Tous les articles par AnnualArtMagazine-id-32

Beyond the visible

In L’Image ouverte1, Georges Didi-Huberman makes a distinction between the « visible » and  the « visual ». The author warns against the superficiality of the visible, which attaches a screen to the visual, therefore the viewers are deprived of their own personal projection into the image. The open image rightly illustrates the density of the incarnation of the visual. The visible is only a « disembodied imitation »2.
Marcela Serra’s paintings are part of this ambiguity. The artist proceeds to « an aesthetic rescue of ephemeral images »3 whose raw appearance leads the viewer to believe that they don’t go beyond the visual.
In order to understand these images, the spectators should necessarily reject their visual prejudices. For example, the fuzziness stands for the critical path against the digital images. Read more…

Focus / Thomas Baumann

In his treatise Principles of movement and equilibrium as an introduction to mechanics and physics, Jean Trabaud defines the equilibrium as « the state of many forces and powers which act ones against the others in such a way that everything remains at rest »1, and thereby suggests Read more…

timthumb (15)

Seances: Three Fragments

Because attending an exhibition with an imposed duration is a bit like when he’s ready to launch into a film, concert or play and has a specific time period set apart for that, outside the usual sequence of time. The duration indicated for a visit to ‘Séances’ (‘Sessions’)is forty minutes, and that’s probably the time it will take before he accepts to go with the flow until the lights go out and the whole thing’s over. It’s also the time he’ll need to gradually let go of the idea of an ‘organized’ visit, to agree to wander from one place to another without worrying about chronology or logic. The idea of these sessions is not so much to grasp a logical sequence as to attend a disorganized series of sensations, atmospheres and unrelated events whose overall order (if it exists) will escape him for the moment. He’ll soon realize that he won’t get to see everything, that there are missing links, and that any connections that occur will depend on his random wandering. His attention will be attracted by the sound of a voice in a nearby room, or the luminosity of a film that’s just started in another. As he feels his way forward, he’ll remember doing the same in an unfamiliar house when he was a child, trusting to the unrelated sources of light and sound produced by the adults until late at night. It’ll be dark here too, and the poles of attraction will be images or sounds that are sometimes desynchronized, screens that alternately light up and fade out, extracts of texts displayed on the wall, sculptures that can hardly be distinguished in the dark, others that resemble pieces of furniture. Some elements will come into action when others switch off (and sometimes that will happen simultaneously), some will require more attention than others, some will seem especially important while others will be more discreet and may escape his notice. And so a narrative will emerge: the story of a night without end, a darkness that fell and never lifted; some people no longer even expect this night to end as it’s become an integral part of the world around, imposing its presence on those who still live there. Elsewhere, a sleeping child will be discreetly watched over by a camera in Nightshot mode whose digital zoom will invade the image and atomize the child’s face into a swarming mass of pixels. Perhaps to combat the lethargy of the night, some people will tell a story around an electric camp fire: the tale of a night without end; others will play touch-and-feel games in bright artificial daylight. Elsewhere, the elliptical story of a dream will be told in phrases full of love and hope. This everlasting night pervades every creature and thing that dwells within it. He may choose to stay, or perhaps he’ll move on—to listen to the loud beating sounds, to read a text from the Bibliothèque des fragments (Library of Fragments), to look through the bay windows at the city with its red trees, cloaked in a veil of midnight blue; or maybe he’ll close his eyes and connect these bits and pieces to memories of his own, also outside the usual sequence of time.

Paris, June 20, 2012,

 

Dear Claire,

 

The ‘Séances’exhibition ended at the Crédac art center on June 3. It always feels strange when an exhibition’s over. Suddenly, I won’t be making my regular trips to the Crédac any more, I’ll lose my familiarity with the place and the team… but I also have to come to terms with the fact that the items presented will no longer be shown, or not in that particular configuration anyway. So a little nostalgia to begin with, though at the end of the day I have few regrets because, of all my projects, ‘Séances’ is the one that I’ve been most fully and successfully involved in. It’s the one I’ve gone back to see the most often too, because of all the encounters and exchanges—with friends, professionals or project collaborators, but mostly because it was always such fun to plunge back into the time and space of  ‘Séances’.

 

Since the exhibition finished we haven’t had a chance to continue the discussions sparked by the project, so I’d like to take advantage of this letter to share some (rather disjointed) thoughts with you.

 

Where should I start? The notion of fragments and their various arrangements was one of the themes and structural elements of ‘Séances’, so it doesn’t really matter… but maybe I’ll begin with something that threatened to be a problem, both technically and financially, but turned out to be an advantage— which was a wonderful surprise. I’m referring to the bay windows at the Crédac, the light they let into the exhibition space, and the problems that caused regarding the video projection of the five films. We agreed from the outset that it would be a shame (and a financial impossibility) to cover those expanses of glass with picture rails. I explained to you that I hadn’t envisaged a particular exhibition space when I’d first imagined the ‘Séances’ project, but had thought (vaguely at first) of the generic white cube (or its black equivalent) for the video projections, or at least of the sort of windowless space that most exhibition venues provide. Digressing for a moment to return to the genesis of ‘Séances’ and to an essential (and for me, new) point: I was at the initiative of the project, and presented it to a number of people including you. Rather than adopting the traditional, passive role of the artist who waits for an exhibition offer, I turned the tables, making an offer, just as a filmmaker contacts a producer and a distributor to present a scenario, inviting them to join forces with him in order to produce and distribute his film. And you know how much I would have liked to involve several art centers, so that ‘Séances’ could tour and be shown in different places, the way it happens in the world of music or the performing arts. Institutional inertia and force of habit, hesitation or simply lack of interest have made that impossible so far…. but I live in hope!

 

Equally importantly, this initial spark came with a sort of dynamism I’ve never known before: I addressed myself not only to you, the director of an art center, but also to dancers, writers, graphic designers, musicians… And I was amazed by the enthusiasm and generosity of the participants. I don’t know whether the pleasure I got from these exchanges and partnerships was perceptible to spectators, but I do know that it pervaded the whole project.

 

But, to get back to the origin of the project, ‘Séances’ stemmed first and foremost from the desire to develop some of the dominant aspects of the work I’ve been doing in recent years: I wanted to present a décor-landscape that the visitor could wander around and that would resemble a show as much as an exhibition; the notion of duration was inherent in this idea. I also wanted a story to be told using something other than images or words and, finally, I wanted to provide a set of disparate elements that the spectator would piece together. In relation to previous works, ‘Séances’ intensifies the role offered to the spectator: although the latter never passively receives an artist’s proposition but always participates actively in making sense of an artwork, I wanted to exemplify and extend this active role with ‘Séances’, putting the artist’s own involvement in the work on an equal footing with that of the spectator.

 

That was a lengthy digression, and I’ve come a long way from the bay windows… So, it was because of the strong natural light that I had to find a solution—a technical one above all—to make the video projection possible. The use of blue gelatin film turned out to have three advantages: it made the space sufficiently dark, it created a day-for-night atmosphere in the rooms, and it transformed the surrounding urban landscape into a film set. So something that was basically a constraint ultimately generated a visual proposition. You told me it gave you a whole new perception of the view from the Crédac windows, and that visitors were highly sensitive to this visual outlet. The ‘Séances’exhibition was bathed in a bluish color which I think added to its intensity and strangeness but, above all, the unexpected view of the exterior provided both a real and a symbolic opening that the original project probably didn’t have to the same extent. And it’s this opening which […]

Sans-titre1

The film Brouillard-Enfant is 40 minutes long, and the duration of ‘Séances’ was based on this timeframe. A very slow zoom-in transforms the face of a sleeping child, filmed in Nightshot mode, into a completely abstract gray-green video material. The film was shown in the lobby of the Crédac, so it was the first and last image that visitors saw. On the right-hand wall is the first part of the text by Gaëlle Obliegly, which visitors could read in full in the Bibliothèque des fragments; they could also hear it read aloud by Jean-Yves Jouannais in the film Conte de feu de camp (Camp fire tale).

Sans-titre2

This is an image from Une partie d’Assemblée. Chronologically speaking, this was the first film I made, in September 2011. Three days of rehearsals, then two of shooting in an immaculate empty apartment designed by François Roche. Neither the actors nor I know the rules of the game Assemblée, but I wanted to give the impression that there were rules nonetheless. For this film, I wanted a rather cold, almost advertising aesthetic with slow circular tracking shots. The relationships between the characters are rather superficially and narcissistically erotic; they touch each other a lot, but never really make contact.

Sans-titre3

Allowing the various components of ‘Séances’ to exist on the same level means suspending their interpretation, asserting my desire not to satisfy the spectators’ request for meaning but to ask them to do the work.’ This is an extract from the working document I sent Claire le Restif when I first proposed the project. And the image is a view of the room with the Bibliothèque des fragments and the Feu de camp mikado, the room in which the films Les Mots-Nuits and Une partie d’Assemblée were shown, together with the soundtrack by Aymeric Hainaux. This was the room in which the sensations of ‘day-for-night’ and opening onto the exterior were the strongest.

Sans-titre4

This is the room in which the film Conte de feu de camp was shown. People watching other people watching someone telling them a story. The spectators sat on cubes with letters on their sides—the same cubes as those that were manipulated in the film Les Mots-Nuits. This is one of the many examples of an object present in a film reappearing in sculptural form in the exhibition. Likewise, the protagonists of Conte de feu de camp sit around a camp fire made of fluorescent tubes which was present and illuminated in this same room when the film wasn’t being shown.

Sans-titre5

Basically, I wanted to propose something in the nature of experience. The experience of a duration, a space, a series of visual, sonic and textual elements, but above all, the active experience of their interconnection, their piecing together.

Sans-titre6

‘Passing sparks, disjointed fragments, sparks with scarlet fissures. Not fragments of a whole, but of a power, of an unknown and colorful celebration.’

The words are those of Didi-Huberman, speaking of Fra Angelico, and the image is from the filmNaissance du Mikado. Again, there’s a porosity between the images and the sculptures: the sticks the characters use to caress each other also appeared in the form of a camp fire, heaped on the floor in another room.

Sans-titre7

An image from the film Les Mots-Nuit. The two girls take turns writing verses from the text that Anna Karina reads in Alphaville—a text that Godard put together using fragments of poems by Éluard.

‘Alpha-60: Do you know what transforms darkness into light?

Lemmy Caution: Poetry.’

Sans-titre8

The figure of the camp fire is a recurrent motif in ‘Séances’. Partly because it’s a light source, of course, but also because it generates the shape of a circle: people sit in a circle around the fire, everyone facing everyone else. The camp fire is also the place and time for telling stories.

Sans-titre9

‘Olivier Père: Do you think courage is synonymous with self-confidence?

Leos Carax: If you have total confidence in yourself, you don’t need courage. But when I look back at the kind of child I was, I wasn’t self-confident. I had confidence in the fact that I had to try things. When I was a child (I don’t remember how old exactly, and I expect it’s true of all children), I’d go downstairs munching an apple and I’d hear a voice saying ‘He went downstairs, munching an apple.’ I’m not a religious person, but when you have that voice, that kind of confidence in yourself, you’re followed, you’re a story… a story that has to be written. By you alone. Realizing that—that you have to write your own life—could be the beginning of courage…’

timthumb (12)

One side of Broadway

In 1910, Rudolph De Leeuw, a publisher in New York City, photographed every building on Broadway in Manhattan from Bowling Green to Central Park and published the photographs in a book called Both Sides of Broadway. In his introduction, De Leeuw did not explain his idea,
but said of Broadway itself: “I think of it all day and dream of it at night.”

Broadway, like most major routes in New York City, was built on top of a road made and used by the Lenape, the indigenous people who were displaced by the Dutch. Wall Street is named for the wall that slaves working for the Dutch built to keep Native Americans and other colonizers out of the village of New Amsterdam. Broadway begins at Bowling Green, the center of that former Dutch settlement. De Leeuw’s book begins there too, proceeding northward against Broadway’s downtown traffic. Photographs of the west side of the street are printed on the left-hand page, the east side on the right. The book’s binding becomes an imaginary vanishing point for the journey.

The pictures are accumulations of time and accidental knowledge. Invisible trams leave vaporous lines as they move past the camera’s open shutter. Most passersby are blurry and undefined—distant figures without detail—unaware of being photographed. Only those bystanders who notice the camera and remain still are in focus.

One_Side_of_Broadway2-320x200

In De Leeuw’s book, photographs of Broadway alternate with pages of advertising. One ad declares: “There are 1,500 Otis elevators on both sides of Broadway.” Dr. Scott promotes his electric hairbrush. An underwear manufacturer promises its underpants “will not annoy you.” Without explanation, small portraits of world leaders and diplomats appear in the margins. De Leeuw reprints a New York Times newspaper article stating that real estate prices on Broadway are as high as $4 a square inch. Most of the advertisements are for businesses on Broadway. They appear in the book just before or after the photo of the business itself. The business signs on the buildings in the photographs have been carefully retouched to make them more legible. Different types of businesses cluster together, selling hats, typewriters, corsets, railroad tickets, rugs. But one type of business can be found on the upper floors in all the districts—the private detective or “private eye.” What can be inferred about a city where one must pay for police work out of one’s own pocket?

The Lumière brothers advertise photographic supplies on several pages. And below each of De Leeuw’s photographs there is a caption stating that the image was made from an “original Lumière Sigma Plate Photograph.” As a teenager, Louis Lumière developed a photographic process sensitive enough to stop movement. Freezing motion proved to be the key to reproducing its illusion.

W. K. L. Dickson, working for Thomas Edison, built a functional motion picture camera two years before the Lumières. The camera weighed over 1,000 pounds. Dickson bolted it to the floor of a special studio designed to rotate, following the light of the sun. The camera weighed over 1,000 pounds. Dickson built a tiny studio around it and bolted it to the floor. The small building could be rotated to follow the light of the sun. Anyone or anything that was to appear on film had to be brought into the black void of this studio. Most of Edison’s subjects were quick stage acts. The films were shown to customers, one at a time, on peepshow machines in a storefront on Broadway at 27th Street. Edison said that projecting films for audiences would “spoil everything…you could show the pictures to everybody in the country—and then it would be done. Let’s not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

Every film, every photograph, is a document of its own making.

