Winter issue « Un coup de dés

Un coup de dés

“I understand my activity as a research”

The 3 bis f, an artistic creation and research residence located in the Aix-en-Provence psychiatric hospital, brings together two complementary entities: the contemporary centre d’art, dedicated to plastic and visual arts, and the contemporary lieu d’arts, dedicated to choreographic projects, theatre and multidisciplinary productions. Prior to her residence at the 3 bis f, artist Doria Garcia was invited by the centre d’art to take part in a discussion with philosopher Jean-Pierre Cometti: the artist specifically recalls her relationship with the public and the interactions it generated.


Jean-Pierre Cometti: You make a special appeal to public in your work. You already gave explanations on this subject, but I would like to take again this question from a special point of view. We often used – when speaking of artworks or artists, including when dealing with practices that would need other approaches –  to pay a special attention to objects or to actions by dissociating them from contexts whithin which they take their meaning, and from audiences they address. In other words, from what appears as an experience, here or there, at that time and not another, in such or such context of actions and interactions, we only retain an abstract view, without any of the conditions that make the way it is. This tendency is related to very old habits and traditional ways of speaking or representations about art. It seems that we should have good reasons getting rid of them, and considering artworks and practices within their contex of functioning, in connexion with audiences, because of the part they play, beyond usual conventions, in what appears as art or fiction, and so on. I am interested in knowing what is your thinking about such topics, and in which extent this kind of preoccupation intervenes in your work, in your expectations.

Dora Garcia: Well, I think that I belong to a generation we could call “contextual”. For this generation the circumstances in which the artistic “fact” happens – we speak here of creation, presentation and reception – are much more significant as the object or the event. In fact, this object or this event could very well be “anything and even nothing”. It is an excuse, some hitchcockian “MacGuffin”. His only justification is to play a role of catalyser; it could be that or anything else. We sometimes exaggerated, but I still believe in it. These are circumstances, institutions, hours, temperature, city, history, moods, information that make the artwork. After having worked in this way during a long time, I began to interest me in story as circumstance of the work. So I think sometimes that in a certain sense my work is very closed to “cultural studies” and “linguistics”, that I’m working on it because I like it, and because I think that it is here we can really understand audiences. We have to take into account that everywhere my work is described as some “study of relationships between the author, the work, and the audience”, but I think that in fact we could say only between “the author and the audience”, and that this is this relationship between “the author and the audience” that makes work, I mean this “third thing” that is created between both, even if one of the two don’t know anything of such a system at all.

JPC. Fine. You bring art back to its contingency. But I would be interested in asking you some more precisions about two aspects of what you say. First you suggest that art consists in the way an artist and her public get into interaction. If art is in the outcomes of this interaction between both (what you call this “third thing”)? Don’t you think that such a conception should lead us to change our mind about art?  But could you also explain what you mean when you describe your work as something close to “cultural studies” or to “linguistics”? Does it mean that your actions intend to get some effects related to what cultural studies try to deal with about genders, for instance, nature and culture, and so on? Is it that art can be a means for changing our ways of reacting, of perceiving or thinking? And since “this object or this event might be anything and perhaps nothing”, is art only a means among others?

