Films Interviews transcriptions (2020)
INTERVIEW BETWEEN JEAN-PIERRE SERGENT ARTIST & NICOLAS SURLAPIERRE, DIRECTOR OF THE MUSEE DES BEAUX-ARTS ET D'ARCHEOLOGIE DE BESANÇON | JUNE 24, 2020
Nicolas Surlapierre (NS): Hello Jean-Pierre.
Jean-Pierre Sergent (JPS) : Good morning Nicolas.
NS: So we're going to spend a few minutes together, even more than minutes to talk about your trajectory, one could say of Franco-American artist... And I would like to start with a little anecdote. It's been a long time that I wanted to present the work of Jean-Pierre Sergent, a work that is particularly dear to me because when I arrived 12 years ago in Franche-Comté, I discovered your work and I also discovered its richness. When I say its richness, it's not a flattery, Jean-Pierre, it's simply because for me, it echoed research that was personal to me on the circulation of images, the circulation of images that interest me. Namely, finally, what is a rather learned art history, to call the migration of symbols. How, finally, in civilizations that have nothing to do with either time or practice, we find forms, rituals that respond to each other. You won't be surprised, Jean-Pierre, if I tell you that I was trained at the Marbourg school and at the school of Georges Didi-Huberman where, precisely, there is this great circulation of images and this idea of resonance. And to start immediately in this circulation, this journey, I was even going to say in this dance of images between them and I will come back to this question of dance, especially of course, thinking of cosmic dance, I would like to make you react in a way that is perhaps rather informal in any case, relaxed, with a lot of sympathy around four major works that we have selected and perhaps, to begin with, get you to react to this work La tristesse du roi de Matisse, which is a large paper cut-out found at the Musée national d'art moderne, so that you can tell us about it. Why, finally, at the beginning, or perhaps during your career as an artist... did this work particularly touch you?
JPS: Yes, it just so happens that all my work is made of stencils. They're also paper cut-outs somewhere because every time I print an image, it's either yellow, blue or purple. And it's very similar to what I do in... with the silkscreen technique. But I understood that in hindsight, really. I said to myself after working for several years with the silkscreen medium I realized that I was getting close to Matisse. And also, it's a work that he did, that he did at the end of his life. He was quite handicapped and he worked in his hotel in Nice with his assistants and his assistants would paint the blue and cut out the shapes that way. And it's incredibly simple, incredibly spiritual and incredibly exotic. And so it's all there in my work too. That's kind of what I'm looking for, the simplicity, the exoticism in quotes and the spirituality and the beauty.
NS: And what you see very well also in this sadness of the king, is of course you talk about exoticism. But apart from the paper cut-outs that remind us of Matisse's trip to Tahiti, this way he's going to stick with another form of culture. And then also, this way of being able to work on a very large format while he's in a fairly physical situation, even if the term isn't very beautiful, quite diminished. And why am I making this remark? Because it will have something to do with when you discover the great American painting where, precisely, we have a discourse of a painting that would be particularly virile and particularly a painting of dexterity and dexterity of almost physical strength. That's very touching because we are on the formats of American painting, American abstract expressionism, born with another protocol, a protocol that shows that the strength of painting is not linked to virile strength, nor to strength that could be said to be physical in a way. The other image that I would like you to react to because it's important and perhaps it would help us understand how you are going to discover American painting. Maybe it's this image of Rothko that I finally let you offer a comment.
JPS: Yes, actually, I was living at the time on my farm in the Haut-Doubs, and I was breeding horses. So I had done the Beaux-Arts in Besançon, but I had no knowledge of American painters, except that I bought Le ravissement, Oliver Stein's book Le ravissement, which had this painting by Rothko on the cover. For me, it was really like a kind of revelation, like a door that opened on something else I didn't know. You can talk about mysticism, cosmic energy or pure poetry. This red is incredibly sensual and you can see the masculine feminine neutral. You can feel these energies that I would later discover with Indian art from India. I think it's a pretty high spiritual level. And for me, what really interests me is to enter into an approach other than just plastic art.
NS: And then, what's interesting with among other things, is that we talked a lot, about abstraction, but he didn't consider himself as an abstract painter. He talked about reality and used as much the reality of the artist and not realism, which is not quite the same thing, simply because he opened up a space that is a metaphysical space. But I think that this metaphysical space sums up in a certain way, in any case, a large part of your work.
JPS: Yes, it's a painting... and I had the chance, of course, being in New York, to see a big retrospective at the Whitney Museum. It was fabulous, but okay. Afterwards, it's like all masters, you have to get away from it sometime. That's it, you have to let them go.
NS: So to continue, in this iconographic introduction in a certain way, which invites us to discover the universe, in any case, the roots of Jean-Pierre Sergent's universe, I think we can talk about a very beautiful painting, quite complex by the way, by Frida Kahlo. Can you tell us a little more about this painting, what you see in it, what you found in it and when did you discover it? How did you find out?
JPS: Frida Kahlo, I discovered her in New York and of course, after a trip to Mexico. I understood what she wanted to tell us about, about all these energies, about pre-Columbian cultures. Here we see the pyramid of Teotihuacan where I don't know what other pyramid but it's a bit of a Manichean picture because on one side it shows all the Aztec, Mayan, Olmec culture, all the cuisine as well. The kitchen is important and the dark side of the United States, with the industries, the fumes, the machinization, the industrialization... So, it puts on one side, the joy of life and the stupidity of our industrialized world. And it's in the middle with its Mexican flag. It's a little bit small like that in this big setting and it makes me very sad because it's a reality that we know more and more every day, that our world is collapsing because of the industrialization of the world. All these cultures are disappearing little by little before our eyes and so it's an act of rebellion, what a world it proves with this beautiful painting. It's not my favourite painting of her, but I think she's very politically committed and it makes me feel good.
NS: And also because there is something else. You may not see it on the screen, but it says Ford on factory chimneys. It also shows in this painting the fact that not everything can be linked to a form of rationalization of production. I think the works you've done since then show that there is no such hyper-rationalization. On the contrary, even though I know that you don't like the term "magic" very much, there is still a part of magic, or at least metaphysics, and above all the right to a form of incoherence, and in particular an incoherence in its structure, since your works are always very, very structured. It's a very touching painting, perhaps a little Manichean, but very touching, precisely in this opposition between hyper rationalization and finally the poetry of incoherence. To complete this brief introduction on images that could telescope into your universe, I'd like you to talk a little bit about this horseman.
JPS: Yes, it's the entrance to a city, this beautiful painting is at the Ottawa Museum. I've always said it's the most beautiful painting in the world. I don't know why. Because it's a bit christic. You could say it's the apogee of medieval painting. Somewhere there's a kind of victory over something. Maybe victory over death, victory over the enemy. And the colors are really splendid. The pinks and reds are really splendid. It's a tiny little painting like this, this big. I've always been every time I go to Ottawa I go to see this painting and it fills me more than the Mona Lisa by the way, it fills me with energy.
