Plant sounds and travel logs: Romain Scaillet’s mixed-medium artistic approach

Brussels-born and -based resident Romain Scaillet (1991) was firstly introduced to the power of visual arts by the countless graffitis he was always passing by on his way to school. Saying that, he is now a multidisciplinary artist with a lot of new things on the agenda. From photography to drawings, short film to music production, we took the chance to get some insights into his work by posing a couple of questions.

At its core, what is your work about? How would you describe it?

In photography, I approach topics such as wandering, loneliness and chance. These themes are also present in my drawings and the short films that I’ve directed so far. From an aesthetic point of view, I would describe my approach as a mix of documentary and fiction.

What is its starting point and statement?

I always start with a feeling, a thought, or rather a statement about the things around me that I feel the need to materialise – like the relations between tradition, spirituality and austerity.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

I mostly let time guide my work. I start with a research phase in which I accumulate a lot of materials. After hindsight and reflection, I begin to select and decide what to incorporate or not – what makes sense and what is unnecesary. In the case of a sound creation, I select my “instruments”, looking for sounds that can enter and take place in a schema that I’ve established, always putting my feeling first. Only then do I enter the design phase. Yet between all of these steps, I do not close any door which could lead me to be interested in other things during my research. For example, I love plants and have found them to be interesting to use, especially through the use of a device called MIDI Sprout which I discovered on the Internet. It allows you to hear the sound of the plant, and I’m still figuring out how to use this in my work. So this is how it always works: interesting things lead to more interesting things.

What characterises your work?

The arrangements present in my creations. There is a logical and step-by-step approach to the elements I use. It’s always a long-term process, and this method allows the observer to enter my world more easily.

How do you actually work on a piece, from start to finish?

I work on several things at the same time: writings can feed sounds, sounds can create images and so on. For example, I felt the need to omit strictly electronic music in my albums, incorporating a more “accoustic” dimension instead – flute, melodica, guitar. Only once have a coherent set and enough material, I feel that my work has reached its goal. I prefer not to operate according to deadlines as it’s rather contradictory to my working process. The work is formed with time, by adding influences and trying out new things. By feeling it out.

What series and / or project are you currently working on?

I’m currently finishing my third album, which is part of a trilogy, and is made up of electronic, ambient, and experimental music. Music that’s well adaptable to the audio-visual. When you listen to my songs, lots of images naturally come to the mind. The three cassettes work as a set, from an aquatic to a more tribal universe. I conceptualised the covers by getting as close to the world of sounds as possible. I’m also working on another sound project, which will be on vinyl. This is a much more melodic album than the previous ones, a more trip-hop universe. In parallel, I’m finalising a photobook that takes the whole of a process extending from 2011 to 2016. Over this time, I archived a large number of negatives as well as writings and objects that will end up as scans. During my photographic experiment, I felt the need to collect material from elsewhere, and traveling allowed me to feed this inner search and build a story through those shots.

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice?

Todd Hido, Antoine d’Agata, Brian Eno, Bernie Worrell, Rich Robert, John Hassell, Wally Badarou, Robert Ashley, Detroit’s Artist Constellation. From a more contemporary perspective: Toro Y Moi, Philip Katherine, Robert Aiki Lowe, Tommy Guerrero, Air, Sébastien Tellier. I just love their approaches.

What are the challenges you face as an artist working in Belgium today?

Initially, the challenge was to find an environment which would allow me to build my work without following pre-established paths. Trends in some artistic milieus have closed many doors for me because I need constant renewals and overruns. To free myself from expectations, to build something long-term. Today, my challenge is in proposing my creations while always respecting my work philosophy and bringing my creations to a more collective dimension.

How do you see yourself fit into the country’s contemporary art scene?

I don’t know if I can talk about adaptation and “fitting in”, since I don’t direct my work to fit into a box that belongs solely to contemporary art. I just do what I like and if others like it too, I’m happy.

Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?

Doing many things at once: discovering new albums and people who create work different from mine. Travelling also allows me to be inspired – understanding how a city works, watching people move around it, and capturing its mood. Finding nourishing inspiration is crucial, yet before being inspired, you must first identify what interests you and the things that are good for you. We must always remain open to the reality surrounding us.

What does success look like to you?

From a general point of view, success is a sense of total accomplishment. When it comes to art in general, success is about looingk back on your creations and being sincerely proud of it. I’m always trying to be independent in my art. That’s why I like working on all the aspects that surround my art projects and not having to outsource different tasks to other people. Sure, this takes up more time, but I enjoy putting the energy into it – it adds even more value to my autodidactic projects, and allows me to retain control at all time.

To you, what role should contemporary art occupy in the community?

Contemporary art allows for societal awareness. It highlights the world in which we live by making a statement. What’s interesting is that everyone has the opportunity to express themselves, further strengthening their voice.

Which Belgian artists do you follow, look at for inspiration?

Plastic Bertrand on his track Affection. Cos and their album Viva Boma. Marc Hollander, Thielemans Toots, Marc Mill, Aksak Maboul & Veronique Vincent on 16 Visions of Ex-Futur.

And what do your parents, your family, think of what you do?

Initially, there was a lot of misunderstanding – they couldn’t see where I wanted to go. With time it’s changed a lot. I think it’s nice for my parents to now recognise the philosophy of life they transmitted to me in the work I create. It’s a form of accomplishment and satisfaction in itself to see that all their messages and life lessons have materialised into something, all allowing me to stay connected to reality and to not bet on uncertain projects.

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