The Lumière brothers’ camera weighed only 12 pounds. It also doubled as a projector. The Lumières used the illusion of motion to create spectacle from everyday life. They refused to market their camera. Instead, they sent agents all over the world, following established routes of colonization and trade, to film curious bystanders and then charge them admission to see themselves projected on-screen. These Lumière operators then copied the films and sent the originals back to the factory to be recopied and distributed to other operators to exhibit in other parts of the world. Over 1,200 films were made between 1895 and 1897.

These films were known as actualités or actualities. Each actuality lasted less than a minute—the length of one roll of film. It was an extended moment of unbroken and repeatable time, a “view” of a place or event as if glimpsed through a transparent window. The films were edited by deciding when to turn the camera on and calculating when the film would run out.

The magician Georges Méliès, attending one of the first public film screenings in Paris, found the trembling leaves on a tree in the background of one of the films more compelling than the infant being fed by her parents in the foreground. Méliès probably knew that on a sunny day the small circles of light we see between the shadows of the leaves on a tree are actually tiny projected images of the sun. Perhaps you’ve seen the crescent-shaped points of sunlight that appear on the ground during a solar eclipse.

The Russian playwright and novelist Maxim Gorky also noticed the trembling leaves behind the baby being fed, but to him they were horrible and lifeless, part of a dead kingdom of shadows, “as gray as cinder…terrible to see.”

The first motion picture film exposed in New York City was shot from a window of a building on 33rd Street looking north on Broadway. The film recorded images of traffic, passersby, and bystanders. Perhaps someone returning the camera’s gaze, curious and unaware of what she was
seeing.

Actuality, actualité, aktuelletät, actualdad, attraction, distraction.

When De Leeuw published Both Sides of Broadway, there were 123 cinemas in New York City. Five of them appear in his book. On the sidewalks of De Leeuw’s Broadway, men outnumber women 13 to 1. A prevalent restaurant chain named Childs operates two separate dining rooms
on Broadway where women are allowed to eat: “Childs Ladies’ Lunch.” Women were discouraged from patronizing nickelodeons, penny gaffs, shop shows, kinetoscope parlors, electric palaces, and automatic vaudevilles. They were warned that they might be recruited for prostitution there, and men were cautioned that lone women at the cinema might be prostitutes. But once a woman did make her way inside a darkened cinema, she was in one of the few public places where she could avoid the gaze and scrutiny of others.

Actuality films used vision to confuse the other senses. Each one-minute actuality was a discrete event exciting different, unrelated sensations. Soldiers charging on horseback might be seen just before or after ocean waves crashing against a pier. A short piece of black film in between each
actuality threw the room into darkness. Films were shot from moving cars and trains. Some cinemas were built to look and feel like train coaches. “Conductors” took tickets and announced locations appearing on-screen. The people in these films often ruptured time and space by looking directly into the camera. Other films like Cecil Hepworth’s How It Feels to Be Run Over made audiences identify with the camera’s point of view. Conservative reform groups tried to close cinemas, claiming the lack of a “story” made film “unnatural.”

By 1901, producers were editing actuality films, advertising that “all the least interesting portions have been removed.” In 1906, for the first time, more “story” films were produced than actualities. By 1910, when De Leeuw photographed both sides of Broadway, fictional film characters “spoke” to each other through written dialogue. Actuality filmmaking ceased.

The overlapping field of vision of our two eyes creates a three-dimensional perception of the world in our minds. We are inside these images of the world, which, in turn, are inside us. We trust these images because they give us timely information. And just as we connect the image of one eye to the other, we also connect the images of one place to another and one day to the next.

In January 2000, after I discovered De Leeuw’s Both Sides of Broadway, I walked from Bowling Green to Columbus Circle, photographing all the buildings on one side of the street.

At 27th Street, a bystander became suspicious of me and told me I could not photograph there. As I pressed the shutter, he shoved me, pushing the camera into my face. In the time since I took these pictures, it has become illegal to photograph several of these buildings.

« But how do you render events? How can you say exactly what happened? Are these the words and images to use? Are there no others? Am I speaking too loud, looking from too far away, or too close? For instance: the leaves on the trees. Should I talk about the people or the leaves? Or is there possibly a way to speak of both at once? Let’s say that both, on that afternoon, trembled slightly. »

timthumb (11)

L’après-midi d’un faune,

III IIIIII IIII I IIIII IIIIII IIIII I IIIIIII IIIII II IIIIIII III IIIIIII IIIIII

IIIIIII III IIIIIIIII, III II III IIII II IIIIII IIII, II IIIII II III IIII  IIII IIIIIIIII,  IIIIII III IIIIII II IIIIIIIII II I IIII IIIIII, IIII IIIIIII IIIIIIII.

II IIII II III IIIIIIIIII IIIIIIIIII IIIIII II III II IIII IIIIIIII IIIIIIII IIIII II II IIII, IIIII IIII  II III IIIIIIIIIII IIIIII II IIIIIIII IIIIIIIIIIII: II III III IIII II IIIIIIIII II IIIII, IIIIIIII II II III IIII IIIIII IIIIIIIII, IIIIIIIIII, IIIIIII, III I IIII II IIIIIIIII IIIIIIIIIIII II IIIIIIIII –III IIIIIIIII II I IIIII IIIIIIII, III, II II I IIIIIIIII III II II IIIIIII IIIIIIIII, IIIII IIIII IIIIII; III II III IIIII, II IIIIIIIII II IIIIIIIIIIIIII, III IIIIII IIII III IIIIII III II IIIIII  IIIIIIIIII II IIII-IIIIIIIII III IIIIII IIIIIII, II IIIIIII IIII IIIIIII IIII II II III IIIIIIIII  IIIII II IIIIII IIII: I IIIIII II IIIIIIIII ‘IIIIIIIII, IIIIIII III IIIIII IIIIIIIII III IIIIIIII  IIIIII II IIIIIIIIII IIII’. II III IIIII II III IIIII, IIIIIII IIIIII IIII III IIIIIIIIIII IIIIIIIIII / IIIIIIII IIIIIII IIIII IIIII: ‘IIIIIIII / IIIIIII’, IIIIIII III IIIIIII’I IIII IIIIIIIIIII IIIIII III IIIIIIII IIIIII, IIIIIIIII IIIII  IIIIIIIII IIIIIIIII III IIIIII IIIII. IIIII II III IIIIIIIII, IIII’ III III II IIIIIII II IIIIIII III IIIII IIIIIIIII III IIIII; III IIIIII IIIIIII I IIIIIII IIIIII III IIIIIIIII IIIIII.

III IIIIII IIII II IIII’ IIII III II IIII IIIIIII II III IIIIIIIII, IIII IIIII IIIIII IIIIIIIII, IIIIIIIII IIIIIIIIII IIIIIII, IIIIIII IIIIIII IIIII IIIIIIII III IIIIIIIIII; III IIIIII II IIIIII ‘II IIIII II  IIIIIII’ , IIII – IIIIIII, II II II IIIIIIIII I IIIIIIII IIII III IIIIIIII IIII II IIIIIIII, II III IIIIIII  IIIII III III IIIII IIII IIIII, III I IIIIIIIIII IIII III IIII IIII III IIII IIIIIIII IIIIII II IIIIIII IIIIII II IIIIIII III IIIIIIII.

III IIIIII II III IIIIII IIIIIIII IIIII-III-IIII III IIIII-IIIII IIII II IIIII III IIIIIIII IIII I IIII IIIII, ‘II III IIIIIII, IIII II IIII’.

III II IIII ‘IIIIII IIIIII’ IIII IIII IIIII IIIIIIIII (III IIIIIIIIIII  II III IIII IIII IIIIIIII, IIIIIIIIII II IIIII, IIIII IIIIIIII III IIIIII IIIII IIIII II IIIII I IIIIIII IIII IIII II III IIIIIIII)  IIIIIIIIIIII, IIII’I IIIII. IIII II I IIII IIII III II I III IIIIII II  IIII II II III IIII  IIIIII , III IIIII III IIII IIII  III IIII IIIIIIII II IIIIIIIIIII II III IIIIIIII II IIII IIIII IIII III , III II I IIIIIII II III IIII’I IIIIIIII II II IIII II III II II.

II IIIII IIIIIII IIII II III IIII III II II IIIII III IIII II IIII  IIIIII’I  IIIIIIII II IIII II III III II IIIIIII IIIIIIIII IIIIII: ‘IIIIII’, II IIIIII, IIII IIIIII ‘IIIIIIIII’.

III IIIIIII IIIIIIIIIIII II IIIIIII III IIIII, II IIIIII, II IIIII, II IIIIIII, II IIIIII, III IIIII , III II IIIIIIIII, IIIIII II IIIIIIIII IIIII. III III IIIIIII IIII IIIIIII II III III II IIII I IIII III IIIIIII III, III IIIIIIIIIIIII. III IIII III IIIIII’ IIIIIIII II IIIIIIIIII IIII IIII II IIIIII.

IIIII IIIIII IIIIIIII II IIII IIIIIIIII, III IIIIIIIIII, IIIII IIIII IIIIIII ‘II IIIII’, II IIIIIIII IIII II III IIII IIIIIIII III III IIII. II II III IIII III IIII III IIIIIIIIII IIIIIIII (IIIIII)  II III IIIIIIII (II IIII IIIIIII) II III IIIIII IIII IIII II IIII II II IIIIIIIIIIII IIIII, IIIIIIIIII II I IIIIIII IIIIIIIII III IIIIIIII IIII.’

IIIII’I IIIIII, III II IIIIIIIII II IIIII IIIIII III IIIIII, IIIIII III IIIIIIIIIIII, ‘ IIIIII IIIII’  IIIIIIIIII IIIIIII II III IIII III IIII IIIIIIIII II II IIIIIIIIII II III IIIIIIII.

 

III II IIII .

IIIII IIIIIII

timthumb (4)

Danh Vo

This is only a short extract, the full conversation is available in the fifth issue of Annual MagazineShop it here!

Chris Wiley: Your most recent works constitute something of a shift in your thematic focus, away from the history of French colonialism and the American war in Vietnam, particularly as they related to you and your family, towards work that appears to be related to the notion of American freedom. Specifically, I am thinking of the works We the People (detail), 2011-13, your ongoing, deconstructed reproduction of the Statue of Liberty, your gilded cardboard Budweiser box This Bud’s for You (2012), and part of your installation, JULY, IV, MDCCLXXVI (2011) pairs the actual typewriter that Ted Kaczynski used to write his anti-technology manifesto Industrial Society and Its Future with a copy of The New York Times from 1945 containing the announcement of the wedding of future president George H.W. Bush and Barbara Pierce. What was it that catalyzed this shift in your work?

Danh Vo: The way in which my work has been framed, whether through press releases or criticism, has, up until now, focused on a particular side of my practice, and effectively created a fissure between different issues that my work has dealt with simultaneously. For example, at Manifesta 7 in 2008, I exhibited a series of letters written by Henry Kissinger addressed to Leonard Lyons and his wife. If We the People (detail) marks a shift in my practice, the shift was not in the work’s subject matter, it was in its operation; it was an attempt to take something that is so familiar to most people and make it unfamiliar. The project’s scale is perhaps also a shift from that of my previous projects. However, I’m not so concerned with these questions. More importantly, I want to work with contradictions in order to test the opposite poles of my capacity and desires. I think this is much more consistent with my nature than a tight conceptual program.

Chris Wiley: In 2010, you were asked by Elena Filipovic to re-install her exhibition ‘Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects without Specific Form’ at the Wiels Contemporary Art Center in Brussels. It seemed to me that you were a particularly apposite choice, considering the autobiographic nature of much of your work, and your engagement with themes of mourning, sexual identity, and the like. At the same time, there is a certain Romantic quality to Gonzalez-Torres’s work that yours seems to lack ‒ you seem to favor a more clinical, anthropological approach. Can you talk a little about the importance of Gonzalez-Torres’s work for you, as well as this seeming tendency on your part to shy away from sentimentality?

Danh Vo: When I went to art school I was obsessed with the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres to the extent that I would read his favourite books and see his favourite films, and so on… I was lucky to befriend Julie Ault, who was one of his colleagues in Group Material as well as his close friend. I have never discussed this with Julie, but in many ways I think she continued the ‘discussion’. Ultimately, this triangle has been one of the most influential dialogues, in that it has shaped my thinking. I don’t think Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s work is sentimental. I think he once said that he makes work the same way he gets up in the morning ‒ sometimes he’s sentimental, other times he’s not; and there’s evidence of this in his practice. (…)

— This is only a short extract, the full conversation is available in the fifth issue of Annual MagazineShop it here!

timthumb (3)

Patrick Hill

On August 4, 2012 I interviewed Kirk Putnam in his garage in West Hills, California. Kirk is deeply involved with a small community of surfers who ride a very unique kind of surfboard, the Displacement Hull. The beginning of this scene started around 1968 in Malibu and continues on  to the present. This specific style of surfing and board design has greatly influenced sculptural and stylistic aspects of my work.

Patrick Hill: Hey Kirk.

Kirk Putnam: Hey, what’s up?

Patrick Hill: West Hills, is that in the San Fernando Valley?

Kirk Putnam: Yeah, the very west end of the San Fernando Valley. Like on the Western rim, that’s why it’s called West Hills.

Patrick Hill: Have you always lived here?

Kirk Putnam: No.

Patrick Hill: Where did you grow up?

Kirk Putnam: In Burbank.

Patrick Hill: Oh really?

Kirk Putnam: Yeah, born in Burbank, raised in Burbank until I was about seventeen and then I moved to Santa Barbara.

Patrick Hill: Did you surf then and what kind of boards were you riding at the time?