NS: And as always with you, there is this ambiguity because is it an entrance? is it an exit from Jerusalem? and finally, is it an entrance or an exit in what may have been medievality. This table sums it up with faith all the hopes one might have about the Renaissance and also all the doubts one might have about this period.
JPS: At the same time a good day, a goodbye. But it's also very sexual because the horse is a very phallic and very sexual symbol. It's like the man coming out of a room after making love in quotation marks. I'm thinking about that.
NS: Yes, there's something triumphant about coming out. Something, I triumphed over something and maybe also desire. It's very perceptible in a painting that is still quite severe, especially in the architectural and geometrical construction. These four paintings allow us to better understand your way of circulating in the images. If I wanted to invite you to the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie in Besançon for a presentation, it was in relation to a particular installation called The Four Pillars of the Sky, which has been on display at the museum since September 2019. A year ago, we even symbolically celebrated the reopening of the museum around this large installation called The Four Pillars of Heaven. And I would just like you to describe a little bit about what it consists of. And then, perhaps, I'll tell you why I was so seduced by this subject on the one hand, but also by this installation.
JPS: Yes, you actually offered me this beautiful space on the stairs and we had to deal with a lot of technical issues. It was complicated to install that. The technicians really worked like pros. Everything went well and for me, I have this very ambiguous relationship with architecture. That is to say that somewhere, I say it in my texts, I think that architecture killed the painting because it locked it up in a kind of window paint. That is to say that all the paintings that artists have created since the Renaissance are made to be installed in architecture. And what fascinates me is the art that is made in tepees, in nomadic things, that you can carry around with you, that you can make prayers with, you see like the Tibetan scrolls, and so to install that, those 72 paintings that are put together, the four pillars, what we call the four pillars of heaven. Because I thought it was sincere at the same time to... my painting has to be a construction somewhere, it has to be built like an architecture and to hold the sky, to hold a little bit our spirituality that is slipping at any moment. And I crated all these paintings. It's an idea that I had in New York to do a very modular work that can be taken apart, put back together easily. Today, this installation is in Besançon. I hope that another day it will be in Berlin or in another museum. I like that things are moving around and it's going very well with the museum. I hope the public is happy with it.
NS: In any case, what we can say about this installation is that it constantly oscillates in its form, in any case between iconostasis. I had talked about it in a text that will be published in the catalogue that we will make, because we're very attached to this catalogue on the four pillars of the sky. Iconostasis! Your way of separating profane space from sacred space in the Orthodox Church. And then, finally, a rediscovery or in any case, a reuse or reinterpretation of the altarpiece system. The altarpiece, which in the end is rather not modular panels together, although this is quite present in the installation, but let's not forget the etymology of the altarpiece, that is to say it is a fold, perhaps we could imagine this great installation as a large sacred cloth that is folded and unfolded along the walls. This is also what we were particularly interested in. And you say in the script we're using for this interview. I really like this idea because at the beginning, when I was looking at your work, I thought that there was this adequacy of your work with architecture, especially because you choose a format. Perhaps we'll come back to that, the square format, which is particularly reassuring in a way, which refers for so long to a way of representing the world, of representing the architect's plans. But you say I was also impressed by painting before the arrival of architecture. And this sentence has helped me, at least for me, to circulate better in the way you made the different images interact. And this is one of the qualities, it seems to me, of this great installation The Four Pillars of Heaven. I have a question about the Four Pillars of Heaven, which we all have the same formats. We have images that are quite heterogeneous. And yet, when we look at the installation, globally, we have this impression. I'm not going to say harmony. That wouldn't be exactly the term, but in any case of great homogeneity. On the one hand, because there are several large panels, we are also included. We are caught in an environment. It is not completely impenetrable, but in any case, we are caught in an environment. I wanted to know how do you choose the images in a certain way and do the images that are hung next to each other, do they dialogue? Or is there a certain amount of chance between images that are very much linked to certain cultures? Assyrian, Incan and other cultures, Greek and other images that come from popular culture. I would like you to tell us a little bit about how you organize in a certain way, not this chaos, but in any case, this tendency of images between them.
JPS: Yes, you're right, it's a dance, that is to say that I don't ask myself, a priori, which image I'm going to put with another, and especially that in my Plexiglas, there are three superimposed layers. So I have absolutely no idea what it's going to look like in the end. I work backwards too. So that's what I'm interested in, working with my unconscious, it's a big word not knowing what I'm doing. I don't go towards something that I know. I wanted something I don't know and that's what gives me strength. It's a bit different on the paper work we see behind us, but in Plexiglas it's really every time a discovery. I don't predict what will happen at all, nor for the colours... So that's what interests me about working in this fluidity. Fluidity is really essential in my work. You could say that it is an initiatory and shamanic journey and I try to work without taboos, without morals. If an image appeals to me, I put it in my computer and I have a data bank of hundreds, thousands or two thousand images, or maybe more. And so, when I work, they appear like that. They're, they're in black. It's kind of like when you go for a walk in the wilderness. Things come to us and then we use them. That's what it's like.
NS: So what's surprising is that it might seem stressful for the artist not to know, not to know the result. It's a first thing, the second thing to bounce back on what you, what you say about this installation because it's an installation, the four pillars of the sky, is the relationship to the decorative. There is a relationship to the decorative and that, I think, is one of the qualities and one of the originalities of your work. It's because your generation and the generation after you were in any case often in the academic curriculum or at least in the contemporary art world, extremely, we're not going to say, warned, but in any case extremely dubious about the decorative. For you, I have the impression that you assume this aspect of the decorative. Perhaps also because it is antagonising the architecture. So I would have liked to know if you had a position, since these questions were asked in the 80s, at the end of the 80s, 80s, 90s, notably through an art historian, a historian of taste in a way, called Jacques Solilou, who had done an extremely important work on the decorative, where, precisely, it was a question of a little break between the ornamental, the decorative. And finally, architecture. When I say break, that is to say to stop dividing lines, perhaps sterile. But if I had a question to sum up very briefly, what difference would you make between the decorative and finally the ornamental?
JPS: For me, nothing is decorative, really nothing. It's a huge mystification. Well, there are some contemporary artists working on decoration, you could quote Jeff Koons. But when I use a pattern, what's called a motif, I always take that from Native American or Oceanic tribes and for them, it has a meaning. It's always a genetic meaning, that is, father and mother. I don't know that meaning, they knew that meaning. So, it's to try to recover something that made sense at a certain time. For some people, free does not exist in nature and even less so among these people. All the tattoos that are done on the body all have a social meaning. So, for me, if people think my work is decorative, yes, maybe because it makes you think of decoration, but it's not. For me, everything is meaningful, even if I've lost the meaning. I know that this shaman knew why he was using triangles like this or the metaphysical emptiness in Hindu thought. Yes, everything is meaning.
NS: So it would go around the idea that in the end, I agree with you, of course. That it wouldn't be a decorative work, on the other hand, which could still have a sense of ornamentation and ornament, because in the definition, and this is the difference between the decorative and finally the ornamental, the ornament is finally the version of which one has lost a meaning, but the version of a ritual.
JPS: That's right, it represents a ritual.
