Alex Hercules Desjardins is a space shifter. He studied architecture, started making displays and building objects for a clothing store. Parallel to his day job, he has started to collect objects with a past, from a 1900 safe to taxidermy animals. He creates ephemeral spaces and sets for store windows, music shows and…his very own window sill which faces a main street in Montreal. It is the perfect opportunity for us inquisitive souls to see the latest acquisitions and set-ups, this young mind can come up with. He searches high and low to un-niche a wide array of bits and parts, that become, through his installations and juxtapositions, a part of a visual vocabulary that is wholly playful.
Alex: What is the main difference when starting a personal or a professional project:
I think that first there is the money issue. For a personal project I wouldn’t mind doing a project for free but, for a professional undertaking, I do have to be compensated for it, which means that there are more constraints, less liberty.
Alex: How do you choose your materials for your different endeavors. Are there any that you are wholly comfortable with or do you always try to work with unfamiliar ones:
Well wood is always really easy, you can manipulate it, take parts off, add to it. In my head, I can conceive endless things with this material.
With Metal, Plexiglas, textiles, it is less clear but I always love to change and find new trajectories.
I do have to admit though that for me it is more interesting to work with objects that I’ve found. If i need to work on a project and I need a specific object, I will remember something that I own and will try and create something around it.
Alex: When you build something, do you see it more as a construction or an installation, or is this question irrelevant:
Hmmmm it depends if it is more of a personal project or if someone asks me to make something, like for Christian let’s say(referring to sets he made for Designer Christian L’Enfant Roi, in which he built different sets to divide the collection into different mood boards for the SS12 presentation)the pictures don’t really represent well, but one of the elements that was interesting, was to have a huge spotlight creating the space, and how the public was overwhelmed by this huge ominous light. For me though, this was less of an installation because it had a function.
When I do displays, the assemblages are more an installation, they stay for a longer period of time, people can come back and see and examine how all of the elements work. This is an installation.
For a set design when you see more of an overall environment that is more of a construction.
Alex: But you like to surprise, to capture peoples’ attention with details, for example the display you did at Monastiraki, where every week you would change the display, add on or eliminate certain elements. This is a rapport you create with a public even though you are not always in direct contact:
Well of course I like when people have new things to look at, different elements that I’ve added… but it’s complex because it’s true that it is not for a show, it is just discreet elements that change, it’s a twist on what is already there and you hope that people will clue in to that and notice.
Alex: So there are many different ways to see collaboration like with Christian, also, building displays for Urban Outfitters, both for the inside of the stores and the window displays, the people you generally work with, do you see it as necessary to collaborate:
I think I have never done anything individually, like NEVER, for Urban I have done some stuff on my own, but on my projects I have never been on my own. I can’t make something that is small and simple, I always see things in a bigger light, so I immediately think of others’ strong points and see how they can inform the work. It makes sense to integrate others because you can make something that is more grand and explosive.
Alex: Have you ever been in a situation in which your idea couldn’t be executed, or didn’t materialize:
Not really because often it’s during the process that an idea can fail, and then if you stopped there, then it wouldn’t come through. Let’s say with wood, it always happens, as soon as you start to build the thing you had sketched and prepared, it never goes the way you intended, and even if it looks ugly or breaks, or that the shapes are off, when you continue, you shut off your brain and continue, for sure it will materialize into something. You just need to pass through that stage.
If it fails it’s because you’ve stopped, you’ve walked away.
I was talking to a friend and asked him: “Aren’t you afraid of mistakes” and he responded that he loved mistakes. You just need to finish, and then you find new ideas.
