Strange Encounters. Mimosa Echard interviewed by Ruba Katrib. Crosscurrents, 2024

Furnished by materials both organic and synthetic, tangible and intangible, foreign and deeply personal, Mimosa Echard’s mixed-media artworks explore interactions between the technological and the natural to realise saturated worlds of heightened wonder. The French polymath sat down with Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs at MoMA PS1 Ruba Katrib to discuss her Marcel Duchamp Prize win and subsequent exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, the evolution of the doll, 5G penetration, and surface tensions.

RK – How long have you been in New York?
ME – About 2 months, I’m leaving tomorrow.
RK – What have you been doing?
ME – I’ve seen so much; so many shows. I’ve been meeting friends, meeting new people, walking around the city. In terms of what I have been working on, I have mainly been collecting materials. I’ve also taken a lot of pictures.
RK – So it’s mostly research?
ME – It’s all research. It’s been very interesting. It was an occasion to have a break, to step back a little bit from the studio. But I have also been working on my archives, because I’m working on a new book. It’s also been a time to think about that and get things in order.
RK – Were you able to collect anything good? Photograph anything good?
ME – I still need a bit more time to look at everything. I work with film, so there’s some rolls that I haven’t developed yet. I got some good dolls though. I went to Mood.
RK – The Mood Fabrics shop? It’s so nice.
ME – I was amazed by all the funny fabric. They have a lot of sequins and beads – stuff you can’t find in Paris even though it’s a fashion city.
RK – Are there not many supply stores?
ME – You can find amazing fabric in Paris, but not these specific showtime fabrics! It’s very Broadway and theatrical.
RK – And were you thinking of something in particular, or was it more about collecting to come up with potential projects?
ME – I have become obsessed with this Joseph Cornell work at MoMA. It’s called Untitled (Bébé Marie)1. It’s this doll in a box peeking out behind some branches. I have been trying to make a cover version of it, as though it were a song. In the process, I ended up making a little zine inspired by her.
RK – Is it in a gaudy fabric?
ME – It’s not very gaudy. I tried using a glitzy beaded webby fabric, but I ended up sticking to the original branches.
RK – Did you get the materials from Mood Fabrics?
ME – No, from that street of florists in Midtown. Creating my own Bébé Marie became my way of circulating inside the city, trying to reproduce her with the materials New York City offered me. At the same time that I’ve been thinking about the Cornell box, a parallel obsession has developed around these structural 5G antennas all over the city.
RK – Your zine expanding on the Cornell box is like entering into the interior space of this doll figure. Like a lifestyle publication.
ME – It also makes me think of the Darwinist evolution of the doll, and how the doll looks now.
RK – With Barbie being a huge thing again now with the movie–– surpassing the moment of the Bratz doll, which was big competition for Barbie for some time –– it’s like an evolution, but also a back and forth. I don’t know how popular Bratz dolls are now.
ME – Bratz have those crazy eyes and they really pop. And they’re more about fashion.
RK – They became popular in the 2000s right? I was too old by the time they came out.
ME – Me too.
RK – But I was definitely into Barbies, and Lego bricks. Are these the drawings of the 5G towers that you made?
ME – Yeah. I’m going to make a sculpture in relation to an existing 5G antenna. It’s for an art festival in France, Le Nouveau Printemps Toulouse, curated by Alain Guiraudie. Growing up in a New Age environment, antennas were like the image of the devil. I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I want to make a collage and add sculptural elements; it’s just the beginning. I was working with an anti-radiation fabric in my last show at Heidi Gallery in Berlin, this idea flowing on from a desire to break down the binary between pure and toxic in relation to 5G towers.
RK – These are towers photographed in New York?
ME – Yeah, on a rooftop.
RK – It’s interesting to think about this image in relation to the 3G scare. How some people think that 3G towers are causing radiation and that they are going to bring upon the end of the world.
ME – There are a lot of conspiracies. I like working with the invisible and thinking about it in almost an erotic way. You have a ton of waves that penetrate you all the time — I wanted to draw attention to that.
RK – I recently watched a film about this town where people go to avoid any kind of radioactive frequencies and electronic sound in Greenbank, West Virginia — weirdly not too far from where I grew up — called Quiet Zone2. It was about these people who feel sick or negatively impacted by all the sounds, frequencies, and radioactive waves, and so they go to this remote place where there’s no cell service and no towers in the vicinity. No one is allowed to plug anything in.
ME – Which is pretty rare, right?