NS: But of which we've lost, and that's what you're saying in the end. At least part of its meaning. But you feel that this ritual has been present. That's why I like this idea of ornamentation or ornament as something, like an ornament that we could use. But we don't know what for yet. And we don't know what it was used for. We don't always know what it was used for. And that I think is an aspect that, in a way, is constantly present in your work. As well as another aspect, and perhaps on this part of the four pillars of heaven we could conclude on this, on what you called in a rather beautiful and erudite way, the spiritualis axis and especially the directional spiritualis axis. What did you mean by that? And maybe that would bring us back to this pillar issue.
JPS: Yes, the imondi axis, in fact, in every ancient tribe, for them, there was always a center of the world, with the four directions and that we have among the Navajo, the Sioux, all the Native Americans themselves, in India, everywhere. For example, the temples are always oriented north-south-east west, there is always a cosmic orientation if you want, that is to say that this directional axis allows us to pass from our limited state of human being, to the infra-worlds among the Maya, to the celestial world. Well, there were 4/5 infraworlds in the Maya and 12 celestial stages. So, this notion of a pillar of the sky is something like that. It's the place of passage. Boom, we're here and suddenly we're somewhere else. And that's fascinating. We'll talk about that later. That's what happens in shamanic trance. This is really the place, the axis imondi and you have to go through it. It's like the revelation. Me, I had the chance to travel to Egypt in a priest's cell... I had a revelation, I really went from a stupid human state to a cosmic state. It's a change of state, a metamorphosis.
NS: And maybe to conclude on the first part of this interview... Could you come back to a word you use from time to time and that you've noticed, by the way, when you say the painting object pisses me off, then the term is a bit trivial, but it doesn't matter. It has a value in itself and rather can be concluded on this first part. What do you mean by that? Murder the painting? Since that's an expression you're using.
JPS: Yes, because our collective imagination, our collective European imagination, is full of images that we see in museums. But these images no longer have any energy. For me they don't. And what interests me is energy and pure energy, sexuality and death. All the other worlds. And when we compare, I know we shouldn't compare things, but an Aztec Coatlicue statue, we feel this energy, we are caught in front of the violence of life and we will talk afterwards about Artaud. That's what Artaud understood very well, that contemporary art or European art had gone in the wrong direction. That's what I think. I don't get so much pleasure out of seeing a painting anymore. That's because I went elsewhere, afterwards, you can't... everyone has their own tastes, everyone has their own pleasures. Yes, I'm more comfortable in front of a Pollock painting or a shamanic mask than in front of a European painting.
NS: And are you more comfortable because, according to you, in front of a Pollock painting or a shamanic mask, there is a different relationship, different stories or to history?
JPS: No, to the body, to the body. And to this cosmic dimension in Pollock's work, which is quite fascinating.
- NS: Jean-Pierre, I don't know if it was simply related to the installation The Four Pillars of Heaven, but I wrote a text that will be published about your work and I was particularly interested in the question of shamanism, and this shamanism which is in a way extremely important for you, as well as the universe of the trance in which you will probably return. So this shamanism, I will summarize very briefly. Of course, there is a literature which is quite complex, which is beautiful, but complex. We can think about Mircea Eliade, of course, and I won't add other references so as not to make it too heavy and to really get back to your work. In any case, often the shaman, in the form of a disorder, as Mircea Eliade says in a very beautiful way, is there, in a way, to resolve a conflict. I would like, before we move on to the commentary as we could have done for such and such a reference, that we discuss and that you quote us, you had retained some quotations on shamanism and we will perhaps make a reaction and then we will move on to the commentary.
- JPS: Yes, gladly. So there, I wanted to quote the Upanishads, which is a very important book for me. It's a book of Hindu wisdom, which is about 3000 years old. And so it's in the Garba paragraph, number 4: "Thousands of times before, I lived in a mother's womb. I enjoyed a great variety of food and was breastfed at so many maternal breasts. I was born and died again and continually, I was reborn again". This is shamanism, that is to say, to enter into what we can call karma or the infinity of things that happen to us through our human peregrinations. And then, somewhere it's this non-death. It is to be conscious of belonging to something that also encompasses us, that is matrix, and that makes us belong to humanity. Afterwards, will the entire collective unconscious survive after our death... Well, the Hindus think so, but hey. I think as long as humanity exists, we'll have, we'll have access to this data from our imagination. That's why images are important and that's why I use a lot of rituals in my work and that's why I'm fascinated by shamanism.
- NS: You say you use a lot of rituals. Can you tell us what those rituals are? Is it the ritual that we could also call the creation protocol? Or is it a spiritual inspiration? And how do you articulate both?
- JPS: It's all connected, really. Like I said in a certain text. The big problem for me, as an artist, is that nowadays, you can't be a shaman on your own. There's always a tribe in a society, and it's kind of an incredible challenge to want to talk about that, but still, because I've had trance experiences in New York, I think it enriches my work a lot. On the one hand, by the colours and by this gift of ubiquity, since the images are somehow worth something. As you said earlier, I use pornographic images with sacred images, in quotation marks. I like that, I like that. It's like bumper cars. Everything happens at the same time and that way I get to another level. That's what it's like.
- NS: So in Paris, some time ago, at the Quai Branly, there was Les Maîtres du désordre, which was an exhibition on the relationship between shamanism and contemporary art. And indeed, there were many aspects that could interest you. And there was a term that I'd like us to remember. I think it's enlightening in relation to your work. Like talking about dance just now, it's this idea of circulation, this idea of almost free circulation, and in any case in the form of almost free association between images. And yet, in a coherent universe, also, because the shaman holds a knowledge. Is this true? Is it false? That's not what's important. In any case, it's not important to answer it now. And it doesn't matter, in any case, a knowledge or knowledge and an ability to put the images between them. You have chosen a certain number of photos, and I would like us to discuss these photos and tell us a little bit about why you chose them, where they come from, what they represent...
- JPS: Well, I think it's in the North, probably among the Inuit, and we see, we see two shamans who are in a trance and every time we see the image of a shaman, he always wears a mask on him. In other words, you have to know that when you go into a trance, you practically, systematically meet what we call a spiritual animal, a spiritual guide. So there, the two shamans are transformed into walruses. Often, they transform into eagles and they wear clothes that probably come from the walrus. This one may be ermines... What is interesting in shamanism is this induced relationship with nature. They are part of nature, they are not like us, out of nature, out of the ground, and for them, all this connection is super important because it would not exist without nature. And that's what we lost. And it's kind of in my work. I'm trying to say a little bit of that. Here you see the shamanic exchanges with the drums and it's very impressive of course to see trance, I've never seen one, but I've done some. I've never seen them, but I've done them. So, you know... Going into a trance is an experience that you can experience in birth or death or in sexuality. It has to be very, very good. And here we see for example this shaman, I think it's in Siberia and so she's got her drum, she's on a totem pole and shamans are people who take risks. On her shoulder, like this, and singing to the spirits. And because they're protected by the spirits, they can take all the risks they want. They're always facing death, sickness. They're really very brave people. They have incredible strength. Well, I don't think there are any shamans in Europe anymore. Before, there were the Druids and the people that Lascaux painted, probably had hallucinogenic abilities. Because to go and paint the scene of the Lascaux well, for example, you had to want them. These images are very beautiful. And here we see The Four Pillars of the Sky, it is in the sky, it travels through the cosmos.
