Berlin Gallery Weekend – Ruinart Maison 1729 – From Champagne Vineyards to Berlin

Each year, internationally renowned artists from all over the world accept Ruinart’s invitation to present the House of Ruinart in their own unique way. In ‘Conversations with Nature’, six selected artists from five continents enter into a dialogue with nature, inspired by the rich terroir of Champagne. Works by Henrique Oliveira, Marcus Coates and Thijs Biersteker are on display at the Ruinart Maison 1729 Berlin. We had a chat with Henrique Oliveira.

Artwork Inspiration by Henrique Oliveira for RUINART at the Maison in Reims ©DR Ruinart

IRMA: How do you select the materials for your installations, and what role do they play in conveying the narrative of urban decay and organic growth?
Henrique Oliveira: For most of my installations I use second-hand plywood from dumpsters. As a discarded material collected randomly from different areas they can vary a lot in colour, flexibility, texture, etc. I stock it in my studio where it goes through a selection process. The flexible ones are reserved for tight curves and smaller sculptures, the brittle parts are saved for finishing as the advanced decompose process give them a more natural look. Sometimes a particular finding is a spark for a new idea. For example, one occasion I bumped into some typical pink ply very used for fencing construction sites. The white paint that had been applied on it was washing away and fungus had spotted over its surface. Immediately I imagined a kind urban skin and then I used that material as the final layer partially covering some bulbous constructions which I had previously dyed red and purple to resemble a kind flesh. On another occasion, a stucco fabric that was full of cracks played the role of thick leather evoking an elephant or a rhino.
Searching through junk yards in the United States I came across tin, inner tubes, foam, etc. All findings open new horizons, but they mostly play the role of a skin in my works. I think that’s because I’m a painter. I tend to work with the notion of surfaces and layers even in fri-dimensional works.

Henrique Oliveira and his work for RUINART. ©Alice Jacquemin

IRMA: In what ways do your installations use the structural to evoke the natural, and how do these elements interact within your artworks?
Henrique Oliveira: When I started making this kind of installations 20 years ago, it was only patches of plywood hammed directly on the wall. Those first works were kind of collages evoking the idea of an opaque painting made into the architecture. The scraps would bring colour and their shapes were like brushstrokes. But as I developed them, the illusion that I had hitherto avoided inside the plane started to burst outwards into the physical space. Each new installation would demand a new solution and new materials were introduced. I started building first a structure out of flexible plywood, stapling used delaminated plywood on top it latter. It permitted me to overcome the natural limitations of that material, in particular introducing round volumes which subverted the geometry of the industrial material. It was a turning point in my work. I was breaking away with references from the mid-20th century to explore special constructions that would Evoque natural organisms.
Today I think the material base of my process is structure oriented, if you see the production process you will notice screws and parts attached, but the result resembles something that would have grown naturally. They may Evoque trunks, vines, bulbs, veins or non-defined organic references.

Artwork by Henrique Oliveira for RUINART. ©Ruinart

IRMA: Could you elaborate on the metaphorical significance of using construction site materials in your work, especially in relation to themes of precarious housing and urban sprawl?
Henrique Oliveira: I have avoid interpreting my own works because I think it is to direct when such comments come from the author. When I do I make sure to underline that this is only one possible point of view among others. But I like hearing what the public say about my works, and, in fact, sometimes it even influences on my ideas as they often see things that I had not thought beforehand. Often these observations end up being subject for future creations. When we speak about precariousness in a Latin American context, and in Brazil in particular, we unavoidably think of favelas. I’m not a person from a favela so I don’t feel authorize to speak on behalf of people who have lived the harshness of that reality. But the sense of precariousness permeates all aspects of Brazilian life. We see it around the streets of big cities, travelling through the roads of the country and specially in small towns such as the one where I grew up. I think the smallest the place the closer you are to material poverty. It is expressed in the peeling sheets of plywood, the white walls that are always dirty re-patched (and therefore never white), in a tube drawn across a path walk bringing waters from a source uphill, cables, thousands of cables over your head, pixo on the walls, etc, etc. It’s a less safe world, but it also allows a lot of freedom for improvisation.
In São Paulo, I see fencing plywood structures also as an icon of real state predation. It’s a city completely given up to construction companies. Profits have always ruled Brazil and the story of São Paulo is that of a small 19th century village that busted into a jungle of capitalist predation. Nearly everything that today would have historical value was poached, nearly every green area was occupied. Lack of investment spared other important cities such as Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and small towns in Minas Gearias state. Today São Paulo is one of the ugliest places in the world, but is also a fascinating, “strangely beautiful” city as an American curator once told me. It’s a huge jungle of buildings full of creative energy. This was the background for my artistic development.