RK – Very rare. It’s become this mecca to escape. People go there to cure illness, but maybe they make themselves more ill by trying to find this perfect environment in which nothing is impacting them. I think that idea of toxicity is really interesting when we’re in such a toxic world, it’s sort of impossible to avoid. The effort to escape toxicity starts to unravel you psychologically sometimes. Everything becomes dangerous.
ME – Have you seen the movie Safe?
RK – Yes.
ME – I was really struck by this movie. I saw it recently. Have you seen Todd Haynes’ most recent one, May December?
RK – Not yet.
ME – It’s interesting. It’s less about material toxicity, but works with a kind of social toxicity in a disturbingly light-handed way.
RK – I think about this a lot. I went down some New Age tunnels a while ago and was also attempting to achieve a state of purity. I wouldn’t even take Advil or aspirin or anything like that. I tried to only eat organic. The people I was around who were also into this stuff, a lot of them are anti-vaxxers of course. With the pandemic it got really dark. A lot of people got into these right-wing conspiracies, a lot of New Age groups got really into Trump. The whole ideology flipped so quickly.
ME – I also think about that. When I grew up Barbie was forbidden. And it was weird for me because the boys would play with robots and cars.
RK – In an effort to protect you from what Barbie may represent. A truck seems more harmless, but is it?
ME – Then there’s the factor of time. We are the first humans to live with so much of this kind of radiation through the use of mobile phones among other things. I think it’s always more interesting to try to stay open to the complexity of this, working with this doubt. The effects could be exciting, or nothing, or they could be very bad.
RK – It’s good and bad. It exists and we use it for so many things that we really need it for, but then of course it goes the other way.
ME – To me it relates to the fantasy of living in a bubble and of being protected. Possessing purity. I think purity is scary, the way it slides towards fascism.
RK – There is a tipping point. At first you’re trying to only eat organic or not go through the X-ray machine at the airport to reduce your exposure to radiation. But then this behaviour starts to slip into this paranoid, potentially fascist worldview. Then the idea of purity becomes quite disturbing. How do you think about that line between purity and fascism? That’s a consideration that seems quite present in your work; I see it in all the materials that you’re using and how they come together into new combinations or mixtures.
ME – Absolutely. Blurriness is important to me. I think this intense ambivalence or entanglement of everything in everything has always come back to my relationship to nature, in particular plants. Nature is something I have been obsessed with for so long. Moral purity doesn’t exist organically. But I think it’s also about working against simplification. I’m a woman, but I’m working to try to break down these categories because I think it’s also important to move beyond the ways in which “nature” is used against desire… This dynamic is something I am fascinated by. It’s also exciting for me to think about evolution. For example, the evolution of dolls and their specific modifications.
RK – To see how the “body” is changing. If you lined up dolls across time periods, it would look like a diagram of how an ape becomes a human.
ME – It’s like a poem of plastic bodies.
RK – Do you want to talk about your work Escape more for the Marcel Duchamp Prize — which you won. I think it’s always an interesting show as a competition, and your work did stand out as a singular installation.
ME – I had been working on that piece for so many years. The first time I was in New York in 2011, I saw this bank with a glass entrance wall like a waterfall. The piece started there. There was something interesting about the water having the quality of transparent money. Without thinking about it at the time, I started to film gold coins. I had also been working on pieces that involve a lot of liquid, so fluidity was very present in my work at the time. It wasn’t until after finishing the work for the Marcel Duchamp Prize that I realised that it was somehow the condensation of all these years. I also read an article about pills made of the urine of pregnant horses.
RK – How they make hormones?
ME – Yeah. So the water also became urine, chemicals, drugs… It was a way to write about transparency. I love how Dan Graham’s glass works speak to the relationship between the city, the body, and society3. I wanted to make an architectural piece without it really being architectural.
RK – The murkiness was amplified by the tinge on everything. That water feature was like architecture that’s old and has gotten dirty.
ME – Exactly. The blurry murkiness also makes it like a painting, like a moving painting. It’s also about the idea of recycling because you have the loop of the water and the loop of three different videos. It was about exploring the possibility of perception and a room that’s only visible through water. I had been excited about that idea for a long time.
RK – I think to foreclose something, or to blur it out, is an interesting move as well because it makes you curious about the space that lies behind the space.
ME – Looking back at it, there were actually a lot of personal materials inside that you can’t really see.