DG. Well, I don’t say that art consists in the way an artist and her public get into interaction; I only say that art is produced within this interaction, or because of it. It is the basic condition of art- it is a condition, a circumstance, a place, but art is not equal to interaction. Then, I cannot really say if such a conception should lead us to change our mind about art, because I ignore what people think of art. I suspect, that in many cases art is linked to an object and to the virtuosity of producing that exceptional object- if this is the case, indeed we should change our mind about art. I suspect that in many cases art is linked to status quo, it is the ultimate luxury object, because it is extremely rare and it requires to enter a certain circuit or brotherhood to have intellectual access to it- in this case, indeed I think we should change our mind about art. But I think as well that perhaps my first answer gave way to a misunderstanding. Even if I think that art is all about context (does not exist outside a certain place, a certain time, a certain onlooker) and all about audience (it is in relation to the audience the artist determines what has to be done), I think art is also all about the intention of an individual, the artist. It is an effort, it is born from a deep conviction and desire, from one single individual.
What I mean by “cultural studies, linguistics” is that from the conviction that thought is language I try to use this as the key to understand how society functions. This is what originates my work, the will to understand. So I understand my activity first and foremost as a research, and in this activity it finds a sense. I find beauty in this activity too- a very special type of beauty, one that touches me deeply.
Is art a means among others? for what? it is indeed a means among others to give sense to existence, to give consolation.
“This object or this event might be anything and perhaps nothing”- with this I simply mean- art is not related to any specific object, material, or situation. It is profoundly true that anything can be art. Can. Potentially, anything can. Even nothing can. Sometimes, I explain art to my students as a “mood”, a “function”- an intentionality that is projected on “anything, and even nothing”.

JPC. If I’m not mistaken, in such an experience what pertains to art has its source in an intention which gives it its special meaning. I am afraid it is not easy to define what « intention » refers to, but the best thing we have to do is probably to pay attention to actions, practices and their connected objects. You say that for you the main thing is to “understand”, and to see how society functions. I guess that the effects of your acting upon the public are specially relevant from this point of view. That art helps us to “understand” – understand others, understand the way the world is – seems to me a very significant point in the present conditions of culture and social life. How do you see exactly your role as an artist? Do you see it as a critical role? Could you explain your own conception in the light of one of your actions?

DG. I believe, in a quite honest and naive way, that the dismantling of conventions helps us to live more intensely. Conventions are created each day, and what is unconventional now will be conventional ten minutes later. Conventional here means repetition of a structure because it is generally accepted, it is what guarantees the status quo. Dismantling conventions is a way to understand them and understand the culture and the subculture that created those conventions. So yes, art creates a form of understanding, even if I believe the function of art is not being understood, but rather to puzzle, or better: to marvel, in the best of cases.
A good example I believe is “The Beggars Opera” (2007), a performance I defined as “theater play in real time and public space”- for Münster Sculpture Projects.
In this work, I created a tool to dismantle the conventions of art in public space. I wanted to puzzle people, to leave them at a loss about how to react in front of the artwork “the beggar”. Humor, enjoyment, intensity was created by the inability of this work to fit the conventions of art in public space and the impossibility of the audience to adopt the well-trodden behaviour of “audience-in-front-of-an-artwork”. The work consisted of a character, Charles Filch, a secondary character from the Bertolt Brecht play and novel The Three Penny Opera, which “came alive” in Münster and became a citizen of the streets of Münster during the three months of the exhibition. It had all the qualities one should ask of an artwork in public space (existed in public space, changed the perception of it), and at the same time it was obviously a person- personnage and to reduce it to the condition of a number on an outdoor sculpture map was absurd.
But, when I was preparing the character together with the three actors who were going to play it, I remember I told them: it is good to dismantle the conventions, it is good to break the safety of the exhibition, it is good to reformulate the roles of audience and artwork, but in the end, what will tell if we succeeded or not is if we are able to tell a good story, with a believable character, a story that is truly alive and truly touches people and one that is able to react and to adapt to the contingencies of the everyday in public space.

JPC. There are different sort of conventions. What is interesting is that the audience’s reactions depend on expectations connected with general beliefs – and therefore of general and common conventions —, but also on beliefs and desires own to one group or to one community, and also on aesthetic conventions and habits. They may be different depending on the audience. In 3bisF, which is not as you know a standard art place, you’ll have to deal with a special audience, which is not the one of public space of galeries or of museums. I guess it will be for you the occasion of a special experience. How do you see it in relation with what you told before?

