But can one combine esoteric intentions with the duties of a missionary?
As a centre d’art and artist residence in the heart of a rural area, the Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou places the public’s relationship with art and artists at the heart of its challenges. It asks two artists to discuss them, reversing the usual structure of art spectacles. David Edvard and Guillaume Pinard talk about various subjects, evoking their relationship with viewers as artists and their experience of art as viewers. This shifting of perspective fosters inventive thinking and an experimentation for all art lovers and poachers.
October 24, 2012 09:29:02
Dear Guillaume, (…)
I’ve realized two things. The first is that I rather like being flattered, for people to say they like what I do, I find that great, in general. Likewise, I often say to myself that what I deal with is so vague that once in it I can’t allow for the least concession. Neither one nor the other is true (…).
One of my more notorious experiences of a “wider audience” was in Fiac, a village that has turned its annual fete into an exhibition, with the opening night a ball lit with Chinese lanterns, at which you show among the inhabitants. In four days more than 3000 visitors filed through.
Everyone came: hunters, then priests, then farmers, then the old, then professionals, then the young, etc… and nobody balked at the idea of posing in front of the kind of faux-paranoid western set I’d made with people on the farm where I was staying. At this time, a sociologist informed me that as a social category “people” was an extremely recent political invention. It was a populist thing that dates from between the Wars. A kind of ploy to supplant the all too leftist concept of “the People.” I even wonder if it wasn’t under Pétain. And “public” just flowed from that.
(…) Nobody can escape art. An advert, a bit of carved wood, some graffiti, a ruin, a tattoo… In general when an institution, an art center, or some entertainment company speaks about the public, they mean cash. The definition of the word “public” can be subjected to endless exegeses. One rather intriguing thing perhaps is the concept of the “popular.” What is “popular” art? Something that, depending on its definition, can either be “by the people” or “having a large audience”?
October 25, 2012 00:09:28
Good evening David,
As an artist, I never know what to do with compliments. They always give me the impression of being a mechanic who’s correctly changed the number plates on a Picasso. They make me feel damned uncomfortable (…). In my work, I expect nothing from the public as a mass, a people, or a group. I have the feeling like I’m continuously peeing into a violin in the hope the instrument will play itself and wake someone up who’ll feel intrigued enough by the tune to let me know that perhaps it is indeed music I’m making. “An art without a recipient,” that was it: to work for a private and almost exclusive relationship with an unknown person, not one with a profile, but someone who’ll say that he’s interested (or not) in the adventure and who’ll invent a story to make clear the fact that I’m doing something, rather than nothing. A gallery can take on this kind of ambition if its collectors have an ear for music, if it can bear the dissonance behind the applause. But it can also chuck the musician out if the cacophony cuts off the readies.
For (French) arts centers, our chosen target, the problem is different. They cannot permit themselves to turn their noses up at 90% of the poor souls that while away their leisure hours in their locales. They have to roll out the red carpet for John Doe, even if said John Doe has come just to use the toilets. Moreover, their subsidies seem to depend on the quantity of blonde heads that tumble down their corridors. Torn between the desire to speculate on the future and the need to avoid a domestic mishap, the atmosphere can be tense. But how can one combine esoteric intentions with the duties of a missionary? It’s a brutal exercise in exposition. How can you garner an article in Le Monde and yet satisfy your average punter? It’s an impossible equation to solve and creates misunderstandings aplenty (…)
On the other hand, thinking about the “public” with regard to my activities does interest me. Almost like a teacher. I actually am professor of drawing at the fine arts school in Rennes. It’s a job I like (…). In 2010 I had a show at the Mam gallery in Rouen. The project consisted in coming empty-handed and in making copies of Monet’s cathedral (the one in Rouen, in fact) for the five days the hanging lasted. So starting far out. Really far. Giving in as to form and contents, but in the hope that the movement might suck in some fresh air. Art drawings, I’d said, to lay it on a bit thick and to leave but little hope as to the innovative side of the enterprise. I was meant to work with students at the art school, but when I explained the project to them, they fled as one. Nevertheless a handful were curious enough to hang around and see what might happen (…). We began to reproduce the picture, hanging the copies in the gallery as soon as they were finished. We must have been turning out some five copies an hour and passersby started wondering whether a new souvenir shop had opened up in the area. The growing number of faces peering in at the window gave me the idea of asking bystanders to come in and make a copy with us. In two days, the effect snowballed. Everyone wanted to do their own drawing. A queue built up and we ate on the spot to be able to deal with our apprentice copyists during the lunch break (…). About a hundred people who’d not been invited contributed. The debates were charged with electricity; the only subject on everybody’s lips was art. At the opening, the space was saturated with copies, a sort of rough and ready amateur art emporium. The experience was behind us, but it had felt like something intense. Was it artistic? I’ve no idea but it gave me food for thought as to how visitors are catered for and treated. I agree with you. Art is circulating everywhere. But the word “Art” is a franchise that costs a packet, and often one sneaks into the definition with a soft-sell. As for “Popular”, it’s a term that sends shivers down my spine. For me, to call an art popular always means that one has just come up with a way of stealing the history of some unknown and disdained population and presenting it in an amended form for evaluation by the market. I’m trying to think of a counter example, but none come to mind.