The vineyards of the Ruinart Champagne House. ©Mathieu Bonnevie

IRMA: Regarding the Ruinart “Carte Blanche” project, how did you approach integrating the themes of urban and natural elements into the design?
Henrique Oliveira: As I was saying, as my work with found plywood evolved into organic shapes it also divided into different subjects. One of them was the reconstruction of the form of the trees that were once the raw matter for producing plywood. That line of development within my production broke away with the thematic of the urban and unfolded into the subject of humans and its relationship with nature. Although in Berlin I’m also showing a couple of furniture works I made in Paris years ago, which were inspired by ideas from Surrealism, for Ruinart Carte Blanche I’m focusing on nature. The 3 main pieces on the show consist of reconstructions of natural structures such as tree branches, or vines. One of them is a form that would be impossible to be found in nature, the second would be unlikely to be found like that and the last, the largest one, is very close to something you would have taken from a jungle and placed in the gallery space. But they all have in common this feeling that what you are looking at is just nature. A journalist once asked me what the point was of looking at things that just look like nature. That frustration is what interests me. I think that like some conceptual artworks that just display ordinary objects as art, in this “nature” pieces the banality of the real reflects the situation humanity is living today. The history of humankind is the history of interpreting, understanding, controlling nature. Humans have always been fragile and nature the predominant force. Today this equation has been inverted by our modern ways of living and consuming. In the 21st century all those efforts that were aimed at trimming down the natural world are being redirected to keeping it as it has always been. In such those works I deeply an intense craft process just to have as a result something as banal as tree branch. I think it reflects the spirit of our times.

Henrique Oliveira. ©Mathieu Bonnevie

IRMA: What specific aspects of your artistic philosophy were you able to express through the Ruinart “Carte Blanche” project, and how did it align with Ruinart’s brand values?
Henrique Oliveira: I think I have already responded part of this question above. But complementing it, I believe this effort towards keeping nature as natural as possible also permeates our means of producing food, in particular the traditional ones. The way of producing wine, the craft processes involved in it, which were developed along the centuries, are intrinsically connected to its appreciation by the public and is very sensible to climate changes.

©Alice Jacquemin

IRMA: Can you describe the conceptual development process for your piece in the Ruinart “Carte Blanche” project, and how you ensured it resonated with the viewers?
Henrique Oliveira: I have spoken about the pieces I’m showing at Ruinart lounges in Art Fairs. But there is a commissioned large sculpture for their garden in Reims which is being produced in my studio in London. It’s a piece that was inspired in the vine plants. A larger than natural vine, or two of them that sprout from the garden and connect horizontally. It is a kind monument to the nature, to the banality of nature and our complicate relationship with it. The transformation of industrial material into bark speaks about this idea. It’s not just recycling; it can have many layers of meanings. The branches that connect with each other bring the idea of the absurd, the impossibility. But it also opens to the idea of cycles, the cycles of growing grapes, making wine, storing them underground in the cellars, growing them again the following year and so on. Made of plywood scraps it will need to be re-patched from time to time, it’s a sculpture to be cultivated, a grown sculpture rather than a made one.

Artwork by Henrique Oliveira. ©Alice Jacquemin

IRMA: Could you comment on the significance of Berlin as a location for the Ruinart House 1729 exhibition and how the unique cultural and historical context of the city influences the presentation of your work alongside the other artists on display?
Henrique Oliveira: I don’t have much saying about it, perhaps this question should be directed to those who organized and chose Berlin. On my side all I can say is that I’m very happy with the opportunity to show in Berlin for the first time. I first visited this city as a teenager in the early 1990’s. I have been back for holidays on many occasions since then, I’m aware of its transformation process. My assistant, Tom Budding, used to hang out with artists that would occupy these buildings in the early 2000’s when it was a kind of squat with makeshift studios permeated of an anarchic feeling. The fact that today we are going to cheer up with a glass of Champagne tells a lot about everything I’ve spoken above and about the spirit of the time we are living in 😉

Artwork by Henrique Oliveira for RUINART. ©Ruinart


RUINART MAISON 1729 – From Champagne vineyards to Berlin

Art gallery, Food For Art dinner, bar and champagne tasting

Indulgence meets art at Verōnika
The recently opened Verōnika restaurant in Berlin is a central element of the Ruinart Maison 1729: international, sustainable cuisine offers guests a unique Ruinart menu paired with champagne – the unfolding of previously unknown taste experiences. Art and food come together in an exceptional setting.

Ruinart Bar
The place to be! Chat and relax over a glass of Ruinart. Blanc Singulier, Blanc de Blancs, Rosé or other Maison Ruinart rarities – the perfect place to round off that special experience.

Date: 25 April to 29 April 2024
Time: Daily from 12:00 – 20:00
Address: Am Tacheles, Oranienburger Strasse 54, Berlin Mitte

Art gallery: Free admission
Food For Art Dinner: 175 euros per person
It is also possible to enjoy the individual courses à la carte.
Champagne tasting: 35 euros per person

Book here