DG. I have worked a few times before in extremely loaded contexts and, what I think is more pertinent here, I have worked with “special” groups of people. One of the things that attracted me to work with “outsider” artists is indeed the discussion that it could create among “insiders”- because, I think, it puts in evidence a lot of received ideas, hypocrisy, and conventions about “correctness”. But in the end, the real reason why I worked with those “outsider” artists is because I liked their work very much. I did a performance with “Glad Theater”, in Copenhagen, which is a self-managed theater by psychical handicapped people; I have worked with different theater groups with people “with and without” psychiatric experience.  There are two things that made me wish to work together with them, one, and unconditional, their work was good; and two, the reason why they made theater was not to construct a career, but to survive.

Dora Garcia , born 1965. Works and lives in Barcelona. Her conceptual work consists in texts, photographs, performances and installations in specific sites. She will be in residency at the centre d’art 3 bis f early 2013, in the frame of an “AEM” euro-mediteranean workshop in partnership with Marseille Provence, 2013 European capital of culture. 

Jean-Pierre Cometti, philosopher and translator, is the author of several studies on art and the current state of art. He recently published  Art et facteurs d’art, in the collection “Aesthetica”, at the Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Further reading:
3 bis f, lieu d’arts contemporains, Aix-en-Provence
Jean-Pierre Cometti
Dora Garcia




The invitation to rearrange the contents of this web-based collection, reminds me of the passing down of a great Naga necklace. As if each slideshow, web-performance, video, text, or audio work, were loosened from a cotton thread, and laid out on a taut cloth, like carved white conch shells, brass bells, red carnelian, bone, and blue-green glass beads, waiting to be newly strung. As I read and listened through the contents, I began to dream of jewelry setters. And so here I tell, if you wish, a decentralizing story; not decentralized, but one whose claim has the capacity to make the centre, come to seem estranged.

After crossing an arc, at the eastern edge of India, is a hill region bordering Bangladesh, China, Southern Tibet, and Myanmar. Among the states of this area, is exquisite and troubled Nagaland, with its innumerable cultures, united under the word ‘Naga’ and yet with communities, each with differing and exceedingly democratic models of government, and different material culture. Its worldviews that have the potential to open new ways of thinking about art are preserved in fragments of remaining material culture after the onslaught of proselytism and modernization. Among them is the philosophical linking of ornament with society and individual ethics. In ancient times, and still practiced by the conceptual works of the artist Veswuzo Phesao, is the right to decorate one’s bodies, clothing, or one’s home, based on a system of being able to calibrate individual merit as value: which was always somehow, value earned within a community, through codified rituals of generosity. Status came from having always individually earned it. A warrior, or one who fed his surplus crops to the village, these were the terms under which one was given permission to decorate one’s home. After passing on, one’s children could not inherit the ornamentation; they again would have to individually earn the right from society.

Over 2007 and 2008, I spent time in this region, writing about its contemporary art, and have been going back ever since. Hekali Zhimomi, the then director of a government-run art centre, the North East Zone Cultural Centre, told me of her own research into jewelry and value. In Ao Naga culture, she explained that when a work of jewelry is passed down, or purchased, before buying it, the new wearer must hear all the stories and merits of its first maker and past owners. It is through their personality and deeds that the work of jewelry could accumulate value. The work of jewelry has ethical provenance. And the character of its past wearers, is a strong determiner of its value, translatable into a shop price, but in reality a contemporary oral tradition of storytelling in continuance – where a graduate degree may be a new determiner of social achievement. For the Naga communities, jewelry – like all aesthetic and ritual – has been over time coded, eroded and re-coded.

It is a lens and a trope through which to perhaps read the particular form of value, in the efforts of such a website – to hold together the fifty centres d’art contemporain across France in one light website: whose entries are arranged by center, by author, or by the materiality of response. The series, and resetting of the series, gives the impression that there are also infinite subjective arrangements possible. The invitation to four editors from far-flung parts of the world, to restructure the contents of the website, with a new editorial over the course of four seasons, implies a seriality ricocheting within the content, like a musician within the set notes of a raag.