October 29, 2012 17:50:04
From our conversation I understand more and more that it is really hard to find “a meaning” to the word “public” starting from the standpoint of one’s own output. So I thought to myself, let’s think about it as viewers. I’ve always very much enjoyed, been impressed by even, really big shows in terms of visitor numbers. A few years ago, we had to queue up at the SMAK in Ghent for the Paul McCarthy show, and that was awful. There was also a really wonderful exhibition at the Pompidou
Center, called, I think, “Beyond the Spectacle.” Recently, bouncers at the entrance to Jeff Koons’s opening at Almine Rech’s. I’ve joined the queue for all these japes. And, to be honest, it is rather a nice sensation, comparable to the one I feel, sometimes, when I’m lucky enough to be present at some unusual event, something at which there are very few people or even just me alone (…)
To be “agreeable” generally starts a downward slide. To be “agreeable,” in a generic sense, ranges from pulling a fast one to self-censorship. And it’s becoming more and more widespread. I think the situation is great today because now we can eschew that run-of-the-mill, soft-center, often pompous “universally agreeable.” On the one side, high-end luxury, with its stores, and, art-wise, the Gagosian as its spearhead; on the other, various social, economic, ecological, or historical events that can start the ball rolling. If institutions sometimes tackle the latter, with a barrage of educational and moralizing info panels, they’re more jumpy about addressing aesthetic issues. They use illustration as if art were a news item (…)
One example that runs counter to the definition – not false, just a little partial – you give of the word “popular”? Britney Spears! Or James Ellroy, Paul Thek, Jeff Geys, Jacques Lizene, Martial Raysse, Die Antwoord, NWA… That kind of popular…
October 30, 2012 13:24:08
Hi David, (…)
I think I get what you’re driving at when you refer to those artists. In your list, I can also hear a sort of off-beat self-portrait, the evocation of subjective and perceptual experiences that show me how I just don’t have that kind of confidence. I always feel like Augustine at the La Salpêtrière [hospital], ready to go into convulsions at the merest wink from Dr. Charcot. Hysterical, that’s what it is. The padded cell is essential to my survival, but for nothing in the world would I miss the madwomen’s annual dance. I seldom manage to concentrate on the objects themselves. A halo of interpretable signs flickers round them at stroboscopic speed, so that the autonomy of the work, or at least the one I’m supposed to be responding to, has the same effect on me as the belt on which the hero of a western asks his friend to bite before hacking his leg off with a penknife. The same effect as a medium. My preferred means of ringing at the door of a neighbor to inform him that our biorhythms might be in sync, the best way I know of traveling in time and of being able to kiss corpses, no less ideal for de-programming my certainties or for picturing the future, and also just as effective as a balsam to rub into my sores. A medium, despite it all, a complete medical bag including placebos, awesome treatments, and unprecedented clinical experiments in which I accept for a moment to act as guinea-pig (…)
Just listen to this. My daughter, who is eight years old, collects Pokémon. How should I tackle the subject? Several hypotheses:
1. Pokémon cards are the symptom of a consumer society that stimulates and sustains children’s instinctive satisfaction, rather than developing a more labor-intensive relation to culture and knowledge.