- NS: And then there's also... I think she's manipulating a drum, which is an important element of shamanism. It's one of the main attributes of shamanism, just as we talked about the pillar, as well as the mask or other attributes that we could mention.
- JPS: I'm cutting you off because during the shamanic sessions I did in New York, a psychologist had the drum. I think it's to bring the body into a different rhythm. Maybe the heartbeat calms down. Now they do electrocardiograms to see what happens in the trance. Well, they find some pretty amazing things. Well, that's good. I think we can get into meditation, too. It's really a state of ecstasy like that, yes.
- NS: And how, finally... but maybe I don't know you well enough. But how can we finally link... because shamanism at the same time we are chosen, we have a message, there is a form of dispossession too... How is it reconcilable with your universe which is however, I find, something very structured? We can see when in the photos or in the reports on your workshop, there is something that doesn't leave room for I'm not going to say at random, but the protocol is particularly well mastered. So, how does it come into play? Does shamanism intervene, I mean like motives? Or does it intervene in a form of unconsciousness? Who could, like that, nimbus or nourish the iconography?
- JPS: No, I know the disorder and I know that for my production as an artist, I have to work in absolute order. Yes, it's an imperative, otherwise I wouldn't exist. It's like the monks or the shamans who go to shamanic school for 20 years with the Kogis in Colombia. You have to have discipline, otherwise you go live, you end up on the street, that's all. No, I think you need an incredible discipline and then a will because you have to go, it's not easy.
- NS: Can we maybe look at this other picture?
- JPS: This one looks like it's in Tibet. But I don't know the exact source. What I like is this deer mask which is completely fabulous. I saw some Tibetan masks in New York and I wanted to buy it, but unfortunately I couldn't afford it and the costume is really... you can feel it's in the cosmos that being there. It's really in fusion with nature, like I said before. It is beautiful, perhaps cruel too, it is the animality par excellence, the night to unity, in spirituality. It's a whole, that's it.
- NS: And would you agree that, in any case, there are some shaman figures that are scary. There is also this idea in the sense of fright, more in the sense that Pascal Quignard gave in Le sexe et l'effroi. That is to say that there is something frightening about it. Do you feel that in this type of photo? Is it something you're looking for in some way?
- JPS: No, I don't really like dark magic. I'm not on that side. I'm more like white magic. I think it's a wonderful world. Well, some artists are attracted by suffering, there are a lot of them, there are artists who work on war scenes and everything... I'm really attracted to that beautiful side. It's just beautiful. It's there, it's present. There's nothing more to say. The guy, he's in his trance and he's not hurting anybody. And maybe he's helping humanity too. And I'm more into this healing side of it than... even in my bondage images, you'd think it's putting a woman's body into submission. It's not. It's not. It's freedom, it's freeing yourself from your body and entering our world. I don't have that dark side at all. Not at all. I'm not anxious at all, but it's my nature.
- NS: So for example, in this image that may seem quite frightening, on a certain side, you don't see the frightening character, but rather the character of reconciliation between the universes and especially the immanent universe and the transcendent universe.
- JPS: Yes, absolutely.
- NS: Among these images, which are perhaps a little bit of shamanism, in any case that answer it, can you comment on this very beautiful woman, in a procession?
- JPS: Yes, I don't know if she's from Africa or Oceania, but anyway, there are shells and all the symbols of fertility. She's incredibly sensual, and also very present. Georges Bataille speaks about it very well with all these images in eroticism. Eroticism is a presence. Ecstasy is a presence. This woman is present and you can put all the images of women who do parades in Paris, no one will ever have that presence. Because she exists, she is full, she knows her identity and she is not ashamed of her body. It's fertility, it's beautiful.
- NS: And in any case, what I see in this image is that we have the impression that she holds, I don't know if it's a power, certainly not. But it's knowledge that we don't have.
- JPS: Plurimillenarian.
- NS: Yes, and that's what's pretty beautiful. It's the fact that it still makes this knowledge alive, knowledge that would normally have a good chance not so much of disappearing, but of dying.
- JPS: To die, yes.
- NS: And then there's a big fresco, a person working on a fresco called The Snake's Embrace. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
- JPS: Yes, well, I'm going to come back to the scale of grandeur. It so happens that as a child, I was asthmatic, and I'm going to quote a sentence by Antonin Artaud who says: "Who hasn't suffered in the essence of his being, ignores the difficulty of life, because it's not enough to learn to think, you have to be first. That is to say that this man is. So I come back to my story as a child. I was in Briançon and when I saw pictures of myself in front of the mountains, I was tiny in front of a mountain and I was in the high school for asthmatics with other children who came from all over France. And we had to create our imaginary world somewhere to survive. Because having asthma attacks means thinking about dying every time. You don't know if you're going to spend the next day or the next hour... That anxiety can be turned into creation. That's what shamans are all about. They've often been sick. They've been healed. And they can pass on their knowledge to others. And this is an image from a Colombian director's film called The Snake's Embrace. I saw it on Arte, which I didn't know at all, and I made a screenshot on this big wall. And this reality, we see this little man doing his gigantic fresco on the big wall, putting lots of things, symbols, directional axes, animals, geometric symbols. And that's exactly what I do in my work. This is me somewhere, I'm a shaman
- NS: Then, to react on my side, I think a lot about this ritual, this ritual of the snake. Which is a text and a conference of Varbourg?, precisely, about this way he puts into circulation different rituals around the snake and these rituals that, each time, are always there to exorcise a fear, and there is also fertility, that is to say that Varbourg's theory is that the snake allows both fear and its antidote. This is what he wanted to show and this is what I feel in any case in this immense fresco, indeed, which reacts and bounces off The Four Pillars of Heaven. Next, an image that you already had, in a previous lecture with commentary, but which is quite impressive and somewhat reminiscent of a snake, but which is not. I'll let you present it.
- JPS: Yes, I had the chance to go to the Museum of Anthropological Art in Mexico City and you come across statues like that. And this is a statue that's quite large, I think it's maybe ten feet high, which is a granite monolith. So it's really impressive. And so, it has skulls of death, it has snakes, it has hearts too. We know that the Aztecs made human sacrifices. So she really is the mother goddess who regenerates the world, par excellence. On the side of beauty, we can say that she is ugly as a louse, but she is magnificent, because she is the vital energy. In front of all the Aztec, Olmec, Mayan statues... It always gives me this energy shock. It happened to me a few times in my life to meet people who have a superhuman energy. One time in New York, I met a girl who was Master Yogi. I go to see her, I tell her but you have an incredible energy, she tells me it takes two to feel this energy, and that's it, the shamans, the Yogi Masters may have this energy. What we call old souls and so there, when we see that, we feel that we belong to an old soul, to something common to all humanity.
