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The Stories, the People and the Magic of BCBF

Symbiosis as a musical score

an interview with Jean Mallard

  |   TOPICS: Illustrators
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For the fifth edition of the “BCBF Visual Identity Workshop”, Chialab and the BCBF team have chosen the Parisian Jean Mallard, an illustrator selected for the Illustrators Exhibition and the 2018 winner of the ARS IN FABULA scholarship jointly instituted by the ARS IN FABULA School of Illustration and BCBF. 
Let's meet the illustrator of the 2021 BCBF Visual Identity.

Your relationship with the Illustrators Exhibition is a happy and fruitful one.
After having won the Grant Award - Ars in Fabula in 2018, this year you were chosen by Chialab to develop the 2021 Visual Identity.
Would you like to tell us what was the workshop like?

We can say that I was very lucky: the Bologna fair filled my life with adventures these last two years... Thanks to the Grant Award, I took off to Italy in Macerata, where I spent a few months in the Ars in Fabula school. It was really beautiful to learn and discover another country and new people. Then it made me want to explore other places in Italy, which is why I came down to live in Naples for a while to draw. So what a joy to come back to Bologna for a new story!

I was first of all very honored to be chosen because it is a great job, and I was very familiar with the illustrations of Chloé Almeras that I had met in Bologna when she herself produced the visual identity back in 2018, and whose work I love.

But I was also nervous about this responsibility, which is why it was a treat to work with the ChiaLab team. They were all really calming and motivating, and their workplace is a little cocoon in the city: among the large plants in their workshop I had a lot of ideas.

We started off in all directions the first two days, also to meet and learn how to communicate. Then an idea began to come together: the symbiotic world.

At that time, I was obsessed with the study of mutual aid in the natural environment, and the tiny networks that allow the world to exist as it is. I was going crazy in front of the beauty and the subtlety of the food webs, and I wanted to get to tell something about it, raising awareness about this invisible beauty that we all benefit from. Discussing with the ChiaLab team, we told ourselves that this symbiotic principle also applies to our scale, everywhere in our surroundings. For example, even the creation of books requires this extraordinary coordination between several individuals who come together to bring something to life.

So we started to imagine a graphic system, where several shapes or characters, by associating with each other, make a larger whole. I drew a lot of small beings, taking inspiration from the microscopic world, those that we do not see but who work tirelessly, so that the world lives. Plankton, insects, corals...

I also looked a lot at plants and minerals, looking for crazy colors that we don't usually consider using. Then, we created connection systems, allowing each character or shape to be linked to another, and thus be free to create networks, new creatures, spectacular beings! At the beginning it was a puzzle, so that everything could be linked but you had to be extremely precise in the realization for the links to actually work. Once I agreed on the plans, I undertook the final drawings, in watercolor and gouache as well as in line, to have a variation between solid colored shapes, and others only outlined.

After a lot of work, the result is finally there for everyone to see!

I see symbiosis as a musical score, where each living species is one note of an infinite instrument, seeking balance and harmony.

Jean Mallard

Why did you choose the theme of symbiosis, and what does it mean today?

I've always been passionate about nature, and I spend a lot of time observing it. I find that there's no better source of inspiration. No better way to discover new shapes and colors, to cleanse your eyes when you think you've seen it all. What fascinated me for some time was the complexity of the relationships between species. I grew up with the idea that the natural world was an inherently hostile environment, where the law of the strongest reigns, where the big eats the small, and where species would be in perpetual competition for survival. But reality seems much more nuanced to me, and when we take the time to observe, we discover that each species, each environment, exists thanks to an invisible and delicate cooperation, which orchestrates the world from its origin: symbiosis. Even the biggest predators need the tiny beings to survive. The air we breathe exists in large part thanks to the meticulous work of microscopic phytoplankton across the oceans. Our planet would only be a great empty desert without this cooperation. It's wonderful to see how each being brings his contribution, sometimes a little one, which lets the world exist.

I see symbiosis as a musical score, where each living species is like one note of an infinite instrument, seeking balance and harmony. I think it is important to make others feel this beauty, to share it with children. Today we talk about biodiversity everywhere, but as a resource destined for our own ends, and rarely considering its deep and complex beauty as such. We also talk about the urgency of preserving it, but what good is it, if we don't even feel its magnitude and its poetry? The idea of ​​symbiosis brings us back to our condition of inhabitants of the Earth. It reminds us that we're part of this whole, whether we like it or not. It pushes us to humility. I think we also have a lot to learn from these observations, regarding our own relationships with others, our models, our ambitions and our beliefs. We grew up with the idea of ​​competition, where you have to beat the other to succeed, in a relationship of dominants to dominated. But we can see that this does not lead very far, and above all that it will not last... So let's observe the world, its magnificent symbiosis, and seek harmony!

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