HOW THE SPIRIT COMES TO THE MATTER -
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How the Spirit Comes to the Matter
Julien Torma’s motto, later adopted by Ernest T.
The majority of my friends absolutely loathe using the term ‘work’ to qualify an art object. And, by extension, using ‘work’ to evoke the act of artistic production.
We remember the “Never work” (“Ne travaillez jamais!”) that Jean-Michel Mansion scribbled on a wall in the rue de Seine in 1953 and the photograph of it that Debord published; this slogan seemed to him “to be the most important print taken from the site of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, like the witness of a particular lifestyle that tried to assert itself there,” (“être la plus importante trace jamais relevée sur le site de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, comme témoignage du mode de vie particulier qui a tenté de s’affirmer là”).
It is from this exact perspective that I read, for my part, Jean-Yves Jouannais’s assertion of Bartleby de Melville’s “I would prefer not to,” in terms of all the “artists without art objects” (“artistes sans œuvre”); there are some artists who, in following the example of Fénéon or Cravan, hate nothing more than to mislead others into believing that, or rather to appear as if, they are working. This is why their creative activities are always hurried: performed in three lines or in a single round. Alas, the paradox is evident: even if it is convenient to never work, it is still necessary to produce: “don’t do anything or let nothing be done” (“ne rien faire mais que rien ne soit pas fait”), like the simple summary of the Chinese proverb. In order to work through his thoughts, the artist needs to fabricate something. A little like skipping a stone: the pebble must ricochet off the water in order to regain its momentum, and the ripples that it leaves behind are the equivalent of wastes that are art objects, a little like successive sheddings.
It is necessary to do the minimum, this seminal gesture that goes “from the head to the paintbrush” (“de la tête au pinceau”), as Georges Braque would say to Jean Paulhan, because the idea can never be housed in the two places simultaneously. But how does the spirit come to matter?
This diptych of the exhibition proposes two responses diametrically opposed, but absolutely complementary to this interrogation-source. That which nestles into the two extremes – I say without beating around the bush – turns me off. It is laborious and heavy-handed. Everyday language does make a mistake with this: who could really be satisfied with toiling away love from live, or to perspire for an art object? Nothing is more self-conscious than that of these artists-manufacturer – convinced that by reworking their art objects, they have succeeded in endowing their material with a quasi-divine thought – when it is more difficult for the spirit to penetrate the material than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle …
Metaphysical chemistry (“Métaphysique chimie”) is in synch with the history of painting like cosa mentale, of which the antepenultimate stages would be Chirico, Magritte or Picabia. Largely supplanted by his dark angle, Marcel Duchamp, this tradition of painting gambles on the surprising elasticity of the medium that allows for the creation of images that are also objects, and our veritable love for them can only be fulfilled in hate, or at least in extreme mistrust. Taking up the torch more or less there where their elders left it, some painters, like Nader Ahriman, Philippe Mayaux or Ted Mineo, devote themselves like those before to attempting to do philosophy in painting. Just as alchemy has only little to do with engineers or factories, this painting practice reveals, for me, grace pure and simple, which is in other words the incarnation of the “real presence” (“présence réelle”) of the artist in the art object. But is the painter’s paintbrush truly worth more than the donkey’s tail? As Philippe Mayaux likes to repeat: it isn’t because we write in verse that we are poets. In order to truly understand, Xavier Boussiron and Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux’s donkey, while frozen in an impartial immobility, assessed these productions nowadays using the yardstick of the painting-talisman of the recent metaphysical period: the “Sunset on the Adriatic” (“Coucher de soleil sur l’Adriatique”) that was traced by the Nimble Rabbit Cabaret’s boss’s donkey, with a casual whip of the tail, during a famous hoax initiated by Roland Dorgelès at the expense of the Independents in 1910.
