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22 Oct 2021 / by Vincent Broquaire

It Just Comes to You: Vincent Broquaire on Animating M+

Photograph showing a 3x6 frame storyboard sketched in a notebook. The frames show close-ups of a man tying long rods together with rope. Several black pens are on the grid-covered surface on which the notebook sits.

Broquaire's sketches for the M+ commission How to Build a Museum

In 2019, M+ commissioned French artist Vincent Broquaire to create ten one-minute animated episodes commemorating the construction and opening of the museum building. The drawings needed to be architecturally precise and based on careful study of the site. The rest was left up to Broquaire’s imagination. Below, he traces the evolution and ethos of his do-it-yourself aesthetic, his views on humanity’s relationship with the environment, and the intuitive ways he uncovered magic in the details at M+.

Stepping Out of the Margins

What I like about drawing is the economy of means. Simple lines. In some of my work, I question and satirise the processes behind technology, the internet, interfaces. I think it’s interesting to approach these topics with a primitive, simple tool—as simple as drawing. I like this spontaneous way of creating, and I try to exploit its visual impact. My practice involves all these different mediums around drawing: animation, wall drawing, video installation, even live performance.

Photograph showing a mural on the white exterior of a low building. In the bottom right of the building is a large, monochrome rectangular frame showing a flat body of water surrounded by outcroppings of rocks. A long thin rope is drawn from the base of the building up to the roof, where it is lowered by pulleys down towards the rectangular frame. Little men drawn at various locations oversee the movement of trees, rocks, and clouds along the pulley, as if they will be lowered into the waiting scene within the rectangle.

Little men lower rocks, trees, and clouds into a waiting scene in Continuum (2018), a public commission in Lyon, France

As a kid, I used to make little comics; I learned a more realistic drawing style in my high school years. I continued to draw in college, where I became interested in contemporary photography and modern art. By the end of my studies, I was more and more interested in illustration, graphic design, typography. I realised that the idea is more important than the technical aspect. This was an important step. I came back to drawing in a different way: a more spontaneous way. Just with a line. Black and white.

During my fine arts studies, I began to make some little instinctive drawings when I was away from the teachers. These drawings were an accumulation of ideas, funny quotes, absurd situations. They were made in little sketchbooks or around what I was writing. During art history classes, for example, I was drawing around the margins. It’s interesting to see how these little drawings and notes slowly became the centre of my practice and developed across different mediums.

Photograph showing two drawings. The left-hand drawing is black pen on white surface showing a man throwing a circular shape towards the right side of the paper. The right-hand drawing is white pen on black surface showing the trajectory of the circular shape from the first drawing.

The action escapes the page in Broquaire's ink-on-paper diptych Comet Throw (2017)

My first dive into animation was in a workshop in Strasbourg with a graphic and motion designer. The workshop was not focused on technique; it was more focused on creating a character, something short with visual impact. The technique was really DIY. I began to do some short films with sound, just with drawing and Photoshop, and with the movement, the timing, the looping, the sound—all these elements—the drawings seemed to come to life. Immediately, I was thinking that I needed to work further with the animation medium.

After my studies, I took some time to learn other animation techniques. Now, my technique depends on the project I’m working on, but I still keep this DIY way of making simple animations or animated GIFs. I like to start from drawing on paper and keep the imprint of my hand, then I do the animation in the computer. I want to keep this artisanal aspect.

When it comes to drawing, a screen is as important as a piece of paper. I like when the drawing leaves the sheet of paper and explores new spaces and contexts. For me, an artist’s work has to explore different mediums or suggest them. I quite quickly realised that the screen and internet are interesting spaces to do so. In my work progressbar (2013), for example, you can see this tractor pulling along a video progress bar. It’s a video about a video. It’s an animation about what a screen or a website is, questioning what we are looking at.

Photograph showing a flat screen television propped up against a large potted plant in the corner of a room. On the screen is a monochrome animation that animates the interior of the potted plant like an x-ray. Long, root-like wires extend from the top of the pot's edge. Men in construction hats stand at various intervals around the animated plant, accompanied by tools like rakes and tractors.

A video installation reveals the whimsical inner workings of a potted plant in Micro Mondes (2014/2017), presented at the Sciences Po Contemporary Art Prize, Paris in 2014

As I’ve been working over the past years, I’ve noticed I have an interest in humorously and theatrically evoking the making of man, of a second nature constructed by humans with their excesses, contradictions, and megalomania. It’s a consequence of an immoderate faith in technology, I think, and in my drawings and animations, there’s a kind of tension. It’s a dilemma. Is it poetic? Dreamy? Sarcastic? A critique?

This is a commentary on our world and how complex and paradoxical our relationship with our environment is: destroying it while artificially building it at the same time. There are a lot of situations that are actually absurd but are shown like they’re normal. With my drawings, it’s not normal at all, but it’s presented like it is. I like this contrast. I try to make the viewer think.

Monochrome sketch showing a sky of dense, grey horizontal lines. A perfect white circle is near the middle of the frame. At the bottom right corner, three little men in construction hats prop up a circle coloured in with dense, grey horizontal lines, as if it is a missing piece from the sky.