Kirk Putnam: Oh, longboards. Your typical mid-1960’s longboards. My brother had a Bing that he won at a surf film at Van Nuys High School. I inherited it when he got drafted and had to go Vietnam. That was my first good longboard.

Patrick Hill: What was it like living in Burbank and trying to surf?

Kirk Putnam: You had to be pretty hardcore. We’d surf after school, before school, cutting school.

Patrick Hill: Where did you go?

Kirk Putnam: Malibu, Rincon, wherever the surf was happening. That’s one cool thing about growing up in Burbank. If the surf was good in Huntington or somewhere South we would head down there. If it was good at Malibu we’d go over the hill and surf there. Being by the freeway, back then you could just jump up and go. My parents uh, my dad died when I was 12. That’s when I got more serious about surfing. That was kind of my escape to get over it.

Patrick Hill: You were twelve when you started surfing regularly?

Kirk Putnam: Yeah, but I had already been surfing. I started surfing when I was about 9. Then I got my license. Once you get your license, that’s when you get more serious. I was already riding Greg Liddle (Baron of the Displacement Hull) boards by then.

Patrick Hill: When did Greg start surfing?

Kirk Putnam: Oh sheesh, Greg probably started in, like ‘59 or ‘60 maybe. He was about fifteen or sixteen. He started really early. Greg was surfing Malibu during the balsa wood era.

Patrick Hill: Where did he grow up?

Kirk Putnam: He’s from the Valley, like the Reseda area. He was into it from the get go. He was obviously influenced by Miki Dora (the God of Malibu), oh and Lance Carson. Greg was one of the really hot longboarders.

Patrick Hill: What led him to start investigating Bob Simmons’ (chief inventor of the modern surfboard) concepts?

Kirk Putnam: Just being influenced by Renny Yater (legendary Santa Barbara surfboard shaper).

Patrick Hill: How would you characterize the early Simmons boards?

Kirk Putnam: They were definitely Displacement Hulls. Bob was using mathematics and his aviation background. He was working over at Lockheed. He was a real smart guy. Super eccentric but very, very smart. He was trying to take theories about planing surfaces and stuff and trying to incorporate that into surfboards. Joe Quigg and (Matt) Kevlin were influenced by Simmons too. They kind of branched off on their own and refined the boards even more.

Patrick Hill: Is that what they call the Malibu Board?

Kirk Putnam: Yeah, the Malibu Chip. Renny was riding some of Kelvin’s early boards before he started shaping himself.

Patrick Hill: What were Simmons’ boards made out of?

Kirk Putnam: Balsa. Solid Balsa.

Patrick Hill: Were the fins glassed on?

Kirk Putnam: Yeah, they had little half moon Simmons fins and were glassed on.

Patrick Hill: Like a twin fin?

Kirk Putnam: Some of them were twin fins, some of them are single fins. There’s not as many twin fins as people think. A lot of them were single fins. Quigg and Kevlin were getting boards from Simmons but I couldn’t tell you exactly what year. I think around ‘52 or ‘53 was when Quigg and Kevlin got together and started making boards.

Patrick Hill: That’s basically all at Malibu?

Kirk Putnam: Yeah. Those boards were Hulls. This is when there was no crowd, so you could take this really nice beautiful Hull and just trim all the way across the beach without anybody interfering or anything. They just refined these bitchin’ boards. They were actually more refined than the D-fin longboards of later on. Boards got kind of de-sophisticated around the ‘Gidget’ era because they wanted to make more boards. They made foam molds and the boards kind of got dictated by the molds. The Malibu Chip boards trimmed better and just seemed to go through the water better. Then nose-riding came in. Board design went through a stagnant period until George Greenough and the Australians did the V-bottom. That’s when everything started to change. The film, The Hot Generation (1967) documents that transition.

This text is an extract from the interview / article published in Annual Art Magazine Issue 5.

timthumb (2)

Simon Starling

Fabian Stech: You have also a kind of a scientific approach. When you are working, your research is often based on science.

Simon Starling: It has something to do with curiosity I suppose. To find out why something is like it is. To investigate what constitutes an object or a structure – to go beyond the visible in the work. It is just an extension of my understanding of what a sculptor does. Somebody who is thinking about the relationship between themselves and an object, but just going deeper and deeper into that relationship. Where does a particular raw material come from, how it is made, at what cost, within which geographical framework etc. etc.

Another important source of your work is the historical context of the object and historical persons, which you integrate in your work.

Yes, in a sense the geographical parameters of a particular object can be paralleled with temporal ones. It’s history, it’s evolution, it’s development. I am very interested in pushing and pulling at time. Often the works return things to a prototypical or evolutionary stage. As you say, it is very closely linked to the material investigation or to the scientific aspects of the work … of the projects (laughs).

Fabian Stech: So why are you an artist and not a scientist?

Simon Starling: Maybe I don’t have the rigor and the patience to be the scientist. My interests are very broad and being a scientist requires such a specialization these days. I am interested in how to connect these specialisms to others. Just as I couldn’t function as someone who works in his studio making paintings all day, I couldn’t perhaps function in a lab making rigorous experiments. It is antithetical to the way I think. There are of course exceptions in the world of science but there is a certain kind of freedom that comes with the work I do.

Fabian Stech: The fact of being an artist is also related to the visible products you are producing and working with your own hands and with different materials.

Simon Starling: Yes. Over the years that has also changed in the work. In the beginning the projects were very much about what was possible for one person to achieve! It was me against the world! These long making processes – building boats or refining metals, for example – or these performative works like “Tabernas Desert Run” in 2004 – the crossing of the desert in Spain with a improvised moped producing water, which was directly related to Chris Burden’s “Death Valley Run”. Then I became more interested in working with specialists, individuals, craftsmen and scientists. Such as the master mask maker, Yasuo Miichi, who collaborated on “Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima)” from 2011. In some way these individuals become a kind of surrogate artist. I am very determined that the work doesn’t stagnate as a methodology. I do not want to be labelled as an artist with a fixed approach. It means learning in public, of course. I find that very exciting somehow, to keep moving and rethinking the work all the time, finding new ways of working.

Fabian Stech: At the same time, you work with a method often determined by the space you are working in. In the exhibition in Mulhouse, your first question was how many kilosthe structure of the exhibition place could support. And that is the main title: “Three Hundred and Fifty Kilogrammes per Square Meter”.

Simon Starling: Every time you arrive in a particular place to make an exhibition you come with a certain amount of baggage, a certain set of interests, which direct your focus in a particular place. There is a methodology there, I suppose, but I really like the idea that when somebody stumbles across one of my works they don’t necessarily know that it is a work of mine. It can be surprising and disarming somehow. Of course, there are strategies, there are methods that I’ve used time and again – but I like to keep the form of the work very flexible and responsive to the context.

This text is an extract from the interview published in Annual Art Magazine Issue 5.

timthumb (9)

Untitled (and of summer)

Condensing and synthesizing experience into simple, dynamic forms – that’s the challenge. The manifestation can often seem quite simple; that doesn’t mean it’s a simple concept.

I used these elements as a way of projecting whatever my sense of the moment was into the space. When I chose the forms and colors I was thinking of different things – my most recent experience as well as my entire experience as an artist – as a person. We made the elements in my studio in the country. They were made out of local pine – local wood. There are certain landscape references. The country house is on a big lake, so I was interested in the water, sunrise and sunset.

This is also a situation where the space really affects how you perceive the work. It is an interesting space because it is asymmetrical; it is not a box or a rectangle. It’s peculiar. The critical thing with doing an installation is that it not read as a tableau or a stage set seen from one point of view, which in a way is the equivalent of making an object – why bother? What interests me about this work is its constant reconfiguration as you walk through it. It has a certain degree of freedom. It functions in the present tense and gets away from conventional notions of figuration.

SHAPIRO-Vue-dexpo-4-320x200

I’m really interested in buoyancy in work. I want buoyant, vibrant art. Art that has a certain kind of joy to it. And a little bit of ecstasy.

(As adapted from a conversation with the artist, September 2012)

timthumb (8)

Circle Stories

À 7 ans, Claire Zeller croit au cercle, à la sphère et à la spirale.

Comme le docteur Mensendick, Claire Zeller est avant tout à la recherche de la tension dans le mouvement, à la poursuite attentive et bienveillante d’une position initiale en complet accord avec les futurs mouvements du ballon, du cerceau ou du ruban.

Claire Zeller n’a pas vu le nu descendant l’escalier, cet arrêt sur image d’une figure prise dans les stries du temps.

Le cercle est dans un plan le lieu des points équidistants d’un autre point qu’on appelle centre.

Pour donner au pape Benoît XII la preuve de son plus extraordinaire talent, Giotto dessina à main levée un cercle parfait. Aussitôt conquis le souverain pontife lui ouvrit les portes de Rome.

Claire Zeller, elle, trace 40 heures par semaine des cercles dans l’air épais du gymnase de l’Espérance de Pfastatt, luttant sans relâche avec la pesanteur, ses jambes tentant de tourner inlassablement le sol en dérision.

Le centre et le cercle ne se définissent que l’un par rapport à l’autre.

Claire Zeller n’a jamais vu et ne verra jamais le monument à la troisième internationale qui devait projeter des messages du parti dans les nuages.

Le corps de Claire Zeller ne s’ordonnera plus qu’en fonction d’équilibres multiples, de changements de forme, de fouettés ou de rondes, selon une géométrie étrangère à tout projet politique.

La valeur de la distance entre la circonférence et le centre est appelée rayon du cercle. Celui-ci étant infiniment variable, il existe donc une infinité de cercles pour un centre quelconque.

DSC_8115-320x200

Pour le colonel John Warden de l’united states air force, l’essence de la guerre réside dans le fait de convaincre l’ennemi d’accepter votre position. La théorie des cinq cercles qu’il a élaborée est à la base de la stratégie de bombardement utilisée par la coalition durant la guerre du golfe.

La guerre de John Warden vise à changer l’état d’esprit de l’ennemi, son schéma d’organisation en cinq cercles concentriques valant aussi bien pour un état industrialisé, une compagnie d’électricité ou le corps humain.

Un cercle ne peut se tracer qu’avec l’aide d’un instrument qui, à partir d’un point fixe, respecte l’équidistance.

Ce n’est pas le colonel John Warden mais Marianna Bannwart l’ex- championne du monde roumaine, qui prendra en charge le rêve de Claire Zeller.

Peu à peu, Claire Zeller, ne percevra plus la réalité de son corps comme un bloc mais comme un ensemble de zones indépendantes, dont les différentes actions prises dans un enchaînement dynamique concourent à son unité.

À 14h18, le 1er mai 1994, dans le virage de Tamburello sur le circuit d’Imola en Italie, Ayrton Senna percute un mur de béton à 210 km/h. Dans la guerre entre les lignes courbes et Ayrton Senna, c’est finalement la ligne courbe qui l’a emportée.

Dans un espace de dimensions quelconques l’ensemble des points placés à une distance constante d’un centre est appelé sphère.

Walter Schinkel ne connaissait ni Claire Zeller, ni Marcel Duchamp, lorsqu’il découvrit le phénomène des cercles de fées de Namibie en 2005 à la lisière orientale du désert du Namib. Dans cette partie du monde, grâce aux 5 à 10 centimètres de pluie qui tombent chaque année, des graminées parviennent à pousser sur un sol sablonneux, mais cette couverture végétale est trouée par une multitudes de tâches circulaires d’un rayon de 2 à 12m de diamètre. Selon la légende locale, ces cercles de fées seraient les empreintes de pas que les dieux laissent sur terre.

La Terre peut être modélisée par une sphère dont le rayon est environ 6 371 km.

Claire Zeller n’avait jamais vu un rotorelief de Marcel Duchamp, pour Claire Zeller le monde est une spirale de tissus de 6m de long qu’un mouvement ininterrompu de son corps anime durant 1mn30.

timthumb (1)

Rosa Barba

Timothée Chaillou: Talking aboutCoro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day(2009), you once said that ‘the installation consists of five 16mm projectors forming a chorus. The idea behind the installation is the Venetian polychoral style of the late Renaissance and early Baroque – a type of music involving spatially separate choirs singing alternately at a time when the theocentric construction of the world was slowly being replaced by a humanistic idea of reality and choirs were allowed to sing about ideas as well. The lyrics, projected as fragments of text, make a statement about the future and analyze the status quo through a multitude of voices. The projectors are co-ordinated with each other and speed up or slow down according to the text. They follow a choreographed order by capturing a moment of reformation and translating it into silent choreography… the projectors create a “humming” sound as they slow down and speed up.’ 

Rosa Barba:The piece is a staged performance. The lyrics begin to make sense once you’ve experienced the piece for a while. Then the viewer starts to make connections and gradually understand the piece as a single collective voice. The words themselves are like signs on the wall, indicating directions. Once played together they become a formation. The viewer becomes a ‘live-editor’ as a kind of story is created while being performed in its own choreography. And yes, the idea is derived from the polychoral styles you mention.

Timothée Chaillou: Why the nameCoro Spezzato? What is metaphorically broken? Or what is really broken?

Rosa Barba:Coro Spezzato is a name invented for a choir in Venice during the Renaissance. It’s called ‘broken’ as it does not work like a classical choir, the choir is spatially fragmented. The different voices have broken rhythms; they react to each other with questions and answers.

Timothée Chaillou: Did you write the lyrics for Coro Spezzato?

Rosa Barba:I took some original lyrics as a starting-point, describing a situation in terms of the present and possible future. I translated this into our times, into a form of statement.

Timothée Chaillou: Is it an opera or a drama? 

Rosa Barba:It’s fiction.

Timothée Chaillou: Does the installation recall a magic lantern, in that each word sheds ‘a little light’?

Rosa Barba:Yes, little thoughts – expressed with light.

Timothée Chaillou: Does the fading colour of the projected words reflect nostalgia?

Rosa Barba:No, this is only part of my filming process. I gave some words a kind of visual punctuation.

Timothée Chaillou: Do you think you are using obsolete technology with your old projectors? Why did you choose to work with film instead of video?

