Didier Faustino likes the interstice between different things. As an artist and architect living between Paris and Lisbon, he embraces a pluralistic approach to working across both disciplines in a fluid, transversal manner. His artworks are concerned with the relationship between body and space, and with distortions of conditions and boundaries. Meanwhile, his architectural projects are for clients such as a Mexican art foundation and fellow artist Jean-Luc Moulène in France. The unifying factor in his transdisciplinary practice is the perpetual interrogation of systems and authority. Yet there is something selfcontradictory, too. Faustino is a rebel in a houndstooth suit discussing subversive ideas in his office in the bourgeois 2nd arrondissement of Paris, near Palais Brongniart, the former stock exchange.
Faustino’s adaptability stands him in good stead for reconfiguring the parameters of a project. We are meeting in December, when he has just learnt that his architectural proposal for Fundacíon Alumnos47, an art and education foundation in Mexico City, has to be torn up and started afresh. His original, honeycomb design in glass and concrete, with a fairly open-plan interior accommodating exhibition spaces and a library, was all set. A construction permit had been granted, as had a demolition permit to raze the existing building occupying the site. But no sooner had the bulldozers begun than complications arose with the regional administration. Amid rumours of corruption, the terrain has been closed- off and it is back-to-the-drawing-board. “We worked on the project for five years”, says Faustino, sighing, head in hands. “So we’re now reflecting on a new, even more contemporary form, in order to get things moving along faster.”
Fundacíon Alumnos47 had heard about Faustino through former Domus editor Joseph Grima and architecture curator David van der Leer. “What’s nice is that it started without a particular programme and the building was going to define itself through its utilisation”, says Faustino. “It didn’t have any internal walls or closed spaces, only a transversal territory with areas contaminating one another, onto which programmes and activities could be fixed. The façade of alveoli generated the interior geometry. So it was a blurred building that one would have entered for unexpected events.” For the next stage, Faustino is rethinking the dynamic nature of the programme and how it can produce unexpected situations. And in order to avoid similar complications with the terrain, he is reflecting on a new identity, that of a “mobile territory”. As he says, “The idea is to fragment the project and atomise it into a constellation, taking it into the city.” One possibility might be to buy a large car park that could serve as a base for different modules. From there, the modules – essentially small structures or vehicles – could be displaced for various projects. “An exhibition could consist of two modules that would be assembled in one place, then disassembled; and the library could comprise five modules that are put in different places”, he explains. “It would be something more progressive.”
Faustino has several architectural commissions on the go. He has designed a studio for French artist Jean-Luc Moulène in Normandy, for which construction should begin in 2017; a residence in Costa Rica; and an experimental house in Delta del Ebro Natural Parc, two hours’ drive from Barcelona. The latter is part of the Solo Houses series spearheaded by property developer Christian Bourdais. Around 12 architects, including Sou Fujimoto and Studio Mumbai, have been commissioned for a project. “The house hinges on the question of public–private and has only one wall inside, which turns around like a Mobius strip”, informs Faustino.
Born in Paris to Portuguese parents, Faustino studied architecture, and soon after graduating started making artworks. The first was a film about inequality and sexuality for an exhibition during Gay Pride; the second was his chair Love Me Tender (2000). With legs thinning into tips, it requires the viewer to question how they would sit down and control their posture. It’s included in Faustino’s exhibition My Crafts at Galerie Michel Rein in Paris, alongside more recent ‘zero comfort’ furniture-type pieces challenging the relationship with the body. Another work is Delete Me (2016), a chair with a seat in the form of a cross. Faustino also began reflecting on the notion of the body in containers, such as with Body in Transit (2000), to provide a reading of the current state of geopolitical and cultural activity, with the desire of producing new tools for awareness and resistance. One of his latest pieces is Democracia Portátil (2016), a metallic structure designed for transporting a group of people in the back of a pickup truck that refers to the aesthetics of military armoured vehicles. Yet, in this case, it’s for protect- ing the freedom of speech. The work was presented in his exhibition at Parque Galeria in Mexico City last year. “In Mexico, as in other countries, there are many places where you can’t express yourself freely, so we reflected on this, wanting to find the best way to protect the ‘word’”, Faustino explains. “It’s an artistic proposal engaged in a simple principle: we cannot talk so we’ll make things that can be moved and put anywhere.” Also in the show was Domestic Anarchy, wallpaper that turns the circle-A symbol of anarchy into a repeat pattern. Other projects deal with furtive architecture, such as Lampedusa (2015), a vulnerable-looking structure wrapped in tarpaulin sheets and attached to a base with ropes.
Named after the Italian island south of Sicily that African migrants are desperate to reach, it was conceived through questioning what migrants might try to do if they were lost at sea. “If I were in that situation, what could I draw or build?” asks Faustino, concluding that it would be “a floating buoy”. Following this, Faustino made A Home is Not a Hole (2016) for an exhibition with Atelier Bow-Wow at Maison de la culture du Japon in Paris. The minimal, faceted egg-shaped pod, designed as a refuge from the outside world, was balanced precariously on one of its sides, as if it had been overturned in a hurricane. Made from eucalyptus tree trunks and mos- quito netting, the piece was intended to be ephemeral and to be recycled back in Portugal, where the wood came from.
“In my work, I like the back-and-forth between the collective and the individual, the intimate and the public, drawing out questions between one and the other by making proposals that interrogate and push people to reason differently”, declares Faustino, who feels an affinity with artists Pedro Reyes, Kader Attia, and Cyprien Gaillard. Indeed, his platform for ‘performance architecture’ called This is not a Love Song (2014), is a stage in the form of an explosive burst, which has popped up in Meudon, near Paris, as well as in London and Geneva. “It’s an event that rises up and explodes – a metaphor for what’s happening today, when we need things that are a bit crazy”, he says. Shaking things up is second nature to Faustino, who has made a series of works questioning the ‘imposed order’ of riot police through his appropriation of crowd control barriers for use as modular artworks. The first such piece, Memories of Tomorrow (2013), was installed in the Tuileries Garden in Paris during FIAC. With the barriers arranged in classical, geometric formation, it echoed the 17th century landscaping style of André Le Nôtre, transposing the role of the barriers, which in France are public space”. He continues, “Bringing something that’s unbearable from our world [into an exhibition] is part of the artistic process for me. One of the fundamental roles of the artist is to question the world in which we live.” The idea of protection filtered into his installation HB-IV Continuum (2016), for the Hermès’ jewellery collection designed by Pierre Hardy. Faustino’s solution was to create a series of screens, like shields.
Juggling art and architecture projects simultaneously, how does Faustino prioritise his time? “I don’t know how to prioritise my time”, he exclaims. “What’s most important is what lifts my heart or revolts me – it’s very instinctive. I was invited to Japan by a humanitarian organisation [to discuss] the issue of constructing habitats for refugees. Once we decide to work together, that will be my priority”.
Didier Faustino: My Crafts is at Galerie Michel Rein in Paris, until 11 January 2017.
Utopia/Dystopia Part II, in which Didier Faustino is participating, is at the MAAT in Lisbon, 08 March – 14 August 2017.