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Maxime Berthou, French born in 1981, graduated from the Aix-en-Provence Higher Art School before joining the post-diploma of Fresnoy Studio National des Arts Contemporain in Tourcoing then following a pre-doctoral training at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
His artistic practice consists of making cinematographic essays based on the experience of performative gestures. His work is part of a practice-based research context overlaying an artistic framework on a scientific framework.
Mark Požlep was born in 1981 in Celje, Slovenia. In 2006, he completed his BA at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana where he also received his MA from the Department of Video in 2009. Pozlep then pursued his Advanced Master’s degree at the Sint-Lukas School in Brussels where he researched trans-media. In 2019 he graduated from HISK – the Higher Institute of Fine Arts – in Ghent, Belgium, where he currently lives and works.
Požlep’s works in the field of visual art, performance, spatial installations and video. His artistic practice often involves large voyages, which function both as long-durational performance/endurance art and as an art piece in itself. It’s an intense procedural exploration, aiming to reveal the tension between politics and poetics, individual action and personal impotence. The journey is not an illustration or a metaphor; it is an experience; it is the crossing of real places.
Požlep is a storyteller who draws on popular culture and current events to perform tales about historical personalities, literary protagonists, characters from film and figures from various social groups. He is acutely aware of the sensitive nature of the materials he uses for stories which he effortlessly interprets using various medias and modes of presentation. He gives primary consideration to image vs. video, performance vs. play and classical gallery displays vs. theatre staging. He takes us into a world composed of documentary materials, lived experience, spoken word as well the unconscious and the elusive, while refraining from creating an atmosphere of mystery. Požlep transmutes his own reality into the reality of each one of us with incredible lucidity. He propels us into a realm where his stories make reality more bearable ; a realm in which childlike yearning and enthusiasm fuse and transform into spirited anecdotes full of unforgettable exploits. He is an adventurer, a tireless explorer and an incorrigible idealist. He is playful yet utterly serious, precise yet unpredictably clumsy. While Požlep continues to return to the canvas and the brush, his faithful allies, his spirit refuses to be confined to the safe space of his atelier. As an excellent navigator both at sea and through the contemporary world he traverses, he sheds light on issues of power, as well as minority ethnic groups and cultures that he sees to be invisible.
His production, ranging from painting, video, performance and installation, was included in the 5th and 7th Triennial of Contemporary Slovenian Art, presented in the ESSL Museum Vienna and in numerous solo and collective exhibitions across Europe.
with Mark Požlep, 2017-2019
Mark Požlep met Maxime Berthou in Slovenia. This rich friendship led to four years of collaboration as a duo and later to an art residency program that fostered exchanges between Slovenia and France lasting more than ten years, hosted by the organization Otto Prod. The partnership between both artists often takes the form of long-term performances that center around observation and experience, a form of understanding, and role-playing within the social environment that they have both chosen as their point of interest. They see the personality of a piece to be as important as the event or actual subject of the piece. Through personal experiences and emotions, they use contemporary storytelling as a way to share knowledge and awareness.
In 2018, they developed their latest trans-media cultural project in the form of a practice-based research journey along the Mississippi River, which they chose because of its symbol as a kind of “body of the nation, » an entity representing a case study of the present-day US, owing to its colonial history and to the fact that the river is the most important commercial waterway in the country, spanning 3,730 kilometers and crossing ten different states: Minnesota, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas.
Their objective was to distill the famously pirated corn whisky known as Moonshine, a liquor that only recently became legalized in the United States in 2012 following its ban during the Prohibition Era. In 2019, the two adventurers embarked on this new challenge: Southwind, traveling in the footsteps of Mark Twain aboard a traditional steamboat they had refurbished themselves with the goal of collecting around 42 varieties of corn from local farmers along the route to New Orleans.
The trip began on September 2nd, a mere month after a six-month period of flooding, which – according to the locals – was the most extensive and longest since 1993. Many of the cities along the upper Mississippi had been washed away ; the marinas having been devastated and destroyed and the infrastructure along the river abandoned. The locals had to grapple with the intense poverty caused by the floods and the current economic situation, as well as health problems caused by toxic industrial pollution. Racial inequality is a part of their everyday life, notably in smaller towns and places with less educated households.
They shot footage of their encounters and documented knowledge and techniques in a database in order to disseminate their journey in the form of films and cine-concerts. According to Berthou, their journey was punctuated by unforgettable encounters (like Cowboy Jim) and legendary music: Jazz, Blues, Rock’n’Roll, Country, Cajun and Prince. Reaching out to others, going from village to village, the adventurers collected raw data on the history of colonization, slavery and a racism that is unfortunately still very present. They also learned about the problems related to modern farming in the U.S. (crisis situations in some states) and the surprising digital deserts in certain areas where information is lacking. Southwind is a project that not only follows the natural flow of time, composing with the elements and proposing an investigation into personal experience, transcription, disproportion and the production mechanisms of such an artistic endeavor, but also functions as a research on and experience of contemporary U.S. society along the mythical river.
With respect to the circular economy and waste reduction, once the seafarers arrived in New Orleans after their 50 day journey, they converted their boat, with the help from a local coppersmith they hired along the way, into a small distillery that could produce Moonshine. It took them 15 days to distill two tons of collected corn. They filled 2,000 bottles.
More than just a whisky, Berthou and Požlep’s Moonshine is not only blended with the legendary savors of the Mississippi, but it’s “the genie in the bottle”, says Berthou. More than just bottled alcohol, it’s the successful alchemy of an extraordinary human experience.
Such an ambitious project left no room for improvisation: two years of planning and fully funded support before departure—in exchange for a complete documentary film, several exhibitions with partners, and the presale of bottles to French and U.S. distributors of spirits. Their trans-media project was recently presented at Centre Pompidou and the American Center for Art & Culture in Paris, conquering liquor lovers.