane utility of the everyday life.
Aside from the physical properties of materials he tends to be interested in items and materials that provoke in some way. Living in a society that is centred on mass consumption, many day-to-day objects represent wish fulfilment and our ideas of a perfect life. It is the emotional relationships we make with objects that are part of this consumer dream that fascinates him. In a recent interview he made this observation “In a bar you can hear gossip, everyday philosophy, but also about god and destiny and all this happens during the time it takes to smoke one cigarette. Those details, like old cigarette stubs, are very small but at the same time very full of life. It is garbage that carries our lives, or let’s say, which fingerprints our lives. These fragments of reality represent for me also a human proportion.”
The process of destruction is a recurring theme in Debombourg’s work An important part of this is the gesture itself, destruction like construction is a human expression and although we are all equally capable of both, displaying our destructive nature breaks a conventional taboo. Normally when we’ve used an item we throw it away, in reaction to this after breaking things down Debombourg often uses it as a starting point to rebuild an object. By destroying often otherwise unremarkable objects the construction and function of those objects is indirectly reappraised and by rebuilding them the objects naturally become imperfect and in some ways more true to humanity.
All of his projects he explains, “are somehow or other linked to an aspect of human relationships; our mistakes, our doubts, our desires, and the perceptions we have of some of our realities. My work is based on the exploration of the psychology we have in connection with objects, looking for an induction between reality and the ideal that we are trying to reach.”
Tristan Manco is a British author and designer who has published a number of books with art publisher Thames and Hudson over the last 10 years.