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Mystery can have a physical shape: The works of Lucien Jeanprêtre

December 16, 2018


Enter the trickster. . .


Born in Neuchâtal, Switzerland, San Francisco-based artist and game designer Lucien Jeanprêtre spent his teenage years participating in the circus as a juggler and magician. These experiences helped Jeanprêtre develop a bond with the stage, and he joined Place Aux Jeunes! (Space for the young people!), which helped to further foster his interest in and experience with the stage, in various aspects - as performer, as scriptwriter, and as part of a community.


Jeanprêtre went on to study at Ecole cantonal d'arte de Lausanne (ECAL) in Switzerland. While a student at ECAL, he collaborated with his childhood friend on designing a poker-like game they called Morino™. This was the beginning of Jeanprêtre’s intrigue in game design, systems (both visible and invisible), and chaos theory. These would continue to be core themes that present themselves through complicated layers in Jeanprêtre’s work.


As Jeanprêtre finished up his program at ECAL and prepared his portfolio for applying to the San Francisco Art Institute(SFAI) master’s program, he found that he was inspired by figures like Franz West and Franz Erhard Walther. Jeanprêtre’s portfolio was filled with drawings and sculptures that involved activation. The drawings behaved as a set of “protocols” for the subsequent sculptures. These pieces activated the potential between the performer and the sculpture. The sculpture lies dormant, until the performer sets off a specific trigger, causing a chain reaction, leading to the transformation of static sculpture to kinetic sculpture. 


Once he began the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at SFAI in 2016, Jeanprêtre became more and more interested in performance as well as the work of Romanian artist André Cadere. After his first performance at SFAI, his work began to reflect this redirection towards a focus on the relationship between sculpture and performer and made a tool, so he could have “things to do something with.” 



Intrusion I was performed during Jeanprêtre’s second semester at SFAI with the established Bay Area photographer, Linda Connor at the Diego Rivera Gallery. However, they crashed the exhibition that was currently on display. They were not originally included in the group exhibition, but, rather, decided to include themselves for a brief moment. With their mouths covered with black tape, they set up the foldable sculpture in the gallery, interrupting the group show. They left it there in the space for about a minute before returning to “remove” it by cutting a string, causing the foldable structure to fall and destroy itself. This functioned as a metaphoric removal of the sculpture by destroying it, triggering a turning point in Jeanprêtre’s practice. 


The following year at the MFA program’s culminating exhibition known as Vernissage, Jeanprêtre devised a performance piece called Habitats, and brought in two fellow performance artists Anastasia Rasschupkina and Charlie Ford



With this piece, Jeanprêtre explored such themes as social experimental contexts and behavior, decision making tactics, chroma therapy, linear visitor experiences, and invisible performance.  When talking about this piece, the artist used the term “situation specific” - a spin in the conventional “site specific” term more commonly associated with installation art. For Jeanprêtre, this term of “situation specific” reflects on the uniqueness of experience, understanding that each time the “same” piece is performed, based on the environment it’s in, it can never really be the same. Pulling from the history of Fluxus happenings, Jeanprêtre brings to focus an understanding of the infinite possibilities each moment holds. The structure and vibe of the space itself, the social dynamics present between the individual attendees, the overall environment. With this piece at Fort Mason during Vernissage, the socio-spatial and temporal dynamics were a convergence of all things possible. The busy halls of young artists running back and forth, holding their own glasses of wine made the overall experience of Vernissage itself slightly overwhelming and easy to forget what you’d just seen.



Spread across three separate rooms at Fort Mason, each room was sealed and then flooded with red wine. Downward cascading copper pipes protruded from the ceiling, suggesting that the wine had dripped down through them into the “basin” below. An eerie, green light encapsulates each space. According to chroma therapy practices, green light stimulates hormone responses, meant here to strengthen the body. This triggers an invisible performance inside the bodies of the two performers. The performers were given a freeform guideline. Jeanprêtre told them to “just be in the space, sometimes switch the space. Spend time in the room. Just be in the room,” allowing for both a methodic and meditative performative approach to take place. There are two opposing forces being enacted upon the body - the effect of inebriation from the wine and the push for balance in one’s surroundings from the green light. For Jeanprêtre, the entire performance happens invisible to our eyes, happening on an internal, biological level. A battle for balance within. As for the audience, their experience of this piece could have either felt like a loop on repeat. Spacetime itself was perturbed by repeatedly seeing the same performer in different rooms.



Taking the dynamics of various social interactions into further consideration, Jeanprêtre returned to game design, and has just recently released a new logic and strategy themed virtual installation he calls Marble Court. Jeanprêtre has always been fascinated with riddles, how and why people make certain desicions, puzzles, logic, and communication and brought these interests into the making of this game. There are two kings, each player/performer is randomly assigned a king for that round. There are two goals: one is to reach throne before the other king; the second is to capture the other king. At least one of these must happen in order to win. 


 With the impending release set for December 2018, under the label The Secret Stage Studio, Marble Court invites online players to not play, but, rather, perform. Once an account is created, an interactive experience is able to take place. Nothing is explicitly explained, but players/performers can refer to the Forum for collaborative discussions surrounding the rules of the game, different strategies, and the story behind the game. Everyone is encouraged to contribute and come up with their own suggestions. 


What's next for Lucien Jeanprêtre? He is participating in a group exhibition titled Reality Under Construction at The Collective Gallery in Denver, Colorado. Curated by Arika von Edler.






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Mystery can have a physical shape: The works of Lucien Jeanprêtre

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