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The mirror of Hubert Duprat’s Trichoptera, between enigma and encyclopedic wonder

Author: Marc Pottier, Art Curator based in Rio de Janeiro
Article published on January 9th, 2021
Original Article

The first retrospective of Hubert Duprat at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris was to allow this brilliant artist-researcher to leave the library in which he voluntarily confined himself. While waiting for the sanitary conditions to allow the MAM to reopen, let’s look back on an encyclopedic survey of nearly 40 years, encapsulated in his Book of Works, Mirror of the Trichopter.

A work thought backwards

Hubert Duprat Lattara-Lattes (Musée Henri Prades 2013) @ Luc Jennepin

Enlightened amateur archaeologist who was a fervent admirer of the Gallo-Roman period, Hubert Duprat is interested in everything today who has no workshop. Born in 1957 in Nérac, Lot-et-Garonne, this self-taught artist lives and works in Sauzet near Nîmes. Literature, history, science, art history have always nourished this discreet personality who does not like the idea of confiding in others.

Even if he can be inexhaustible on his work, he asks you not to quote him. He prefers to be in the background to leave the exegesis of his works to his public and professionals. An unspoken word that triumphs. He refuses the hierarchical partitions between major and minor arts, between what would be « good » or « bad » taste; it is his way of getting around the intimidating power of art.

The boundaries of his « sculpture-constructions », difficult to delineate

Hubert Duprat La verrière (Hermes Bruxelles 2014) @ Fabien de Cugnac

To say of him that he is a sculptor would be reductive. He goes from the infinitely small to the infinitely large, being able to transform himself into an architect, using classical repertoires while also confronting us with science fiction. His sculptures do not hesitate to call upon the talents of the marquetry specialist, the mosaicist, the potter, the mason or the prehistoric stonemason. His « constructions » are linked to the properties of the elements he uses. « His originality is that the work imposes itself first to him, suggests his gallery owner Olivier Antoine. Then, in reverse, he tries to find the genealogy of the piece he has just created. »

The archaeological dimension of the work

Volos Hubert Duprat @ Hubert Duprat

Presenting her book Pour en finir avec la Nature Morte, Laurence Bertrand Dorléac draws a parallel between the votive axes drawn at the Cairn de Gavrinis (Gulf of Morbihan) and Volos presented by Hubert Duprat in his exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. It is an ordinary clay loaf, preserved in its original packaging, ready for use (?), placed vertically, in which is stuck a polished dark stone axe dating from the Neolithic period (6000 to 3000 years ago), found by the artist during his adolescence in Buzet-sur-Baïse (Lot-et-Garonne). The whole constitutes a stylized character (human bust?) like a Neolithic figurine but also a modest enigmatic fetish (votive relic or simple excavated tool?), a ready-made, intertemporal and ritual. Is there a divine or magical value linking the material and spiritual worlds, which attests to the artist’s attachment to prehistory and the value he places vestiges?

A ready « to-be » made

Hubert Duprat Serie les bêtes (1992-1999) silex @ fabrice Gousset

« Conceptually and materially, this object dialectically combines inertia and strenght. It is imminent, suggesting all possible formations and deformations. It is latent, promising, waiting for hands or tools that would give it a use or transform it into a figure. At the stage of choice, it remains ready ‘to-be ‘made », Natacha Pugnet pertinently writes in the book she dedicated to ‘Volos’, published by Fage. As with many of her other works, this small collage-object is Hubert Duprat’s way of linking the work of art to cultures, beliefs, dreams and fictions, giving a historical and anthropological depth to many of its re-uses and appropriations – and enlightens this quote from Aristotle: « Art imitates and completes the movements that nature does not always carry to their end. »

The trichoptera or the incredible gesture of relinquishment of the Artist

Trichoptère et leur fourreau, modèle déposé à l’INPI @ Hubert Duprat

At the end of the 1970s, Hubert Duprat made a real conceptual manifesto, with the staging of the constructive capacities of the trichopteran larva, also known as the phrygan or wood carrier. These common (disgusting) larvae, living in fresh water, have the particularity of building a sheath to protect the different stages of their nymphosis before they fly. They create a temporary habitat from small stones, twigs, shells or foliage. Hubert Duprat provides them with gold spangles, an assortment of turquoise, emerald, sapphire, ruby, opal, lapis lazuli, coral, even small cut diamonds and finally baroque pearls, collecting « work cases » at the end of their transformation.