Alex: Is there a dream Space for you, that already exists, not necessarily in Montreal but that you would want to take over:
Right now it’s Ernest Cormiers’ atelier(on St-Urbain) it’s like the thing in my head I cannot erase, because you feel that he was a genius. His approach to space planning, every light and corner makes sense, if I could have that space I could dress it up in a very interesting way
Alex: How did you go from Architecture to your Taxidermy objects:
At first it was more of a business, it’s like people who make jam and realize that they can start to sell them. I knew where to find these objects, and in my head I thought there was a really big market for these, of course it’s a developing market now, but….I don’t know how it is in Berlin, but in the big cities in America, there are like five major Taxidermy stores, and that is all they sell, so there is a big demand because there is a small resource.
Here people don’t understand necessarily, so in the beginning I found a few pieces and started selling them directly, I found more, and then I found lots. My birds from Harvard are a good example, once I had that lot, I started thinking that I could create interesting things with them. I often find bits and parts here and there, so with this I started to think: “Oh i can start making installations”.
Alex: In Canada we started out as a really big exporter of seal skins, but now there is this Politically Correct state of mind, in which people might react negatively to animal products in general, but also to the Taxidermy, so are there people who reprimand that practice or your exhibiting them:
Every time someone communicated discomfort, I immediately started to converse with them, and as soon as you re contextualize and show that even their belts are made of leather, and you explain the conditions in which that animal was killed to make that piece, which is 100 times more disturbing than collecting vintage taxidermy. What I mean is the person who found a dead wolf in a forest in 1965, and was a craftsman in his at-home atelier, and really spent time repairing the skin….as soon as people realize this…a lot of them think that inside the skin, there are still guts and bones but when they understand that it is simply the skin that was tanned and stretched and glued to a the shape of the animal they are less freaked out by that notion. Also I collect old pieces because I do reprimand contemporary practices in Taxidermy. If you kill a Giraffe in 2012, that is not okay and I don’t even want to come close to that, but collecting these pieces as an archeologist and archivist, in a certain way to present them in a new light that I find interesting.
Alex: And also others find a way to recycle these old skins into something else, to not waste what is an already existing piece, what other reactions you have had:
Every one who was against what i was doing and came to me, after the discussion, okay they don’t necessarily feel the need to buy an animal now, but it doesn’t disgust me. For example at first my parents didn’t understand and were a bit grossed out but now they almost like it more than me, when my mom comes and sees the birds, she stays in front of them to look at the details, and their beauty
I don’t necessarily have a passion for Taxidermy, I see it more as: “I know what to do with these objects now”. It’s true that when you have them still in front of you, you can really observe the details, which you can’t necessarily do in nature, so it is true that it is a sort of love for the animals to preserve them, and honor them, what is weird to me is when let’s say one of the hunters i collect form says that he is a lover of animals and nature but he has killed hundreds of animals, that is a bit weird, but I love nature and observe the animals, you can see how small they are, and look at all the colors in nature
Alex: How do you see light in general, like what you were saying about the presentation, light can define space:
It is so important as much as the space itself, it’s like 50/50 in importance. First of all with no light there is nothing to see, and then you can put accents on details, and it becomes magical really. I spend as much time reflecting on light and how to shift the space with it as I do with everything else.
Alex: Are there any tools you prefer to work with:
I like to work with a pile of stuff, like decayed objects, for me that is interesting, bits and parts like metal pieces, door knobs, plastic. I really like the recycling of discarded material.
Other than that I like power tools…a lot. It’s crazy, you can transform things into completely other things when you know how to use these tools.
Or else I really like paint, it’s a good way to transform their appearances, in a quick way and it’s really important in a decor or space, it changes everything, you can unify different elements and create a common visual.
So with light and paint you can go a long way
Alex: You have a great point, but what is interesting here is you are talking about recycling and giving new purpose to discarded materials, what do you think of vintage and contemporary:
I think it is great, every day I see new things, new ways of mixing these together. Let’s say, with the animals that I collect, there is no need for me to go out and kill an animal because there are resources to use an object that is already existing. In a sense we should use materials and things which are available to us because we have like a thousand times enough, just use them in a new vernacular.
