In the 17thand 18th centuries, European explorers searched for an austral continent whose mass would counterbalance the lands that had emerged on the surface of the northern hemisphere. The first navigators who had caught sight of Easter Island believed they had found it, but only discovered an eroded island, a handful of inhabitants and a host of giant statues: the Moai.
The mystery of these statues was a source of fascination for occidental countries in the 19th century and gave rise to fantastical rewritings of history. Notably, they purported that Easter Island was the remains of a lost continent; imaginations ran riot and the Moai found themselves unwittingly linked to the legend of Atlantis.
Refusing the position of the impotent explorer of what is now a tiny world, as an adventurer and archaeologist Théo Mercier seeks to find the Mana* of the primordial arts, those arts before the word “art” was invented.
“Every time I went off somewhere else if I was there, I was there”: while making this confession, he does not specify that somewhere else for him is as much spatial as it is temporal or even mental.
Modernity has produced so many dead ends that sometimes the artist seems caught in a veritable maze; therefore a radical displacement is indeed necessary.
In “Je ne regrette rien”, this search leads him towards a new stone age when fire was domesticated and tools fashioned. From enamel to marble, from miniatures of aquarium ruins to the central figure of the Moai, everything that goes into the making of the installation evokes the mineral and submerged worlds, from undersea universes to sepulchres and even to sunken islands.
Perhaps, this subterranean exploration echoes Marcel Duchamp’s prophecy: “The great artist of tomorrow will go underground”.
A unique and paradoxically human element, the nose of the Moai possibly refers to the first ignorant prospectors of Easter Island who re-baptized those sublime divinities with vulgar names such as fat belly, long ears, stinky or big nose. For here it seems that everything is solely fantasy: moreover, on some of the ruins, only a tiny part evokes existing edifices… Placed in the position of those bygone prospectors, today’s viewers must actually do their own fair share of the work. Because the truth also lies elsewhere.
* Magical power emanating from every living being with which the chiefs of Easter Island were particularly well endowed. Notably, the Mana allowed them to move the Moai to where they were positioned.
Je ne regrette rien, 2014, installation view, Grand Palais