But our carnelians and glass beads here, as the first stringers would tell us, are the many turns of the die, an encounter with an idea and its potential. In this sense, what has accrued, are the ideas. The rituals of handing down jewelry, something always a little intimate and formal together – have the weight of history; at least of those small histories of people in the air. As if all those souls were summoned to the jewelry box. Conch shells, carnelian and glass beads remind me of ways of approaching biography and the lives of artists, of pedagogy and the ways we have of passing through and accruing knowledge, and the many ways of approaching value. But in focusing on biography, there is a ringing sense of missing colours and beads. I cannot speak out here for all that is absent, yet perhaps we could leave space in the necklace for all those ideas that come from biographies of differance, still to be strung in the centres d’art. With this thought, I pass this necklace on to my colleague, and friend, across the Nagaland border…

* * *


1. Inheriting ideas

Presented by the Centre d’art contemporain de Brétigny, Matthieu Saladin writes a text to accompany an exceptional sound score made in 1968, ‘LIKE A CLOUD HANGING IN THE SKY?’ by the group AMM. The group in turn had made this work in response to a prose work, ‘Sextet: The Tiger’s Mind’, by one of its members, Cornelius Cardew. What is key to my own arrangement, is the way Saladin’s text approaches artistic inheritance. In Saladin’s own writerly and artistic engagement with a double inheritance of the two works, he emphasises how ‘Like a Cloud’ was not a performance of ‘The Tiger’s Mind’, but an engagement with it, through new experimentation.

Emmanuelle Pagano’s ‘NIGHT-LIGHT’, at Espace de l’art concret is a writing experiment. It is a novelist’s selection of works from the Albers-Honegger Collection that performs a similar function in re-stringing works, by new criteria. These objects handed down to us – works of glass, a globe of light – are given emotional life, through the biographic form of storytelling, by which he links the defiance of gravity by an astronaut, with that of the glass blower.

“I am a glass blower, like my father, like my grandfather, my great grandfather. I love working with glass, it becomes full of life under heat. From this magic material it’s possible to make so many things, endlessly fashion it, give it any shape. One only has to stop it from yielding to gravity, Earth’s crushing call. In our family we have been defying gravity for several generations…When younger I wanted to be completely free from it, from gravity, I wanted to become an astronaut.”


2. Glass beads and the oral tradition
‘Glass does not forget anything.’

It is Thomas Golsenne who writes in his text about the relationship between the artist and the technician, called ‘THE HEART AND SOUL OF GLASSWORKING’ written for CIRVA – Centre international de recherche sur le verre et les arts plastiques:

“However, in music, the difference is that, if the musician plays a wrong note, he can always make up for it with the following note, whereas, in glass-blowing, it is impossible to make up for mistakes: everything has to be perfect from the moment when the glass is gathered in a furnace to the time when it is placed in another, less hot furnace, to allow it to cool. Glass does not forget anything.”

Nicolas Floc’h writes with beauty in ‘DEEP IN THE HEART OF THE SUBJECT’ for Centre d’art Le Pavé dans la Mare. In his writing, the glass becomes the material of philosophy. In a passage he compares glass with wine-making, referring to the passing down of technique, of knowledge, and ideas. “The secret of the process probably owes… also to a human chain of know-how and knowledge involved from grape-harvesting to the wine-making process.”

The oral tradition is in continuance, within contemporary art. In this case he also talks about the technicians being the ones to carry down the knowledge they have of glass, to the next artist entering the studio. To the triangles made between artist, audience and curator or institution, is the welcome addition by Golsenne of the role of the technician:

The artist “discovers the enormous furnaces, which give off air so hot that it makes the lamps swing, hanging from the ceiling several metres above. He discovers the material and its different states: small white beads (pellets) at the beginning, then a soft red-hot mass when it is gathered in the furnace and handled with the blow tube, and finally a solid, transparent volume when it has cooled down. He especially discovers these characters, these masters of the art of glassmaking, who have given everything for their passion, who hold all the secrets of the technique, and who are nevertheless there, simple and modest, listening to his words, wishing to please him, ready to go with him on a journey to the unknown in this future project.”