- NS: Does it also mean that to create the energy that we feel in your uninstallation, especially the one we are currently presenting at the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology, it takes two people? Do you perceive this energy and is this energy conscious? At the same time when you realize the piece, when you present it, do you also present it, not simply because it is your goal to be an artist, it is to be presented, but it is also to activate something. Can we say that the piece, in the same way that there is a ritual, can we say that the piece is activated by the relationship that the visitor could have and what would be the benefit of that?
- JPS: It's complicated. I have the whole relationship to the viewer in front of the artwork. Does the viewer have to be initiated to feel the energy? Maybe they have to be initiated. I realize that the only people like my friend Marie-Madeleine Varet, who enters my work in a truly fusional way, are people who have had a cosmic revelation somewhere. Yes, the relationship to the work is complicated, but I am not aware of this energy. I do things like this because maybe it's a gift, I've learned so much. I've met so many interesting people that it's so fluid, it's like this. Maybe afterwards it will stop. We just don't know. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. But in order for people to feel that energy, like I told you, you need an initiation. Something really has to have happened to them. Something has to have happened to them. I mean, a trigger. I think the guy who lives in Besançon and went to school in Besançon, if he didn't stumble once, he's unlikely to go back to work, but it doesn't matter. Maybe he can like colors. It doesn't matter. It doesn't really matter.
- NS: In any case it would be a nice thing because that's kind of what we try to do in museums, to connect an audience and remind them that something happened, that something might have happened. This idea of stumbling I think it's very beautiful because it's from this very stumbling that we finally create a relationship with the work, because that's our goal and we're going to conclude this second part of the interview with this photo, which is a little scary, I must say, but you don't see it as scary.
- JPS: No, on the contrary. Because in fact, they are two Asmats. It must be said that in New York, I was always fascinated by the poles of the Asmats totems that speak of life in its pure materiality. The grandfather, the father, the degeneration, piling up like this, until the baby arrives. And the baby is necessarily born from an ejaculation. It's still more interesting to show this than to show nothing in museums. And here we see two Asmats, two Asmat buddies, and they're carrying their ancestors around with their belts. And for them, death isn't a metaphysical problem at all. It's a daily problem. They were close to their ancestors. They wear them as totems because they helped them. They helped them, they're alive, they're paying tribute to them. To this life and I find that in France, even in the West, we no longer have any recognition of our ancestors. We treat them like dogs. It's absolutely unbelievable. Me, I lost my dad not long ago, my grandfather, my mom is still alive... who I'm always grateful to for bringing me into this world and spending so much time with me. Because, you know, to create an artist, it's not like that, you're going to be an artist, you have to read hundreds of books and you have to go to hundreds of museums. You need a little bit of money. And these people, you can feel that they have been well fed. Or it could be their family or their enemies who are carrying, because they are proud to have killed their enemies. It's totemic. And we don't have a totem pole anymore. We don't have any more intra-human connections. Somehow, our bond is breaking down more and more, and that's what scares me the most deep down inside. It's something that upsets me, it's something that gives me great emotion. And when I see that, they're the ones who are right, it's not us. It's not the West.
- NS: In any case, described in this way, it allows me to conclude perhaps on this idea that finally, whether it's in the Asmats or in The Four Pillars of Heaven, there is something that I feel very fundamentally, it's this idea of protection. We are under a form of protection, in any case, perhaps a tutelary goddess, a guardian god and a fundamental relationship to the circulation of symbols.
- NS: So Jean-Pierre, what's interesting with your work is that it obliges us, in any case it forced me to look back and it will be on the last part of this interview, on two aspects, even several aspects, but notably two authors, an author I like very much who is Georges Bataille. Of course, I went back a bit to what he had done in the magazine Documents, because it's not unrelated to the way you put together images, but of course, to the work he published in 1957 called L'érotisme, which really will revolutionize, or in any case I don't know if it revolutionized, in any case, will bring something on the relationship between eroticism and knowledge, and especially for an art historian like me, to the knowledge of art. We are trying to understand how images do not copulate together, but in any case marry, sometimes have attractions or on the contrary repulsions. And it is this aspect that I would like us to evoke, always looking at some images on the same very simple principle, also recalling that beautiful formula of Battle that I like very much and that I feel in your work, I don't know if it is assumed, this idea that, finally, he says it as an exergue of his 1957 essay on eroticism. Eroticism is the paradox. Pleasure is the paradox. I would like to give this first quotation and maybe we try to start with either a quotation that I think you had also selected for this interview and then some comments on the images.
- JPS: Sure, yeah. So the sacred work is necessarily erotic. That is, it's consubstantial. Bataille talks about it very well. The sacred work is necessarily erotic because it always speaks of the moment, of ecstasy, that is to say the entry into another world, therefore of creation and regeneration. These two aspects of things are important. We could add pleasure. But hey, pleasure is not that important somewhere. I think the most important thing is ecstasy. It's getting out of our body somewhere to get in, to get the body into its dimension, full.
- NS: So we could retain from this quotation this aspect that we didn't talk about, well, we talked about it in an induced way, which is simply the sacredness. There's an interest in you for what I called, like the great exhibition of Beaubourg which was quite remarkable Les traces du sacré. What remains of the sacred and the sacred would not be something that would simply be religious. But I like to recall Yannick Agnel's definition, which is that the sacred is the point of contact between the living and the dead. I think it's quite beautiful, a place where finally, the character of a relationship to each other, of a relationship to each other with a big A, that is to say with transcendence, one can in a way relive in this precise place, the sacred. And then the other thing, what your quotation says and also what you say about it, refers to the idea through eroticism of embracing in a certain way the totality. This is the theory of Bataille in his 1957 essay. Eroticism has two functions: one to embrace the totality, totality of postures, totality of relationships, totality of psyches, and totality of stories. And finally, another thing to go beyond the impossible because, strangely enough, Bataille, in his 1957 essay, does not like to talk much about this notion of the forbidden. To illustrate this passage from Bataille, in any case from your Battle reading, and then from its application in your work, even if it's not a school application, I'd like us to comment on a few images. In particular, we could start with this prehistoric fresco that you could comment on.
- JPS: Yeah, sure. Bataille talks about it very well, he wrote a whole book about Lascaux. And so what we see here is a bison with a bird on a pole. We hypothesize that it would be a shaman who would be in a trance because this shaman was phallic. So, we can say that it is the bison that killed the hunter, but for me, it represents someone who is in a trance. We can see that he is completely like that, stuck in a trance and that he is communicating with his animal spirit that we talked about earlier, which is on a pole again, and the buffalo is wounded, he will die. And it's this whole relationship between animals. Sexuality, because necessarily, to fuck in quotes, you have to find your animality, otherwise you don't fuck. It's a bit crude what I'm saying but Bataille talks about it very well and he says he goes to dinners where there are women dressed marvelously and he finds it hard to imagine them in ecstasy, in orgasm. And of course, there's that ambiguity. It's an absolute confrontation. Between the man with clothes on and the man... That's something else. It's another world and we never reveal the pleasure. What I want to do in my work is to unveil the enjoyment. Well, like that, maybe in play too. Yes, I think that all this is very important because in the history of art, there are very few images in museums, practically none, and eroticism is often fantasized by symbols, but copulation scenes, you have to imagine that the West has no copulation scenes at all.
