Meridional Contrast

Curated by Tiago de Abreu Pinto assisted by Justine Gensse

Néphéli Barbas, Julien Bourgain, Louise Mervelet, Flore Saunois

Opening: Friday, August 28 at 5 p.m.

Performance by Janna Zhiri on an invitation by Louise Mervelet: Friday, August 28 at 6:30 p.m.


Exhibition from Saturday, August 29 to Sunday, November 1, 2020.


Friche la Belle de Mai, Salle des Machines

41 rue Jobin, 13003 Marseille.


(Some minutes before an auspicious meeting with a visitor – that takes place through the summer heat of August). We reached the exhibition, where we planned to see the works of four young artists who studied in the south of France: “Meridionals”, I said jesting. And, she asked me what kept them together. Waves foaming in knots of uncountable relations in the nearby sea. “Warm sunshine merrying over the sea”, I remembered. In some countries, neither in the streets nor in art venues (like the one we were) was there a soul in sight. There was a general inhospitable impression. But there, in Marseille, things were getting better. And, I felt like a different person from a decade gone by when I answered “what was keeping us all together?”. The silence that followed didn’t surprise me because it was the kind of matter we could give a different answer almost every single day. I guess everyone was feeling out of place. “The contrast”, I said abruptly. “Sorry”, she replied with a pleased look. Before stepping in upon the threshold of the exhibition, I told her that the artists contrasted with each other. “Their practises, by contrast, have several differences”, I said mildly. “There is a clear contrast, for instance, between the quantity of elements that each artist presents on this occasion. I mean the way the works are presented”. And, after a brief pause, she asked “how so?”. I moved towards the exhibition space saying that the immediate contrast would be found in the way collectiveness unfolds through relative positionalities. We met Louise, and I asked a direct question regarding her work. “The project I’m presenting is very baroque. The feeling that I want to convey to the viewer leaks from a generous experience. A feeling of hybridization since there are drawings, sculptures, a video and a lot of gestures”. At this point, the visitor relates Louise’s project to a political one. At least, there is the possibility of a political association. So, she asked how Louise would analyse her works in a political way. “Well, in this case, you can talk about something impure. Of impurity”, Louise replied. Then we talked about how the abundance of references from science fiction to video games, was revealed in the viscous play of colours and shapes.  Wearing a look of concentration, she noticed the use of poor materials. “Yes”, Louise responded, “you can tell that the materials are really cheap but since I work a lot with these elements, they become sort of precious. So, there is an ambiguity”. The visitor observed the artwork. “There is in my work a big place for the imaginary. The popish elements emanate from this atmosphere where I like to manipulate different visual codes.” Not long after I crossed sight with Flore so I thought it would be interesting to connect these two extremities. “A kind of opposite side would be Flore’s approach”, introducing them. She was curious to know about the economy of elements we were seeing. “Hmm. I thought about a word which is relevant to me regarding the description of my project: latency”, pausing. Thoughts regarding this word rolled heavily inside our heads while that word pulsated in its background. “All these objects are somehow in a waiting posture. They are standing there, ready to receive”. We asked ourselves what they were receiving and right after her words were spoken, she answered our question by saying that the objects, the words receive the light, our wishes and desires. “And, it is all linked with open possibilities”, she concluded. We didn’t say anything. Or better, everything was happening mentally. We were looking through the eyes of our minds at everything that took place around us. At all that mathematical scenery. “The works are telling about chance and probability. Like for instance the dice, the board or the performance”, said Flore. And, as a matter of fact, the performance was absent. Needless to say, we were immediately brought to a new mental territory. “So, people would come and think about what they would want to put into play”, continued Flore, “and with this tiny gesture I will hand them a dice that won’t hit any specific number”. From there, our minds started jabbering about how that action would leave the possibilities open and slipping back into this stream of thought. Projecting our desires in the open spaces of these possibilities. “We are always questioning what are the other sides of a situation”, said Flore right at the moment when the crimson light of the sun picked in. I thought about another side of this exhibition: Julien standing near monitors next to a younger version of themselves amid the gentle colours of an inhabited land. They were alone in those frames. “The main idea is to tell how at that time I was trying to do things alone”. A hair cut as a clue of the story, Julien’s body oscillates, floats trying to improve, contradict the landscape with a chosen object. Like chapters of a book that can be read upside down, in any order the viewer can imagine. “I tell these experimentations and gestures with performative acts”, they said while showing us each one of the filmic images, “nurtured by the urgency of performance. And these acts were transformed into movies. It’s the big journey of a character through a landscape”. A character prone to contemplation; a lot of contemplation. It can be really static at times but hypnotic in a way. With a certain candour in their eyes, they continued: “after doing a lot of performance by myself, I understood more and more that I can’t do all these things alone. I need people.” What was keeping us all together? I guess it was this inclination to be together. We feel so disconnected these days. I thought of the way Julien’s loneliness amidst that environment resonated with our present days. And of how their relation with the surroundings was different from the one of Néphéli, who took architectural elements from the urban scenery to combine them in a reverie style. However, like a foot traveller, both suspect and analyse their surroundings. Probably also incurring the suspicion of local people. Who wouldn’t be puzzled with any of Julien’s performances encountering them during these acts? We noticed that their body sat still while, in contrast, Néphéli was trying to address how architectural elements of the city made our bodies go into different ways. “Even the drawings”, Néphéli said, “are hidden by the sculptural grids hanging on the walls. So, these sculptural elements that I do with tiles, stones, concrete presented in an organic way, can forbid us access to a space in an authoritarian way. Or, they can allow us to see some features of an installation. I think I’m talking about it because I feel that things are going wrong”. Especially nowadays, I thought, when we spend most of our time rambling through the dark cobbled streets of our minds. In view of all this, I came across a sensation of contrast (far from a forlorn impression) eluded by these artists. I stood there for a while looking at those works that shored up the imagination. The gleam through the isolation I had experienced, made me realize the importance of togetherness within the crowd. That flashed the way working with a group of people brings a baroque miscellany to us. How a low tide of connection to public space reminds us of all the possibilities that future would bring us, take from us, to eventually bring us back somewhere. How I would project mental replicas of outer-space with meagre trickle fragments from different environments. How people’s wish to reconnect back to this sea we are in creates value for dissimilar elements to coexist. An experience that indicates a lot of relations through “fertile foams” of collectiveness, that wrap up the vigorous and strong implications of the stream of our current contrasts.   



