Hubert Duprat, Untitled (Costa Brava coral), 1994, 25 cm in diameter, at Musée Gassendi, Digne-les-Bains.
French artist Hubert Duprat, who has emphasised the relationship of his works with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century discourses and objects of curiosity, teases out the ambiguous nature of coral – as transgressing different kingdoms of nature and different modes of representation – in his untitled object of 1994, in which red, polished coral branches are combined with conserved, pressed pieces of bread.
The object prompts a whole set of questions. Is it rigid or soft? Is it mineral, or, as its form suggests, vegetable? Is it natural and organic or artificial and fabricated? Is it alive or dead? What is the relationship between surface, interior, circumference and volume?
Do we owe it to the ingenuity and caprice of nature or to the ingenuity of human craftsmanship and creativity? Is it craft, decorative art, or ‘high’ art?
Does the work have a start or end point? To what extent is its shape determined by the material? What exactly is its texture – smooth and polished or rough and porous? Is it red or grey, transparent or opaque? Is it simple or complex?
Is it self-contained or is it reaching out? Is there continuity between the branches or is it the disruption by the bread crumbs that prevails? What is more valuable – the precious, costly coral pieces or the bread, which is a staple of our diet – and how does this relate to consumption?
What does it say about the relationship between art, science and religion?
Hubert Duprat, Untitled (Costa Brava coral), 1994, at frac franche-comté.
Hubert Duprat’s first UK solo show, curated by Harriet Godwin, opens this coming Saturday, 14 May 2011, at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, and runs until 20 August.