Erwan Sene’s Sonic Odyssey
Parisian artist Erwan Sene is a polymath, navigating the interplay of sound, sculpture, performance, and the narratives within.
Take, for instance, the sonic odyssey JUnQ (or, the Journal of Unsolved Questions), a project encompassing a full-length album, exhibition, and book, which draws inspiration from the cinematic philosophy encapsulated in Robert Bresson’s L’argent. The metaphorical journey of a counterfeit note that circulates with repercussions becomes a lens through which Sene contemplates the fluidity of reality and the consequences of its passage through varied hands.
Using found objects from Parisian streets, Sene’s ready-made industrial landscape is not merely a revival of music past but a transformation of space and the imaginary through urban furniture, artifacts, and machines. In another project, Sene envisions assigning new roles to spectral remnants within the context of a fictitious private surveillance company. As these examples suggest, Sene thinks beyond the boundaries of electronic music and sculpture, even dipping into collaborations with brands. Here, he speaks to Shelly Reich about the new generation of Parisian artists, public space, and the hierarchies of found and created objects.
SHELLY REICH: Initially you were mainly a musician, but later you expanded your practice to include art. Could you explain this transition?
ERWAN SENE: When I arrived in Paris to study fine arts after my adolescence in the south of France, my focus revolved around music. I wanted to create visual representations for music, such as album covers, video clips, and so on. Over the years and after my studies, I developed more sculptural work and my artistic practice moved away from sound and music. Inspired by my research on encrypted texts and linguistics, it’s only recently that I have combined my sculptural work with sound elements, field recordings, and voices. This is something I’m keen to further develop for future projects.
SR: Your sculptures are composed of objects found in the streets of Paris. Can you share the process of selecting and transforming these objects?
ES: I’ve realized that the location of my studio greatly influences my practice, since I really enjoy going for long walks and scavenging. The objects I find in these surroundings are intimately linked to me through this process of wandering. Once I’ve brought them back to the studio, they often stay in boxes in a corner for months before I work on them. But it is always important for me to erase any form of hierarchy that a found object can have with another object that I have imagined from scratch.
SR: Does sharing a studio with Ser Serpas and Pol Taburet make you feel a sense of being part of the “new generation” of artists in Paris?
ES: There’s a unique alchemy in the daily rhythm of work interwoven with the familiar comfort of friends’ company that generates a particularly enjoyable energy within the studio. It’s a quality that I genuinely value and find meaningful.
SR: You’ve released a ten-part album that serves as the musical representation of a larger installation project. How does your background in sculpture influence the way you approach music? Can you share some of your influences working on JUnQ?
ES: The process of creating sculptural work and music, for me, shares similarities. Whether I’m manipulating volumes or experimenting with sound, the elements that surround me—books, samples, movies—are inherently interconnected. Despite the difference in the medium of creation, the underlying process remains consistent, involving a substantial amount of collaging and weaving that fosters an organic osmosis between the two practices.
If I could name three films that influenced the creation of this album, they would be: first, Robert Bresson’s final film, L’argent, which explores the chilling consequences of a counterfeit 500 franc note circulating through different hands—an impactful narrative that resonated deeply. Olivier Assayas’ post neo-noir thriller, Demonlover, which delves into the corporate espionage of entertainment companies vying for the lucrative market of internet adult animation. Additionally, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ continues to inspire me even after numerous viewings. These films collectively engage with the complexities of reality and rumor within parallel universes, serving as the foundational inspiration for this album.
SR: The project explores ideas of AI ontology and the nature of artistic performance. What is the role of performance in your practice?
ES: What I like most about musical performance is the influence a sound can wield within a particular context. A sound possesses the potential to embody myriad forms—it can be a dynamic, vibrating mass that, in a live performance, has the ability to erupt in people’s minds, permeate an audience, and transform the entire space. This stands in contrast to the process of solely producing electronic music in a confined room, where the experience tends to be internalized and somewhat claustrophobic.
SR: The view of your works in JUnQ is described as imbuing them with a sense of intimacy and primacy. How do you establish this connection?
ES: The concept behind the book was to craft scale models of the room where I composed the album and then photograph them in a macro format, deliberately embracing the artificial aspects of the sets and images. Within the universe of these models, what was initially a private and intimate space became infused with numerous artifacts from the “public space.” This thematic exploration resonates with contemporary discourse, reflecting the ongoing experimentation with the juxtaposition of the public sphere and the prevailing trend towards privatization.
SR: Having contributed sound to the new Courrèges perfume ad, how has your experience been collaborating with brands?
ES: The collaboration with Courrèges holds a special place for me, given the close bond I share with Nicolas Di Felice, the brand’s creative director. Our friendship spans almost a decade, lending our collaboration a deep sense of organic connection that unfolds over the long term. The process of creating music with Nicolas mirrors the shared experiences we have within our friendship. Working together is more than a collaboration, it’s a means of harmonizing our visions and crafting narratives that resonate with both of us.
SR: In your recent exhibition at Liebaert Projects in Belgium, you crafted an amusement park-like environment. Could you tell me more about the show?
ES: The idea behind this exhibition was to resurrect the essence of an old tissue factory, inhabited by the ghosts of its former workers, and reimagine their roles within a newly conceptualized industrial setting. My goal was to place this industrial space within the framework of a private surveillance company, filling it with a diverse array of urban furniture, machines, and street artifacts to emulate a storage unit for this fictional enterprise. I crafted a universe for myself from the playful incorporation of slogans, the use of 80s video cameras to craft molds for my sculptures, and taking advantage of the expansive space to manipulate machine-like sounds. This creative direction unfolded following my show earlier this year at [Galerie] Balice Hertling.
SR: What are the upcoming projects you are working on?
ES: Presently, my focus is on research, and I find it quite satisfying after a busy year. Looking ahead, I aim to explore more collaborative projects, moving away from a predominantly solo approach. Let’s see.