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.