Rosa Barba:No technology is obsolete as far as I am concerned. Film is a medium that has qualities you can’t replace. It always has a perform-oriented character which I include in my installations. Nostalgia is something that reminds you of the past and cannot be repeated. As it is a photographic process, film has a special presence for me with great potential for storing memories and history. I never use rediscovered footage in my film installations. My films are made out of new ideas. They’re anchored in the present, and relate closely to the possibility of light in images –  which cannot be produced by video. So I don’t think my pieces have anything to do with nostalgia.

Empirical_Effect

Timothée Chaillou: Do you use old projectors as a stand against new technology? Why are you interested in these kinds of ‘bodies’ which ‘speak/talk’ with images?

Rosa Barba:I’m interested in the ‘structuralism’ of film. Each component – like ‘sound,’ image, text and material – has its own character and can be removed or reinforced or exist on its own. This is not really possible with video where all the components are merged and translated into digital codes. For example, the sound on a film is like a drawing or a sign added to the material. There are all these little ‘worlds’ that create a universe. I’m interested in this subtle interrogation into – and co-optation of – industrial cinema-as-subject via various kinds of what might be called ‘stagings’ – of ‘the local’, the non-actor, gesture, genre, information, expertise and authority, the mundane – removed from the social reality within which they were observed and which qualifies them as components of the work – to be framed, redesigned and represented. The effect of this contests and recasts truth and fiction, myth and reality, metaphor and material to a disorientating degree, ultimately extending into a conceptual practice that also recasts the viewer’s own staging as an act of radical and exhilarating reversal – from being the receiver of an image (a subject of control) to being in and amongst its engine room(s), looking out.

Timothée Chaillou: Is a projector a podium for images?

Rosa Barba:It’s the images’ body.

Timothée Chaillou: Are you tempted to create a ‘sort of imageless cinema’?

Rosa Barba:Yes, a large part of my research involves work on this. But it also involves creating an orchestrated, spatial cinema.

Timothée Chaillou: It’s often claimed that movies or videos engage issues of temporality. I think this is too restrictive and neglects other aspects of movies such as movement, materiality of the image, and the films themselves.

Rosa Barba:I’m preoccupied by the immanent aspects of film: how the projectors function, the perception in space, the materiality of the medium itself – not just optically speaking but in its materiality, in sound and time. I’m also interested in an image’s haphazard and psychic dimensions; the speculative narrative that conjures up invisible landscapes…landscapes with unseen histories, sometimes even pure text-landscapes.

Timothée Chaillou: Are you attracted by movies in which we can see the technical material?

Rosa Barba:Not really. 

Timothée Chaillou: You’ve said that you are more interested in texts about cinema than cinema itself. Do you share this idea with anybody else?

Rosa Barba:In a nutshell – Giordano Bruni, when he writes that ‘the Observer is always at the centre of things.’

Timothée Chaillou: Was it ‘a two-dimensional analogy or a metaphor’?

Rosa Barba:I was thinking about this title while working on my exhibition at the Art Centre in Vassivière, especially as regards White Museum, which involved projecting white films on to Lac Vassivière – a huge artificial lake under which a village was submersed in the 1950s. I was thinking about the fiction that lies under the lake’s surface which I turned into a screen – a two-dimensional screen… although the lake actually inhabits a whole three-dimensional world which I enacted by facing the film light on to it. So, through the cinematographic process, the lake turned into a metaphor for historic revelation.

This text is an extract from the interview published in Annual Art Magazine Issue 5.

timthumb

Pascale Marthine Tayou

Julie Estève: Your works use leftovers, everyday items and sometimes even garbage. What direction do you push them in?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: We are into incomprehension, so that’s where I push objects. Choosing an object allows me to give it a new lease of life – like the dead leaves we walk over, for instance. I re-use them in a precise context, and fetishize them. This fetishization can awaken something in people’s souls – a conviction, frustration etc. I always tell the same story, but using different words and phrases. And I play a serious game, a game as part of a series, always looking ahead. I seek what’s essential. All I do is zoom in on things we all know. Contemplation can breed seriousness. We just need to give the mind time to perceive it.

Julie Estève: Does working with everyday products, and expatriating them into the world of art, mean you accept the world and appreciate/criticize what surrounds you?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: It’s all mixed up. I’m not outside the world, I’m in it – so I use its tools. The world is my studio. My garden. I try to take care of it, cajole it, and show other flavours. I like to caress all the elements of the world. Objects help us accept the nature of the world, however rough. But roughness does not preclude softness. I like to play with both aspects… sugar and salt, flexibility and tension, hot and cold, Heaven and Hell. Harmony is made up of shadow and light. Even if we live amongst thorns and shards, there always remains gentleness and joy.

Julie Estève: Exhibitions of your work always seem dependent on objects. The surfeit of accessories gives your installations an uncertain, almost precarious equilibrium. Can you tell us about this almost Capitalist quest for excess?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: Capitalistexcess! Wow, that’s nice! [laughter] It’s more like childish overflow – that of a child who never tidies his room and shows it to people while it’s a mess. To me an installation should be a provocation in the fullest sense of the word. It should prompt sensations and reflections in the viewer. I know that all viewers look at the space from their own point of view. The main thing is to invite them to look around. If the installation is poorly arranged, it will not seem attractive or invite empathy. First comes the visual aspect, then all the stories that lie behind. The space is composed of a host of autonomous elements that have to live within the same body and ensemble, even organ. It’s the same with an exhibition.

Julie Estève: This aesthetic commitment to exaggeration makes your work seem fun, almost sexy. What importance do you give to seducing the viewer?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: I’m tempted to reply with one word: Generosity. If you try to be egotistic, it backfires. I think that, whatever your job, it’s important to do it with as much energy as possible – it might be the last thing you ever do. Whenever I’m asked to stage an exhibition, and people offer me a helping hand, I want to return that help with interest.

Julie Estève: So you associate generosity with seduction?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: Of course! I’m not talking about a calculated form of generosity. We’re not to give just because we expect something back. We need to develop – in our soul, in practical terms, in how we are – the habit of exhibiting and offering ourselves with no holds barred. We need to try and empty our pockets.

Julie Estève: You say you ‘don’t wish to be part of the spectacle of the spectacular, or of the monumental through a taste for grandeur.’ What’s your approach to the idea of spectacle?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: I’m an exhibition-worker. It’s clear that people today tend to look at ‘the showcase.’ We need to learn to go over and beyond the obvious side to a show. I think a show is no more than an object or temporary movement. I try to have a longstanding relationship with people who come to look at my space. If you just leave something furtive, everything vanishes the minute your back is turned. I avoid getting caught up in this machine of creation – this machine for showing-off and churning out big events. Perhaps I’m a link in that chain, but I always try to come up with something I really believe in. I have no need to be involved in anything ‘spectacular.’ When I discovered that I had embarked on this profession, people told me I was an artist. I’ve since shown this is not the case. The usual definition of an artist does not chime in with my way of looking at things. I’m a maker. I make things: I’ve nothing else to do. I don’t want people thinking I’m out to amuse the public. I’m here because this is where I am totally myself. I need people to feel my guts.

Julie Estève: What lies behind your love of mixing and piling things up – these ‘aesthetics of the bazaar’?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: Life, as I see and feel it, is a total, global traffic-jam. You were just talking about overflow, but life is above all about racing ahead! So I drag this labyrinth around with me. We’re in a consumer society that never stops producing forms of frustration and melancholy, indecision and insufficiency. There’s always something missing. We have everything, yet we’re still poor. But it’s not because life is sad that we need to use black humour. We can talk about death with a smile. We can talk about evil with the methods of good. I always say: life may look black, but we need to see it white. I’m a pessimist, so I’m an optimist, if you see what I mean! [laughter]

Julie Estève: What do you think of the ‘less is more’ credo of Minimalist Art?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: What is Minimalist Art? I don’t know what it means! You can create emptiness, then make this emptiness get tangled up. You have to put something concrete into abstraction. Nothingness may turn out to be the Big-Bang. Zero is not zero. I speak about nothingness because I think there is something in nothing – and in emptiness there’s still emptiness. An emptiness that’s full, so to speak. It’s a soothing philosophy. We need to turn our vision of things upside-down. Emptiness is not without consistency. And what’s an exhibition? It’s a concept that needs to find material form. I like to tell palpable stories. I need to use my hands, play sport and make objects, otherwise I’ll die of rheumatism! [laughter]

Julie Estève: You tell stories of celebration and misery, hope and despair. Should art be emotional? Is it about feelings?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: If art does exist, it should go beyond feelings and emotion. It must be human. It must be situated in a form of incomprehension that mixes all genres and levels of sensation. I often have the impression that we play a theatrical game of emotion when we look at works of art. Man is situated on a higher plane. There’s something beautiful about being on intimate terms with incomprehension. To me, art does not exist; it’s we who represent it.

This text is an extract from the interview published in Annual Art Magazine Issue 5.

12

Guillaume Bijl

Timothée Chaillou: What does the pedestal/podium evoke for you? What does it allow you to achieve?

Guillaume Bijl: I have sometimes used pedestals or podiums to accentuate the realism of my form of realism – in installations like Miss Hamburg (1988), Tombola Prizes (1988) or A Band (1988). A podium helps give the viewer a better idea of what the subject is all about.

Timothée Chaillou: Why is it important for you to categorize your types of work within a precise definition – characterizing what they are and what they are not? Is the reason educational?

Guillaume Bijl: Art writers and critics have frequently misinterpreted my work – that’s why I began categorizing it into different types. And also because I have produced a number of variations on my early works. So I organized my work into the following categories:
–  Transformation-Installations: reality in non-reality (an art space)
–  Situation-Installations: non-reality in reality (a public space)
–  Compositions: present-day archeological still-lifes
–  Sorry Works: sort of absurd and abstract works

And in recent years I have done a lot of works that deal with ‘Cultural Tourism.’

058_BIJL_SI_public-hamburg_011-320x200

Timothée Chaillou: Does your work imply audience participation?

Guillaume Bijl: With the installations, the audience becomes a sort of theatre actor without explicitly realizing it. I create a sort of trompe-l’œil situation with my installations. I work in the fields of fiction and reality.

Timothée Chaillou: Have you ever painted still lifes? Would you say that your installations are 3-D versions of your painted works?

Guillaume Bijl: I started as a self-taught artist working in different styles but I wasn’t happy about the medium I was using to fulfil my aims. I wanted to get the audience more involved and started making installations that were a bit ‘tongue in cheek.’

Timothée Chaillou: Please tell us about your 1979 manifesto.

Guillaume Bijl: It was a ‘State Manifesto’ entitled The Art Liquidation Project, with the State declaring art superfluous and planning to close down all art venues and transform them into more functional institutions or businesses – like psychiatric hospitals, shooting-ranges, travel agencies, driving schools, etc. The text was the basis of my Transformation-Installations. This type of installation insinuates that the gallery or art space has gone bust and become a supermarket or Matrass-discount (an underlying meaning of these installations).

— This is only a short extract, the full conversation is available in the fifth issue of Annual Magazine. Shop it here!

11

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

This is only a short extract, the full conversation is available in the fifth issue of Annual Magazine. Shop it here!

Sylvain Menétrey: Your latest projects seem to intertwine around each other. Primitive (2009) was a prelude to Uncle Boonmee (2010). In Mekong Hotel (2012), we see you rehearsing your aborted project Ecstasy Garden. Do you see your filmography as a diary?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Certainly. Lately, my interest lies in the Northeastern region of Thailand where I grew up. The works are an exploration of small cities that have unique histories, or my actors are simply from the particular towns. It’s always about a place’s collective memory.

Sylvain Menétrey: From your first feature film Mysterious Object at Noon (2000), consisting of stories collected from different people in the streets, most of your projects have been based on collaborations. Is it a way to get closer to life?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Not really. It is a way to get myself closer to the essence of cinema, that it is a ball of collective spirit and full of contradictions, especially regarding reality. As long as the image is framed, it will never represent life.

Sylvain Menétrey: How do spread the myths and narratives you borrow from Thai culture? Do they survive as an oral tradition? Are they still told to children?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: We have absorbed the tales from all kinds of media, from cinema, television, radio, books, comics, etc. They are still being told repeatedly but in different style from when I was young. My nephew and I know some of the same stories, for example, but his versions may be in HD 3D.

Nabua-04-320x200

Sylvain Menétrey: Where did the sublime scene of the princess with the catfish in Uncle Boonmee originate?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: It was not from particular story, but I combine elements from what we call TV Royal Costume Drama; those with princes and princesses and animals that can talk. That part in Uncle Boonmee mimics and pays tribute to all of its elements – the costume, the acting, the colors, and so on.

Sylvain Menétrey: You often cite Thai soap operas as an influence on your work, can you tell us about their structures, their narratives and what interests you about them?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: I grew up with soap operas. They have created a static narrative formula in Thai media; the classes are clearly distinct and ultra righteous. So you have city vs. village vs. rich vs. poor vs. good vs. bad vs. beautiful vs. ugly. It is amazing that these formulas are in turn represented in Thai society. We have a Cultural Watchdog under the Ministry of Culture to ban movies, songs, books, dresses. We have Internet Police that blocks Youtube, websites and puts people in jail. We have villagers building their houses to look like those in the soaps. I am inspired every day. I collaborated with an artist and made The Adventure of Iron Pussy (2003) which is full of these references.

Sylvain Menétrey: How close are you to the art scene in your country and people like Rirkrit Tiravanija?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: I have moved to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand for a while so I’m familiar with the young art scene and a few artists who live there, Rirkrit included. I admire how Rirkrit attracts other artists and dedicates his energy to the Land. I am more of a hermit and live in a village far from town.

— This is only a short extract, the full conversation is available in the fifth issue of Annual Magazine. Shop it here!

10

Maurizio Cattelan

Chris Wiley: For your retrospective All last year at the Guggenheim, you hung every work you’ve ever made from a massive armature in the middle of the rotunda. It was like a giant puppet show or an elaborate mobile—a work in itself. Was this a kind of final prank?

