Ex-qui-site Corb exhibition catalog

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m atthieu gafs ou

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special thanks to Patrick Beaucé, Christian Debize, Géraud Didier, Yannick Le Coquil, Etienne Malapert, Marie Combes, Christophe Ponceau, Matthieu Gafsou, Colin Ponthon, Remy Duval, Sharon Haar, Maryann Wilkinson the Ville de St-Dié-des-Vosges & the École nationale supérieure d’art et de design de Nancy 2016


m atthieu gafs ou

E XQUISITECO R B



the m enuiserie sylva

Following the 1945 fire-bombing of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, a small French town near the German border, the industrialist Jean-Jacques Duval convinces his dream architect Le Corbusier to design two parallel projects: a garment factory for the Societé Claude et Duval to replace one destroyed by the Germans, and a master plan for the redevelopment of the city. The Manufacture Claude-Duval is completed in 1951 – a material expression of humanist ambition and a structural precursor to the Unité d’Habitation. The urban plan in contrast, though touted by Sigfried Giedeon and Josep Lluís Sert as a civic masterwork, plainly fails to garner the requisite public support. In response to the plan’s sweeping iconoclastic gestures, St. Dié’s political constituencies and residents side with an alternate, more conventional, peach-tinted image of urbanity. After a span of public banter and name calling, Le Corbusier leaves town appalled by what he observes as a case of terminal petit bourgeois conservatism. That much is known.

Few historians and architects, however, are aware of a third surreptitious and more tentative project that Le Corbusier may or may not have contributed to during his stay in St. Dié: a vernacular house cum architectural test site so outwardly banal that it remains virtually invisible for more than a half century. This unnamed house harbors a strange, heterogeneous accumulation of domestic mock-ups. Some are big: like staircases, shower stalls, and kitchen cabinets. Others small: door handles, colored glass punctures, integrated shelves. Yet as a series, the disparate architectural artifacts inserted into a prosaic French “pavilion”, conspicuously channel the pictorial and aesthetic qualities, sensibilities or estimations of Modernism’s most iconic protagonists – Le Corbusier and Jean Jacques Prouvé.



This house, previously undocumented and unpublished, serves as the material and speculative framework for the photographic series. Once an industrial workshop, and later transformed into the familial residence of Jean-Jacques Duval, the house is a site of historical approximation, one that allows for the reconstruction of a nuanced and complex affiliation between an affluent client and a prominent architect. One thing is certain. Duval was a champion of Modernism’s formal tropes; less definitive, however, was his obligation to and appreciation of modern notions of authorship. Closely gaged, the details amassed in or created for Duval’s family home fall within a broad spectrum of creative estimation: some objects are unambiguously attributable to an architect, whether Le Corbusier or Prouvé, others seem inspired by or in conversation with an architectural sensibility, still others dwell in the shady realm of the knock off. The result is puzzling gradient between the authentic and the ersatz, which speaks to an unreliable dichotomy between authorship and appropriation, authenticated remnants and constructed fictions; perhaps relational intimacy translated into a case of poetic license, or more accurately, a case of unapologetic transference.

Matthieu Gafsou’s photography takes stock of the details, opening up the enigmatic house in St. Dié for collective consideration. In its appreciation of juxtaposition, irregularity, chance and idiosyncrasy, the house makes a case for architecture’s capacity to reinterpret, fictionalize, and participate in public discourse through a process of direct encounter.

- Anya Sirota


































MATTHIEU GAFSOU (CH, 1981) lives and works in Lausanne, Switzerland. After completing a master of arts in philosophy, literature and cinema at the Université de Lausanne, he studied photography at the School of Applied Arts in Vevey. Since 2006, Gafsou has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions, and published a series of photographic works, including: Ce rêve étrange : Le Corbusier à Firminy, Surfaces, and Sacré. In 2009 Gafsou was awarded the prestigious “Prix de la fondation HSBC pour la photographie” and subsequently was invited to contribute to the Aperture Foundation’s 2010 reGeneration2 exhibition. In 2014, Lausanne’s influential Musée de l’Elysée hosted Gafsou’s solo show titled Only God Can Judge Me. In addition to his artistic practice, Gafsou is on faculty at the University of Art and Design Lausanne (ECAL).



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