Special activities: During the opening Louise Mervelet invites Janna Zhiri to do a short plastic-pop-ish-fairy tale performance.  


Tiago de Abreu Pinto


Néphéli Barbas  


Born in 1990 in Orléans  

Lives and works in Paris  


Néphéli Barbas’ drawings, objects, sculptures and installations deconstruct and divide up the structures, architectures or images which constitute reality. She studies a visual aspect of the urban environment, which would be the differential specific heritage of a neighborhood or a city. In this way, she fosters within her installations an ambivalence between a global view and a meticulous inspection of the field, standing between architectural planning and botanical evolution.  


She graduated from Villa Arson in Nice, and showed her work in spaces such as cheLA, in Buenos Aires, los Andes University, in Bogotá, Montevideo Contemporary Art Space, Centre Tignous in Montreuil, JULIO artist-run space in Paris, PRÁM, in Prague, and with AGUAS for the Untitled, Miami Beach. Lately, she took part in the 69th edition of Jeune Création and the 6th edition of the Révélations Emerige grant.   



Julien Bourgain  


« My universe, sometimes festive, sometimes disturbing, suggests to viewers to take the time to watch, to participate, to meet or to get lost. There is some joke, but not only, maybe also poetry, absurd, color, light and sharing. Reality interwines with fiction, the back and forth between performances and video is a formal driving force. Alone or well accompanied, I tell stories that make one see the landscape as a cinematographic frame. »  



Louise Mervelet 


Louise Mervelet, born in 1994, lives and works in Noisy-Le-Sec. She considers her aesthetic as dissenting. Her pop universe questions the notion of entertainment as a weapon for resistance and subversion. She combines a visual art practice to a theoretical work rooted in the field of intersectional feminism and Queer Studies. Some exhibitions: Salon de Montrouge, Montrouge (2019), Reopening of Couvent de la Cômerie, Marseille (2020), Readings of Kathy Acker’s writings to an invitation from Claire Finch, for the launching of the book «Kathy Acker (1971-1975)» by Claire Finch and Sébastien Jallaud, B Books and Diffrakt, Berlin (2020) 



Flore Saunois  


Through installations, sound pieces, performances, sculptures, or editions, Flore Saunois explores the materiality of the language. Because naming it makes it real, she’s interested in the tipping point between the appearance and the disappearance of things. Attempting to suspend the transience of an object, an event or a phenomenon, tracing the outline of what’s possible, are as many ways of questioning, in reverse, the very condition of their existence. Rereading the principles of conceptual art, her works inspects mischievously the gap between trivial and extraordinary, the piddling as a source of a latent poetry. 


Born in 1987 in Pertuis, Flore Saunois graduated from the Fine Arts school of Berlin (UdK – 2012), from the Conservatory Theater of Rome, and from the Fine Arts school of Marseille (ESADMM – 2018). Her work was showed in various venues, institutions and events : Reid Gallery, Glasgow, France Culture (Creation On Air), in 2017 ; APA (A performance Affair –Art fair), Espace Vanderborght, Bruxelles, MAC (Marseille Contemporary Art Museum), CipM (Marseille International Center for Poetry), Château de Servières, Marseille, in 2018 ; French Institute of Hambourg, Lambert Collection, Avignon, in 2019 ; in 2020 and upcoming, MAMC+ (St-Etienne Modern and Contemporary Art Museum), Manifesta 13 (Friche la Belle de Mai, Galerie des Grands Bains Douche), Marseille. Her writings were published by the CipM, the Bureau des Positions, Novo and the Extensibles publishing house