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Alexandre Silberstein | Artist, Art-Director, Film Director

Alexandre Silberstein is a true polymath. After a short stint in the PSG Academy, he studied at one of the finest art schools in the world, the National School of Fine Arts (better known as Les Beaux-Arts de Paris). He is plotting an impressive trajectory as a contemporary artist, an actor, a film director, an art-director and, after welcoming us into his immaculate home, he could have a fairly good stab at being an interior designer as well.

Since studying at Les Beaux Arts, Alexandre has been a part of several collective shows as an artist. The communication amongst those involved is something he finds drives him forward. “The notion of residence is what I really enjoyed when working as a collective. You have time to contemplate and communicate ideas with not only the curators, but the other artists in residence as well. You have time to create or finish a piece in situ. The preparation and process is the most interesting part, far more interesting than the show itself – these were the best experiences.” A fine example, he explains, was during La Galerie du Ballon, a pop-up art-gallery (in which Alexandre exhibited for a month) created for EURO 2016 by Parisian football-culture collective, Le Ballon. The curators of the gallery challenged Parisian artists to customise a blank football on the day of the final. “There was an element of competition that was fun, but there was some real process. Being all together, around one table in a space that was filled with football artwork and surrounded by people that were not art dealers or so-called ‘experts,’ but just football lovers – this I found really interesting.”

For a man that is such a cultural multi-disciplinarian, it is perhaps a surprise to learn that Alexandre learned most of his collectivity on the football pitch, rather than in the studio or on the stage. In fact, his artistic nature took longer to develop than his footballing ability. “I don’t think I talked to anyone apart from my parents about culture until I was about 17. A lot of the work was done alone in my room, watching the golden age of MTV. Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze inspired me, but I didn’t start properly reading around the subject until quite late.” Instead, the football pitch with his father and some friends would be the foundation for Alexandre’s belief in the collective. “The more that time goes by, the more I see that collectivity is a real asset. I see it in football too. When I was young, I was big and strong and fast so I would dribble around everyone and score. These days, I'm not so agile, so the kids are all younger and fitter than me so I had to adapt!” From learning to pass the ball, Alexandre has realised that his professional life is also reliant on the time, effort, investment and collaboration of his team. “A few years ago, I was a one man band, I was often alone in my studio. At Les Beaux Arts you could go a whole day in the workshop without seeing another soul, even though it was supposed to be a collective workspace – it could be very lonely. In filmmaking I can conceptualise alone, however when I'm ‘making,’ and the projects get bigger, the team gets bigger. 10-20 people. It’s fantastic.”

Since studying at Les Beaux Arts, Alexandre has been a part of several collective shows as an artist. The communication amongst those involved is something he finds drives him forward. “The notion of residence is what I really enjoyed when working as a collective. You have time to contemplate and communicate ideas with not only the curators, but the other artists in residence as well. You have time to create or finish a piece in situ. The preparation and process is the most interesting part, far more interesting than the show itself – these were the best experiences.” A fine example, he explains, was during La Galerie du Ballon, a pop-up art-gallery (in which Alexandre exhibited for a month) created for EURO 2016 by Parisian football-culture collective, Le Ballon. The curators of the gallery challenged Parisian artists to customise a blank football on the day of the final. “There was an element of competition that was fun, but there was some real process. Being all together, around one table in a space that was filled with football artwork and surrounded by people that were not art dealers or so-called ‘experts,’ but just football lovers – this I found really interesting.”

A spirit of togetherness has been essential for getting through these unprecedented times in which we are living. The fashion and creative industries have been hit hard by COVID-19, and Alexandre laments the lack of human contact in what is a very personal industry. However, he is uplifted by the way in which people have rallied together. Working on the first ever ‘show-film’ for Maison Martin Margiela 6 in order to present their collection (there were no runway shows due to the cancellation of Paris Fashion Week) he and his team have had to think on their feet in order to pull it off. “Until the day of the shoot, we didn’t know the order of the clothes we had to shoot. Normally, in film, everything is organised in advance to ensure the perfect run-of-show. Additionally, instead of our regular crew of 15 people, we were far fewer. There is a new economy, and I quite like it. It means that people have to be more cohesive and more creative. Rather than have a guy only operating the fan, for example, they now have to be more involved with the whole production.” This reliance on others to be able to step up is something that may have worried Alexandre in the past, but now, after experiences like the Margiela film, he is more trusting. “It’s a different process. It’s about convincing people. It would be like filming something on K2 or Everest. It’s a long trip, you may die, but I want you to come with me because I trust you and I can’t make it without you. At least, that’s how I see it and how I see my team now. That confidence in them allows me to focus on my work and make sure that what gets made is the closest representation of my (and the creative director’s) vision – that we realise their dream.”

These heavy words, of life and death, the rhetoric of Alexandre Silberstein is something that has interested me since we first met. In fact, his answer to the first question of this interview (who are you and what do you do?) was that he was “a human being. A storyteller. I’m sorry, anything else seems like such a boring answer to this question!” Agreed. Mea culpa. His clarity of thought, and deconstruction of questions and themes makes him a fascinating man and a successful one too. For instance, he and his family have strong ties to Red Star FC, darling of the football-hipster. I see the opportunity to ask him about the way football is going, especially given the rich history of Red Star FC, their fiercely political left-wing ultras and their impressive communications in recent years. My stale tropes of Modern Football™ vs. tradition are instantly analysed and rebuked. They became not a simple case of good vs. evil in the way that so many see it, rather a nuanced question of what these words actually mean. “I’m a bit ill at ease. Are we talking traditional vs. contemporary? Are we talking progress vs. non-progress? What does it all mean? Is there a right way to consume football? These days those words are linked to so many other things, such powerful things, so I am not really comfortable talking about football in this way. If you like tradition, does that mean you’re anti-progression? The terms are too loaded. I prefer a stance of tolerance. To answer this question you need to be a specialist, and I am not. Having said that, I love the links that the club has with the community, what they’re trying to do in Saint-Ouen in the 93 (an impecunious region in the outskirts of Paris) is special. They play on that a lot with their marketing, but they do it with heart. It’s important for me.” 

An honest admiration for a club, their narrative, community spirit and indeed their communications is refreshing to see, especially from someone from the ‘art world.’ Equally as refreshing, was to spy a somewhat forgotten room at the back of such a stylish apartment with one sole purpose – gaming. Away from the Raf Simons upholstered Cassina Utrecht armchair, the Max Lamb for HEM stools and brutalist oak furnishings was a small white room with a white table upon which sat a PlayStation 4 controller. On a shelf to the left were a GameCube, a Switch, a Dreamcast (!) and an array of accessories. Alexandre really is someone who appreciates the finer things in life! The conversation turns to FIFA and what it has meant to him growing up. Obviously, he remembers the glory days when Ronaldinho – his favourite player – was still playing and was on the cover. “I think I try and play a little differently to my friends. I try to get really creative with it; I have to score the best goal. I might not score five, but it will be beautiful! I like the simulation aspect of the game, so I try not to score bicycle kicks and do a million step-overs – I like a nice through ball.” Anyone who has played the latest iterations of FIFA Ultimate Team might be sick to death of a ‘nice through ball,’ but we appreciate the sentiment!

Words by Jack Whelan @leballonfc Photography Celia Spenard-Ko

 

 

 

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