1a. I am a rotten father because I do nothing to prevent my daughter’s insatiable compulsion, preparing her to become a blind and dissatisfied consumer, deprived of the means to reflect on the political economy behind the product.
1b. My daughter’s school has thrown in the towel and submits to this opium by allowing it to be peddled in the yard.
2. The Pokémon franchise was the creation of Satoshi Tajiri. Satoshi Tajiri was born in Machida, a city on the outskirts of Tokyo. His father was an automobile salesman for Nissan and his mother stayed at home with her son. As a little boy, he adored exploring the outside world and was especially keen on insects. He hunted them everywhere, on the edges of ponds, in fields, in woods. He was constantly on the lookout for new ones and even dreamed up novel techniques to catch beetles. He was so interested in collecting and studying insects that his classmates gave him the nickname, “Dr. Bug.”. The young Satoshi though did not like school. His father wanted him to become an electrician, but he didn’t fancy it. Later on, in the 1970s, the fields and ponds Satoshi had so loved were concreted over with apartments and car-parks. It was at that time that the notion of Pokémon came to him. Satoshi Tajiri wanted to make it possible for the upcoming generation of children to hunt for creatures too, just as he had done in his childhood. So he shifted from insects to arcade games. The company, of which Satoshi Tajiri remains the chairman, employs some 66 people (2011). Its headquarters is located on the 2nd floor of the Carrot Tower in Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan.
3. Pokémon cards are a pretext for exchange, for social relationships, for conflicts based on interest or class that allow my daughter to discover her position on the social checkerboard. 4. My daughter is not a victim of collecting and nobody has been hoodwinked. Moreover, her relationship to the cards is extremely unusual, as she collects them in accordance with subjective criteria that do not coincide with the structure of the game. She has appropriated, tinkered with a generic object, and made it her own. She has “poached” it, as Michel de Certeau might say. (…)
November 4, 2012 21:08:05
My son is ten years old and has completely given over a collection of Pokémon cards that I find, though I’m no great expert, pretty exhaustive. Intelligent, even (…) And yes, you’re right, it’s quite a subject!
1. Perhaps Pokémons are symptomatic of a consumer society that stimulates and sustains children’s instinctive satisfaction, but can also perhaps be regarded in terms of a specific relationship to culture and knowledge. A hyper-subjective knowledge motivated by fiction, a religion, almost, whose exegesis proceeds in the light of style or strength, or power (…)
2. The story of Satoshi Tajiri sounds to me it could slide into a psychoanalytical form reminiscent of Citizen Kane. I find it rather appealing.
3. (…) I remember having been extremely intrigued and disconcerted by a parent at school who told me that he forbade his kid to play with Pokémons because it was just hyperviolent battles between animals. Dogfights and cockfights, and that you bet on them. Nothing but domination. At that time I was working though all that I could find of Harry Crews. That was the cool side of violence, the one that makes subcultures autonomous. Like with NWA at the time. I like cool stuff. I even like the word. Then I like his story, junkies tanked up to the eyeballs who make their instruments squeal but look as though they wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. Something halfway between bebop and freestyle, and which became an attitude. A state of mind.
4. (…) Who is fooled by their own collection? It fills our fear of the void; it forges links, may give status, power, even, and this power, like every power, can be used for good, it can be pondered, weighed up with respect to oneself, as well as one’s environment… or not. 5. Beyond being a group of figures commercially available in various shapes and sizes, Pokémons form a construct. Something useful, a way of making stuff happen (…) Pokémons, better than Cartier rings or Sergio Rossi court shoes, create possibilities that are not completely normalized.
Yes, the question of the viewer leads us to the question of knowledge. And experience. And contrariwise. That’s the crux. What I reckon, here and now, at this moment, is that I prefer a practice of freedom to freedom as a subject. And the same applies to ecology, and to ass. The crux is there: what autonomy, what freedom should I give my view of freedom?
Texts edited by Martine Michard, Cajarc, November 12, 2012.
Traduction David Radzinowicz