Maurizio Cattelan: Everyone always says I’m a joker but I am always very serious. It gets trying after a while, like being the boy who cried wolf or Cassandra. But, since the works are nothing without their audience, maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. Maybe the joke is on me.

Chris Wiley: Well, if you were serious, what motivated you?

Maurizio Cattelan: I was terrified to have a retrospective. It felt like I was already dead. Who would want such a thing? So I did the only thing that I could do: I hung the work out like meat on hooks, carcasses to be examined. If the museum was going to be a mausoleum, I thought it should at least be one of my choosing.

Chris Wiley: So you think of your old work as dead?

Maurizio Cattelan: I have always trafficked in images; how the works come into being has never really interested me. It’s a chore, actually – my ear is plastered to the phone all day. Once I get an image to materialize though, it’s great. But only for a minute. After they have done their job, shown their faces in public, I find myself wishing that the works could just disappear back where they came from, back into the image-sphere. Unfortunately, they stick around, kicking around shows and cluttering up the corners of collectors’ houses. In that sense yes, I guess they are dead to me. You can imagine then, what a problem it was when they all showed up back on my doorstep, begging like needy dogs. My solution to the problem – once it came to me – was a simple one: to take these tired old images and make a new one which would encompass them all. I think I read somewhere that the Aztecs would sometimes take the skeletons of their human sacrifices and make them into puppets, giving the dead a chance to dance again.

CarribeanBiennale2-320x200

Chris Wiley: In a way All, was also a bold disruption of Guggenheim’s notoriously difficult exhibition space, in the lineage of Mathew Barney or Daniel Buren. Was this a pointed act of putting Frank Lloyd Wright’s space to work for you?

Maurizio Cattelan: I guess you could say it was more of an opportunity than an opposition. It’s like when George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest and he replied, “Because it’s there.”

Chris Wiley: Wait, but didn’t Mallory die in his attempt to climb Everest?

Maurizio Cattelan: I never claim to be successful.

Chris Wiley: But I guess, in a way, this exhibition did result in a kind of death for you. Close to the time of the opening, you announced that the show was to mark your retirement from art. Are you putting us on?

Maurizio Cattelan: As I said, I am always serious. I went into art looking for freedom and I became a slave to my work. It gets tedious after a while, being chained down, even if the parties are good. More than anything, I just want to escape.

Chris Wiley: Maybe this shouldn’t surprise us, as it does seem like you’ve been saying it for a long time. Your piece from 1992 at the Castello di Rivara on the outskirts of Turin that was a rope made of bed sheets dangling out of the castle that appeared to be left behind by an escaped prisoner. Your 1997 piece of a stuffed ostrich with his head buried in the gallery floor, which reads poignantly as a self portrait. Charliefrom 2003, a boyish, doll-like avatar of yourself on a tricycle that first rode recklessly around the Giardini at the Venice Biennale, as if in a mad dash to escape being pinned down—the list seems endless. So now that you’re retired, are you taking some time to relax?

Maurizio Cattelan: No! It’s crazy. I’ve never had so much work. My advice: don’t ever get retired if you can avoid it.

Chris Wiley: If not art, what have you been working on?

Maurizio Cattelan: Massimiliano Gioni and I have opened a new space in Chelsea called Family Business, which is something like a big brother to Wrong Gallery, the closet-sized space that the two of us ran with Ali Subotnick—there’s more space, but not much. Still, we feel it’s time to grow up and be responsible adults. That’s what having a family business means, right? Also, I have been making a magazine called Toilet Paper with the photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari where we make the editorial photographs we would want to see as advertizing in an alternate universe. Actually, it seems that recently that universe is starting to bleed into our own: we just did a billboard project for the High Line that was very strange—an old woman’s fingers on a blue velvet backdrop, amputated but without blood.

Maurizio-Cattelan-All-exh_ph114-320x200

Chris Wiley: It was an odd thing, seeing that towering over 10th Avenue.

Maurizio Cattelan: I thought they looked like beautifully manicured penises, didn’t you? Sometimes symbolism is better when it’s not so subtle.

Chris Wiley: True enough. I am interested though, in why you keep working. Not only have you always been interested in escape—often, as you have pointed out many times, due to your fear of failure—you have also, at least in part, taken up forced leisure as a sub-theme in your work. I am thinking particularly of your never-awarded Oblomov Foundation scholarship, which was named after the famously lazy and indecisive eponymous noblemen of Ivan Goncharov’s 1859 novel, a substantial cash prize that was to be given to a young artist who agreed not to show for a year and the 6th Caribbean Biennial, which you organized with Jens Hoffmann, that gathered a collection of bold-faced names from the biennial circuit for what essentially amounted to a highly publicized vacation-by-invitation. Are you allergic to relaxation?

Maurizio Cattelan: It’s a very hard position. I want to force other people relax, but it is impossible to relax myself. It seems that I am even a failure at retirement. Maybe it’s just not in me; Mark Twain used to write lying in bed but I write standing up. Even when I was younger I had to work while slacking off. I would sit in the back of the class with my pencils and fill sheet after sheet of paper with these really thin lines—I’d draw them so close together, they almost blended into one. For this, of course, I had to keep my pencils very sharp. By the end of the school day my desk would be covered in pencil shavings from my sharpener and they looked like little roses! I think people thought I was crazy. The thing is, when you fear failure, the evasive gesture is always the best gesture: I make art but I don’t make art, I am retired but I am working more than ever. Fully succeeding is just as much a nightmare as being an utter failure. They both feel like voids and nothing scares me more than emptiness.

8

Laurent Montaron

Laurent Montaron is a french artist, based in Paris. He is represented by the Schleicher + Lange gallery. In this interview, he talks about his last film Short study on the nature of things and gives us personnal thoughts about its relationship with time and image.

Sarah Mercadante : Short study on the nature of things seems an important turn in your filmography because the first character who talks off screen remembers her intuitions on time and image. Can you talk about the genesis of this project? What are the starting point and conditions of production?

Laurent Montaron : I always feel as if I’m looking for the meaning of birth ideas. This study appeared spontaneously when I wondered about the way I usually worked.

The starting point of my previous film, Pace – where we see a carp heart beating in the palm of one’s hand – came to me a day (I didn’t know exactly how) I remembered my father when we were fishing. He gutted the fish we just catched and pointed out to me that the fish heart he threw in water kept beating under the surface.

So I kept the exact moment when this anecdote came back in mind and I pictured myself making a film of it.

For Short study on the nature of things, I leaned on this idea, that I often looked into my memories to find some motives.

Childhood memories based on my fragmented observation of the world led me up to consider the notion of knowledge in the perspective of the one of belief. As every child, I developed a representation of the world which had things in common with the notion of cosmogony. And by certains aspects, it could be similar to archaic beliefs and various conceptions of world that I could compare to some pre-socratic thinkers notably as regards of time.

Nowadays, knowledge and technic are indivisible notions. In the context of modernity, technic has conditionned the way we watch and the way we catch our environment with more or less distance. In the same time, technic tools filter has changed the world we live in. The experience during childhood is somehow nude, spare of representations which keep prejudices alive. Imagination takes the most important part on interpretation we give to things we want to understand.

So my film draws up similarities between the almost irrationnal experience of the world beheld by child eyes, through memories of the off screen voice and many representations of time or object.

S.M.: Which importance has this film, regarding your whole work?

L.M. : This film made me work in a new way. I don’t want to make a longer film, with more budget. I find independance working with a process where writing is made little by little. It was something I tried out, knowing  that film only found its final form with the editing, even if the first idea was clear. I wanted to re-establish a form of former films from narrative cinema, such as we know it, without it becoming a documentary or gaining an experimental aesthetic. Consequently I couldn’t define in which style it belongs to, although it was a story in the end.

SSOTNOT_3-320x200

S.M.: The process of reflection which led you to produce Short Study…,- the reminiscence of a childhood event – is eventually quite close to your previous work so the different tone of this work is made by production and editing. The progressive writing of the story brings me back to the free association process used originally by the Surréalistes and in the psychoanalytical method. I think this work has something in common with this process. What do you think about it?

L.M. : Editing by itself brings about this kind of interpretations. Images are consecutive and links created between each scene stay from the viewer side in the sense where nothing is directly dictated in their own reading.

The measuring devices which are precise technic tools cannot be considered as they are. For example, in the case of  time clock mecanism, shown during the film – where a red liquid warmed up by an electric resistance animates a wheel which winds the clock mecanism back up – creates an organic analogy with the heart image the voice talking: “I believed that the rhythm of the heart beating was set to the second hand of our watches. Every night I meticulously wound up the mechanism of my watch so that I might wake up in the morning to live another day. What once seemed absurd to me made sense later when I learned that the length of a second had originally been established by observing the distance between one heartbeat and the next”.

Image imposes the principle of free association in these conditions but I believe that the very principle of a story is the position of a speaker’s reciprocity. The narrator tells a story, brought from his own experience. With this story, he offers an experience for listeners. The viewer can also be the locutor because he has to use the already defined story to make his own, putting the story mecanism together to make sense.

S.M.: There are some elements of your previous works in Short study on the nature of things. I am thinking in particular of the photograph The Stream (2009), which shows a landscape quasi similar to your last film.We can also see a shooting of one of your works untitled Lent portrait de Sainte Bernadette (2011). This reminder is very intriguing in the film, why have you used this image as it is?

L.M. : I used this sequence where we can see the face of Sainte Bernadette in close shot and where the focusing goes from eyes to mouth because I found interesting the paradoxe which shows the figure of Sainte Bernadette remaining incorrupted – it reifies the idea of the immortality of the soul. The face of Sainte Bernadette, who seems asleep and frozen in youth, appears in the film after we have seen the thawing of Briksdal glacier in Norway. I wanted to transpose this image of an icon, whose relics show its immortality of soul, on the very material of images, which also asks questions on the form of – namely, its preservation. In the installation Lent portrait de Sainte Bernadette, several temporalities juxtapose : the 16 mm film, in a continous loop, where the film deteriorates during the period of exhibition and this figure of a petrified face, which stays in a slow motion time.

I use sometimes the same motives or the same texts. I can use sentences from the off screen voice of my films which, isolated, become titles of works. It’s a way for me to spread ideas or to open new understandings, where the meaning of the isolated idea will be different from its previous insertion in the story.

This intervew was made in July 2012.

7

Bertrand Lavier

Timothée Chaillou: To quote Victor Chklovski, ‘Art is a way of reliving the production of the object.’

Bertrand Lavier: I agree. There’s a widespread idea that Art is Life. Not to my mind. I feel that Art is something just next to Life: Art proves that Life is not enough. That’s why I use objects as servers.

(….)

Timothée Chaillou: Are you comfortable with articles about your work that over-insist on its appearance and visual impact?

Bertrand Lavier: Arman said that he produced art like an engineer, having a project which he then implemented whereas César was instinctive. I hope to be at the crossroads of those two approaches.

Timothée Chaillou: Do you think using a podium helps objects increase their visibility?

Bertrand Lavier: Yes, absolutely. For instance, I had fun exhibiting Giulietta (1993) on a pedestal and without a pedestal. The podium is a tried and tested code whose qualities are well-known. It’s clear that this helps to raise something.

Timothée Chaillou: Do things become more legible by being brought together on a podium – is there a kind of didactic impact?

Bertrand Lavier: Marcel Duchamp experimented with that by putting objects directly on the floor or in the air. The didactic impact you speak of is inherent to art. It may not always work, as with the exhibition on a podium that took place in the Conciergerie in Paris, which was both heavy and fussy and missed the target.

BELA-01611-283x200

Timothée Chaillou: How would you avoid such fussiness?

Bertrand Lavier: By taking established codes and trying to do something denser. The podium is a very familiar code; we know all the subterfuges and experiments that have been carried out to try and avoid it and, by wishing to avoid it, we fall back into the errors we wanted to hide.

6

Vidya Gastaldon

Kathleen Buehler:  How do your works relate to the world we’re living in or to the reality we perceive? Would you say that you depict a possible different world or a world we can dream about, or that you are showing a reality that lies behind the everyday?

Vidya Gastaldon:  You can look at my works as allegories. It’s possible to read, for example, many of the apocalyptic scenes I’ve drawn, with cities falling apart, as ecological or political fables that echo current anxieties about our future. Likewise, my ‘peaceful’ landscapes are more obviously tied to metaphysical notions, such as the promise of an Eden or something like that. Yet, these visions of peace also contain dark corners, a sense of hovering threat that permeates the whole landscape. I guess all the main metaphysical concepts I am working through have to do with a notion of non-duality. In Sanskrit it is called advaita. It is a concept that Western consciousness has a hard time grasping, a cosmic unity beyond good and evil. In the end, my work can be seen as an attempt to express advaita in the clearest possible way.

Kathleen Buehler:  It’s hard for us in the West to think in these terms. When I have to describe your work, for example, I immediately oppose conflicting elements.

Vidya Gastaldon:  Sometimes I’ll use a graphic shorthand to encapsulate theses ideas, such as Smileys with a teeth-filled grin, which signifies ‘The Cosmic Smile’, a divine acceptation of the state of things. Within my work, this kind of visual shorthand takes on an archetypal dimension. Of course, these grinning Smileys also evoke altered states of consciousness and popular drug culture: the Acid Smiley.  Certainly, my experiences with psychedelic drugs were as important to me as my discovery of sacred Hindu texts.

Kathleen Buehler:  What also intrigues me is the way you are using eyes. Sometimes the eyes are empty holes and sometimes they are looking at you from the unlikeliest places. I imagine the eye with a pupil represents a more conscious way of looking, whereas the empty hole evokes a more physical perception. Are there differences to how you are using these eye motifs?

Vidya Gastaldon:  Eyes come out of matter to express the presence of spirits. They almost have a will of their own. In the past, people have ascribed varied psychoanalytic interpretations to their presence. I think of them more as a manifestation of an all-seeing presence, an all-encompassing consciousness.

