Visual arts Etienne Duval

Etienne Duval is back this year for the Turn On exhibition with an entirely new creation: a phonotrope slipmat.
© Nathan Roux

Following the completion of a mural for Moolt ons een and the design of the new furniture for Rotondes in 2022 with Julie Marthe Hoffmann, Etienne Duval is back this year for the Turn On exhibition with an entirely new creation: a phonotrope slipmat! In the lead-up to the exhibition, satisfy your curiosity by delving into our exclusive interview with Etienne. Learn more about this versatile artist and unravel the secrets that fuel his creative process!

Etienne, you navigate a wide range of disciplines, including illustration, architecture, animation, graphic design, digital arts, and even music. What are your different sources of inspiration?

I have a keen interest in a wide array of subjects, and beyond the artistic technique employed, my primary aim is to come up with the right idea. I then dedicate myself to bringing that idea to fruition. Whether it’s through music, buildings, animations…, the chosen technique must enable me to bring my idea to life in the best possible way.

To find the right idea, I invest a considerable amount of time in searching and gathering information, always keeping my motto in mind: my creation should be playful and easy to understand. I want everyone to be able to engage with my work, comprehend it, and interpret it in their own way. As someone who thoroughly enjoys learning, I love new projects, and sometimes, I’ll initially familiarise myself with the artistic technique before trying to create something beautiful or amusing. By doing that, ideas begin to take root. My secret is not to disrupt the creative flow, to consistently persevere, and not to entertain that little voice in my head asking, But why are you doing this?’ It’s by staying immersed in the creative process that, eventually, there’s that Eureka moment when I think: this is it, I’ve found my idea, that’s where I want to go!”

You are also the founder of YO Studio, an agency that straddles the boundary between architecture and communications. Can you tell us more? How did you come up with the idea to create this studio?

Actually, it happened quite naturally and organically. I am an architect by trade, so officially, my studio is an architecture one. However, from 2014 to 2021, I also did illustrations for Belgian TV, which kickstarted my second career.

I’m not only into architecture; I like many other things. So, when someone asks me, Would you like to create a soundtrack? An art installation? A phonotrope?’ I’m always up for it! The creation of YO Studio really happened spontaneously, in line with all the new projects I undertook.

What’s interesting is that I often thought I should confine myself to a single activity because the general idea is that if you want to excel in a field, you need to focus on a particular thing and limit yourself to that. I tried, but old habits die hard… I continue to do a variety things! I work at the intersection of video, architecture, illustration, etc., and it’s quite rare. I believe I found a kind of niche, and that’s what allows me to stand out.

And wearing all these different hats, how would you ultimately describe your artistic style? 

Playful’ is the word that best captures what I aim to achieve through my art, and I try to keep it accessible to everyone. I reckon that vision stems from my background. My mother ran a toy-lending library where I spent a lot of time as a child. I’m sure that accounts for me always aspiring to include entertaining elements in my creations. Both of my parents were also teachers; they are very engaging and good at imparting knowledge, and as a result, I inherited that quality from them too.

Today, as part of the Turn On exhibition, you’re back at Rotondes with the creation of a phonotrope slipmat. What drew you to this project?

I’m delighted that Rotondes had me in mind for this project! It’s always a pleasure and an honour to work for Rotondes; it’s one of my favourite places here in Luxembourg. So, when a new project like this comes knocking, I usually don’t take very long to accept! For this particular project, what really got me excited was the mix of different fields – illustration, animation, and the musical dimension (since it involves an object related to music). Plus, creating a phonotrope slipmat involves a bit of mathematics, and I must admit, I’ve got a soft spot for numbers! 

It’s not every day that we hear about the making of a phonotrope slipmat… Can you walk us through the creative process?

Given my background in music and the fact that the slipmat goes on a turntable, my initial thought was to create something connected to music. So, I kicked things off by creating a beat, then illustrated each instrument used – drums, bass, etc. – on the slipmat. But when I tested the phonotrope technique, I quickly faced the main challenge of this medium: limited time and space. One rotation equals 1.8 seconds, so there’s very little time to convey a narrative. I had to adapt my original idea.

What really helped and inspired me was having the layout of the Rotondes site. Since I worked on the new furniture here in 2022, I still had the floor plan. I placed it on the turntable to see what would happen: nothing! But it made me realise that Rotondes, with its radial structure and history of trains turning, was actually the perfect subject for my creation, and would serve as the central element. 

Understanding and mastering the technique required a learning curve. I explored it extensively before diving in, trying out different shapes, colours, black and white, various styles, to see what it could look like. Then, I created an initial vector base using my architect software – which was approved, so I could proceed! I quickly got into the groove and played around with the technique. Typically, phonotropes only feature elements that animate, but I thought it would be interesting to also include a scrolling element: the train.

From there, I also wanted to showcase everything happening in the courtyard and everything Rotondes offers (visual arts, music, bar, etc.) with different shapes and styles. I worked closely with Rotondes’ Marc Scozzai, who is head of the visual arts programme, to figure out what could work or not, culminating in the final version that the public will be able to see during Turn On!

One would reckon that the various visual elements you’ve incorporated into this slipmat weren’t left to chance. What tale are you looking to spin?

Initially, I took a very basic comic approach, but I ended up going for something a bit less cartoony to to give people room for their own take. 

I see Rotondes as an island in the city, surrounded by trains and the ring road on the other side. All the visual elements are connected to that, and to Rotondes and its cultural lineup. For instance, visual arts are shown with a line drawn by a pencil. For the rest, I’m keeping it under wraps and letting the visitors discover the drawings themselves on the day of their visit!”

What response are you hoping for when people see your work? 

The medium has a magical quality, be it for my creation or the work of fellow artists. I would like to spark some wonder, a proper wow’ moment: it would be truly gratifying for me if I could pull that off with the crowd.


The slipmat by Etienne Duval will be on display throughout the exhibition:

  • Opening on 19.01.24
  • Turn on exhibition from Sat 20.01 to Sun 11.02.24 (closed from Monday to Wednesday) 

The slipmat is created in a limited edition, with 250 copies available for sale during Turn On and in our gift shop.