The French artist Xavier Veilhan joins the circle of globally-renowned artists, such as Antony Gormley, Olafur Eliasson and Tomas Saraceno, acting against global warming and actively looking for alternatives to airplane transportation, the biggest source of carbon emissions in the art sector.

At a time when the climate crisis is worsening, the Parisian artist Xavier Veilhan, represented by galleries across the world, from Stockholm to Seoul, New York and Hong Kong – namely Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Perrotin, Nara Roesler and 313 Art Project – is putting into question his 30 years of international travel and now endeavoring to pursue his career in a more environmentally-friendly manner.

With his personal exhibition “Crop Top” that took place earlier this year (22 February – 6 April 2024) at the Andréhn-Schiptjenko gallery in Stockholm, the sailing enthusiast thus saw an opportunity to experiment the sailboat as a new means of transportation for his art pieces and studio members. 

Unable to find a boat to rent in France at this time of year, the artist, alongside his director of studio Anne Becker and production manager Sven Bajeat, crossed the Baltic Sea from Grossenbrode in Germany, boarding a Hanse 460 sailboat with the navigators Nicolas Pichelin and Anne-Laure Monroche at the helm. 

First of all, the packaging of the artworks had to be specially rethought for the boat. The traditional wooden crates, a risk for the boat’s shell in case of an impact, were thus abandoned in favour of vacuum packaging and cardboard wrap. As the art transport insurers were unwilling to insure this type of transport, the art pieces were insured purely based on their production cost.

Photo © Studio Xavier Veilhan

Upon arrival, the boat remained moored for a week in Stockholm, becoming a sort of appendix to the gallery, an unusual site external to the art market context, which apparently gave rise to more expansive discussions with visiting journalists and collectors. The team then took six days to return to the base, with the overall trip taking three weeks altogether.

Notably, Xavier Veilhan covered the extra costs himself, with the journey by sailboat costing five times the amount it would have cost by plane (financially at least), but the sale of an art piece to a faithful long-time collector allowed him to gather the necessary funds.

Not content to simply experiment this trip as a purely environmental gesture, the artist also explored what value the experience could bring creatively. As a result, he also decided to conceive a “drawing machine” for the boat, enabling him to incorporate the influence of the passage of time and the wind in his work. In his own words: “These new restraints create a new context for the production and creation of the artworks. The notions of speed and productivity are overturned in this means of transportation which also gives chance a part to play.

Following this successful dry run, carried out under the hashtag #WindPoweredExhibition, Xavier Veilhan is already planning to go further, with a bigger and faster boat, and to more distant destinations such as New York and Rio de Janeiro. Aware that he came back from Stockholm with an empty boat, rather than with items that could have been transported the other way, the artist calls for the creation of a system of shared freight, dedicated predominantly to artwork, but also with the possibility of carrying other goods.

Photo © Studio Xavier Veilhan

Just like French novelist and filmmaker Georges Perec, who imposed himself to not use the letter ‘e’ when writing A Void, Xavier Veilhan advocates that attempting to fix your constraints yourself can actually be an opportunity and that, moreover, current environmental stakes provide a good reason to find yourself in unique and creative situations: “We can imagine the means of transport as becoming an integral part of the creative process. It influences both the conception and creation of artworks, since they must thereby answer to constraints that are no longer the same as those of air transportation.

Now conscious of the carbon impact of his international artist career, as well as being the father of three children who are concerned about the environment, Xavier Veilhan is not only evolving his practice from a carbon perspective. Having already ditched the use of polluting resins and looking to reduce the relative impact of every aspect of his activity, he has been exploring further alternatives offered by the eco-design expert Fanny Legros, founder of Karbone Prod. Based on the life-cycle analysis she conducted of his artwork, she says: “Everyone should take a leaf out of the book of Xavier Veilhan’s studio”.

Learn More about Xavier Veilhan

Alice Audouin, Sana Tekaïa
Translated from french by Stefano
Cover :
© Studio Xavier Veilhan

Photo © Studio Xavier Veilhan

Impact Art News, March-May 2024 #48
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