VG2-320x200

Kathleen Buehler:  Well, it’s a powerful image, a sense that nature is looking back at me in your paintings. Your paintings are generally vibrant with color and energy, explosive and cheerful. For some people this may look like kitsch. What does beauty mean to you and how do you react to critics who might say your work is kitschy?

Vidya Gastaldon:  It’s a bit like answering people who think that the fairy tale-like character of my work implies that I am working for children. I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I have anything against children, just as I have no problems with kitsch.

Kathleen Buehler:  So you are comfortable with kitsch?

Vidya Gastaldon:  Kitsch has something to do with design and fashion; it’s a good taste vs. bad taste question. I understand that artists find this to be a productive locus of discussion, but I’m not really interested in this discussion. I’ve seen particularly baroque drawings of mine hung in a hyper minimal and designed living environment, and no one seemed to mind. Take a look at contemporary popular Indian painting, air-brushed representations of the gods of the Pantheon. To our Western eyes, they are really tacky but there, they exist right alongside classical ‘beautiful’ sacred architecture. I’m also fond of certain cartoon characters, like Barbapapa or SpongeBob, for their aesthetic qualities as much as for their allegorical power.

Kathleen Buehler:  Your way of painting and drawing is changing. Before it was more transparent, as if the transparency would counterbalance the more kitschy aspects of your work. In the new paintings you use oil and acrylic, so it’s less transparent. But you are also dealing more with earth and soil in your recent paintings. So it’s more about matter than air, and the color in a way organically changes to a thicker substance, too.

Vidya Gastaldon:  This probably also has a link to my current life on a farm with a vegetable garden. And some of these new works are also more directly linked to cartoons and certain strands of post-war Expressionism as well as ’80s Neo-Expressionism.

Kathleen Buehler:  Again, you painted a cabbage with eyes. This is fascinating because we eat cabbages and never think of them as having eyes and being alive.

Vidya Gastaldon:  It has to do with an acid trip I did when I was nineteen. I hadn’t eaten properly for a long time and was due to take a flight later in the day. A friend persuaded me to eat a vegetable salad while I was still high. I started to eat it and talked to every bit of vegetable. I explained to them the journey ahead of them within my body, how they would transform into energy and return to the earth, before coming back as another life form. I talked to these vegetables for an hour. These experiences have partly shaped my consciousness and my way of looking at the world.

5

Xavier Veilhan

Timothée Chaillou: In the gardens of Versailles in 2009, you presented sculptures of architects who are important to you, using ‘pedestal frames’ – hollowed pedestals with only the framework remaining…

Xavier Veilhan: It was a way of putting sculpture in the air, on air. I didn’t want to block the perspective of the Versailles gardens with their formal French rigour. I wanted to have the least possible impact on the site. As you said, the bases were ‘pedestal frames’ – some slanting, some straight – giving the support a feeling of movement and uncertainty, like a shape going round a bend.

Timothée Chaillou: Is using the podium a way of being more legible – a form of pedagogy for the eye – aiming for everything to be shown in the same restricted space?

Xavier Veilhan: I try to create art lacking any sort of pedagogy, quoting from the history of art in a way that avoids such quotes being used as props or ‘crutches.’ I am very wary of a pedagogical approach and would like to think that art helps circumvent it. In my work, I am keener to withdraw and take away reality from a place, to create a space – like a hanging garden – where sculptures take off and float in the air. In Baron de Triqueti for instance, I was interested in the potential links between classical sculpture, a César Expansion and a piece by Bertrand Lavier all shown together on the same podium. The links appear once we start to move these objects away from both the venue and the surrounding influences. The podium space becomes these works’ own space, specific to their relationship with the viewer: a space that is its own stage. This is not a stage requiring an audience; everything happens within the space itself. I like this idea of the public being physically involved, having to climb up steps to have access to the sculptures. It’s the same with Le Mur de Verre as, to see both sides of the photographs, you have to go around to the other side of the wall. I’m just trying to create ways of seeing works differently while having a new understanding of the reality that surrounds them.

Timothée Chaillou: The podium is a place of power, competition, emphasis and authority. Why do you use this type of presentation? How do you get around these connotations?

Xavier Veilhan: It’s about the political aspect of celebrating or drawing attention to someone. When we commemorate public figures, we put them on a pedestal. This is the physical process of crystallizing the person concerned. The political idea is the choice of the person we want to erect a statue to. Sometimes statues are built in honour of dictators while scientists are forgotten. That’s distressing. So there is inevitably an ideological aspect to the idea of the pedestal. And at the same time, there is the natural inclination to get up on a table and start talking. My work does not just involve highlighting items with a commercial value or creating competition between them; I do not try to ‘get around’ the connotations of power and authority – they are present whenever I create a sculpture. I have already exploited these notions of scale and power. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ go-go dancer on a podium (Go-Go Dancing Platform, 1991) is a form of energy; it’s not involved in a competition. It represents the people who look at it. However, with Richard Serra and Carl Andre there is a form of authority – which is absent from Gonzalez-Torres’ work Stacks, as well. Sometimes we use the pedestal with all its ideological associations, sometimes there is no need for them.

Timothée Chaillou: Does using a podium look to reveal the actual act of exhibiting and highlighting?

Xavier Veilhan: Yes. This ties in with the idea of the power of an artistic decision, with the artist having authority. The viewer is conscious of seeing an artistic object, which necessarily implies that the object is being exhibited. The exhibition space is a comprehensive arrangement which strongly influences how the viewer will look at what is being presented. The podium is one possible aspect of the exhibition’s overall vocabulary.

Timothée Chaillou: Barthes once said: ‘Whatever the meaning, it is not things themselves, but the place they occupy that matters.’ 1 Do you agree?

Xavier Veilhan: Not really, because the importance of things remains relative. For me, everything is conditioned by the position of the viewer rather than the position of things. What Barthes says may be true if it concerns the relationship with the viewer. The place things occupy remains important, yes, but they have their own autonomy – the same sort of autonomy as words in a sentence. The juxtaposition of things interests me, providing their relationship with each other is not too intense.

Timothée Chaillou: How can a podium be used to avoid – or exploit – fetishism and objects of desire or temptation?

Xavier Veilhan: I’m a great fetishist and I don’t seek to avoid or skirt around that. It’s something I take pleasure in. For example, I like skiing for the thrill it gives me and, at the same time, I love skis as objects. I have a fetish for spheres, for perfection, for the precision of manufactured objects or animals – whose forms are so perfectly adapted to their environment. This fetishism is a way of acknowledging this balance and perfection. Bicycles fascinate me because they use as little energy as possible while gaining speed. The bike is a perfect expression of the extension of the body. I’m attracted to objects and empathize with them because their shapes adapt to our needs and bodies. We can understand their dynamic potential simply by looking at them.

4

R.H Quaytman

Jason Farago: You use the model of a book composed of chapters. But because you’re working through time, you know when you’re composing the later chapters what came before.

R. H. Quaytman: Every artist thinks that way, I guess. As for me, though, I was disturbed by the speed of the art world, the amnesia about past shows. It seemed as if an artist’s career was too contingent on this speed and amnesia, and that the whole aspect of continuity and growth was devalued.

Jason Farago: So then each work is inscribed into a larger chapter, and then beyond that into a larger book. Each painting connects to every other painting, but a painting exhibits a relatively stronger connection to the fellow works in its chapter. It’s not just a mess of connections; proximity plays a key role.

R. H. Quaytman: In some ways it’s like a calendar, or a datebook with notes. But each different situation of an exhibition generates a different response. Over time reoccurring motifs develop: for example, the history of printmaking, textile history, work by other artists, portraits of people, archival photographs and occasionally actual texts. Many different chapters touch on these six headings.

But the main goal was to break out of the idea of the painting as an isolated object. I had to make a syntax for these paintings – paintings that worked as adjectives or verbs or nouns, such that they can be placed among other paintings and produce meaning. The small, hand-painted paintings, which I sometimes call captions, can be thought of as punctuation marks.

Jason Farago: At times the model is more literary, at time it’s more linguistic.

R. H. Quaytman: It’s true. My studio is a library as well. I do a lot of research: every chapter has its own little library to go along with it. For my show at Gladstone Gallery in Brussels I made a letterpress print of Chapter 23’s bibliography.

Jason Farago: Artists today can get nervous about boxing themselves into an individual medium. But you’re quite happy to call yourself a painter, even though you sometimes rely on reproductive strategies. The use of the silkscreen, though it has a long tradition in American painting, is in some fashion a way not to paint.

R. H. Quaytman: For me the attachment to one medium is of primary importance. I do believe that subject matter must be generated and organic to the facticity and the history of that medium. Regarding silkscreen, I just don’t understand the attachment to the brush. It’s still paint basically; it just goes through a different sieve. It doesn’t go though hair, it goes through a screen. Richter, I imagine, uses a projector and a grid to do his photo-based paintings, and to a degree I wonder if that’s reactionary, because it’s still insisting on the brush’s claim to authenticity and skill. What differentiates a painting of an image from a photograph of an image is its status as an object itself before or on which an image appears. With a photograph the image comes first. In my paintings the brush mark is present. It is evidenced by the gesso on the panel and is important to the facture of the overall surface. There’s still a brush mark, but that mark contradicts the photographic image.

3

Jean Luc Blanc

Marie Maertens: Your paintings are always based on existing images, yet paradoxically you don’t have a computer or access to Internet – today’s source of images par excellence…

Jean-Luc Blanc: Precisely, the choice makes you dizzy. I don’t use gimmicky digital research for my collecting. I like to have a more restricted choice. I like images to have been found, lost or damaged. I’m not a torn-poster artist but, if a poster’s involved, I check just how much of the image can be removed from the wall, or resist me, before giving itself to me. My approach is inappropriate in terms of image quality – which would be even more obvious if I went looking in the right places. But the fact that an image appears where it’s not expected lends it an effect of surprise. I built up an almost inexhaustible supply of images from popular magazines kept by a hairdresser near Nice. I stocked enough images to last several lifetimes! I archive them and put them to one side, then go and delve into them later on. They can’t all be used for painting, as some are just not suitable; but they feed various types of approach I have to my work. Some of them puzzle, disturb or amuse me, and help me produce very different drawings, while inspiring me by what they have to say, and by finding their plastic equivalent. To exploit the gap between the choices I make and the images selected, I ask friends to select reproductions they think will interest me. I can find fulfilment by producing these images, as there’s always an initial moment of surprise and questioning. The image remains a mystery in terms of what it expresses.

Marie Maertens: You also have recourse to another mode of reappropriation – retouching your own paintings long afterwards.

Jean-Luc Blanc: Yes, people in museums aren’t used to this yet… but, when I hang old works next to more recent ones, I permit myself to match them up very freely. It’s like a last-minute correction, and also a way of provisionally denying the passing of time.

Marie Maertens: That raises the question of just when a work is actually finished.

Jean-Luc Blanc: That’s a problem I am confronted with. A painting has to tell me ‘That’s it!’ But that doesn’t happen often. I usually have more of a feeling that I can’t solve the challenge I’ve set myself by having a precise idea of what the image should have to offer – knowing that I work according to unorthodox rules and in unsuitable conditions. For instance, I deliberately use poor-level lighting, a bit different each day, and this affects the degree of finish. With oils, lots of aspects can evolve, so I grant myself the freedom to intervene – like touching up an actor’s make-up just before shooting. So my paintings are more alive, not set in stone like some glossy photo.

jeanlucblanc2-283x200

Marie Maertens: Yet you use fairly light coats of paint, so it’s not matter which concerns you most in a picture.

Jean-Luc Blanc: That’s true, but I can also smooth down the paint-surface to provide a sort of family link between the faces. They’re all typical of a set period, even if I try to keep things hazy; but smoothing them down places them in the same era, compared to photography, for example. What’s interesting about smoothing down the paintwork is that it lets you bring to the surface what gives an illusion of depth. I try to understand what’s underneath the image, what it tells me and what it represents – its skeleton.

Marie Maertens: When you talk about a skeleton, you touch on representation, and what you offer the viewer. You remain quite enigmatic about your works, saying that what needs to be understood is that there’s nothing to understand!

Jean-Luc Blanc: Maybe we all fall into the same trap. When there’s a mirror, or prisms of a mirror, there’s always some unease as to whether it’s an image or a motionless presence. I’ve always been sensitive to people whom I’ve first encountered via their reflection – this initial, illusory image. I like the genesis and structure of Dario Argento’s film Profondo Rosso (1975), a remake of Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). At the start the murderer is in shot but, given the context, you think her reflection is a painting, surrounded by other crude, wild paintings. The mystery is finally solved when we recognize the empty mirror which had the murderer’s reflection, and realize that the silhouette belonged to none other than the mother – the criminal. I look out for this sort of two-way feel, this to-ing and fro-ing…

2.ppg

John M Armleder

Timothée Chaillou : When it comes to painting a picture using a different color from the one you intended, is the result as valid as if it had been painted with the color you wanted?

John M Armleder: Perhaps we should put it the other way round. In my opinion, it’s the viewer who produces a work of art by using a fund of information he or she has received or acquired. It’s obvious that a painting by Fra Angelico will not be viewed today in the same way as when it was painted. It’s something created the very moment you start looking at it. Once we have become aware of this as artists, we know people won’t see the same things we did while we were painting. Similarly, we know that the impulses we had while producing the painting came from things outside ourselves. The absolute art of the creator does not exist in practice at all. I immediately realized that others would do the same as me, at the same time, in a different form or medium: we are all equal at the end of the day. But if this idea is taken too literally nothing gets done!

Timothée Chaillou : So you forget about blue and use green because that’s what’s available and – from the depths of our personal, subjective, selective, forgetful yet extensive memory – you can nonetheless remember a work as being a different color from what it really was.