3. Questioning the biographic voice

Aymeric Ebrard, uses an alacrity of visual and aural description, in an autobiographical narrative, to capture being split: in this case, between two different residencies, in Lithuania and Morocco, intercut with each other in close succession. The text is a double view, titled with the cinematic ‘The Kuletchov effect’, suggesting something else arises from the combined meaning of two vivid and dissimilar images. What it captures, is for me, a form of writing in whose own poetry is wrapped a deeply clear, political voice. Take this sentence on Saïdia, at the Moroccan-Algerian border: “On either side, the run-down buildings would prance their social housing pealing volumes next to the camp pavilions owned by the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports.” Ebrard writes within ‘MODELS OF PRODUCTION’, at Centre d’art bastille. I am reminded, in my own insistence in listening for the first person, poetic voices, of Helene Cixous’ writing, and many others – that taut, crystal, political gleaning that accompanies each double-entendre.

‘I AM ALL WORDS’ is an extraordinary work by Adva Zakai, using the medium of a website, to convey her own métier, choreography. The curator of Le Quartier, Centre d’art contemporain de Quimper has written, “I’m now inviting you to pursue the project of ‘becoming an art centre’, but within the virtual space of Internet.” In an imaginatively intimate form of address, Zakai uses the first person, or the biographic approach, to tell the audience, the immediate precedents of where they are and what they are viewing, “opening is a solo where you stand on a table in a corner of the exhibition space. Your hands touch the walls, and very slowly you raise one leg. While you’re trying to keep a balance, you tell a story which could be your biography, the history of the space or the story of the director.”

In a series of letters, Guillaume Pinard and David Evrard discuss themselves, their own personalities, in ‘NOBODY CAN ESCAPE ART’ for Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou. From their lively writing, we hear a self-reflexive discussion of value and consumerism, gift-exchange, and collecting.

The director of La Galerie – Centre d’art contemporain de Noisy-le-Sec, Emilie Renard, corresponds with the art critic Sinziana Ravini in ‘DEAR SINZIANA V. DEAR EMILIE’.

These exchanges, seem to speak directly to the problematics posed by the necklace. Their exchanges question the biographic approach, the biography of the artist as a value within the reading of the work, and on gift-giving exchanges and translations between value systems. In candid writing, they analyse and reflect on the use of the first person as a fictional device, or as an autobiographical style, which they comment on as different to the “theoreticians from October”; a style that runs at odds perhaps with a scientific analysis of artworks. “Now I think the big issue of our time is the complete opposite of all that, the need to reclaim art discourse for the emotional domain, that mysterious theatre of the unconscious that’s there whether we like it or not. But to do that you have to be ready to expose yourself, lose your way, make mistakes and most of all, exaggerate.”

From this perspective, is also Aurélien Mole’s use of a futuristic, exaggerated, biographical voice in ‘HIATUS’ written for Parc Saint Léger.

“Based on the documents and oral sources that I collect from the area surrounding the Parc Saint Léger, I am virtually able to reconstitute what the art centre’s whole programme had been, both inside and outside of its walls. Other historians will use this information to extrapolate a sense of what cultural life was like in Europe between 2000 and 2075, and thus attempt to rewrite history from its margins.”

Jean-Pierre Cometti’s ‘BUT THE MAIN PROBLEM LIES ELSEWHERE…’ is a beautifully written work for  Centre national d’art contemporain de la Villa Arson. Cometti writes revealingly, of how art needs to be located within context – what he sums up productively as “when is art?”

“The difference with what we usually call “experimentation”, for example in science, is that this kind of approach is not directly geared towards producing knowledge; but this does not in any way signify that they don’t pertain to knowledge. One can easily be convinced of this. In science and in philosophy, we have what are called “thought experiments”. A thought experiment means introducing an unrealized (counterfactual) possibility in the reasoning process, and estimating its consequences were it to be realized. This type of approach makes it possible to open up the concept of knowledge and to enrich it by allowing for wider and more inclusive forms of understanding. This is the privilege of fiction, and also of art.”


