On the benefits of deferred production
Since 2002, the Palais de Tokyo has been an unusual centre d’art in the heart of Paris. In addition to its exhibition programme, it houses the Pavillon Neuflize OBC, a residence that accommodates ten international artists or curators each year. Hélène Meisel, curator-in-residence in 2012, recalls the challenges of production and research in this context, which she wishes to be completely free of subordination to any results-oriented policy.read
Taking the form of a research laboratory, the Pavillon is one of those hybrid residences – collective, long, distended and ubiquitous – which set the opportunistic “here and now” principle aside in favor of delays and disorientating episodes more conducive to different kinds of gestation. Given mature consideration over a long period by the artist Ange Leccia and finally initiated in 2001 in accordance with a forward-looking and experimental attitude accepting “roaming as an experience in its own right”, in 2010 the residence declared that “a creative laboratory implies the absence of any objective, result and end-purpose” 1. Therefore the Pavillon still adheres to the principle of offering hospitality without expecting a return, that means with no obligation to produce. Every year for eight months, around ten young artists (infiltrated by one or two curators or critics) form an undertaking with variable geometry, authorized to engage in various reconnaissance and intervention operations. The Pavillon gravitates round the Palais de Tokyo, like a satellite, alternately stealthy and fully visible.
While it is indeed the “place of shelter” its name – in the sense of pavilion – implies, the Pavillon – in its meaning as flag – is also the signal given remotely – the sound signal that the ear traps in the convolutions of its pavilion (or pinna); the floating flags that ships used to hoist to announce the general situation on board, with no further details. On a notice at the entrance of the big studio-office recently cleared from the roof at the heart of the Palais de Tokyo, the message “Pavillon at work, please look round” chimes with the elliptical urgency of the maritime signals. I want to communicate with you or I invite you to transmit. I am in distress, communicate with me. My ship is germ-free, I request free pratique. Now transmitting now receiving, the Pavillon alternates recordings and reproductions, sometimes keeping the distance necessary for its research. Obscure from the outside, its activity is not always more immediately clear from within. Moreover, with reference to the Ateliers Internationaux [International Workshops] residence created in 1983 at the Frac of the Pays de la Loire which he then ran, Jean de Loisy maintained that “the change of mindset that collective momentum ought to lead to might not produce a result until five years later: immediacy not [being] indispensable” 2. So what is this submerged part of the Pavillon which by dint of dissemination (travel, interdisciplinarity) might seem to obey a strategy of backsliding?
Applications papers, expressions of interest, action memoranda, invitations to tender, communiqués, etc.: an incomplete list of the deadlines that sometimes speed up the formulation of a work even before its conception has fully matured. Communication imperatives that therefore put pressure on priorities to the point of inverting them, like the habit of printing catalogues before the exhibition they ought to relate to has itself been hung. The ability to write newsletters, supply material to a website or record his/her latest activities on social networks transfers to the artist the skills of the press officer or the gallery owner that s/he does not (or does not yet) have, wrongly putting on to his/her shoulders the professionalism of communicators. Without wanting to feed the mythology of the artist who refuses to speak or that of the work that defies description, this remark gives rise to certain aberrant pathways: the caricatural one of invasive (self-)promotion, sometimes infused with the means adopted by reality TV shows 3, coaching or personal development : “Expanding your visibility as an artist”, advice directed toward “profitable & entrepreneurial artists” 4; or again the route of aberrant accelerations, rushing the work to the point of making it start at its actual destination, its exhibition or publication. In 1972, irritated by the takeover of documenta 5 by the curator Harald Szeemann, Daniel Buren regretted that “the artist casts himself and his work into this snare, because the artist and his work, impotent through the habit of art, can no longer do anything other than allow someone else to exhibit: the organizer” 5. Likewise in 1980 Catherine Millet showed foresight in dreading this “McLuhanesque situation” meaning that “it is sometimes the structures of distribution that give art its content” 6. Countering these contagious rhythms, the artist should be able to enjoy a right to hold back, authorizing him or her if not not to produce, at least not to produce straight away: restating the perhaps obsolete moral right, namely the right to divulge. Let us not cite (or if we do, out of pretension) Artistes sans œuvres 7, the Bartlebys who “would prefer not to” 8, or those who prevent overproduction, heirs to the Droit à la paresse (Right to be lazy) 9… For between the dandy’s inertia and the claims of the proletariat, the artist subscribes to an economy that is peculiar to him/her, and goes beyond mere financing packages. The production of a work, of course, is not simply its budgetary estimate, the ratio between positive expenditure (needs) and negative expenditure (sacrifices). It is firstly the evaluation of its necessity.