John M Armleder: Yes, but it would still be good to understand the need to produce this painting –  whether blue or green. When I look back on my activities and my results, I don’t think they have any kind of absolute usefulness. But I realize that I have devoted my whole life to them – so there must be some sort of sufficiently strong obligation or force that incites me to do that. When we’re young we believe we can change the world, but when you get to my age you realize that the world changes of its own accord, without needing us. This probably implies some sort of responsibility. This implication is difficult to define but one consequence of being aware of this responsibility is doubtless that it incites us to act more than by merely producing an occasional painting. I’ve always thought that it would be better if I’d only ever produced one picture – but once there was a second one this became a lost cause and I might as well carry on.

Timothée Chaillou : A bit like Olivier Mosset thinking that monochrome painting ‘is something that goes beyond the end… perhaps it is already over, somewhere, yet it continues.’

John M Armleder: I often wonder how his approach differs from mine, and vice versa. We’re quite close in some ways, but he has more of a serious side than I do.

JA_p162_1-320x200

Timothée Chaillou :  Are you OK with his idea of ‘failed’ paintings – leaving irregularities and color deposits clear to see and revealing how they were produced?

John M Armleder:My conception of failure is far more romantic. He may lay claim to a certain type of failure but I doubt whether deep down he really believes in it.

Timothée Chaillou : You have frequently expressed the desire to present your work ‘pretending it’s by someone else, by creating this kind of distance… I’ve always dreamed of producing works I don’t recognize.’ You borrowed this desire for non-recognition from Andy Warhol, who said ‘It would be great if so many people used screen-printing that it’s impossible to know whether it’s my picture or someone else’s.’ Bertrand Lavier once described your position as ‘incompatible with an artistic approach’ and a ‘masquerade’ – as ‘of course artists love recognition.’ How would you defend your approach?

 

John M Armleder:Do I take some sly pleasure in not wanting my own work to be recognized? Is that honest or perverse? I don’t know. Maybe a bit of both, but there’s more to it than that. First of all, I don’t think my artistic approach is as original as all that. I’m wary of opposing the sort of remark an artist might make, along the lines of ‘So-and-so’s already done that’ or ‘That’s how so-and-so would do it.’ That’s not a valid way of judging things in my opinion, although it can be part of how we identify things. This concern for originality is totally dependent on the cultural context we’ve known since childhood. A concern for authenticity is part of our linguistic make-up. But in Japan, say, you could be shown a temple and told it was built 500 years ago even though it’s just been rebuilt: it is the concept that dates back centuries. It’s striking to see how our society focuses on an object’s material aspect. Even though Conceptual Art has made a breach in this approach, we remain committed to this incidental notion of authenticity.

I realize why Bertrand Lavier is averse to my way of working.

1

Adel Abdessemed

Paul Ardenne: Love can help pacify things…

Adel Abdessemed: The negative and the positive co-exist in violence. The violence or impact of a work of art is always positive, as it never leaves us. My images are not closed. They are multilinear and can be understood on various different levels. I like works to have a lost corner, a freedom corner, a blind corner….

Paul Ardenne: Whatever his medium, an artist adds matter to the world because he lives with a feeling of inadequacy. I would express a slight reservation about what you say. You profile a work of art as tearing the veil from Isis – in order, as you put it, to empty the pond and ‘find the fish.’ But the therapeutic side to artistic creation, as shown by Freud and many others, is also a pacifying process. Even if a work is violent in itself, it always leads to a situation being pacified. There are works, as you know, which deliberately belong to the repertoire of calm and harmony, like Picasso’s Joie de Vivre – even though it dates from the violent period just after World War II and the discovery of its horrific death-toll. There was widespread rationing, people were traumatized, we were going through a crisis of humanism, and the Cold War was looming. Yet when you look at this work, or at Matisse’s Blue Nude, we verge on the repertoire of the sublime; the viewer is drawn into an instant annihilation of reality, with a feeling of triumphant, blessed idealism. Artists whose work is more to do with global harmony, and its links with salvation, create a visual world that is radically different from yours, but ultimately just as effective. I say this because you’re often criticized for the violence inherent in your work – a  violence that implies that, if you don’t put the violence of the world into your work, then that work is worthless. Take those two metal circles you made, with diameters the same as your height and that of your partner Julie (Wall Drawing, 2006): the circles were in barbed wire! You’ve used live animals in your work – but only after tearing them away from their natural habitat, and throwing them into the alien world of humans. In Mexico, you filmed animals being slaughtered (Don’t Trust Me, 2007). You hung crucified Christs, made of barbed wire, alongside the Issenheim Altarpiece in Colmar – an Expressionist work from the darkest period of the Late Middle Ages, a period racked by recurrent outbreaks of plague and a violent religious crisis that led to the Reformation. You were really beating the drum – irrespective of the title you gave the work (Décor). A décor of violence, then? Personally, I admire your work as an artist. But, Lord knows, I like calm works too…!

Adel Abdessemed: To me, Barnett Newman’s work is very violent.

Paul Ardenne: Perhaps what you find violent are his colour oppositions on large surfaces…

Adel Abdessemed: It’s the void he leaves that I find violent. To me, a work of art should only exist through tension. It should be all about the force of compression, as when I crush a lemon and the juice spurts out (Pressoir Fais-Le, 2002). A work does not need to justify itself. The comments that surround it are not enough. My comments about my work will never say more than my work itself. In fact, I often speak next to my works, to avoid speaking about them.

Abdel-Adessemed

 

Paul Ardenne: Why?

Adel Abdessemed: What do you want me to add? I’m a man of images, the words come later. You – as viewer – are facing the image, the work. I move from Zidane’s head-butt (now  mine) from 2012, to Color Jasmin (2011), the boat Hope (2011/12), Décor (2012), my Joueur de Flûte (1996), Chrysalide (1999) and my clay car, Practice Zero Tolerance (2006). I only work with tension, and my engine is the end of hope. When I talk about tension, it’s not in the sense of a theatre of cruelty. It’s about an act, a gesture in itself. That’s what I express in Don’t Trust Me, with its sledgehammer as the most violent thing there is, like the machete, like  Rwanda…. Our reality is sick, Paul – sick with exiles, violence, inequality, scorn. I repeat: I am an artist, but I am a messenger of the minimum. I’m not on the side of de-struction, I’m for con-struction. Humanity has done enough destroying; now we need to construct and build, although I’m not talking about cathedrals.

Paul Ardenne: We need to build a home for mankind.

Adel Abdessemed: I see no difference between a home and a path.

timthumb

Elad Lassry

Aram Moshayedi: You have conducted quite a few interviews recently, and it seems more and more that a few ideas have already started to be repeated, even though the body of work has continued to shift its role and relationship to the idea of pictures and what constitutes an image. It is a problem; so-called photographic practices suffer from an exhaustion of discourse, and this is the result of an enduring sense of doubt that continues to pervade the medium.

Elad Lassry: I have never considered myself a photographer as such, even though the problem of making pictures is at the basis of my work. Unfortunately, this is often viewed as a photographic conundrum, but in fact the idea of an image is something far richer, with a history that exceeds the apparatus of modernity. It is only recently that there has been renewed interest in ideas of abstraction in photography or material processes, for instance, but even the buzz around these ideas has already started to fade.

Bedspread-03-2012-EL

Aram Moshayedi: It would seem as if this would allow for more nuanced readings of the work to emerge.

Elad Lassry: I am not unsatisfied with the body of critical literature that surrounds my work. If anything, I have found that I have grown increasingly self-conscious of my own repetition in light of this.

Aram Moshayedi: All the while, the interview format seems to have become something of a tool for generating content, and it is as if artists are now relied upon to do the contextual work of critics and curators, which is not to say I am not somehow implicated in this as well.

The popularity of interviews also has something to do with the cult status of artists, or at least the emergence of artistic identity as a cultural phenomenon. Is it really the case that readers have become more interested in what artists have to say than they used to be?

Elad Lassry: In my case it has to do with an expectation to speak on behalf of images that are otherwise mute on their own. I have referred to this elsewhere as the unstable nature of imagery, or visual and perceptual qualities that are otherwise dormant in an image. Mine is a process by which I am attempting to activate these qualities through pictures or, more recently, in sculptural and performance terms through strategies of framing. The language used to describe these processes is engaged with a similar set of issues, and, in fact, offers another way of coming to terms with apprehension and what results in the form of description. The intellectual engagement with modes of representation becomes, by default, a linguistic act, and I am interested in tracing this movement of the immaterial into a material presence. Pictures act as a conduit for this kind of activity, but they are not ends unto themselves.

Indeed, my work often starts…..

 

timthumb (5)

Blair Thurman

Left – Right – Straight ON

The Fate of Abstract Painting in the Art of Blair Thurman

‘With the Great Game, there’s no going back. You only play once.’

  • ν Roger Gilbert-Lecomte: foreword to first issue of Le Grand Jeu, 1928

We often talk about what a work adds to reality, but never about what it takes away from it. Before being charged with different meanings, a work also discharges reality. A work is firstly negative. Or let’s say it drills a hole in reality. This hole is then filled with all sorts of meaning: a work of art begins by diminishing the reality around it, then increases its potential.

The great thing about Blair Thurman’s works is that they cannot be misinterpreted. They are sufficiently clear, even in how they are produced: thickly coated, clumsily painted canvases, roughly stapled to their stretchers – imbued with a sort of unifying treatment and tranquillity. The technique is never hidden, always apparent. You cannot go wrong with Blair Thurman: you just need to describe his works (i.e. look at them) to understand them. His work takes various forms – often paintings, or at least the traditional elements of a painting (stretcher, canvas). Some are hung up in the usual fashion; others are propped up against the wall, or displayed horizontally on trestles. Sometimes ‘tubes’ of hand-sewn canvas are attached to the wall, and rolled into a spiral on the floor.

The other material that recurs in his work is neon: he produces motifs from sheets of model car stickers, fragile lattice-work evoking worksite barriers; or reproduces the design of a ring he gave his wife…

The first thing that strikes us about his approach is the power these various elements acquire when associated: the neon lights intensify or camouflage the colours of the painted surfaces; the paintings absorb or reflect the light; the space becomes saturated, and the perception of each part is indiscriminately altered by our perception of the whole.

Sometimes the luminous tubes merely highlight elements painted on a panel. There is something totemic about their presence, as in Honey Badgers: a wooden screen covered in Amerindian motifs highlighted in coloured neon. This association offers an analogy (previously explored by Robert Indiana) between the totemism of native Americans and the repressed totemism of the consumer society (embodied by the identifying/ protective power of brands and their logos). But such work also seems to evoke the ‘tourist-trap’ side to neon and Amerindian iconography.

timthumb (14)

Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

One of my college friends introduced me to The Smiths at the end of March 1984. She had gone to London for spring break. During her trip, she walked into a record store and asked for something typically English, something that everyone was listening to. The clerk handed her a copy of the first album by The Smiths, which had been released a month before. Upon her return, she lent me her copy of The Smiths, and within twenty-four hours, I had my own.

As I listened to the first song on the album, “Reel Around the Fountain,” I wasn’t aware that this was the last record that would, as the saying goes, change my life. There is a limited window of time when this sort of thing can happen to a person. For me, it was roughly the period from 1974 to 1984, not a bad time to be coming of age, considering the deplorable state of pop music in subsequent years. I suppose this opinion is hard to defend, but there lies the problem of making any claims at all about pop music. Often people who love it are searching for themselves, or more likely, an ideal version of themselves, in what they hear.

I understood very little of what I was hearing at first. The music, sounding simultaneously modern and old-fashioned, couldn’t have been more different from the dominant trend of the preceding years, manufactured pop groups playing electronic music. The Smiths were a traditional four-piece rock band, distinguished by the incandescent talent of guitarist Johnny Marr, who also composed the music. The words, full in equal measure of yearning and resentment, were written and sung by a character named Morrissey. The beautiful music seemed timeless, but the mournful tone of Morrissey’s voice, languid and occasionally maniacal, seemed exactly right for the times.

The only word I can use to describe the early 1980s is a favorite of Morrissey’s: vile. The economic decline that had begun during my childhood showed no signs of reversing itself, though some people were getting very rich. In public life, an atmosphere of meanness and gratuitous cruelty came to appear normal, and more sensitive souls turned inward. A group of shy, isolated young people retreated to the only place their voices had any effect – their bedrooms – and for many of them, The Smiths provided the perfect theme music to accompany their private dramas.

WJ-03-008-320x200

In my youth, I had the habit of buying records for their covers. Before the internet made a wide variety of music available even to kids in the provinces, there were few alternatives. The cover artwork was often a reasonable way to gauge the merits of a record that got no radio airplay, that is to say, a record that might actually be worth buying. I had noticed the first single by The Smiths, “Hand in Glove,” in a record store near where I lived. The cover features a picture by Jim French, a rear view of an anonymous nude man. The sentiments of the photographer seemed fairly unambiguous, and I was afraid to buy something that made such a blatant statement.

The Smiths, the album that followed this single, bears a cover image of Joe Dallesandro’s torso as it appeared in Flesh, produced by Andy Warhol. I had seen this movie. It was the first feature directed by Paul Morrissey, no relation to the singer, but the coincidence led me to take the image on the cover as a clue to the album’s contents. Flesh presents a day in the life of a male hustler. He is a beautifully proportioned example of trade. He has a wife and child, but most of his customers are men. He interacts with a number of Warholian types – aggressive women, desperate johns, fellow hustlers, tattered drag queens – but he remains rather passive throughout the film. Flesh is a comedy; everyone is on the make, and sex is a joke.

The Smiths’ first album suggests the world of a working class youth with a taste for revenge. There is no role for him to play in the industrial wasteland where he was raised, so he writes his own story. He assumes poses that will be useful when fame and fortune beckon. He tries to avoid being beaten up or ground down. He wants to relive the old school days, this time with a sense of mastery. He relies on the favors of older men and ultimately resents the situation, or perhaps he only fantasizes about it. He rejects the advances of well-meaning female friends. He falls into the abyss of unrequited passion. A sense of menace pervades the scene, but the action remains unconsummated.

