The son of a neurologist and a psychiatrist, Jean Duhurt had a classical education in sculpture at l’École Boulle in Paris between 1988 and 1994, extending his natural feeling for wood and for what the French call the noble materials. He is also a painter, but he has always had a subversive rapport with the distinctly non-noble materials of medical equipment and other superficially artless objects from the useful world. This combination of classical discipline and a free-ranging, beach-combing acquisitiveness forms the unmistakeably personal basis of his installations. Something you can be sure of when you approach one of his cabinets of curiosities is that the curiosities will be truly curious. His bird's-nest beard and bad-boy beret might look like standard items in the denotation of avant-garde adventure but there is nothing standard about his art.
Natural objects of evocative anatomical shapes (bone, stone or wood) are meticulously combined with medical artefacts, leading to sophisticated compositions, fuelled by the artist’s curious interest in medieval medicine and occult arts. Every sculpture is an assemblage of the unexpected. While their titles denote a fine sense of humour about the macabre, these works are also deeply seductive and poetic, like a Buñuel heroine with a prosthetic leg. Arte Povera with a surrealist twist, Duhurt’s creations play havoc with our usual perceptions of the human body, whether alive, dead, or whatever happens to it next.
I’m very glad that my inquisitive assistant Cécile made me look at his work, although I had to overcome a bourgeois urge to squint and cross my legs tightly when I saw the amount of rubber and glass. Once your imagination is drawn in, however, it won’t soon work its way back to comfortable freedom, or even to elementary stability. The artist is out to register a changing world and sometimes the sculptures themselves change. His first installation of 2001, Cabinet/Laboratoire, has been taken apart and reassembled several times by now, changing every time. If I get up one morning and find that some of the six examples included here have altered during the night, I shan’t be surprised.
Photographs by Olivier Degorce.