French May > nicolas buffe : the dream of polifilo
Nicolas Buffe : The Dream of Polifilo

Modern and Contemporary Art

French artist based in Tokyo and whose heroes range from Dante to Tex Avery and Orlando Furioso to Super Mario, Nicolas Buffe is the creator of a multifaceted and multidisciplinary universe mixing erudite and popular culture. Born in 1978, he is part of a generation naturally marked by Japanese culture, developing from childhood a passion for Anime, Tokusatsu, Japanese manga and Video games.

Throughout his studies he adds to these references classical works of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, such as the Roman de la Rose or Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream. This fusion of narrative and visual influence is omnipresent in his work, mostly based on drawing and the humanist notion of Serio Ludere or playing seriously. Baroque ornaments and cartoon characters merge with harmony in the grotesques drawings he exhibited in venues such as La Maison Rouge, Paris (2007), the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (2008), the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris (2010) but also to the FIAC in Paris or the Paris Contemporary Drawing Fair. In 2014, in a solo exhibition at the Hara Museum of contemporary art Tokyo, he explores the similarities between the initiatory journey of Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream and video games like The Legend of Zelda, in a series of installations that combine the lightness of a theme park and the seriousness of a museum.

Besides contemporary art, Nicolas Buffe enjoys exploring multiple creative domains that took him from sculpture to scenography. In the field of decorative arts, he has designed the Chesharo vase for the CRAFT Limoges, and won the award for contemporary creation of the Cité internationale de la tapisserie d’Aubusson (Aubusson International City of tapestry) with his Peau de Licorne (Unicorn Hide). Alongside these partnerships with cultural institutions he developed several collaborations in the areas of luxury and high fashion: for the autumn-winter 2014 he was requested by Hermès to draw the Serio ludere carré scarf and maxi-twilly, and by Comme des Garçons, drawings for the ready-to-wear collection SHIRT and series of installations. In 2012, he ventured into opera and created for the Théâtre du Châtelet Orlando Paladino’s visual conception, set design and costumes; he won for his pop version of this Haydn’s baroque opera the award of Best Scenic Design of the 2011/12 season given by the French critics association. In 2015, back at the Théâtre du Châtelet, he co-signs the staging of Il Re Pastore, and transforms the rustic decor of a Mozart opera seria in a galaxy of science fiction directly inspired by Star Wars and Final Fantasy.

Nicolas Buffe graduated from ENSAAMA – Olivier de Serres (National School of Applied Arts, 2000 Architectural environment design), the ENSBA (École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris (National School of Fine Arts), 2005), the INALCO (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations, Paris, 2007, Language and Japanese civilization) and the Tokyo University of the Arts (TUA, Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku, 2011 and 2014, Master and PhD). He is represented in Tokyo by YAMAMOTO GENDAI gallery.

Interview Nicolas Buffe

Why were you choosing Hypnerotomachia Poliphili as the theme of this exhibition?

I discovered the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili when I was studying at the Paris National School of Fine Arts, approximatively fifteen years ago. There was a copy of the 1499 original Aldine editions in the school library. At the same time I also bought a contemporary edition of the 1546 French translation. I was struck by the beauty and the strangeness that emanated from the book. After delving for a while into it, I took a lot of pleasure in experiencing the close relation held between the images and the text. Sometimes the story tends to be overwhelmingly descriptive or full of cryptic erudition. I liked the fact that the images play a role that is equally important as the text. But the thing that kept my attention is that, as someone raised with pop culture like anime and video games, I saw the similarities in the patterns of the book with adventure / roleplaying video games. The story of Polifilo looking for his beloved Polia follows an initiatory path, through different levels of various difficulties, as you could encounter in video games. This characteristic, together with the richness and depth of the contents, made me want to pursue this adventure in mixing it with contemporary elements, in order to produce a new series of works. This series is on-going for more than ten years now.

Which dream do you like most and is there any pieces related to that dream?

The narrative structure of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii is similar to Russian dolls. Poliphilo’s dream is occurring as a series of dream within a dream, within dream, etc.. Even Polia’s dream is part of one of the numerous layers of the dream of Polifilo. In a sense, you could compare it to the movie Inception, but 500 years earlier. One of my favorite part is the moment when Polifilo discovers the esplanade in front of a gigantic pyramid. Polifilo sees some very original pieces of architecture, such as the monumental elephant or the colossi.

It seems the basic color tone you liked to use is black and white, would you tell us why you love these two colors so much?

The use of the black and white in my work is motivated by several reasons. First I did a lot of drawings using only chalk on blackboard. Drawing on wide surfaces while enjoying the fleeting moment of the action of drawing itself was a real pleasure. Then it proved really helpful in order to mix different cultural influences. The black and white space helps to give an equal treatment to the various cultural and historical elements I like to use in my works. Finally I could also add that the black and white has the merit of timelessness.

As you expose to various kinds of culture, how do you digest different cultures and merge them into your work?

This is a fundamental question. Thus simply answering to this is a hard task. But as a beginning of an answer, I have been wondering about what it is to be multiple? I mean in the sense of experiencing multiple cultural influences as a being. The notion of nationality or unique roots in order to define an individual is nowadays (if not always), in an increasing number of cases around the world, by too far reductive. I work with the things (cultural references) I like, whatever the time period or type of media. Then I like to find the patterns that can link them together and play with them. And as Edouard Glissant stated in his concept of Creolization, you need to consider the two (or more) cultural elements you wish to mix as equal (equally interesting) in order to achieve this mix.

Is the setting of exhibition venue different from the one held in Japan? Could you tell more about the changes?

I am glad to have the opportunity to work again on this theme in Hong Kong, as it has been an on-going work since more than ten years now. Every time is a new occasion to delve deeper into this dream. As an example, I am able this time to exhibit a 8 meters diameter labyrinth that I couldn’t achieve in 2014 at the time of my solo show at the Hara Museum in Tokyo. Also I will be able to share a preview of the video game based on my work on the Hypnerotomachia I am currently working on.

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4 – 29 May 2017, 10AM - 8PM
Hong Kong City Hall - Exhibition Hall
5 Edinburgh Place, Central, Hong Kong
Free Admission





Association Culturelle France - Hong Kong Limited

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Sheung Wan