Alex: According to what you have found through your research, what do you find different in the construction of an object, from back then compared to now:
That is why it is more interesting to have a found object instead of a recent one, especially in taxidermy because the shape on which the skins were stretched, those were the taxidermists that sculpted them, so they were also biologists. They had to make the right shape for tendons, muscles, whereas now you just order the shape you need, male fox, 12 pounds, this type of expression and they send you a styrofoam mold, anyone can then glue the skin on top.
That is relevant in every object I have, even if they are the same, like this(pointing to a 100 year old ladder made of metal and wood) never will you find one as interesting visually.
Alex:…and one that would last and be made out of durable materials:
Yeah and I like the research process to find these objects. When I meet the people through my purchases, that is what is interesting, every object has a story and a soul, because of it’s past.
What is also interesting is when you need something specific and you try to find it, you fall upon other objects which cater to another interest and that will inform another installation or idea and finally interest me more than what I was originally looking for.
Alex: that is what is interesting though, you do keep a very humanistic side in the sense that your encounters inform your work a lot, like the stories behind, the people you meet, that is always the first thing you talk about with your objects, so your conversation with an object is never over:
No and maybe when people tell you the stories they have with your objects after…the story is just everlasting.
Alex: This brings me to acknowledge the fact that you don’t always collaborate with designers, or architects so how do find inspiration:
What comes to mind is open mindedness but also actually stubbornness. People who almost are closed off in their discourse, that is so foreign to me and obviously I am not in agreement with those points of views. I like to be confronted by these people, in general though it is super important to be open and not judge. I am not saying that I would like to live in a world where evryone would be like that because there would be no challenge.
Alex: Yeah of course when everyone is the same good or bad it just makes us complacent and similar, and there is just no room for conversation, you always find yourself in the same situation of agreement:
Yes I do think that.
Alex: How do you see categorization, a lot of people see design as a discipline and art as another, but speaking of open mindedness do you see a link between creation or do you still categorize between your architecture projects and your installations:
People who categorize, I think are people who have studied a long time in one particular discipline. But I studied in different things, not finishing something here, starting something there. I’ve always skipped around disciplines, learned a lot of things myself, not that I consider myself as a carpenter but i can see it as one common language. I don’t mind if others categorize though, but i wouldn’t feel good to categorize myself as one thing.
Alex: How do you see the digital age allied to the industrial and then going further to the handwork, like going from a 3D model to an actual physical representation:
I love putting these things together like make a 3D installation with different volumes, and integrate more technology, like projection, it’s nice to mix. It’s easier for me to simply do things hands on but am finding it interesting to mix. I do work with 3D sketching because of when I did my architecture schooling, but after that I didn’t want to touch another computer in my life, but now I am finding new programs and do like to work with that as a part of the future outcome.
I work with people who are really strong in programming. For example this guy I am collaborating with can create LED lighthing installations on a rhythm which will create a pattern. In a sense I prefer that another person does what they are strong at and that we figure things out together. Again if I did that all on my own I would feel like I would be missing out. Though sometimes I am not sure if being so scattered is that great for you.
Alex: Yes but this just brings you to collect different information and learn more:
But even then I feel like the person should do them, so in one collaboration I can concentrate on what I am good at and the other person can do the same.
Alex: So you can become a powerhouse (hahahah)
Yeah it just isn’t the same result.
Alex: Do you have a reference point for your inspiration:
the only thing i can think of is to make something different but everything is different, but i do want things to be funny.
Alex: But your installations still are quite perfectionist in detail and result it’s not just funny, but okay…is it because you are reacting to the seriousness of…:
No, it’s just that I want certain things to surprise and that people realize that there is a lot of work that I put into it.
Alex: What do you eat Sunday morning:
Sunday like for something special
Oh…well grapefruit and baked goods from Chez Guillaume( a really good(buyist opinion) new bakery in Montreal) like the brioche with chocolate chunks and white chocolate with tea.
Photography by: Alex Sebag