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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.
Video, 12min, 2011
Paparuda is a video installation by Monsieur Moo featuring a public performance in which the artists unleash an artificial rain. Taking place above a boreal forest on the border of Canada and the United States – this artistic gesture makes reference to a geopolitical dispute between the two countries over the ownership of clouds.
Paparuda, act two of the Climate triptych, is the title of a public performance consisting in artificially triggering rain at the border between the United States and Canada. The purpose of this performance was to echo a geopolitical accident that occurred in 1949 not far from where the US had sowed clouds moving towards Canada. During a time of drought, history had already raised the issue on the ownership of the cloud and the water it contained. Canada complained at the time that the rain had been expropriated by its American neighbors. At the end of this event, Canada, under UN mandate, ratified the R.Q.c.P-43.r1 treaty legislating the artificial provocation of rains in North America. For ten years the artist Mr. Moo tried to obtain accreditation from the Canadian Ministry of the Environment to be able to carry out his performance. Since this law has never been exercised in the span of 51 years, no jurist or federal lawyer was able to apply it within the context of an artistic gesture.
These legal, administrative and political overflows enrich the artist’s point of view, who here tries to create a game of scale in the disproportion between the needs of the project and the familiarity of its subject: rain.
with Mark Požlep, 2017-2019
During a break from his studies in France, Berthou met Mark Požlep 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.