RK – The list of materials for the work reads: glass, aluminium, pumps, pipes, wall fabrics, capsules, silver prints, natural and artificial hair, calendula petals, gardenia, lotus, cherry. Maybe you could talk a little about the specificities of these materials?
ME – The materials themselves become incorporated almost naturally. Most of the time, it’s just what I have in the studio at any given moment. The gardenia, for example, is a material I work with a lot for its yellow pigment, as well as its presence in all kinds of cosmetics. For this work, I also specifically played with the materials list as a material in and of itself. I made a little plexiglas work using epoxy and urine that was displayed behind the wall, suggesting perhaps why the water was yellow…
RK – Like a urine wall?
ME – Yes! I was playing with that idea, the suspicion that exists between language and substance.
RK – So what you can see is what’s on the surface — like these prints and videos — but the majority of the works are the elements behind the wall.
ME – There are so many different surfaces. One of the videos is someone licking themselves as though they were a cat. It’s a little erotic, but fun. Another video I actually made in New York, a crazy close-up of a Bella Hadid advertisement. The eyes of Bella. It becomes quite experimental, and almost abstract, because I’m so close to the screen. The video placed closest to the water was taken from my personal archives. I grew up in a really tiny village, and this is a video I made when I was 20-something. I used an old camera, and that’s why it’s also shown on an old monitor because of the format of the TV. It’s of my sister and my mother cleaning the clède together, which is traditionally a place where you store chestnuts. I thought it was kind of amusing to leave them cleaning on a loop with a subtitled poem.
RK – The whole thing feels autobiographical. It feels like the intimate space of a bedroom, and as if you’re looking into the windows of a house you can’t enter. It feels very personal, even if you don’t know what everything means. Some of the objects you included, little toys or knick-knacks and things like that, make it feel that there’s a meaning behind them and an attachment to them — that they signify something. In all of the materials you’re using, things like newsprint or rubber bands, it creates a space where someone is living a certain kind of life. The necklaces, bracelets, plants, lace, toys, stuffed cat, the fake eyelashes, they’re all spatializing a self.
ME – I’m glad you get this impression of giving something, but also protecting, or withholding. It’s about this ambivalence.
RK – It’s like the image of the doll you were showing me earlier — it’s packaged. This reminds me of your recent show I Think My Cells Are Fucking Behind My Back at Heidi in Berlin. There seems to be an idea of packaging within these other works as well. There is an act of covering that takes place, there’s what is on the surface that points to the more hidden layers behind it. I was wondering how you think about the tension between what is sculptural — all these different materials being read as layers — and the idea of a singular image that’s created. There is still an image that’s being created on the surface, but it’s a play between the visible and the invisible.
ME – That’s really interesting. It makes me think of anti-radiation foil, or beeswax. Materials that are in themselves surfaces.
RK – Again, it’s like packaging, not only to cover, but as protection from physical and psychic exposure. The idea of collaging, too, becomes a part of this on an extreme level. It amplifies what you said earlier about voyeurism. Using the work to hide itself.
[Mimosa shows Ruba an image on her iPhone]
RK – What is that?
ME – This is a work that was in the show at Heidi. I found the poster in the street ages ago. It must have been on someone’s bedroom wall before being in the work.
RK – The voyeurism is amplified by having a surface or a covering that you have to try to look through. What is that?
[Ruba points to the centre of the work].
ME – I think it’s a dog bowl.
RK – What’s the surface?
ME – I’d say silk.
RK – These parts of the work that are wrapped in silk are interesting because you can see them, and at the same time you can’t see them fully. It provokes the feeling of, “I’m not sure what I should be seeing or should not be seeing.” It asks what the limits are, and the threshold of looking becomes very present. Similar to the Marcel Duchamp Prize piece.
ME – Interesting. They’re like perspective machines, or consciousness machines. They loop back to the viewer. I am interested in the process of simultaneously looking and not looking at something — the idea of a truly “private picture.” These works loop back to the installation at the Pompidou for the Marcel Duchamp Prize as well. For that work, I didn’t know if the effect I wanted would actually materialise. It was difficult to get it right. But when everything was done I was like, “Wow, this is cool. Something is happening.”
RK – The production is quite ambitious. But of course you don’t know exactly what it’s going to be until it’s actually done.
ME – It was a risk, honestly.
RK – Do you think the ambition of that project changed things for you in terms of future work and the kinds of things you might take on in the future on a production level?
