Prague Quadrennial Jury Prize 2023
Gut City Punch is a site-specific installation sculpted entirely in sand, dealing with massive urbanization and the bowels of our soil. In the interior of Prague’s former slaughterhouses, sixty tons of sand from a few kilometers up the Vltava are transported, compacted and sculpted in the image of the city as a permanent construction site. At the end of the exhibition, the sand will be transported back to its place of origin, making the French Pavilion a production model based on the borrowing of materials in a short circuit. In the context of an international fair dedicated to scenography, the project attempts to formulate an aesthetic hypothesis that is both viable and sustainable, in a tension between a maximalist gesture in terms of its visual impact and a minimalist gesture in terms of its ecological impact.
Under a ceiling of LEDs and in the manner of a vivarium or diorama of catastrophe, Gut City Punch offers the public the spectacle of a city displaced within architecture and gutted by urbanization. In what looks like a landslide, sinkhole or building site sculpted entirely of sand, various underground sand pipes emerge from the material, like post-industrial guts that inhabit the belly of the earth. Suddenly, the audience finds themselves below the surface of the ground, in the grip of these immense entrails that make our daily lives powerful, connected, electrifiable, drinkable and directly disposable. Through this gesture of inverted architecture, we witness a paradoxical and temporary state of matter. At the heart of the device, the choice of sand is not neutral. The scarcity of this material, now on the verge of extinction, is in line with the exponential growth of buildings, freeways and artificial beaches made of non-recyclable concrete, which are now conquering land, sea and sky. At once complicit in and abolitionist of the system, Gut City Punch is interested in the phenomenon of destruction in order to reconstruct it, and in the phenomenon of construction in order to deconstruct it. For the installation could be as much the mirage of a model that has become sick and obsolete, as it is the eulogy of debris with which to recompose potentially more radical forms of life, city, economy, ecology, right down to our ways of constructing theaters, stages, scenographies, performances and narratives…
A sound composition created by French artist and musician Joseph Schiano di Lombo accompanies the installation, echoing the city’s broken love song. With this project, Théo Mercier and Céline Peychet propose a complex environment, at once chaotic and erotic, terrifying and sublime, artificial and organic, in which the experience of focusing on the infinitely small and the infinitely large is as much an artificial voyage as a real-estate delirium. Gut City Punch deploys dramaturgical forms from the sand, a place where the voice and access to the stage is given to the landscape and its depths, by defeating the human, decentering the vision, absenting a story in the classical sense and, above all, paying particular attention to the materiality of the stage and space.