The wild adventures of Porte Nef
Published 6 June 2019 by Maxence Grugier
Awarded at Shenzhen Design Week 2019, Maxime Aumon’s “Porte Nef” is a surrealist, even dadaist, human adventure, in the form of a plurimedia work involving various levels of skills and esthetics.
Beyond the undeniable performance, Porte Nef is above all the fruit of an impulse. For the artist, it’s the culmination of a series of actions motivated by his quest for the ultimate poetical and political gesture. His philosophies: escape, autonomy, independence, a passion for “making” and a bit of shamanism. As the instigator of the project, trained architect Maxime Aumon has always been driven by the desire to build things, foregoing any artistic bias in favor of a childlike sense of adventure. He imagines symbolic cumbersome structures with which he travels, exploring seldom-visited regions of the world. As such, Porte Nef is part of a global approach that began a few years ago, which has pushed its protagonist further and further eastward.
It all started with crossing Luxembourg on wooden stilts (“That dukedom of finance, a tax haven where I had decided to never set foot,” Maxime laughs), followed by building a wooden horse on wheels and traveling through the various enclaves of ex-Yugoslavia, and finally building a rolling bison in Belorussia, which soon turned into a shamanic and magical adventure (the bison is a powerful symbol in these warring regions, as well as a rally sign at the time for Ukrainian separatist rebels).
Like a wingless airplane
It was this same impulse that led Maxime to cross the desolate tundra of the Polar Urals in 2017, bringing along his cousin-in-law and visual artist Malo Lacroix, two childhood friends and a couple extra companions “to help”. In total, six boys lost in the Polar Urals, dragging along the surrealist Porte Nef: a 5-meter-long, 1-meter-wide (not counting the side panniers) chariot, in the form of a WW1 cockpit (when these machines were made primarily from canvas and wood), assembled with aluminum tubes, fabrics and recycled bicycle frames.
With this contraption, assembled on site and transported by train from Moscow to the Ural plains, the team traveled for three weeks from the former Gulag of Vorkuta to the penitentiary city of Kharp in the Polar Urals. A trek of more than 150km across the Siberian north, where pushing, dragging, crossing rivers in the infinite white light—and against the wind of the tundra—became the everyday life of six Westerners, slaves to a useless but beautiful machine, both hypnotized by their surroundings and totally disoriented. Here again it was the artistic gesture that prevailed, as the structure served less as shelter than as a means of transporting equipment.
Porte Nef, film trailer:
Accustomed to documenting his actions, Maxime invited Malo Lacroix to make a film telling the story of the Porte Nef saga. Conceived as an element among others within a larger transmedia approach, the film is particularly powerful in conveying the atmosphere of the journey: exploration, discoveries, encounters and ordeals experienced by this team of buddies released into the wild, sometimes bordering on exhaustion, always in wonder, often bewildered by the extreme change in scenery and climate.
The Polar Urals are a harsh environment for humans. Witness the many abandoned buildings, ghost towns, rotting machines in the tundra. Here life itself is an ordeal, and only the nomads of the region living in chums (sort of tepees or yurts) seem to be skilled at adapting to the unforgiving territory. However, these images also emphasize the universality of the project, the philosophy of its author (to “jump into adventure”), if not a sophomoric attitude (the performance could be taken as a manifesto, but it doesn’t pose as one) and a somewhat shamanic aspect. The structure was finally abandoned in the tundra—an unidentified object as a metaphor of human absurdity, joining the industrial ruins rusting peacefully in the wild landscape (as in the case of the other mechanical installations of Maxime, who believes in burying secrets and admires Nature’s power of resilience).
Between Live AV and literary object
The story of the journey will be told in a book (with photos) written by Maxime. The idea is that a journey, as absurd and surreal as Porte Nef’s (or the horse’s or the bison’s), is above all a story. From the beginning, the author intended to put the adventure into words: “spreading its wings and reaching out with words,” he says.
The story has also inspired live audiovisual performances. It was Malo Lacroix, who was already used to doing live AV shows and creating visuals for museums, fashion shows and festivals, in addition to collaborating with electronic music composers Murcof (Mexico) and Monolake (Germany), who had the idea of using the “visual material” from the documentary to create a new narrative. So they invited Laurent Prot, musician, composer and producer a.k.a. In Aeternam Vale, to remix the mostly ambient “audio material” with the images and words by Malo and Maxime. The resulting soundtrack evokes the unique soundscape of the Urals, where the composer is intent on conveying the characteristics of a space that is both fragile and aggressive, where the vibrations of the wind through the canvas sails of “the nef” are integral to the story. The hour-long transmedia piece, supported by the label Visuaal, sees In Aeternam Vale and Malo Lacroix recreating live on stage the audio and visual narrative of the Porte Nef adventure, while Maxime reads his words.
Excerpts from the transmedia Live AV Porte Nef, played at the end of a residency at ASCA Beauvais in March 2019:
Finally, Porte Nef won a bronze award in the communication category at Shenzhen Design Week in April, completing the international recognition of this extreme transmedia project.
More information on Porte Nef