Paradoxically, it is necessary to have the means – financial and theoretical – not to produce, i.e. it is necessary to be able to take on board the lack (to be gained) that the absence of any work can generate, even if in the absence of any object there can of course be the no less remunerative transaction of a certificate, a report, or some sort of trace. Far from concluding that solely a well-to-do minority has the monopoly of non-production, it is indeed necessary to envisage that this is a charge on a category of less affluent artists, who are nonetheless determined not to produce more in order to earn more. The Pavillon organizes periods of intense stimulation, and often generates “double-vision” thinking which follows its course in each individual, whether here or there. There are many opportunities to pay tribute to geographical extremes, to sublime or desolate beauty
, to the social and political context, to the skills encountered, to artists’ sanctuaries, to experiences undergone, and above all situations provoked. However, the moments that have made the deepest mark on me in the context of the residence in 2012 will have a disappointing dimension: nothing heroic or exotic in those discussions that took place in Paris or on the move, allowed by the intimacy of the group (or the groups within the group), during which on several occasions I saw a work taking shape and dematerializing. The way in which, between seriousness and mockery, repetitions were kept track of, wrong trails were defused, and mannerisms countered. Purges experienced as liberations, revealing a question which had never appeared to me so clearly: Is the work the survivor of contingent options set aside before it, of which it is the negative sum? The consequence of a feeling of discretion, mixed with intuition and supremacy, which the possibility of “successful mistakes” 10preserves from paralysis. However, “productivity without an object” 11is not the end purpose of the raising of such questions, which means to go beyond reflexivity without reveling in doing so. As a cell of doubt and contradiction, the Pavillon offers the possibility of collective resolution as well as of opinionated isolation.
The residence is elusive, opting for delocalized and sometimes underwater activity, less through a liking for mystery than through trust in the unforeseeable. Moreover, the title Claude Closky recently gave to the tenth anniversary exhibition of the Pavillon This & there in English, Ça & là in French, conveyed a form of ubiquity verging on scattering. While the majority of residences are characterized by being anchored in a context and reacting to a setting (logically in situ), the Pavillon opts for an itinerant approach, now nomadic, now roaming. Thus the journeys undertaken each year by the different year groups at the Pavillon do not set out (not always, or not only) to be pretexts for an inspiring sense of foreignness or study-related tourism. The Mekong Delta, the Arctic Circle or Tierra del Fuego: it is rather a matter of collective disorientation, or even collective dispossession. Initially, moreover, the journey will not involve movement. The residents’ different languages, all striving toward English, herald the exhilaration of translation processes to come, full of extrapolations and failures of understanding. Hence the first form to occur collectively is discussion: simultaneous translations, collegiate presentations, circumscribed, circumspect debates, sporadic exchanges, private conversations with unforeseeable results, hypotheses, wagers, ramblings… The spoken word with its variable plasticity, the roundness of which can roll toward consensuses with no way out, while hitches in it can lead to productive disagreements. For it is often a matter of working on a common project together – a performance, exhibition, film shoot, etc. – where negotiations ought not to give way to compromise, but the free circulation of ideas tends to blur any localized authorial voice. When discussion is prolonged to an extreme point, it can sometimes seem gratuitous or navel-gazing, purely symbolical. However, in its very exhaustion, it also recharges the levers of the salutary process of “going into action”: resulting in a production completed elsewhere, and later.
