Ardif is a young street-artist who has been pasting his drawings for a year on the streets of Paris. He uses his training as an architect to give life to his creations, half animal, half machine, through disconcertingly precise tracings. He says that he himself then makes “lace” out of these cogs, bringing out the mechanisms of these mechanical structures thanks to the texture of the walls.

His work, both animal and steampunk, catches the attention by the debauchery of time and energy that it supposes, but also by the questions that it leaves in suspension, showing the precarious balance existing between Man and Nature.


How did you become an artist?

After graduating from high school, my career path was rather chaotic: I first started at a mathematics college I didn’t like, and I drew during my classes. After that I started an artistic preparation, which not only taught me drawing techniques but also gave me notions of art history. During this training I realized that I liked architecture, although I didn’t want to study it in the first place because my father was an architect himself and I was afraid of the idea of inheritance. I rediscovered a creativity and imagination that spoke to me, with drawing as a basis for my work. Street art certainly interested me, but I hadn’t found the right language at the time.

When I graduated from architecture school, I set up a collective with architect friends called Concrete Balloons. We worked on industrial wastelands by visiting old abandoned factories or metalworks, developing phantasmagorias from these places. My interest in somewhat chaotic structures comes from this period, during which we made an exhibition called “Imachinarium”. While at the beginning my sketchbooks were mainly intended for travelling, one day I drew my first mechanimal, a cat, before continuing throughout the summer. At the beginning of the summer, I had developed a collection with a concept, the animal and the mechanimal, in a kind of urban safari that lent itself well to Street art. I started to glue my first small formats in September 2016.

Why did you want to work on the street? Did your training as an architect influence this choice?

This desire to express myself in the street came initially from my admiration for Street art, but also for the new realists like Villeglé, who tore down posters to put them in museums. My training as an architect had already led me to take an interest in the city in order to shape it and give it a new face. However, as an artist, I could do the same thing in a less standardized and administrative way, more freely. I also wanted to participate in this great idea of art for everyone, accessible to the passer-by regardless of social class or background. For me this is what Art on a large scale should be.


Why the choice of collage?

This choice comes first of all from the fact that my technique is impossible to realize directly on a wall, because it requires much too much time: I would need two to three days per drawing! The particularity of my style lies in the precision of my line, which comes from industrial drawing. I am fascinated by these small, very precise watches, which require time and meticulousness. The poster did not betray this, and allowed me to add a new dimension to my drawings by cutting the paper. Indeed, by cutting out the voids, the texture of the wall appears and the poster is then transformed into lace with the mechanisms that are hollowed out.

But the poster also has an artistic history: from being a propaganda tool, it has become a commercial medium. However, the advertising poster could then be a work in itself, and artists such as Aristide Bruant made them, whereas today it is a product that has lost its identity. I believe that the poster can become an art object again and I want to claim this heritage.

Collage is an ephemeral technique, even within street art…

It’s true that nowadays some authorized murals last for years, but for me the essence of Street art remains its ephemeral character. One of the arts that has influenced me the most is Land art, which puts the work on the scale of the landscape. Its ephemeral aspect is claimed and gives the work its beauty. Street art, in a comparable way, puts the work on the scale of the urban landscape.

What creative process are you following?

I always start with the animal. In the beginning, the idea was to use the pre-existing composition of Nature. Indeed, the success of a drawing is most of the time due to its composition, and an animal is in itself an existing graphic composition. Nature forms very beautiful symmetries and I build my drawing from it. Most of the time I exploit it as it is by cutting the animals in two, but I also sometimes “parasitize” them by drawing them in profile, as is the case with the dove or the bee.


We find in this technique traces of industrial design…

Learning technical drawing has influenced my way of working, using fine felt, Rotring. I often start from a rather coarse pencil for the composition, before drawing the animal. These tools allow me to work on the textures, feathers, furs, or scales, which will then influence the work on the mechanical part and the objects composing it.

Does this also explain the choice of black and white?

Black and white is a base that I like very much, even if from time to time I enhance it with colours because there are animals whose hue directly evokes something, whether it is the pink of the flamingo or the red colour of the fox. This makes an even greater contrast with the machine and brings something new.

The animal and symmetry

Why did you choose to paint animals? Was it for their playfulness?

Animals have always been part of my visual universe, whether it be through reports or zoos. However, I think that this idea comes above all from the desire to bring people into my imaginary world, machine architecture, through a figure that they know and like.


The animal style is widespread in Street art: do you think about the idea of bestiary when producing your creations?