From randomness to industrial property

Hubert Duprat tube de Trichoptère @ Hubert Duprat

Confronting and associating randomness, slowness and expectation transforms the place and the figure of the artist. Equally abusive, voyeuristic and opportunistic, Duprat renounces any exclusive authorship of the work, while filing a patent which he obtains from the INPI (National Institute of Industrial Property). Between provocation and creative emulation, this troublemaker of norms follows in the footsteps of the research of Miss Elizabeth Mary Smee, a young Englishwoman who in 1863 carried out a whole series of similar experiments between « magic realism » and mocking imagination à la Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986):  » Miss Smee, it’s me. « 

From the Borges library to the work-book

Miroir du Trichoptere, Hubert Duprat, Fage éd. 628 p.

The artist has given a spectacular extension to this project by making the film « Education du trichoptere » and compiling all the knowledge relating to it. This overeagerness for completeness led him to create and make available to the public his library, the fruit of 30 years of research: two thousand books, engravings, photographs, objects and films that can be consulted in the retrospective of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

But what Hubert Duprat holds most dear today is the imposing book-work « Miroir du trichoptère » (Fage Éditions) whose introductory text states that despite its more than 600 pages the book says « almost everything about almost nothing », neither an anthology of publications nor a catalogue raisonné. It is in fact an encyclopaedic « thesaurus » in process, without any vocation of exhaustiveness, like a conceptual architecture of a collection of pieces chosen for the retrospective of a work. With this editorial project, Hubert Duprat confirms the creative process of a ‘library-doing’ as a sculptural act of revelation and modelling of thought. It is an « invention » in the archaeological sense of the term.

An inventory à la Prévert

Miroir du trichoptère salle d’expo MAM-Paris @ MAM 2020

If trichoptera have given an aura to Hubert Duprat’s work, it is almost impossible to account for the reality of all the other anthropological fields it addresses. The assemblages, the unpredictable correspondences, the « broken and stuck together » … are full of references to prehistory, Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance … The list of materials used in Hubert Duprat’s works could also be compared to the inventory of Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) or to the Atlas Mnémosyne by the German art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) where the precious and the industrial are mixed: polystyrene and shagreen, interlacing of copper and plaster, optical or rocky calcite crystals, bone plates or Baltic amber, laminated hematite, red coral and breadcrumbs from the Mediterranean, tyres and inlays of rough diamonds. … up to the impact of shots… Everything is extremely finely worked, orchestrated but more complex than it seems at first glance.

Fictions and enigmas

Miroir du trichoptère salle d’expo MAM-Paris @ MAM 2020

Duprat’s relationship with matter is twisted », writes Patricia Falguière in the catalogue of the exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. He also borrows the principle of concealment from the skilful operations of sheathing, crimping or marquetry that he derives from what used to be called the decorative arts. There is always something hidden in his pieces… There is a process, but you can never be sure to identify it… From production, Duprat delivers the legendary. What makes it possible to compose images, what shocks, intrigues, fascinates… the first principle of the art of production, the logic of the material and the gestures he commands, must serve as a guide to any shaping… The art of production has irremediably entered the era of the enigma. Hubert Duprat arranges his materials like fictions. »

A reflection on sculpture

No chronology in such a protean work or no stylistic identity is discernible. Photographs bear witness to his studio flat transformed into a camera obscura, showing upside down images of his outside world. His architectural works, ceilings made of PVC tubes of different diameters or mica mosaics, his architectural reconstructions in concrete defy the laws of weightlessness, whose useless suspended monumentality contrasts with the fragility of trichopteran tubes…impossible to account for this cabinet of infinite curiosity.