Charles Aubin, Horn of Plenty: Mimosa Echard. Mousse Magazine, no. 73 (2020)

A bunch of cherry pits swells over foam; a bundle of synthetic white pearls coils between purple lace underwear and metal chain; plastic jewelry here, snail shells there. Salomon (2020), Mimosa Echard’s most recent series, is a cornucopia of refuse. Mounted in Plexiglas boxes, these human-size, wall-hung works appear like bowels that pullulate with cheap junk opulence. They encapsulate, quite literally, the French artist’s obsession with the stuff of the everyday, reworking the mundane leftovers of our lives into viscous compositions that mischievously allude to the spills and stains of Abstract Expressionism, although Echard’s works dribble past boundaries of medium as well. They indulge in a state of undecidedness, straddling the line between sculptural assemblages and gestural abstractions.

A great deal of stuffing, soaking, infusing, dyeing, and drying is required to produce these gaudy entrails. Each work is replete with a varying mix of organic and manufactured components, from lotus seeds and lichen to synthetic foam, face masks, and condoms. With close observation, trinkets from her recent time spent at Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto also pierce through: a locket, for instance, decorated with a goggle-eyed manga character. The artist then plunges these intestinal tubes into buckets of water, letting the colors from entrapped flowers bleed and spume. A mix of beeswax and hair-removal cream furthers the process of amalgamation. In the studio, Echard watches for accidents of commingling that she will then try to repeat and let degenerate. The alchemical process is only complete when she drowns the result in epoxy resin, which arrests the contamination process.

Hung on the wall, these resin-frozen assemblages, with their variegated lumpy or flat surfaces, are almost bas-reliefs—not quite painting but not quite sculpture, either. Beyond this matter of medium, the solidifications of living and artificial matter recall, in a sideways fashion, a technique devised by Bernard Palissy, the great misfit of sixteenth-century French decorative arts. In Palissy’s ceramics workshop, platters and bowls took on the forms of petrified life: snakes, lizards, fish, and lobsters floated against fern leaves, shells, or flowers, all frozen in medias res when the artist’s assistants fired the pottery. Likewise, Echard’s winding bundles of organic and inorganic junk thicken into intricate compositions whose diverse parts—girlish tchotchkes ensnared in puddles of beauty products, tangled with New Age crystals and medicinal plants—converse with one another. And like the Renaissance potter, Echard draws heavily on her botanical know-how, letting the flowers’ petals dictate color arrangements: flashy orange oozing out of calendula petals, bright yellow from gardenia leaves, deep blue from butterfly pea flowers.

Look for no biblical references in Echard’s Salomon series: no wise king of the Kingdom of Israel is to be found here. Salomon is the name of a stuffed snake that a friend gave her—a plush animal lends its name to her 2020 show at Martina Simeti, Milan. 1 Echard’s assemblages often grow out of accumulations of objects and plants hoarded while traveling, traded with friends, or foraged in her native Cévennes, a mountainous region in southern France with a long history of countercultural and communal experiments. Echard regularly visits the small village where she grew up and where several family members still live; it both nurtures her work’s thematics and remains a reliable source for her collection of pharmaceutical plants and recipes. Family also appears in works such as The People (2016), a video installation in which the artist created a ghostly portrait of the village by overlaying footage of family archives shot over a decade on antiquated MiniDV format. More recently, her family has even taken an active role in the production of Echard’s work, as with Sap, Martina (2020), a hanging sculpture collectively created during long sessions of threading beads with her sisters and nieces.

Solidifying junk into art was a key tactic of the Nouveaux réalistes in 1960s Paris. The French sculptor Arman, specifically, deployed resin to mummify everyday objects—including women’s stockings and beauty products, in several cases—into sculptural form. Yet Echard cares less about the economic or social value of each composition’s congealed ingredients than about the memories and emotional associations that sediment within them. This psychological imprinting places the Salomon series closer to Mike Kelley’s late series Memory Ware (2000–10). Drawing from the example of US folk artists, who covered household goods like vases and jugs with DIY mosaics of small personal keepsakes like beads, buttons, or keys, Kelley produced large-scale canvases that merged craft with pointillist abstraction to probe the American psyche. In similar ways, Salomon bears witness to the artist’s life and affective networks, in and out of her Parisian studio, in movement between her rural Cévennes and the 100-yen shops of Kyoto.

But beyond Palissy’s desire to entrap and congeal life (and eventually take control of it), or Kelley’s fascination with the vernacular, Echard shows deep concern for the commingling of the self and the environment, often sullied, that surrounds it. If her loops of pantyhose containing profusions of depilatory wax and nail polish playfully flirt with gender associations, they also point at the intertwinement of our bodies with the plants and fluids that constitute, nourish, embellish, alter, and pollute them. Echard’s serpentine, lumpy compositions show the imbrications of a life where synthetic and organic cohabit, contaminate each other, and reformat one another.