- NS : But it's above all that there is a connection, I'm going to say to extreme nudity, when I say extreme nudity, it's not the naked body, it's what you could say or what Bataille finally says very well, this idea of animality, especially animality, of the sexual act, and besides you quote Bataille, and you're right to quote his essay on Lascaux where exactly, for him, even if after the great prehistorians will tell you that he was wrong, that he was wrong historically, but it is not because he was wrong historically that he was wrong, he sees in the frescoes of Lascaux, before our eyes, the appearance of the human in the animal and the animal in the human. I like this idea very much. In what way animality is not inferior to human. Finally, it is this kind of related relationship that he is trying to discover, that he is trying to follow, and also all that we do not know about the animal. And that's what he's going to develop in his essay, which is quite brief, since it's a text that's actually quite brief, on the Lascaux caves. And also how these famous Lascaux frescoes are made and in what condition. And there, in the image you have chosen, we would have a clue. It's really in the state of trance and it's thanks to the trance.
- JPS: Yes, yes, I think so. And I think those shamans were in a trance state when they painted, obviously. It's a well that's I don't know how many meters long, you have to go to the very bottom of the cave, so you have to have supernatural powers to go down there. It's like the American shamans who can travel with their spirit, otherwise we're screwed.
- NS: The second image that brings us closer to the essay, in a certain way in any case, to the notion of eroticism in Georges Bataille, it's this illustration, this little miniature more exactly, I let you comment.
- JPS: Well, these are Indian miniatures that date from the 18th, 19th century, and where we see, it's always very symbolic, we see the goddess Shakti with skulls of the dead, a little like the goddess Coatlicue that we had seen before, and a sword. There she decapitates, it's a bit like the access to... you have to decapitate the self to enter the self, to enter the elsewhere. And this is the god Shiva who is also phallic, that is to say that he copulates and in this copulation, as I said before, he enters the world of the whole nature, in the whole of nature. It's fabulous, it's beautiful. All Hindu paintings fascinate me by their beauty, so you can say it's a bit of a naive art, but not at all, because what it says is very, very strong, very violent. So is life. Boom.
- NS: And then there's a great sophistication. It's very sophisticated in terms of the technique of representation, in terms of miniaturization, but also in terms of the information that you can glean, especially since there are dogs that devour corpses and also birds of prey that you wouldn't recognize, and that's another aspect. That is to say that this relationship, which has a commonplace, but which was important for Georges Bataille, between Eros and Thanatos, and this closeness, or more exactly this impossibility of Eros without Thanatos, that is to say this impossibility of pleasure without finally a symbolic death or a real death...
- JPS: Inevitable.
- NS: Or in any case, inevitable, you're absolutely right. Another image that runs through your erotic pantheon, if I may say so...
- JPS: Well, this is an Aztec flaying, so obviously the Aztecs were making a lot of human sacrifices. And here we see sacrifice, it's a statue that they took the heart out of, and we see the organs hanging like that. I saw this statue at the Guggenheim Museum. There was a very beautiful exhibition on the Aztecs and these statues are really fascinating. Maybe for you or for some people they might be scary, but for me it doesn't scare me at all. Because it's really like a hunter going to skin an animal. Well, that's the reality of it. You see the organs, you see death for what it is.
- NS: No, it doesn't scare me. It's as if we've flayed what could be both desire and also a form of eroticism. It's almost a kind of diagnosis of what violence can be, not the sacred, but the violence of eroticism. And finally, before moving on to some of your images, I would like you to comment also on this very beautiful goddess.
- JPS: Well yes, these are goddesses who are probably at the Metropolitan Museum. And almost every Sunday, I used to go there in that museum. And to see these goddesses who are absolutely fabulously sensual... The clothes are made of them, it's not lace, but it's objects that are sewn onto the costume. The breasts are really beautiful. They're shells, it's incredible. The face, the eyes, you can feel that she's a benevolent goddess, and she's had sex. It's not the Virgin Mary. It's important to say that. You can't live with images of the Virgin Mary forever. It's terrible. Or Christ on the cross. They are images that soothe me, that make me love life. They're fabulous.
- NS: And especially in this extremely important chiasmus and this wiggle of the hips, which is very, very beautiful, and at the same time, I'm not going to say provocative, but with a sensuality... terrible.
- JPS: She has a sex, she is sexual. She's coming, she's had orgasm, she's experienced orgasm. When people don't know pleasure anymore, they're completely stuck, it's terrible. It's sad. Well, too bad for them.
- NS: Especially since jouissance, to remain in a Battlefield note, is a means of access to knowledge. It's through enjoyment that we know, in any case, not the limits, but certain forms. To conclude on this aspect of the relation to eroticism, can you perhaps evoke some of your images, especially those behind us?
- JPS: Yes, I did a series called Bondage, about Japanese bondage. Because, contrary to what one might think, it's not a humiliation of the woman, it's not submission. In Japan, they have what we call spirits, the Kamis, that is to say they live in a universe, well not all Japanese, but the traditional Japanese who have kept their traditions. For example, they will put ropes around a tree and put small objects to make it sacred. It could be a stone, it could be I don't know, a toy, to say that this space is sacred. And that's where I communicate with the spirits. So, they got the images of bondaged women out of it, and it's kind of the same thing. That is, it's very aesthetic and all the sexual places in the woman's body, the sexual places in the woman's body, are notified, like sex... they put an eye on the sex so that it triggers the pleasure. Except the woman is attached, and it just so happens that the brain, our human brain, suffering goes through the same channels as pleasure. So somewhere, it's up to us to say but it's either suffering or pleasure. All the people who have lived in prison, who have lived through atrocious moments, know that at some point you can switch the trigger. Well, that's a bit like that. It's switching the switch. We all suffer and somewhere, we say to ourselves, "Here, I'll switch to switch mode, and I'll come. There you go.
- NS: And maybe we could say that in some of your images, where there is this relation to bondage, or in any case, there is this difference that you make between a bondage that could be a humiliation in some sexual practices, and, on the contrary, what you just said, that is to say a bondage that would be a sacralization of certain aspects of the body. Certain aspects of the body, which you also explained very well, in this idea of hanging objects to make it sacred. We tie it to a totem pole, a tree, a rock... to give it a particular strength.
- NS: As I said in part of this interview, Jean-Pierre, you force us, and this is rather a quality, to reread, I don't know if these are classics, in any case, to reread important texts, to review images that also constitute our history and our relationship to images. We recently came out of a particularly difficult period, and we had the idea, perhaps in this interview, of evoking a text which, among the texts that had been quoted, had not been quoted much. And maybe we'll have some explanations to give about this text that had been quoted. I mean, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we talked about the Diary of the Year of the Plague, we talked of course about Jean-Giono, but strangely enough, no one cited, in my opinion, perhaps it exists, Le théâtre et la peste. This important text by Antonin Artaud, which was later taken up in his complete writings. It's a text he wrote in 1935 and I'm not going to be too long, but it seems to me, of course, that it reasons in relation to our current events, but it also resonates with your work. And it makes the link, especially in Artaud's work, between plague, sexuality and finally eroticism. Basically, Artaud's theory in this theatre of the plague, if we summarize his text, would be that the plague expresses the dark character of the person, of the people, of the contaminated people, but by expressing the dark character of the contaminated people, it also reveals their desires, their sexuality and also, at times, often a few moments, alas, before their death, it liberates them from something and it's a form of liberation. I remind you of this text, because I think it's very topical, but above all because it marked you, as generally or more generally Artaud's texts.