Palais de Tokyo
FORMS OF DISTANCE
Certain recent circumstances have led me to deal with the concepts of scale and distance. The former thought in methodological terms, the latter in moral terms, both from a historiographical point of view. As a curator, I have been involved in the research of topics linked to colonial histories that call for a constant reconsideration of where one is positioned, and from where one is speaking. Furthermore, a project (exhibition or else) is not autonomous from its conditions of production and reception and one cannot sublimate it from its contextual existence. The issue of distance becomes then crucial, but also its artificial sibling, distantiation (in Brechtian terms), which is perhaps needed as a form of translation and relation to reality.
Reading through the wealth of approaches represented in uncoupdedés.net and its celebration of institutional decentralisation experienced in France, I thought it would be useful reconsidering the implication of scale -or rather shifts scale – and distance in the production of contemporary art or in the way we think about art as a means to approach reality. Of course, I am not talking about this in absolute, all-encompassing terms, but rather as a way of offering a nuanced reading of how a decentralised network, to which uncoupdedés.net offers a visible existence, shows the relevance of these many ways of operating at different scales in the geopolitical entity called mainland France. In a way, all this has to do with what now seems a hackneyed expression: the production of knowledge.
Edouard Sautai’s collaboration with the Centre d’Art et Photographie de Lectoure offers an immediate consideration of the implication of a change of scale. By evoking flying, a situation that allows to see a reality at a particular level of detail, but also the making of models as another way of representing this reality at a different scale, Sautai reminded me of Bernard Lepetit’s considerations about the dialectic relationship, and constant oscillation between the micro and the macro. For Lepetit the fabrication of a model “does not distinguish between the different parts of the object but between the differents dimensions in which it spreads out” (Bernad Lepetit, “Architecture, géographie, histoire: usages de l’échelle”, in Genèses, 13, 1993, p. 129.) Likewise, Aurélien Mole’s fictional narrative about the future potential of research in the margins seems to reflect on the importance of considering particular micro-realities in order to recapture larger macro-perspectives.
But it is perhaps the question of distance that interests me the most here. In artistic research –and we may want to consider its modes of existence and qualities as in Jean-Pierre Cometti’s interview with Eric Mangion for Le Centre National d’Art Contemporain de La Villa Arson – distance is sometimes created and annihilated in a stroke, or perhaps created in one dimension of a project and obliterated in another one. Stephen Willats’ work offers perhaps an example of such dialectical interaction with a context where the artist is embodied in the photographic work, in the relative distance of the camera and what it points at which through composition, offers an immediate intimacy, and yet, paradoxically, a sense of estrangement. From a different perspective the idea of hosting as a form of offering a shortening of distance is dramatically staged in Berdaguer + Péjus’ intervention in the back building of the Centre d’Art Contemporain La Synagogue de Delme, where space is considered in it physical, affective and ghostly dimensions, materialising the multiplicity of directions in which distance operates.
Carlo Ginzburg considers and actualises the different moral implications of distance both in terms of time and space (Carlo Ginzburg, “Killing a Chinese Mandarin: The Moral Implications of Distance”, in Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance, Verso Books, 2002.) For the historian the inevitability of distance in time (the past becoming ever longer and the future shortening its distance to us permanently), towards which he or she is impotent can be counteracted through the way the past is remembered or written about. Distance in time and space often operates as detachment or oblivion, but also as admiration or desire –or perhaps sometimes as a paradoxical interweaving of some of all of these possibilities. (And here, I find interesting Valérie Mréjen’s fictional account in La Chapelle Saint-Jacques’ intervention on uncoupdedés.net, where the contrast and complex interweaving between civil time and experienced time become evident.) Transposing this to the field of contemporary art, the time-space framework of the artistic project, operates at several levels of close proximity and distancing, often transcended or further materialised through memory and documentation – Elie During’s contribution in relation to visiting the Cneai attests to this in a diagrammatic way. But if experience is at the core of the artistic act, then form becomes a way of shortening or elongating the distance to that which seemed to be pointed at. Adva Zakai’s intervention on uncoupdedes.net –as a step forward in her collaboration with Le Quartier Centre d’Art Contemporain – is a performance that happens in the time-space of a website, an act of giving form which creates an experience of place where the subject is not represented but embodied through words.
