Seth is the artist opening 999Foundation Artist Resistance Residency, a cycle of artist residencies in collaboration with 999Contemporary and Teatro di Roma – Teatro Nazionale. Seth is invited to express himself in the splendid Teatro India in Rome’s Ostiense district.
SETH presents his new solo show ‘Range Ta Chambre’ in the former Mira Lanza factory, which used to be an old soap factory in the last century. The show is curated by Stefano Antonelli, Director of 999Contemporary that opened on 7 July.
It was a great opportunity for us to seat down and chat with Seth about his background and approach for the show.
Julie: Where is your artist name coming from?
Julien Malland: My name comes from Egyptian mythology. Seth is an ambiguous god associated with strength, but also with chaos. When pronounced in French it is the same as the number seven. It is also a name that can be found in a lot of cultures including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Khmer or Aztec.
J: Let’s talk about the past, how was your beginnings as a graffiti writer?
JM: Although I was immediately drawn to graffiti when it first emerged in France in the 80s, I began to paint on walls in the mid-90s with Disco and other members of the Parisian CMP crew in the 10th arrondissement. I was studiyng in art school, and that’s how I started painting characters and backgrounds on their frescos in between their graffiti writing. Mostly B.boys and other characters that are very related to the Hip-hop scene. I then joined other groups and painted all over Paris and its suburbs.
J: Do you remember when your work started shifting from graffiti writing to what you do now and how you would describe your style today?
JM: It took me a while to evolve. The change was connected to my travels when I first made a world tour back in 2003. Then when I moved to in Brazil in 2008 I discovered there were many other ways to express yourself in the streets besides graffiti. During my travels with the new explorers between 2009 and 2014, I met and realised collaborations with muralists worldwide. I gradually understood both the implications and impact of painting in public spaces: create a dialogue with the viewer and the work inspired by the context and the local culture.
J: I remember when I first stumbled upon your work on the streets of Paris with your ‘passe-murailles’ serie. I always wondered why were you painting characters facing the walls?
JM: This is precisely a way to create a dialogue. Leave some mystery and allow the viewer to imagine the face of the character and the world he enters in.
J: You travel extensively, how would you say it has impacted your work?
JM: My travels allowed me to try to create a universal language that can speak to all. For example the image of the child that I often use is related to the fact that there are always children roaming the streets of the country where I paint; but it also speaks to the child in every adult.
J: Your street work is always contextualised with the place you visited, either with its architecture, culture and history. How this influences your approach and your message behind your art.
JM: I think that’s the greatest strength of urban art. Use the context to express yourself and adapt to the place, culture and architecture. This is what differentiates us from other artistic movements.
While I was travelling to South America, I understood the social role that urban art could have. Every time I paint I try to find the idea that best matches the surrounding where I paint. My paintings often say the same thing but in a different ways – use your imagination to see the world. Wealth is not in what you have or own but in what you imagine and what you are. There is a quote from Alice in Wonderland where Alice questions the Cat: ‘But if the world does not make any sense, who’s stopping us from inventing one!’
J: How was born your collaboration with Canal +?
JM: A producer stumbled upon “globe-painter’ a travel diary covering my 9 months of travels in 2003, published in France. He contacted me to offer the project as part of an existing TV program called “The New Explorers” on the French cable television channel Canal +. I worked with them for five years. I travelled to 15 different countries where I met and filmed extraordinary artists around the world with a complete editorial freedom. I enjoyed each of these encounters and being able to showcase these artists was a joy.
J: For your current show ‘Range ta chambre’ the location is exceptional. The place offers huge opportunities for an artist. How long did you prepare for it and what was your approach ahead of the show?
JM: I painted in the former factory of Mira Lanza for a month and a half. The place is amazing. For me It represents the whole history of Europe today – Industrialisation, delocalisation, pollution, illegal immigration -This former soap factory was abandoned after being squatted by migrants from very different places that had left traces of their passage.
I immersed myself in this place, I tried to understand it and I then expressed what it had inspired me. The first part of the exhibition talks about the world, with facilities such as “Lampedusa” or “Palmyra”. The viewer then go through the head of a character to move into the second part of the show, a long gallery with an extraordinary lighting, where I speak about the inner world. The third part invites the audience to escape with colour. “Range Ta Chambre” (Clean your room), a sentence that mothers tells their child then becomes “Clean Your World” when told to adults.
I was inspired by the city of Rome and Latin quotations for my creations, and I played with the location and architecture to express myself.
J: A few years ago you were invited by 999contemporary Gallery and completed ‘Il Bambino Redemptor’ stunning mural in Rome. Could you tell us a bit more about your collaboration for ‘Range Ta Chambre’.
JM: Il Bambino Redemptor was a mural created for the project in Torramancia, a popular city of Rome, where each building has been painted by different artists.
I found this collaboration very engaging and interesting especially due to its social dimension. At that time we already had a discussion with Stefano Antonelli (Director of 999Contemporary Gallery) about a more personal and wilder exhibition project. He is very fond of this kind of crazy projects, “Range Ta Chambre” is the result of this meeting.
J:Working on canvass is very different from working on the streets. What challenges do you see in this?
JM: Painting on canvas and on walls are two very different exercises for me but I also think they complement each other very well. The walls allow me to find inspiration for my future paintings, when the paintings allow me to experiment things that will help me for my future walls. I keep using spray paint on canvas which gives an energy that comes from my work in the streets.
I have not yet explored all the possibilities of the canvas and it’s where I want to go now.
J:: What do you enjoy the most in what you do?
JM: I think painting in the streets is a pretext that allows me to meet, exchange, travel, discover and feel alive.
However with the creative process it allows me to find the idea that gives me the most pleasure. The moment I say to myself ‘Of course! that’s it!’ that’s what will best correspond to a place, that’s what I MUST paint which is a magical moment. Then it’s just a case of waiting for people’s reaction and you immediately know whether they will appropriate the painting.
J: What is next for you? Any upcoming projects that you would like to share with us?
JM: I am going to China this summer for a huge project that I am curating “Back To School”. 15 urban artists around the world are invited to paint schools in deprived areas across China: Millo (Italy), Pumpum (Argentina), Stinkfish (Colombia), Tinho (Brazil), Mono Gonzalez (Chile), Inti (Chile), Aryz (Spain), Pascal Vilcollet (France), Dino Vodoo Breze (France), Andrew Hem (USA), Wena (China), Rodrigo Branco (Brazil), Kislow (Russia), Seth (France).
The project only features artists who have or continue to use the child theme in their creations. This is a unique project which brings together mural painting and its social role.
Photos courtesy SETH & 999contemporary Gallery