Boris proposed to meet me in a café at Jaurès, by the Canal de l’Ourcq, to present his project DAMP, Display-Algorithm-Procedural Modelling. When we sat down, as often happens in this kind of situation, the conversation began elsewhere. I can’t recall why it moved towards what we would be doing today if certain events in our lives had turned out differently. If we had studied in different schools, lived in different cities, not met this or that person. I guess it was just another way of getting to know each other. He and I don’t know each other well.
Boris then opened his laptop to show me the DAMP website, explaining how he had modelled elements of tables, planes, legs of various shapes and sizes, as well as models of over 500 objects, including his own works and those of other artists, and others whose 3D scans had been made available online by museums. An algorithm chooses from among this array to construct a table on which it arranges different objects. The result is a digital representation of what Boris calls a Display, which he can then render as sculpture. From the DAMP website, you can buy two types of work, one digital, the other physical. The same Display may be purchased as an NFT containing images and a 3D animation, or as sculpture, the material form of these representations. Boris smiled as he explained that with the purchase of a sculpture the corresponding NFT is offered as a gift, telling me how in his work there are many objects that navigate in this way between the two states. Des jeux dont j’ignore les règles/Games whose rules I ignore, exhibited at the 2015 Venice Biennale, presents objects in glass cabinets, alongside videos of people manipulating the same objects in games, with unexplained actions and movements. The objects’ functions remain as mysterious in use as they are behind glass. Boris describes them as banks of form that generate ever-different actions and gestures. When I point out that these ideas of form banks, choice and appropriation could equally be said to animate DAMP, he specifies that, while he created an algorithm to construct the Displays because it allows for rapid creation, it is also possible to arrange elements oneself. In fact, a composition put together by Joseph Allen will be among the Displays exhibited at Galerie Allen.
I think Boris was about to say something important about his random and almost infinitely varied constructions when, unable to hold on any longer, I left to go to the bathroom. Afterwards, washing my hands, I thought back to Boris’ 2002 exhibition Cosmos at the Palais de Tokyo, which, as a student passing through Paris, I had stumbled on by chance. I had found it rather amusing, this collection of VHS cases whose images, graphics and cover designs evoked films of varied and unexpected registers: the philosophical thriller, the experimental space opera, and even a pop comedy on the social function of art, all cinematic adaptations of Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos.
I hadn’t heard of this novel then, and doubtless didn’t appreciate the fact that for Boris the work was about trying to give coherent form to chaos. In any case, it was the memory of these films-that-never-were that led me, on returning to Boris, to bring up another of his projects that materialise fictions, News from Friends. Since 2016, he has sent post- cards to spaces hosting his exhibitions, signed by dead artists, excusing themselves for not being able to make it to the opening. It is, he explains, a way of imagining the signs people important to him might send. Meticulously elaborate, he scours online postcard dealers for images that contain links direct and indirect, explicit and implicit, with the life and work of the artist writing to him. For his 2016 exhibition at the Galerie Allen, Mike Kelley sent an image of a wishing well, the same one that Kelley reproduced in one of his works as a mound of repulsive matter. According to Jean-Philippe Antoine’s seminars, this shapeless motif, recurrent in the artist’s work, can be associated with the alien beings of the 1950s science fiction films that fascinated him. Suddenly, I thought of the gelatinous matter of The Blob (1958) or the substance that covers up the hero of First Man into Space (1959,) filmed in black and white, recalling the black, irregular coating of Boris’ DAMPs, that amalgamates his objects with their tables. According to Boris, this petrification might bring to mind science-fiction fantasy in which ancient artefacts, as time passes, are covered with soot. It seems also that their strangeness is compounded by their appearance in two environments: computer screen and exhibition space. Concerning the latter state, Boris tells me he covers his sculptures with papier-mâché before painting them. Their rough- ness, then, is in fact meticulously hand made, to evoke the kind of 3D surface generated by an algorithm.
After our meeting, I walked along the canal, observing the choreography of cyclists and pedestrians, among whom I made out a man who seemed to be wearing a mask bearing the image of his own face. I felt I needed time to think about the serendipities that had led to this encounter with Boris, and the way in which his work allows fiction to emerge from the concrete. I wondered, then, what we would make in the future of the idea of offering NFTs with the purchase of sculpture.
- François Aubart