Anne-Laure Franchette on the ecologies of urban spaces

I first discovered the work of Zurich based artist Anne-Laure Franchette through instagram. Later on, I had the opportunity to see her installation La tête et les Mains(2021) at the space TOPIC, Geneva. Whether through the screen or up close, what immediately struck me was the recurrent presence of small medallions made from  colourful resin, which contained flowers, branches, leaves, and at other times syringes or prescription pills. The medallions  are interconnected by a hybrid system of chains, ropes and branches, forming a half-organic, half-synthetic network. In some cases, these objects give way to large, elongated plates that stand upright in the air, as in the installation Grands Travaux Urbains(2020). These works are fascinating in that they appeal to the viewer’s senses and provoke a blending of them. Indeed, the glossy and smooth textures call for the audience to touch them with  the almost fluorescent and translucent colours evoking the taste of these acidic and jelly-like candies. But above all, the elements trapped in the forms break with the plastic homogeneity of the resin and thus provoke a form of discomfort. The viewer is then pushed to question the cause of this dissonance; why has the artist decided to merge natural and industrial materials? Is it to signify that a link exists between these seemingly opposing ecologies?

In search of answers, SuperGlue Collective spoke with artist Anne-Laure Franchette. In parallel to her sculptural practice, Anne-Laure is involved in curatorial projects and is a member of the interdisciplinary study group TETI. She is also the founder of ZASG, a guide of alternative art spaces and initiatives in Zurich, and VOLUMES, a festival about DIY and art publishing practices. In the following interview, Anne-Laure talks to us about the notion of urban nature, the way she explores the link between the living and the built, and her search for “ghostly presences” within landscapes. 

Anne-Laure Franchette, Grands Travaux Urbains – Parco Scherrer, 2020. Morcote Public Art Biennial, CH. Local weeds, pigments, prescription syringe and medicine, clay encapsulated in resin slats standing in reclaimed road signage metal frame. Photo by Danielatonatiuh, courtesy of the artist.

SuperGLue: Nature and botany seem to occupy an important place in your practice. You often use organic elements in your work and you have exhibited more than once in parks, gardens and forests. How did you become interested in these themes?

Anne-Laure Franchette: I guess by looking at the urban spaces that have been surrounding me since childhood, trying to read them, to understand their dynamics and ecologies. Because from concrete jungles to curated greenery, I am usually looking for this dynamic or tension between the living and the built. Or to say it in a different way, I am interested in how the living is managed, since there isn’t really any pristine place left but many in-betweens. Parks, gardens and forests are all designed and maintained. But to what extent? What does it say about our outlook and ways of operating ? And what slips through the cracks? This is the way I tend to look at nature and botany. 

SG: Your works often bring together elements and materials that seem at first sight dichotomous. For example, in Grands Travaux Urbains(2020), you capture organic elements, such as flowers and branches, in epoxy resin, which is more associated with industriality. By juxtaposing these elements, do you aim to break with this binary conception that opposes nature and the urban?

A-L.F: It’s dependent on what we understand by nature and the natural. Some may argue that everything that exists is de facto natural. But without going that far, and given that modernity and industriality are an integral part of our societies, all living beings around us are managed, enhanced, and processed to various degrees. Since most of those processes take place out of our sight, we tend not to have a very good understanding of them, resulting in many of us being out of touch with the world of techniques, with the layers of maintenance and production that enable our modern societies to function. So I don’t see my work in such a dichotomous way but as a comment on both altered nature, paradigms and industriality. Because for me the nature/culture divide is more of a paradox, something both true and false. Perhaps it is natural to create the artificial? Just as we need to name and classify things to understand them. 

Anne-Laure Franchette, Le Jardinier d’Alice, 2020. Hessian, cut grass, second hand clothes, furniture and objects recovered on site, candles decorated with wild flowers. Courtesy of the artist.

SG: In many of your projects, such as Au Fond Du Parc(2020) and La tête et les Main(2021), the place in which you exhibit your pieces becomes an integral part of the work. Could you talk about the relationship between your artworks and their environment?

A-L.F: I have increasing difficulties making work that is not directly related to the context in which it is shown, since materials and locations are always loaded with layers of meanings, histories. It’s probably the unrealized archeologist in me. But yes if I can, I will try to dig, looking for fragments of past and present. Trying to establish a dialogue with the space and context feels more relevant but it can also be quite challenging, usually requiring also more engagement and time. 

SG: Your practice seems to be deeply rooted in research. This is most notably illustrated in your multidimensional project ζιζάνια – Mauvaises Herbes(2017-2018), in which you explored the link between public gardens and the hidden histories of Athens among others. How do you negotiate the boundary between art and research? Are each of your works part of a larger body of research projects? 

A-L.F: I don’t see so much of a difference, in the sense that all artists do research through either studio practice, state of the arts, on-site investigations etc. When it comes to research conducted in academia, with its norms and methodologies, since I have a background in Human Sciences, I do reuse some of the tools and ways of working I have been exposed to. But I don’t see such a divide between art and research, at least when it comes to my work. What I try to do is to make my own rules and follow my own recipes with what I have in hand. For example, I do tend to seek ghostly presences and forgotten stories within the landscapes I inhabit or walk through. Because unearthing the past can be a way to understand the present. 

Anne-Laure Franchette, ζιζάνια – Mauvaises Herbes, 2017-2018. Studio view with ongoing multimedia installation. Courtesy of the artist.

SG: Has your relationship with nature changed over the course of your artistic exploration?

A-L.F: I am definitely more and more interested in this idea of a modern nature (to quote Derek Jarman’s journal) as an integral part of culture, far from a Rousseauiste utopia. It expresses itself through a wish to have a better understanding of the structures and processes that have shaped and shape lands, objects and beings. 

SG: We have a ritual question for our guests: what does the word ‘superglue’ bring to your mind?

A-L.F: Ah, it makes me wonder what the recipe and production of a popular superglue such as UHU might be… What actually goes in there? And how is it processed? 

SG: And finally, what are your future projects? Where can we see your work soon?

A-L.F: So I just took part in the third chapter of Modern Nature, an homage to Derek Jarman at la becque, with the launch of Mobile Soils, our first publication with TETI press, and with two outdoors sculptures. And I am currently in the group exhibition Tropical Lab at ICA-LaSalle in Singapore, which follows a residency I undertook in 2018. I will soon be in Russia for a collaborative laboratory and a book presentation. Otherwise I am developing a few new artworks, on my own and through collaborations, for a few upcoming shows in the US, Switzerland and the Netherlands.  

Keep up to date with all of Anne-Laure Franchette’s work on her website and follow TETI‘s and VOLUMES‘ activites!

Keeping it glued since 2021