4. Valuing the political voice

“Even if I think that art is all about context (does not exist outside a certain place, a certain time, a certain onlooker) and all about audience (it is in relation to the audience the artist determines what has to be done), I think art is also all about the intention of an individual, the artist” writes Dora Garcia in “I UNDERSTAND MY ACTIVITY AS A RESEARCH” for 3 bis F – centre d’art contemporain. She gives the example of “The Beggars Opera” 2007, which she defined as “theater play in real time and public space”- for Münster Sculpture Projects.

“In this work, I created a tool to dismantle the conventions of art in public space…The work consisted of a character, Charles Filch, a secondary character from the Bertolt Brecht play and novel The Three Penny Opera, which “came alive” in Münster and became a citizen of the streets of Münster during the three months of the exhibition. It had all the qualities one should ask of an artwork in public space (existed in public space, changed the perception of it), and at the same time it was obviously a person- personnage and to reduce it to the condition of a number on an outdoor sculpture map was absurd.”

The most art historical of all the texts, is possibly, that of Gilles Drouault, who recalls brilliantly in the video, ‘THE WITNESSES’ at Centre d’art contemporain d’Ivry – le Crédac, an exhibition of particular value to him, and he explains generously why. To him, this exhibition on industrialisation in the last century; was pertinent to its location in an once billowing industrial town of Ivry. Intrigued at how film and industry developed at the same time; he conjectures, that what has been most compelling about the 20th century, has been the development of the industrial world and the worker; premising that what was siginificant to the 20th century in particular was the worker as an individual with rights, worker’s strikes, as capable of forming trade unions. One of the achievements of the Western European system has indeed been the welfare of workers.


5. Necklace of strategies

The political subject matter in Alexandre and Florentine Lamarche-Ovize in ‘LAMARCHE-OVIZE, A COLLABORATION PROJECT’ for Micro-Onde, centre d’art de l’Onde, show a work dealing with women’s prisons. Antoine Marchand in ‘LET’S MEET IN TROYES, AUBE’ at Centre d’art contemporain / Passages, discusses being invited to devise ways to dispose of nuclear waste, and the ability of an artist to respond, or give value, to such a residency. Fabien Faure in ‘THE TIME OF SITE’ at CAIRN, centre d’art, writes of mining and its relationship to land art. Yet, there is also political strategy latent in the writings, for example, of Olivier BossCentre rhénan d’art contemporain, has a moment, where so as not to be surveilled, by the number of webcameras one takes in the subway, is suddenly a face, painted like the dazzle-pattern used in submarines during the First World War. It gives a moment to delve underwater and dip into art history, as something actively working as strategies in a politicized world – if one thinks of cinema, then terrifyingly and increasingly used today. In another discussion of cinematic effect, ‘EMPOWERMENT’, at Jeu de Paume, Antoine Thirion a critic, responds to an artist Claudio Zulian, who has been using cinema as a political tool, using historical re-enactments, and repetition as a strategy. I end this arrangement, with a performance: Emma Dusong makes the web-performnace ‘DOOR’ for Centre régional d’art contemporain Languedoc-Roussillon.


Zasha Colah
February, Bombay



Bolstered by its success and visibility, uncoupdedé 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. uncoupdedé 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, uncoupdedé takes just as much after puzzles as it does after memories, and naturally calls for cut-outs of every kind…


(Bombay, India)

Zasha Colah co-founded ‘blackrice’ in 2008 in Nagaland, and the Clark House Initiative in Bombay in 2010, after studying art history at Oxford University and curatorial studies at the RCA, London. She was the curator of modern Indian art at the Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation at the CSMVS museum (2008- 2011), and was head of Public Programs at the National Gallery of Modern Art (2004-2005) in Mumbai. In 2012 she co-edited ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’ a monograph on artist Nalini Malani for documenta 13, and she curated two exhibitions of Burmese art, ‘Yay-Zeq: Two Burmese Artists Meet Again’ at ISCP New York and ‘I C U JEST’ in Kochi.