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About An Artwork: Parfums de pauvres

Fabienne Audéoud, Parfums de pauvres (2019), exhibition view « Futur, ancien, fugitif », Palais de Tokyo (16.10.19 – 05.01.20), courtesy of the artist, photo credit: Nikolai Jakobsen

Fabienne Audéoud’s installation work 'Parfums de pauvres' found in the ongoing group exhibition 'Futur, ancien, fugitif' at Palais de Tokyo in Paris must be one of the favourite and most thought-provoking we've seen all year. Ingenious. A collection of down-market cheap perfume bottles with names that either allude to power, position and character or ”infringe” on the names of the haute-brand originals that they sometimes copy. It appears to bring up a question of economic wealth gaps in society and "relative poverty”. A call to mind of the universal desire to build identity via affiliation with certain consumer brands over others. Makes you of people who love Chanel or Dior as their fave brand but whose love is founded by a 40 euro lipstick they can afford rather than that bag they will never have in their lifetime. The middle-class can, as we know, approach luxury brand iconography this way. Makes you think as well of case studies at business school about how poor people would prefer less if it is tied with a known brand rather than more to satisfy indispensable nourishment needs. It is at once alien and familiar to see a string of these perfume bottles that the artist found around various places and corners in Paris. The sort of bottles you see as a travesty when spotting them at LIDL or cheap wholesale stores. Who buys them at the end of the day nevertheless says a lot about parts of consumer culture we tend to speak very little about, that relating to those who are less privileged. Inspiring thoughts in various directions, we got in touch with Fabienne herself to learn more about her process and own ideas about presenting the work.

C-P: What strikes a chord with me seeing this work is how rarely we talk about the consumer habits of people who by certain societal and financial standards would be deemed "poor". Consumer culture the way it is reported on normally informs the sort of means possessed by middle and upper-classes and I felt by bringing these "downmarket" perfumes to light with your work, you touch on many things at once.  Perhaps I'm reading other things into the work than was your actual points of departure for it.

F.A: My questions were actually more about the creative teams or individuals who thought “Dispute”, “Solitude”, “British Emotion” or “Insanity” were notions some people would like to buy and wear. How and why did they come to consider that these were good or good enough ideas? Who did they intend to address and seduce with such brutal utterances? Were they actually aware that “Touz” meant orgy in French, or of what "Nob-luck” could imply in English? Did they have a good laugh with “Coinci-dance” and “Untrue Lies”? People I was buying these bottles with seemed to make up their mind by how they smell, but I never actually asked them about their choices.

Fabienne Audéoud, Parfums de pauvres (2019), exhibition view « Futur, ancien, fugitif » courtesy of the artist, photo credit: Nikolai Jakobsen

C-P: What has the scouting work of finding all the perfume bottles been like and were there specific parameters you set out for the work and the bottles that were to be included?

F.A: Even if what I get and spend each month is under the official level of poverty in France, I am aware that, as an artist, my position is not quite that of other poor people. So, I initially only bought bottles under 5€. The most expensive ones were just about that price and were purchased in the United Arab Emirates: “Prophecy”, “Chastity” and “Cubism pour Femmes”, but the majority of them come from my neighborhood, the 18th arrondissement in Paris. With the show at the Palais de Tokyo, I could afford some at 10€, like “Phobia Men” or “Chatte’ (Chatte means “pussy” in French). I suppose there’s a bit of a collector's urgency to acquire the pieces you don't yet have, but more importantly, I was very curious to see if sentences would "appear" or if a sort of discourse (addressed to the poor) would materialize. My selection is personal but based on how I could read the performance of symbolic violence within language through this medium.

C-P: Some of the perfume names allude to power and character traits while others channel into and "paraphrase" the names of the original brand perfumes that they seem to copy. What are some discoveries you made about the rationales behind the names?

F.A: Power (and abuse of power coming as no surprise) seems to be addressed to the male (poor) consumer: “Tender Stalking”, “Crook”, “Easy Way For Men”, “Predator”, “Pure Cosa Nostra”. Following up on the gendered families, “Faithfull”, “Spit Off, or “The Scene” are for women. “Enterity", ‘Goya”, “My Manager” “Obligation” “Instruction” “Fundamentals”, “Dilemme” or “Superstition" are not labelled as gendered… “Quintal” means “100kg” and it is so weird that I have no idea in which family it belongs. "La Chute” is a particularly vicious one to me. I don’t think it refers to Camus’s book, and if it did, it would not help understand why this should be a name for a fragrance…They all reinforce a violence that, I reckon, is very much related to the situation people who are supposed to buy them find themselves in.

Fabienne Audéoud, Parfums de pauvres (2019), exhibition view « Futur, ancien, fugitif » courtesy of the artist, photo credit: Nikolai Jakobsen

C-P: Inevitably, one is led to ask, are there any observations that can be shared about what "perfumes of the poor" actually smell like? Are there ideas of extending the work as a sensory installation which allows the smell to become more of an integral part of the experience and reception of the work?

F.A: There are a few exceptions but most of the fragrances are not particularly “interesting” or should I say "enjoyable". I don’t really test them anymore myself as I think their names are brutal and malevolent enough. I think the cruelty here is the producers’ call. It’s not really about the poor, but more about the violence of being addressed as poor.

Fabienne Audéoud, Parfums de pauvres (2019), exhibition view « Futur, ancien, fugitif » courtesy of the artist, photo credit: Nikolai Jakobsen

The exhibition is on view through January 5 at Palais de Tokyo.

Participating artists:

Nils Alix-Tabeling, Mali Arun (Lauréate du Grand Prix du Salon de Montrouge 2018), Fabienne Audéoud, Carlotta Bailly-Borg, Grégoire Beil, Martin Belou, Jean-Luc Blanc, Maurice Blaussyld, Anne Bourse,Kévin Bray, Madison Bycroft, Julien Carreyn, Marc Camille Chaimowicz in collaboration with We Do Not Work Alone et Wallpapers by Artists, Antoine Château, Nina Childress, Jean Claus, Jean-Alain Corre, Jonas Delaborde et Hendrik Hegray, Bertrand Dezoteux, Vidya Gastaldon, Corentin Grossmann, Agata Ingarden, Renaud Jerez, Pierre Joseph, Laura Lamiel, Anne Le Troter, Antoine Marquis, Caroline Mesquita, Anita Molinero, Aude Pariset, Nathalie Du Pasquier, Marine Peixoto, Jean-Charles de Quillacq, Antoine Renard, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Linda Sanchez (Lauréate du Prix des Amis du Palais de Tokyo 2018), Alain Séchas, Anna Solal, Kengné Téguia, Sarah Tritz, Nicolas Tubéry, Turpentine, Adrien Vescovi, Nayel Zeaiter.

Curators: Franck Balland, Daria de Beauvais, Adélaïde Blanc, Claire Moulène Assistant curator: Marilou Thiébault


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