Latifa Echakhch “Le Jardin Mécanique” 
at NMNM–Villa Sauber
, Monaco

Zulma la charmeuse de serpent, 2018. Video color and sound, 3:35 (detail)
© Latifa Echakhch, Courtesy kamel mennour, Paris/Londres, kaufmann repetto, Milan/New York, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich/New York, Dvir Gallery, Brussels/Tel Aviv

 

Invited by the NMNM—Nouveau Musée National de Monaco to create an exhibition for Villa Sauber before its closure for renovation, Latifa Echakhch devised an installation inspired by the tradition of the Romantic landscape, with representations of lush vegetation and ruins.

Le jardin mécanique brings together memories of the 19th-century development of Monte-Carlo—featuring, for example, the construction of the Opéra Garnier and the laying out of the Exotic Garden – and the childhood impressions and memories of the artist. On the scale of a villa, it plays on our perception of space and time and considers how nature might survive in a post-apocalyptic décor.

Latifa Echakhch was born in El Khnansa, Morocco, in 1974. Shortly after, her family moved to Aix-les-Bains where her father worked for the Casino Grand Cercle, with its prestigious theatre. Important aspects of her childhood were the natural landscapes that inspired some of Lamartine’s most beautiful poems and the discovery of the backstage area of the theatre and its machinery, devised and installed in the early 20th century and similar in many ways to that of the Monte Carlo Opera.

On the occasion of several visits to Monaco between 2016 and 2018, Latifa Echakhch built her project around emblematic places of the Principality such as the Garnier Opera, the Villa Sauber and the Exotic Garden, and different collections of the museum, such as Alphonse Visconti’s set models or Madame de Galéa’s collection devoted to mechanical automata, which was at the origin of the installation of the National Museum at Villa Sauber in 1972.

Latifa Echakhch invites the spectator to stroll through this mechanical garden, questioning the notion of representation and exploring the reciprocal interactions of the visual arts, poetry, architecture, theatre and cinema.

Forty plywood panels cut and painted with natural or architectural motifs are displayed throughout the museum’s black rooms, which, for the exhibition, have been made to resemble behind the scenes of a theatre. The panels were made after set models made by Alphonse Visconti, head decorator at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo from 1903 to 1924.

Latifa Echakhch selected fragments of models for such productions as Pompeï, Moïse and Masques et Bergamasques, created in Monaco in 1919 in the spirit of Verlaine’s Fêtes Galantes. The selected details were then produced in the form of scenery and laid out around the exhibition space to form a landscape as artificial as it is fanciful. This installation, which reveals the back of the scenery as much as its myriad of painted details, annihilates the illusionist function of painting as much as its narrative character, to plunge visitors into an uncertain environment.

The pieces of the landscape thus recomposed are hung from imaginary theatre machinery and related with the tradition of mechanical automata made in Paris workshops during the 19th century. These “salon” toys, linked to French colonialism and a fondness for exoticism, inspired five films that are presented as part of the mechanical garden.

The automata in the de Galéa collection were exhibited in Villa Sauber for almost forty years. In spite of changes of costume and restoration work that was on occasion somewhat slapdash, most of them are still in working order. By filming the original automata together with electric replicas made by a master clockmaker for the former Musée national de Monaco, Latifa Echakhch strengthens the feeling of “Inquiétante Etrangeté” provoked by these anthropomorphic sculptures and she replicates, through fugitive plans, the mirror relationship between an automaton and its double, the original and the copy.

For the display of her ten new paintings, Sans Titre (le jardin exotique), Latifa Echakhch used the perspective of a cinematographic sequence. The images are taken from old black-and-white and coloured postcards of Monaco’s Exotic Garden. The photographs were projected onto pieces of canvas coated with concrete and the image partially painted. The coating was then broken in previously defined zones. The work was not therefore developed in the manner of a painting but as a performance, through the scraping and removal of the paint layer. This relationship with the matter harmonises with the creation and illusionist laying-out of the Exotic Garden during the 1930s, in which a setting of rocks was created almost entirely with the use of concrete, which in some way heralded the development of the Monegasque cityscape during the rest of the century.

 

Latifa Echakhch, Sans titre (Le jardin exotique), 2018
© Latifa Echakhch, Courtesy kamel mennour, Paris/Londres, kaufmann repetto, Milan/New York, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich/New York, Galerie Dvir, Bruxelles/Tel Aviv

 

Le prestidigitateur, 2018, Video color and sound, 3:06
© Latifa Echakhch, Courtesy kamel mennour, Paris/Londres, kaufmann repetto, Milan/New York, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich/New York, Dvir Gallery, Brussels/Tel Aviv

 

Alphonse Visconti
Set model for « Masques et Bergamasques » (detail), 1919
Archives Monte-Carlo S.B.M., on permanent deposit at NMNM

 

Pacha fumeur de narguilé, 2018. Video color and sound, 2:49
© Latifa Echakhch, Courtesy kamel mennour, Paris/Londres, kaufmann repetto, Milan/New York, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich/New York, Dvir Gallery, Brussels/Tel Aviv

 

Latifa Echakhch
Le jardin mécanique
Curated by Célia Bernasconi
20 April–28 October 2018

NMNM – Villa Sauber | Avenue Princesse Grace 17, Monaco
+37798989126
www.nmnm.mc