- JPS: Yes, yes, no. You're the one who asked me to talk about Antonin Artaud. He's really an author that I love. In fact, I must have read Le théâtre et son double a long time ago, but I recommended him. I've been reading him recently these days and I think he talks about theatre, but of course you have to understand that he talks about art in general. It can be music, painting, opera... That's all that makes man creative. And I like Artaud very much because he says, for example, in The theatre and its double, he says... because I had a bit of the same revelation as him, in Mexico. He had this mystical revelation. You can talk about mysticism in Mexico. So he says, "In Mexico, there is no art, and things serve. " That's a very important sentence. It serves art, here in Europe it's useless somewhere, it's disappeared. "And the world is in perpetual exaltation". And that's fabulous to want to live in that exaltation, and you can feel it in his works. You can feel it in his writing. So, to come back to Covid, he says in The Theatre and the Plague: "It is important above all to admit that, like the plague, theatrical play is a delirium and that it is communicative". That is to say that we didn't talk so much about delirium in this rather crazy thing. We stayed at home and the imaginary did not arise as we might have thought.
- NS: In any case, for the moment, in all cases, by all the measures that had been taken, it was precisely measures that in a certain way prohibited this delirium. And me, I like very much in his text The Theatre and the Plague, this idea, not because it kills people, and I'm sorry about that, but quite simply this idea of contagion, that is to say this contagion of desire that he talks about. Basically, he has several sentences about this idea of contagion and he explains them too. And I can feel that in your images, even if it is not voluntary on your part. He explains, when he says, of course, "there is something victorious and vengeful in the theatre, like in the plague", I also feel something in some of the images you offer us of victorious and vengeful. Not because you would like to take revenge, but because sometimes you confront us with images that place us not in an uncomfortable position, but in any case in a different relationship, like people who have a relationship that would not be comfortable in the image. That's what's quite amazing, with a very careful treatment, with silk-screen prints, with bright or sometimes very soft colours. And yet the image has a kind of fury and a kind of victory over finally something that would be almost reassuring, as I said at the beginning, as impenetrable in which one would be installed. And it is this aspect or these fertile paradoxes that interest me particularly in your installation. So, indeed, there is this theatre of the plague. Artaud, when you say he's talking about theatre, he's obviously talking about the arts. Perhaps I wanted to make you react to two works by Artaud that you chose, notably the first one. We see it very damaged in a certain way, and perhaps we can try to understand why you chose this work, but also what is the very nature of this medium, so damaged, so terrible, in a way.
- JPS: Yes, it's a black magic drawing, that is to say it sends a spell, it sends an invocation to someone to die. It's a magical object, and it's burned just to make the magic take effect. He was good with that term magic, and you see crosses, probably stars. It's a cosmic manifestation, maybe blood or rust. I don't know exactly what materials he used. He wants revenge on someone or something or the life that may have locked him up in the asylum. Everybody knows where he was locked up and it's a bit like Van Gogh, they absolutely want to create something. As you said earlier, my works are victories over life. Yes, I'm alive and I want to bear witness to that. That's it, that's it. And then, I wanted to quote Artaud, precisely, at that moment, because we come to this Covid and to the situation completely... Because this virus has spread also thanks to or because of our way of life, our globalization. And he says in The Theatre and the Plague: "And the question now is whether, in this world that is slipping, committing suicide, without noticing it, there will be a core of men capable of imposing this superior notion of theatre, which will give us all the natural and magical equivalent of the dogmas we no longer believe in". Of course, the world we have known disappears, and it is perhaps the role of artists to make the world reappear, to re-enchant the world.
- NS: So, it's not the least paradox since, at the same time, there's this world in which we believe more, and in this purpose, in this kind of ex-voto which has a magic virtue, in any case there's a magic will, there are a lot of beliefs. And at the same time, it's not simply a question of the sacred, but we feel in your work, let's also come back to your work, it's this interest for religions, for beliefs and for the circulation of religions between them. Can you tell us a little about it? For you, belief is never as such, it seems to me very, very much linked to a practice and a practice that is obviously corporeal.
- JPS: It's a vast question. I think that man recognizes himself in the first rituals we know of in prehistory, which was to bury the dead. It's not to throw them away like we do in the EHPADs now. No, but it's very important, this relationship with humans, that is to say that we are talking, we are facing each other. There has to be communication. Imagine if our parents died from the covid and we couldn't go to the funeral. The ritual's gone. It's the disappearance of the human being somewhere. And that makes me really... sad. And all religions have tried to develop this spiritual side, that has been completely, especially for monotheistic religions, sexuality is completely buried. That's why, because often religions were dictated by men and female pleasure always scared them somewhere. It is true that seeing a woman in ecstasy is something else than just walking down the street quietly. Bataille speaks well of it. It's a fury. It's indescribable female pleasure, the screaming and all... Somewhere it can be scary. You were talking about fear, well, it's true that female pleasure scares men, so they invented a lot of systems so that women don't enjoy it. That's their thing. Matriarchal societies in prehistoric times took this enjoyment and women were well gendered. Breasts and sex were generous. So now we're back to that with pornography. But it's sexuality where there's no fertile side, no fertility in it. It's just pleasure for the sake of pleasure, which doesn't have much point anywhere.
- NS: And the difference is that pornography is also linked to what we could call, as well as the sociologists who have worked on pornography, I was going to say to the myth of performance, to the idea of performance, whereas there, in eroticism, in the very hyper erotic image, there is no real desire for performance. It's another way, through the pleasure of knowledge, of access to a mode of knowledge, and a mode of knowledge can be, which would not be in search, but which would be far away, disappeared. And how, perhaps, in a certain form of sexuality, or in any case of pleasure, one could bring to the surface through resurgences, certain images, certain customs. Perhaps even certain knowledge. I sense that in your performances and also in the performances we've been commenting on for almost an hour. That's what interests me deeply and that's also why we wanted to install these four pillars of the sky. To get out of the simple, iconological analysis. That is to say, to bring these images to life again, there is one aspect that interests me enormously, in which I took part a few years ago, but it doesn't matter, a colloquium called So that the images never die, that's exactly it. I have the impression that somewhere, thanks to certain relationships between the images in your installations, in particular The Four Pillars of the Sky, you bring back images in a way that, in a way, you probably won't like the term, you bring back repressed images or things that we have voluntarily forgotten or that society, of course, to use a term that Artaud has disgraced, has made us forget. In any case, there's also something almost of a divestment of the artist's hand in Artaud, since we write under the influence of spirits, of chance, and that gives a particular strength to this drawing, a sketch, I don't really know what to call it, an ex-voto, perhaps.