These impressions occurred to me before I had read any publicity about The Smiths. Such was the work of Morrissey’s words on a young, impressionable mind. I bought this album decades ago, but my original memories of it are still vivid.

I must confess that the spell did not last. I bought and enjoyed Morrissey’s early solo albums, Viva Hateand Bona Drag, and in them I found consolation during an especially lonely period of my life. Then came Kill Uncle in 1991. I never bought that album, and my ignorance of what followed in the next ten years of Morrissey’s career was complete. I missed a number of his solo albums, some of them better than others; Morrissey’s array of problems and provocations, fascinating to members of the music press, at least for a while; a change in record labels, and after disappointing sales, no record label at all; finally, the move to Los Angeles. Morrissey in exile simply slipped from view. Widely dismissed as a has-been, Morrissey remained a star to hardcore fans who followed his every move and paid tribute to him in ways barely noticed by the media.

In November of 2001, I saw an advertisement for a club in Los Angeles called London Is Dead, which exclusively played Morrissey and Smiths music, and I thought to myself, I’ve got to see this. It was a surprise for a lot of reasons. At the event, I was surrounded by people in their twenties, dancing and singing along to music I had loved long ago. The atmosphere was quite joyous, and belied the popular perception of Morrissey as a poet of doom and gloom. Another surprise was that most of the crowd was Latino. A whole scene had developed around the work of an artist who hadn’t released a record in several years. I was happy that my original opinion of this music was being confirmed, and more importantly, I felt that I had something in common with a group of young people to whom I would not normally be expected to have a connection. I decided that night to document the scene.

WJ-03-001-213x200

When Morrissey asked the crowd at one of his shows at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, “How are things in San Bernardino?” he was doing more than making idle chatter. He was acknowledging the geography of his grassroots audience. During the hiatus of Morrissey’s career, the region where his fame was the greatest stretched from East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, and Highland Park in the west to San Bernardino and Riverside in the east. This corridor along the 10 and 60 Freeways is the eastern edge of the Los Angeles metropolis, formerly irrigated agricultural land, then a center of heavy industry, now old and new suburbs.

Unlike the Pacific coast or the Hollywood Hills, this region is rarely chosen to represent Southern California in movies or television programs, perhaps because it offers a better sense of what it is actually like to live in the region. There is a lot of pollution, traffic is terrible, and real estate is more affordable the farther east one travels. Most of the population is Latino, and several cities have Asian majorities. The outlying area of the region is called the Inland Empire, but its boundaries are vague and there is no emperor. Audiences all over the world have seen images of Southern California in the television shows Beverly Hills 90210 or The O. C., but the true hotbed of youth culture is more likely to be Pomona 91766 or The I. E.

This begs the question, Why is Morrissey so popular with a Latino audience? While there are almost as many answers to this question as there are fans, I noticed some patterns in the conversations I had while documenting the scene. Some insist that what has been called a phenomenon is only a coincidence or an example of media hype, but I would say that it is indicative of wider changes taking place in youth culture. Although I concentrated on the metropolitan area of Los Angeles, I also attended fan events and concerts in Tijuana and El Paso, and I suspect I could have photographed scenes in any number of other cities, particularly in the American Southwest. Before the “Latino Morrissey fan” is relegated to a marketing profile used to shift a few more units of obscure items in monopoly capital’s back catalog, I will mention some of the things I learned in the course of my project.

At least since the 1970s, there has been a significant current of Anglophilia in the Los Angeles music scene, and not just because the area is a popular tax exile destination. The Smiths were played on mass-market radio in Los Angeles – unlike every other major U. S. city – and they are very much alive in the popular memory. The Anglophile tradition continued with ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones’s immensely popular noontime radio show Jonesy’s Jukebox, which provided Angelenos with daily doses of Northern Soul, Glam Rock, Ska, Reggae, and of course, Punk.

A demographic change has occurred in Los Angeles, and strictly in terms of numbers, Latino culture is (or soon will be) the dominant youth culture in the city. What form this culture will take is an open question. The combination of new demographics and old Anglophilia has some surprising consequences; for instance, anyone walking around Hollywood wearing a Union Jack on his jacket is almost certain to have a Spanish surname.

A sense of historical continuity is also an important aspect of the phenomenon. Among Chicanos who were born in Southern California, “oldies” music (e. g., Doo-Wop, American Soul and R & B) has been revered for generations, and the most recent generation has embraced the music of the Punk and post-Punk eras in its turn.

The phenomenon expresses itself somewhat differently among the children of immigrants. Though they may speak Spanish at home, they don’t necessarily feel a connection to Spanish language pop music. At the same time, the themes associated with a lot of great English pop music – especially sexual ambiguity and contempt for middle class respectability – speak volumes to them. A rebellion against conformity and traditional machismoenacted in a language poorly understood by parental figures proves irresistible.

The members of The Smiths were all sons of immigrants, and while Morrissey does not refer to this fact directly in his lyrics, the songs have a pervasive mood that strikes a chord with the children and grandchildren of immigrants. A line like, “I just can’t find my place in this world” (from “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”) is profoundly meaningful to this new generation of fans, though in ways that Morrissey could not have originally predicted.

Recently, Morrissey has capitalized on these cultural affinities. Some of his songs acknowledge a Latino audience, and his stage presentation would not be out of place on Mexican television. Latin American culture has traditionally had plenty of room for crooners belting out highly dramatic songs, and Morrissey seems to fit right in.

Many English pop stars are aware of the adoration they inspire among U. S. Latinos, but to my knowledge, Morrissey was the first one to change his image in an effort to cultivate this audience. The effect is appropriatelyrecherché, and I sometimes find myself wondering if he will one day take his act to Las Vegas. I think that this may well be a case in which Morrissey, while appearing to be mired in nostalgia, is actually catching a wave of the future.

Although there were moments when world domination seemed imminent, The Smiths and Morrissey never quite captured a mass audience. They have never been as famous as their gifts clearly indicated they could be. Even so, I still find it hard to believe that some people simply have no idea who they are. Others, left with a superficial impression of miserabilism or even self-loathing, know The Smiths but reject them. There seems to be little common ground on the subject, and conversations between fans and non-fans lead to the sort of irrational, emotionally fraught impasses usually experienced in discussions of religious dogma or sporting events.

I think that a crucial factor in the case of The Smiths is the complexity of the world they suggest. Their approach has an aura of self-deprecation, but this only serves to intensify the power of their seduction. The Smiths never appeared on their record covers. Their stand-ins were a series of “cover stars,” often figures from English popular culture of the 1960s. Many fans, especially young Americans, find themselves researching who these people were, and thence are led down the path of true obsession. The world of The Smiths offers such a wealth of detail that a listener can get lost in it, just as a reader gets lost in his favorite novel.

The character of the box bedroom rebel, who made a cameo appearance in the Dickensian novel of Thatcher’s Britain, has reappeared in sunny California. This turn of events isn’t as strange as it seems. Wherever there are working class kids attempting to flee their suffocating families, yet incapable of leaving them behind, this figure will return. Morrissey described his favorite characters in movies as “people with their tails trapped in the door… trying to get out, trying to get on, trying to be somebody, trying to be seen” but held back by family expectations, old bonds of friendship, or simple lack of money. Many young people see themselves in this description, and they flock to Morrissey for moments of solace and imaginary escape.

My most intense memories of The Smiths are of their early work, a handful of singles and the debut album. They contain the last lyrics that Morrissey wrote before he knew he would be famous. In a sense, he spent his whole life up to that point preparing his material for a breathless, and by no means certain, bid for immortality. After that, Morrissey’s lyrics became more indirect and vague. Later still, Morrissey’s solo material resorted to self-conscious camp a lot more than The Smiths ever did, and the threat of self-parody loomed.

Throughout his career, Morrissey has written succinct word portraits of types resurrected from the “kitchen sink” realist films produced during his childhood. In England, he mourned the disintegration of traditional working class culture, but when he moved to Los Angeles, he discovered aspects of this culture reinvented in a new landscape. The persona narrating his songs was originally that of a working class youth ambivalent about being admired by his betters, and it gradually became that of the older, successful man doing the admiring. This transition, partly artistic, partly geographic, and accomplished over nearly two decades, is interesting in itself, but I would still maintain that Morrissey’s first, most urgent utterances were his greatest.

In my initial flush of adoration for The Smiths, I imagined an army of fans making their presence felt in a hostile world. Effeminate, bookish, incapable of sustaining gainful employment or of starting families of their own, they were disappointments to their fathers. But what made them failures in a conventional way of life made them splendidly successful in another realm of endeavor. They were modern dandies. They rarely banded together, but one can sometimes catch a glimpse of them in old concert footage.

A whole new generation of dandies has appeared to worship Morrissey, though the scene and its forms of expression have drastically changed. One thing remains constant: the people I met and befriended do what they do not because someone told them to buy a record or to go to a concert, but out of love and spontaneous enthusiasm. The events I attended were not planned or staged by publicists. They were organized by the fans themselves. They were expressions of popular culture in the truest and most admirable sense. It’s important to remember that the early Smiths records were released by an independent label with very little money for promotion. The band’s success was a surprising departure from business as usual, and a story unlikely to be repeated in a music industry dominated by a small handful of corporations.

While I was documenting the fan scene, Morrissey made a comeback – or should I say a return? – and an apparatus of publicity made it possible for him to reach a wide audience. He appeared on television and radio, and in countless magazines. He was described by the meaningless hyperbole and impoverished adjectives that are the stock in trade of mass culture. Morrissey went from being a fanatical cult’s object of worship to being just another celebrity. Among the fans, there was excitement about this development, but there was also the sense of an ending. The scene that was faithful to Morrissey during his period of relative obscurity continued to exist, but it just wasn’t the same. I loved the homemade quality of the events and the complete conviction of the people who attended them. An era has passed, but I can say I was there while it lasted, and I recorded some of what I saw.

 

This text is a condensed version of an essay originally published in Is It Really So Strange? (Los Angeles: David Kordansky Gallery, 2006).

timthumb (13)

Roman Ondák au Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris

Le dialogue entre Roman Ondák et le Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris a débuté au moment de la Biennale de Venise de 2009. L’artiste, représentant la Slovaquie, avait conçu une intervention très remarquée, on s’en souvient,  pour le bâtiment de l’ancien pavillon tchécoslovaque : les Giardini se prolongeaient à l’intérieur de l’édifice sans qu’on perçoive le moment où le naturel cédait la place à l’artifice. Non seulement la séparation entre dedans et dehors se trouvait supprimée, mais les visiteurs pouvaient aussi traverser le pavillon sans se rendre compte de ce qu’il y avait à voir.

L’artiste insiste lui-même sur cet aspect de sa démarche : « Il est courant que mes œuvres échappent au regard, ou du moins qu’elles soient mal interprétées. Soit parce que certaines d’entre elles sont à la limite d’être appréhendées en tant qu’œuvres d’art, soit parce que leur potentiel principal, ou leur substance, se trouve au-delà de leur forme. J’extrais des objets, des images ou des situations de leur contexte d’origine, et je les replace dans un espace différent. Ce déplacement est au centre de ma pratique. Donc la tension que l’on perçoit dans les œuvres elles-mêmes, et dans la manière dont elles sont exposées, est un paradoxe voulu, puisque souvent on ne s’attend pas à ce qu’elles nous apparaissent de cette manière-là. »1

Sa proposition pour l’espace de l’ARC procède d’une réflexion qui a probablement commencé à Zurich, lors de la préparation de l’exposition « Enter the Orbit » – réponse de l’artiste à une invitation du Kunsthaus et dont le thème ou motif principal était le Spoutnik et la mythologie qui l’accompagne. Pendant l’été 2011, Roman Ondák est venu à Paris et est demeuré longtemps sur les lieux de l’exposition. Avec le directeur du Musée d’Art moderne, Fabrice Hergott, nos discussions ont tourné autour de très nombreux sujets, comme si, de l’ensemble d’un contexte et de l’imprégnation de sa diversité, devait déboucher une formulation concrète – comme, en chimie, on parle d’un précipité. Comment concevoir, en effet, une exposition dans un musée qui en a accueilli tant d’autres et qui est, depuis la fin des années 1960, l’un des principaux sites de l’art contemporain international ?

Le principe d’une rétrospective pure et simple a été vite écarté. Cependant, l’artiste entendait offrir avec ce projet un panorama de son travail et de ce qui aujourd’hui l’occupe essentiellement. La réponse est dans l’espace même et dans la rencontre du public avec ce dernier. Certaines œuvres, conçues dans un autre contexte, sont ici réactivées – c’est le cas de l’œuvre participative Measuring the Universe (2007) qui vient de la collection du Museum of Modern Art de New York. Le temps de l’exposition sera le temps réel de sa réalisation et sa forme finale dépendra du nombre de visiteurs qui y auront contribué en acceptant de se laisser mesurer.

2.-Futuropolis-320x200

L’exposition est une œuvre à part entière, autonome, dont tous les éléments constitutifs ne sont que les pièces d’un vaste puzzle. Comme l’écrit Vivian Rehberg, s’adressant à l’artiste : « Certaines de vos œuvres semblent vouloir saper notre croyance en ce que nous voyons, faire de nous des sceptiques ; mais alors d’autres sont là pour nous encourager à continuer à voir, à faire plus attention à ce qui nous entoure, à observer comment les choses sont interconnectées. »2

François Michaud

conservateur au Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris

1. Roman Ondák, entretien avec Eric Mangion, publié lors de l’exposition « Roman Ondák. Shaking Horizon », Villa Arson – Centre national d’art contemporain, Nice, 2010.

2. Vivian Rehberg, lettre à Roman Ondák, 7 janvier 2011, reproduite dans Loop, ouvrage consacré au projet pour le pavillon tchèque et slovaque, 53e Biennale de Venise, 2009, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne, 2011 : « Some of your works seem to want to undermine our belief in what we see, want to turn us into sceptics; but then others come along and reassure us to persist in looking, to pay closer attention to our surroundings, to notice how things are interrelated. »