On a more often dealt with topic, the relationship, and therefore relative distance, between an artist and a context is problematised in several experiences related in uncoupdedés.net. Apart from the above mentioned work of Stephen Willats, one could quite clearly refer to Claudio Zulian’s strategies of working with specific communities as a filmmaker (portrayed here under the notion of empowerment), or the experience and ethical concerns of involving oneself as an artist with the management of nuclear waste. Is there a normative notion of distance that can be appealed to and therefore a prescribed form of responsibility which can claim a definite response to a context? It seems to me that Dora García and Jean-Pierre Cometti address this issue by discussing what constitutes the work of art which for García is a form of relationship between the author and the audience, and therefore is non-prescribed or scripted in absolute terms.
But what about proximity? What about the physical, embodied relation to what one distances oneself from or moves closer to? What about affects? Producers are affected by those they address their “products” to. As in Matthieu Saladin’s text about Cornelius Cardew’s work, presented in 2009 at the CAC Brétigny: “It [the act of listening] acts directly on its own source and affirms itself as an activity that, in collective production, reflects on what is being heard. Listening is not simply the space of passive affections, for it affects, in turn, that towards which it is directed” (Matthieu Saladin, “Like a Cloud Hanging in the Sky”, uncoupdedés.net, 2013.) It might be that outer space is not that far when one invokes its distance as a form of proximity with one’s own thoughts, but also, it is by observing the sky that one can see into the past, annihilating the physical distance that separates us from it as beautifully out by Emmanuelle Pagano: “To think is to get as close as possible to the absolute present, but our thoughts, our emotions, our memories, take time to travel in ourselves, to be distributed between our senses. To observe space is to watch what’s already happened, observing space is always nostalgic.” (Emmanuelle Pagano, “Night-Light”, uncoupdedés.net, 2013.)
Bolstered by its success and visibility, uncoupdedés.net is restarting and subjecting existing content to new voices. In 2014 and 2015, several personalities from outside France will be asked to become our editorial writers for one season. Their task will be to place the contents of the whole magazine in perspective, presenting them differently through the prism of their subjectivity and their own work contexts. Catalina Lozano (Colombia), Zasha Colah (India), Moe Satt (Myanmar) and Manuela Moscoso (Brazil): each guest editor will reformulate the actions of the centres d’art, various aspects of which they will have been able to perceive through the magazine. Each editor-in-chief will “roll off” a cross-cutting text, presenting an original re-examination of the resolutely fluid geography of the centres d’art. uncoupdedés.net repeats the challenge from the poet Mallarmé, resurrected in the cinematographic art of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (Every Revolution is a Roll of the Dice, 1977). The guest editors, coming from a variety of disciplines, will widen the circle of expression even more. Choral and fragmentary, uncoupdedés.net takes just as much after puzzles as it does after memories, and naturally calls for cut-outs of every kind…
Independent curator and researcher, born in 1979. En 2011, she co-founded the curatorial platform de_sitio in Mexico City. Catalina Lozano studied history (Universidad Nacional de Colombia), visual cultures (Goldsmiths College, University of London) the theory and practice of language and the arts (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris). At the heart of her work are minor narratives and the revision of dominant historical discourses. Her most recent projects include Une machine désire de l’instruction comme un jardin désire de la discipline (MARCO, Vigo; FRAC Lorraine and Alhondiga, Bilbao, 2013-14), Being an Island (with Kasha Bittenr, daadgalerie, Berlin, 2013), La puerta hacia lo invisible debe ser visible (Casa del Lago, Mexico City, 2012), ¿Tierra de nadie? (Centro Cultural Montehermoso, Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2011) and Everything has a name, or the potential to be named (with Anna Colin, Gasworks, London, 2009). From 2008 to 2010, Catalina Lozano was head of the residency program at Gasworks (London). She is a member of the artistic team of the 8th Berlin Biennale (2014).