Yann Guitton


Outsized Artifacts : The Overwhelming Prints of Memory


‘Outsized Artifacts’ is a journey back in time, a memory trigger.


This project was born after a trip to Saint Petersburg in the late 20th century.

After a long and enriching visit to the Hermitage Museum, I bought a worn-out banknote from 1910, from a former Russian history teacher who was forced, by the course of history, to become a tourist guide. The banknote, that bears the portrait of Catherine the Great, which is uncommonly big and detailed, perfectly reflects the indisputable power of the pre-revolutionary Tsarist era. This well-educated man told me that this 100 ruble banknote represented the annual salary of an officer of the imperial guard in 1910. Ironically, some 80 years later, this symbol of magnificence, cost me only 10 current American dollars! Ever since I first held the banknote in my hand, my eyes began travelling all over the intertwined arabesques of this exceptional craftsmanship. In fact, that old piece of paper, worn-out, stained, partially torn, smelling of old books, plunged me right onto Nevsky Prospect, as if I were walking into the world of Crime and Punishment. I wanted this wonderful feeling to last as long as possible, but at that time I had not yet found the alchemical process!

Only 15 years later, after reading Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory, which features the birth of an artist whose work is to take pictures of details taken from Michelin maps so as to produce huge prints, I had the revelation: what if I were to enlarge my 100 ruble banknote to such a size that it would conjure up to the banks of the Neva, in Saint Petersburg ?!


The Outsized Artifacts project was born.


Originally, I wanted to use the word “Oversized” but my friend Ike suggested “Outsized”, which evokes something extra-ordinary. “Artifacts” means ‘made from the hand of man’, in opposition to what Mother Nature has created.

Indeed, this project is, for the most part, a contemplation on the ‘prints’ left by mankind. Not those immortal pieces of art that hang in the world’s prestigious institutions, but these minor artifacts, produced in vast amounts which were made to last for a definite time and to disappear one day. These little things from another time fascinate me because they nevertheless depict the heroes of an era in an impressive manner. These prints transposed into the contemporary context can still speak to some people whilst striking others as aberrations. In fact, these ‘little paper witnesses’ remind us the relative value of things and indeed people have emerged as the symbols of our existential contradictions: whilst being considered a great man of his time could easily become, less than half a century after, the rejected villain for another generation.


I started making my own Time Travel Vessel by reproducing the banknote in a gigantic size, piece by piece as if I were putting together all the overwhelming fragments of memory what I experienced in Saint Petersburg. Once assembled, the banknote graphic quality details are stunning! Thanks to those great craftsmen and engraving artists. 1000% enlarged details have virtually lost none of their definition. However, even if one can marvel at the pictorial quality of the banknote, the experience is nevertheless incomplete. I’m actually missing the essential quality  of what I felt, back there in Saint-Petersburg. I’m missing what makes it unique! Its soul seemed to have disappeared. I wanted to live the singularity of his journey through time. I wanted to experience the fragility of his material. I wanted to trace back its one hundred years of existence, from its release back at the printing factory to the safe of the bank, from the wallet of an officer to the hand of a grocer, from a worn moleskin jacket to a overcrowded bar at a bistro in Moscow…

So I picked up the huge piece of paper, I put it on the floor and I eagerly shaped it so that it evoked something of its otherwise untold life experiences. It was then and only then that this assemblage of paper became the first ‘Outsized Artifact’. This artifact, when out from the printing press, was identical to millions of fellow paper banknotes. But over time it became unique. As unique as its defects and alterations. Unique because it is also the only one with the serial number 166488, an identity as specific as a birth certificate. I limit myself to making only one single copy of each artifact, as a tribute to his uniqueness. Because ultimately, it is not the graphic representation that interests me, but the emotional resonance of the unique journey of this fragile paper witness.


I hope that you will find in this work, either an echo of your own memories, or indeed an invitation to a journey back in time.


Yann Guitton