Indeed, the animalier allows you to build up a collection to follow a kind of urban safari. So my animals are all linked by a common imagination, but are all different in their graphics or texture. In addition, each animal has its own symbols that can be identified by everyone. The bestiary is thus both a tribute to zoology and a fascinating graphic exploration, because it is impossible to go around it: species, textures, colours, compositions, it’s infinite! There is not enough life to draw all the species on Earth. So I have a principle of never drawing the same animal twice, to represent as many species as possible.

Symmetry also marks the opposition between Man and Animal.

What interests me most about symmetry is the notion of balance. One of the artists who has influenced me the most is Miyazaki with his imagination: in Princess Mononoké we find this struggle between the progress of Man, his will to exploit the earth, and the gods of Nature, the forests and the princess. Ashitaka, the hero of the film, is the neutral element, the moderator of this conflict. Somehow, I would like to be the Ashitaka of this dualism between Nature and Technology. If Man had not progressed, we would still be in the Stone Age, but the technology created must be placed at the service of mankind, without being to the detriment of overexploitation of nature or the artificialization of the natural heritage. Symmetry therefore also represents a kind of balance between these elements.

You use the names of the streets and the natural angles they form to place your collages…

Symmetry allows you to play with the walls: right angles make you lose the overall vision of the drawing, while broken angles allow you to mentally separate the two sides while perceiving it completely. Concerning the animals, I like the winks: for example, I glued a cat on rue Bichat, a rhinoceros near the Carreau du Temple, the fox on rue du Renard. Of course I miss the rue du Chat-qui-pêche! I also placed the dove on rue de la Paix, which was my most symbolic drawing because it was killed by machines that turned into weapons.


This symmetrical game is also ideal for artistic collaborations.

Currently, my goal is to mechanize the street art scene. I started with Manyoly because we immediately wanted to do a project together. But Eddie Colla also proposed me to mechanize one of his creations, and I’m very keen to work with Codex Urbanus. In these collaborations, my part will be the machine, because it’s my universe.

a steampunk style?

How does this fascination with the machine relate to Nature? In one of your drawings, the machine is just coming out of a tree.

I like the improbable structures and the dreamlike character that emerges from it. This taste comes from Jean Tinguely’s creations, but also from the new realists with Arman’s accumulations, Niki de Saint Phalle’s farting chicks, or the poster artists. I am also fascinated by the osmosis between architecture and nature. Man is constantly inspired by Nature to innovate, he reshapes it himself, and new urban constructions are constantly trying to hybridize these two elements. When one of the two takes over, it no longer works: too many industrial zones cause ecological disasters and the destruction of landscapes, while an overabundance of vegetation on a building can generate insect invasions or ventilation problems.


By highlighting the cogs, your drawings seem to be the heirs of a retro-futurism that is often associated with the Steampunk movement.

It’s a cultural influence that comes from films I loved, like Star Wars, which represents an old, dented and underground future. Art, like the city, must have a patina, layers. The technology I design couldn’t be Apple, because its mechanism is open and shows the circuit boards. Technology is first of all a mechanism, a production line. It’s the same thing in architecture: I prefer rough concrete to coated concrete, rough wood to smooth and varnished wood, rusted metal to polished metal. Steampunk overlaps Jules Verne’s culture with that of Hayao Miyazaki: flying machines are not a good match! In this, the Walking Castle, with its improbable but coherent architecture, is a fantasy.

This universe is also reminiscent of the world of automata, especially those developed by the Machines de l’Île à Nantes, such as the great elephant.

Two months before drawing my first mechanimal, I visited the Machines de l’Île à Nantes. I think that unconsciously this visit brought out something that was latent in me. However, there are differences: the machines are pure automata, you could see their structure if you made a skinning of the animal. On the other hand, I want people to be able to imagine in my drawings a real natural part, because it is this that creates opposition and dialogue. People often perceive my work in a pessimistic way, as a drift of progress. Others will tell me that they are robotic animals. All points of view are interesting, but for me they are truly animal-inspired machine architectures.


How do you see your work evolving in the world of contemporary street art?

Today, Street art is anchored in the art market and is becoming more and more perennial and institutional. Now that it is accepted, it has to evolve. For my part, I would like to carry out major works, knowing that they would be destroyed a few months later. A work on a very large scale would change my way of doing things, my discourse, while offering me another visibility. One of the projects I have always found most phantasmagorical is Tinguely’s Cyclop. It’s an architectural sculpture that can be explored and visited. For me it represents the culmination of the union between architecture and street art.

You can find Ardif on his Facebook and Instagram

Interview recorded in july 2017.

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