ME – I felt this calm, and then this emptiness once everything had come together, all these years of work. It was like the wave finally crashed. I also enjoyed the distance that was incorporated into the process. I was working with engineers in this quite abstract way, not knowing what we were making until the last moment. I would love to continue to work in this way.
[Ruba brings up another piece from Mimosa’s show at Heidi Berlin]
RK – What are the materials in this piece?
ME – There’s lots of makeup stuff and lots of different personal items — things that you find in your pockets. I often use objects that aren’t really objects, they’re too minor or fragmented or too abstract. And there are certain materials related to reproduction and sexuality. Like the artificial pistils that mimic the reproductive organs of flowers, evoking pollen, nectar, and a network of bees. This was the start of the radiation theme. This series also has sheets of propolis harvested from my friend’s beehive. I wanted the works to have a sweet smell.
RK – There’s a fine line between the synthetic and the organic, the real and the fake. All of these dynamics are playing out. There’s multiple narratives that are coming through in the work, with the image versus the material. The materials can tell a story, and work as a poem (as you said), but then there’s a story within the materials that can come together as an image, which is another mode of representation and its own narrative device. Do all of the materials come together from your perspective? Are you more interested in the clash between the image and the story? Or are they somehow representing themselves formally?
ME – I’m happy that you said all the materials can be read like a script. They’re all here for a specific reason, even if that reason is never clear or stated. Often when I am making a work or an exhibition, I am looking for a “story,” something that I can tell myself. This can be quite literal: my exhibition Sluggy Me came from watching “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”. But it usually remains vague, something that leads me to different materials that then help write the story. And it never actually materialises or develops. When the work happens, the story ends. Because I know that the specificity of all of the materials together goes beyond anything that can be ordered like a story. I just hope together they make a new image. It’s something that I get excited about, something I can’t predict.
RK – It’s like you’re stirring a pot of all these ingredients, and you don’t know what the end result is going to be. Is it going to taste good or bad? There’s experimentation there with the mixing of the materials. You start with the materials first?
ME – It depends. It could also be the image that comes first, like a found image. I’m often looking for a certain perspective or an emotion without necessarily knowing what it’s going to be like in the end.
RK – What is this piece on the back wall?
ME – These are the works made with the anti-radiation fabric and aluminium foil. I wanted to make these paranoid minimalist paintings. In the end, I was happy with them because they also look quite sculptural due to the oxidation. To make them I laid them in the garden outside of my studio and poured acid over them and they became quite greenish. It was interesting to work on this show because of the particularity of the gallery’s architecture. I really wanted to do something that responded to the frontal nature of the space, as well as the immensity of the windows. It was also the first time I have worked with aluminium foil.
RK – So the aluminium foil is supposed to be an anti-radiation? That’s what people cover their apartments with.
ME – Exactly.
RK – Maybe you can watch “Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God” before you leave the US tomorrow. It’s a TV show about this woman who became a small internet sensation as a spiritual leader and started a cult. She’s an unhinged blonde lady who’s an alcoholic, and this group of people come and stay with her. They believe that she’s going to ascend. They talk about her channelling all these energies, which is really just her in a drunken rage. She’s trying to process the energy of humanity to become enlightened. And then all these things go wrong because humanity is not becoming enlightened fast enough. At one point, one of the people in the group is talking about how it looks like she’s sleeping to a normal person, but she’s actually convening with all of these spirit guides. I bring it up because they are taking colloidal silver as a medicine, which turns her blue and contributes to her death. After she died, her followers kept her body for weeks, and she ended up being mummified. There’s one scene where one of the followers has an EKG monitor and she’s measuring the electromagnetic field of Mother God, but she’s dead. The woman measures her foot and it goes up by 300, then the follower puts it on herself, and it goes to zero. And it makes you think, is that the silver? Has she turned herself into this magnetic field?
ME – That is so interesting.
RK – It’s extra bizarre because she is this blonde, attractive woman, who is New Age and had some family problems growing up, but her story doesn’t seem to justify how out of whack she gets. It’s like an American Barbie gone wrong.
ME – Maybe she’s Bébé Marie.

  1. Untitled (Bébé Marie) is a sculpture by American visual artist Joseph Cornell made in the early 1940s consisting of a wooden box housing a doll partially obscured by branches. Cornell is best known for creating work that imbues common objects with a spellbinding significance. 

  2. Quiet Zone is a 2015 documentary exploring a community of people suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. 

  3. American artist Dan Graham’s glass and mirrored pavilions blur the line between architecture and sculpture to interrogate the voyeuristic elements of the built environment