The puzzle of engineering an environment in Broquaire's ink-on-paper drawing Drag and drop (2015)

Re-constructing Museums

In 2016, I was commissioned by the Centre Pompidou to make the web series Muséiformes. Rather than approach the Centre Pompidou’s collection, I decided to take an interest in its architecture. There were ten episodes to make, so I chose ten famous museums, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Metz. My idea was to tell the story of how each building could be constructed in a simple way and push this didactic approach. That was my first project with architecture; now, it’s more and more present in my work. In talking about architecture, I think it’s also a commentary about contemporary culture and our relationship with space and our surroundings.

Photograph showing a grid of thirteen sketches showing the transformation of a flat rectangular shape into an aerial view of a curvy, tube-shaped building.

Sketches showing the inflation of West Kowloon station, part of the surrounding infrastructure presented in M+'s How to Build a Museum

For me, of course, the museum is its architecture. But I see it as a platform with something always circulating inside—artworks, artists, conferences, performances, lectures—a kind of microcosm.

For the M+ project, I had ten episodes to make about one museum. Understanding how the museum was made and deconstructing it helped me a lot. I was really diving into the architecture. I studied the West Kowloon Cultural District. I searched for pictures from the 1980s and 1990s; I searched maps and studied details of the site’s topography. It was important for me to understand the context of the museum: where it is located, the reclaimed land, what it’s like to be at West Kowloon.

Photograph showing a man using his mobile phone to take a picture of a square patch of new grass placed atop of a field of dying grass. The man wears glasses, t-shirt, and boots and carries a camera and bright green safety vest. In the back right is a cluster of palm trees surrounded by temporary construction fencing. In the back left is a walkway and a harbour view.

Broquaire on a research visit to the West Kowloon Cultural District in 2019. Photo: Chris Sullivan

The first thing that impressed me about Hong Kong was the scale—it’s huge. There’s this contrast in architecture everywhere—bamboo scaffolding, contemporary architecture, DIY things. The implementation of the city is also an interesting contrast. You see these huge buildings coming out of the jungle, and that really impressed me. The size of the museum stood out, as well as the contemporary nature of the museum with traditional aspects blended together. I was really interested in the ceramic tiles, which are rare in a big museum like this, and the giant LED screen on the facade.

The idea was to start from something tiny and get bigger with each episode. In the beginning, we see some workers building something, but we’re not understanding what it is. Later, in episodes four and five, we see the structure unfolding. I decided to focus on structural aspects like the mega trusses, the tower, and details like the ceramic tiles. All of these represent M+ for me.

I like to put the focus on one character. I did not see him so much as a worker but as a guide, someone who could take us by the hand on a tour of the construction site while also participating in the construction. I like to say it’s me because it’s funny to imagine that it’s me. It’s like an unconscious self-portrait.

How to Build a Museum: Episode 5
How to Build a Museum: Episode 5

How do you build a museum like M+? In step five of ten, we roll out the wrecking ball

The challenge for this project was to achieve this balance between real elements and an imaginative, magical look. Sometimes, I had to make a choice: is it really so important for the viewer to see this, or does it need to be more imaginative? Sometimes, the visual aspect prevailed over the technical aspect. When the viewer watches the video, it has to be light, delicate, fluid: you pull a string, and everything arrives. My favourite moment is when the weight of a wrecking ball is used to inflate the M+ tower.

The sound really makes the drawings come to life. The realistic sound also adds a contrast with the simple black-and-white line drawings. I recorded a lot of the sounds myself using little objects at home and found some on sound banks. We kind of feel it in the videos. Sometimes, it’s not the sounds of huge machines but little objects. The sound is really pushing the magic and imagination for me.

Drawing showing neat rows of sketches of clouds, trees, and rocks. A little man in a cap and knapsack straddles two rocks in a sketch near the centre of the frame.

Broquaire distilling a landscape to its smallest components in the ink-on-paper drawing Flattening (2019)

I like to consider myself not at all as an expert but more as a curious person. To see things with a naiveté. This idea about shaping buildings arrives with sketches and just observing things. Looking at things. Thinking about the shapes, then, thinking ‘what material can it be’? I look for simple, intuitive ways, like when you meet someone and just know to shake hands. It just comes to you. It’s like magic.

—as told to Ikko Yokoyama and Chris Sullivan

This article was edited from a conversation between the artist, Ikko Yokoyama (Lead Curator, Design and Architecture), and Chris Sullivan (Senior Producer, Digital Content). All images courtesy of Vincent Broquaire, unless otherwise noted.

Vincent Broquaire is a Strasbourg-based artist working with drawings, animations, and installations in collaboration with galleries and museums. He has exhibited at HyperPavilion (Venice Biennale), Centre Pompidou Paris, Centre Pompidou Metz, West Bund Museum Shanghai, XPO Gallery, Sciences-Po Prize for Contemporary Art, Parédolie in Marseille, Musée d’Arts de Nantes, Museum of the Moving Image in New York, and Hypersalon in Miami. He studied art and graphic design at L’école européenne supérieure d’arts de Lorient and Haute école des arts du Rhin in Strasbourg.

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