Taking as its title a variation of Guy Debord’s famous axiom (in a world which is really topsy-turvy, the truth a moment of the false – dans le monde réellement renversé, le vrai est un moment du faux), the second component of this exposition is entitled “Beauty is a Moment of the Ugly” (“Le beau est un moment du laid”) and it groups together temporary pieces. Composed of assembled objects manufactured in a certain order, these attended to ready-mades are, in effect, totally provisionary: for only a moment do they share the destiny of the objects of which they were made, the objects which haven’t been modified, cut up, or glued, in any way that would cause them to loose even the slightest property of the original, and they can return at any moment to their initial usage. Nor is there the least bit of “work value” (“valeur travail”): this exhibition takes the side of a certain passivity, of a nonchalance of artistic production, of an art of attitude, but from a disinterested standpoint that is modest and truly experimental because it is also reversible. The artists united here have taken the Hippocratic oath, which ordinary applies to doctors: Primum Non Nocere (Above all, do no harm). Here it is no longer a question of alchemy, but of psychokinesis, this ability of the mind to act on things at a distance, popularized by Uri Geller in his time – you know, the spoon bender…
For the most part, the pieces presented in this exhibition are composed of objects of contemporary consumerism, born in a universe of big consumerism, of mass tourism, of the leisure industry, of garden landscapering and of home decorating. Therefore, the visitor will have the impression of entering a box store where the logics of assemblage and of sequencing have undergone an unexplainable contortion, and all while being plunged into a suspended “moment,” a state of floating, of stupor that can not be mentioned without evoking Stendhal syndrome or this dizziness which strikes down Bergotte in “In Search of Lost Time,” the mass distributed version, however.
From a quasi-historical perspective, “Beauty is a Moment of the Ugly” evokes the constant renewing of this practice since the 1960s: from Guillaume Bijl, Gérard Deschamps, Nelson Leirner, Jacques Lizène, Antoni Miralda and Jean-Michel Sanejouand to Théo Mercier, Simon Nicaise and Stéphane Vigny, with Stéphane Calais, Jiri Kovanda, Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, Haim Steinbach and Ernest T in the middle. In order to wrap up all this, the visitor will be able to take a long pause on the sofa made from big shopper bags by matali crasset.
In search of a definition of an alternative to the expression mainstream, which has always threatened art successful in its own time, this rejection of the labor ghost or of the job in the artistic practice seems to me to conform to a certain French mindset: even if it doesn’t challenge the advantages that can only be brought about by daily study or praxis, it does place grace above all else and it praises natural elegance, the brio. The misadventures of the wheezing poet Vincent Voiture are a perfect illustration of making fun of the “efforts of the spirit” (“efforts d’esprit”), like Voltaire: “Far from me to reproach Voiture for having put spirit in his letters. I have found, on the contrary, that he didn’t have enough, even though he was always looking for it. We say that the master dancers curtsy poorly because they want to do it too well. I believed that Voiture was often in this predicament: his best letters were studied; we feel that he pushes himself to find what comes so naturally to Count Antoine Hamilton, to Madame de Sévigné, and so many others women who wrote effortless of trifles, much better than Voiture did with all his work.” (“Loin que j’aie reproché à Voiture d’avoir mis de l’esprit dans ses lettres, j’ai trouvé, au contraire, qu’il n’en avait pas assez, quoiqu’il le cherchât toujours. On dit que les maîtres à danser font mal la révérence, parce qu’ils la veulent trop bien faire. J’ai cru que Voiture était souvent dans ce cas : ses meilleures lettres sont étudiées ; on sent qu’il se fatigue pour trouver ce qui se présente si naturellement au comte Antoine Hamilton, à Mme de Sévigné, et à tant d’autres dames qui écrivent sans efforts ces bagatelles mieux que Voiture ne les écrivait avec peine.”
Stéphane Corréard (translated by Ellen LeBlond-Schrader)
Collector, critic and journalist, Stéphane Corréard is a member of the editorial board at the magazine Particules, and since 2009 is the artistic director at Montrouge Salon. From 1992 to 2000 he founded and managed the Météo Gallery, and organized the first exhibition in Paris for such artists as Ghada Amer, Philippe Mayaux, Jean-Luc Mylayne, Philippe Ramette, and Matthew Ritchie.
How the Spirit Comes to the Matter – PART 1: Chemical Metaphysics
Nader Ahriman/ Xavier Boussiron & Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux/ Philippe Mayaux/Ted Mineo
May 28 – June 26, 2010
Opening Thursday, May 27, 2010
40 rue de Seine, 2 rue de l'Echaudé 75006 Paris, France
T. + 33 1 53 10 85 68 / F. + 33 1 53 10 89 72
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. or by appointment
How the Spirit Comes to the Matter – PART 2: Beauty is a Moment of the Ugly
Guillaume Bij/ Stéphane Calais/ matali crasset/ Gérard Deschamps/ Jirí Kovanda
Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux/ Nelson Leirner/ Jacques Lizène/ Théo Mercier/ Antoni Miralda
Simon Nicaise/ Jean-Michel Sanejouand/ Haim Steinbach/ Ernest T./ Stéphane
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