• Photos-souvenirs au carré
  • Domitille d’Orgeval
    Art historian and curator

The framed image

For its second edition of art works on silk scarves, Hermès invited major contemporary artist Daniel Buren to personalise the emblematic square of silk. His original proposition is an edition consisting of a series of 365 pièces uniques of exceptional quality, entitled Photos-souvenirs au carré.

This ambitious approach seals the bond between two worlds – that of Hermès, the home of timeless craftsmanship, and the realm of contemporary art. For Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Artistic Director of Hermès, this encounter responds to an urgent and profound need: “It is an absolutely essential approach, to ensure that Hermès does not become a museum of knowledge and techniques, but remains a living enterprise that takes risks, reaches beyond its own limits and strives to reinvent itself with each new generation.”

The ties that unite Hermès and Daniel Buren reflect a history that is already rich and enduring, since the artist has collaborated with the house on two previous occasions. In 2000 (at the request of curator Alice Morgaine), he inaugurated a new Hermès space dedicated to contemporary art, La Verrière in Brussels. Six years later, Hermès invited him to create the inaugural show for another new Hermès gallery – the Atelier Hermès in Dosan Park, in Seoul – for which he produced the in situ installation Filtres colorés. These two episodes have had a certain influence on the evolution of the Photos-souvenirs au carré. It is thus in a spirit of total freedom and complete confidence that Daniel Buren has brought his language and vision to the Hermès scarf. “In terms of our specifications,” Pierre-Alexis Dumas notes, “it was not a question of representing Hermès. The idea was to invest the space of a square, to provide Daniel Buren with a medium, with the means of production and to pose the question: ‘With your eye, your approach, is an interaction possible?’”. After a period of conceptual development, Daniel Buren proposed the creation of silk prints on thousands of Hermès scarves – all unique – based on thousands of “photo-souvenirs”. This term, invented by the artist, refers to the thousands of photographs that he has accumulated since the 1950s and that he defines as “photos without pretension and no more than that” (Les Écrits, 1988). Twenty-two photo-souvenirs were selected, some of which represent Daniel Buren’s in situ installation for the Atelier Hermès in Dosan Park. The others, taken by the artist during his travels across the four corners of the world, represent a flag-lined street, a fragment of architecture or geometric pavings; but also a Mediterranean fishing port, a flamboyant sunset, flowers of extraordinary beauty or the golden clouds of a Baroque dome. Daniel Buren, for whom the artistic process undertaken is just as important as the result, attends to the subjects of the “photo-souvenirs” with deliberate distractedness. Yet through their framing, their poetic sensibility and the visual relationship that they maintain with nature, these photographs are not as anodyne as their author would have it. They relate to certain fundamental themes of his work – such as space, time and colour.

The originality of Daniel Buren’s proposition for Hermès Éditeur was enthusiastically received by Pierre-Alexis Dumas: “Imagine my surprise when you came to see me with your project. It is true that I didn’t have any particular expectations, but I imagined I was going to rediscover the formal language that you usually use. Instead, you revealed something more intimate for us with these photo-souvenirs – hundreds and hundreds of photos, landscape motifs, trees and flowers. […] This was a slice of reality and not an abstraction, at first glance.”

Implementing the project was a real challenge. Hermès finally decided not only to produce 365 original scarves, but in order to print the photographs onto silk, had to turn to the technique of ink-jet printing, a method rarely applied previously by the house and used its craftsmanship and excellence to this venture. This procedure allows an infinite number of colours to be used, whereas traditional screen printing techniques only allow for a limited number. The result was a veritable revelation for all involved, including the artist, who discovered the unsuspected resources ofink-jet printing on silk: “This technique applied to a medium as delicate and beautiful as silk completely changes the look of the photography – this reproduction adds something absolutely extraordinary.” The printed photography, sublimated, presents colourful nuances that are more intense, delicate and almost pictorial, witha certain warmth in the image and softness lent by the silk, and the beautiful traversée.

Daniel Buren did not simply reproduce the existing photographs onto the silk scarf. He framed them with a “visual tool” which, since 1965, has functioned as his signature,a passe-partout, featuring alternating white and coloured vertical stripes 8.7 cm wide (in sky blue, dark blue, yellow, black, orange, pink, red, green and purple). The framing with coloured stripes is used as an invariant visual that unites, creating a connection, but also produces a difference. From one photograph, the artist can create up to four different images depending on the chosen frame. This allows him to pick out a detail, to extract it from its context and make it stand out. In Pierre-Alexis Dumas’ analysis, it is also a way of passing from the figurative to the abstract: “This signature that you have established that frames the photo-souvenir suddenly disrupts the narrative, revealing an abstract composition.” For Daniel Buren, this passe-partout also results ina perpetual re-staging of the photographs: it allows “images to be made within images […], a kind of ‘trafficking’ [to occur] within the photo-souvenir”. It represents an infinite potential for compositions that the artist considers to be a kind of “special effect”, which explains the title of the project. What we are looking at is the photo-souvenir of a photo souvenir, a photo-souvenir “squared”, or placed in a silk square.

The 365 scarves created by Daniel Buren for Hermès Éditeur can be considered works of art, but the artist likes to remind us that they are above all designed to be tied about the neck, draped, worn and crushed: he points out that “they are unique items made to be worn”. For the artist – who has long since liberated himself in his work from the frames and frameworks imposed on painting – the scarf as an item to be worn is not devoid of meaning, since it extends his intervention into public space. The dispersal of Hermès scarves in the city is also an idea that pleases Pierre-Alexis Dumas, who likes to imagine “that one day, by chance, four people wearing Photos-souvenirs au carré will cross paths, and that this will create a special moment, since the works will then each return to their own, parallel, lives”.