- JPS: I just wanted to briefly go over what you're saying. It's totally true because we are the last witnesses of the original peoples. And all that knowledge is disappearing. And Jean Malaurie, who runs the Terre humaine collection and whose books are all eminently interesting, says that we should make faculties and create faculties for this knowledge. And the Aztecs no longer make human sacrifices, human sacrifices are not a good thing, but beyond that, once a month they used to have a feast for flowers, a feast for salt, a feast for water. And when we see how we mistreat nature today, these sacrifices seemed interesting. And here we see a body of Artaud, we almost see a human sacrifice... He also beheads himself. Blood spurts out. Yes, yes, it's quite strong too.
- NS: And then he beheads himself, but we must also remember that Artaud, it's also linked to his practice of theatre, of the actor's body in the theatre. And it's also his knowledge of surrealist movements. And, of course, of the review Acéphale. We talked about Bataille, in which Bataille participated enormously, and therefore about this desire to understand certain functions and certain psychic functions that are extremely, extremely buried. You had selected one last quotation and I would like you to read it because I find it particularly beautiful. It is still accurate this essay from 1935, Le théâtre et la peste, from this rather short text, and we may come back and comment on it. Here it is.
- JPS: "And that's when the theatre settles in. The theatre, that is to say the immediate gratuitousness that pushes to useless acts and without profit for current events". It's perfect. That's the definition of art. And then the following quote: "We can now say that all true freedom is black and is inevitably confused with the freedom of sex, which is also black, without it being clear why". We've just discussed this. "For it is a long time since the Platonic Eros, the reproductive blood, the freedom of life, disappeared under the dark coating of the libido, which we identify with all that is dirty, abject, infamous, in the fact of living, of rushing with natural and impure vigour, with an ever-renewed force towards life". So there you have it, you have to project yourself constantly towards life. It is an immense flow. You have to be in the flow. That's it, that's good.
- NS: So it would come back to the idea that we feel in your work, and particularly if we look at The Four Pillars of the Sky and other large installations you've done, this idea of circulating from one image to another and from one silk-screen square, if I may say so, to another. There's something else that strikes me. I hadn't thought about that sentence you read earlier, especially about useless acts. Would you, if I asked you a little bit about this quote, I would remember "useless act and without benefit for current events". Could you explain a little bit what you mean, simply?
- JPS: Artaud said that. It's true that being an artist in a society where art no longer has any value, as he says so well, except commercial, that is to say that my works have an interest, thanks to you I'm exhibiting here. So my works have a value because they are presented. But if the works are not presented, if they remain in the studio they have no value. And today, a work has a value because it is worth two million dollars. If it's not worth two million, if it's worth 10 euros, it has no value. So we work somewhere, we work for free. It's very difficult to sell works of art. Yes, it's something else. It's a bit of a priesthood. Well, where I find that the problem is that French society has no, practically no recognition for artists. There's not much support. There's not a lot of interest. We listen to the radio, it's very rare for visual artists to talk about their work. Or maybe on France Culture, but all intellectuals will say the same thing, except for those we see all the time in the media. But I don't think there's a lot of coverage. That's why I'm working hard to make videos and interviews like we do today and to present my work. Because I think that thanks to the internet now, we may have a slightly larger audience.
- NS: Yes, and then I think what is important is that there is work to be done and that we should not be discouraged by the difficulty of critical recognition. And if Artaud had asked himself the question of critical recognition, maybe he would have become even crazier than he was. It is not entirely by chance that he wrote Van Gogh or the suicide of society, that is, even if it was part of a myth, where, precisely, there was this difficulty of recognition. And it is this difficulty of recognition that I mean very differently, that is to say the recognition of signs, and in particular of signs that can feed our imagination. In any case, I didn't think you were going to quote that. But me, I look at two things I look at these useless acts. I find this expression very beautiful, because I believe that the artist is also there to put us in relation with useless acts, and also you who produces images and who loves images because it is the very nature of your creation without profit for the news. It is this idea that we could also imagine, we produce even if we don't have a return, whether financial or immediate media return, which does not have the return of the news, of the image that we would find on the Internet. On the contrary. It is going to look for something deeper, and because it is going to look for something deeper. Maybe she's looking for something that will remain in time.
- JPS: I hope so, yes.
- NS: So, Jean-Pierre, I didn't see the time go by... We're coming to the end of this interview, which I found very rich. I'd like you to react to two things. Firstly, about a work you've chosen, and I'd like you to tell us about it because it's a bit enigmatic. And secondly, I would like you to read a quotation that you have also chosen, so that we can in any case leave each other on these words and on this reflection, or on these reflections.
- JPS: Well listen, it's a little Indian miniature from the 18th century called Pure Consciousness or the Meta Cosmic Void, and I think every artist dreams of doing that. It's fabulous because in the middle it's a gouache wash, very simple. You could think of the work of Maurice Louis, working on emptiness, or Yves Klein working on emptiness as well. And it's decorated with little blue flowers. We talked about the decoration earlier, but it's not the decoration. We also talked about being framed. And here, the void must be framed because you can't live in a void. It's too hard for us. And Hindus have 19 life forms. So do Buddhists. So we only have nothingness, we have being and nothingness is very poor. And I'm fascinated by the metaphysical power of the Hindus. And it's a work that transfers me towards a beautiful idea of humanity. To talk about emptiness is to have already thought thousands of years, because prehistoric men may not have had an idea of emptiness, but these Hindus, with their technical knowledge, they didn't have the technical knowledge of the West, they knew a lot of things, but they are more... they developed their metaphysics more. And every time I read books by these people, I'm fascinated. It can be the same for the aborigines in Australia. Except that, well, they wrote very little and there's quite a few works of art that have survived. Maybe cave art, and so that's fascinating. And I wanted to finish on something that came out of Alexandra David-Neel's Journey and Adventure of the Mind, which says: "So many voices have been raised in the lonely forests, feeding the pantheistic reveries of India in the past, now crossed by roads with trucks overflown by airplanes, carrying their profane passengers over the Himalayan peaks, where the Indians placed the dwellings of their gods. These voices have fallen silent, or perhaps there are no more ears capable of hearing them". This is the relationship to art that we have been talking about. And then finally, I would like to finish on Art and Death, which is a text from Beasts, Men and Gods, by Ferdynand Ossendowski, who is a Russian who had to flee the Russian Revolution and who peregrinated, he went from Tibet to Mongolia, he spent years like that travelling practically all by himself, and at the end of his book he talks about nature, and he says the following: "Nature knows only life. Death is only an episode for her. She erases the traces of it under the sand or under the snow, makes them disappear under a luxuriant vegetation of greenery or flowers". And further on, he says: "There is greatness in this indifference of nature towards death, in its eagerness to know only life". And I would like my art to know only life.
- NS: I think it's a wonderful conclusion, and I thank you again for this interview, and for the richness of our exchanges.
- JPS: Thank you very much, Nicolas. It was really a pleasure to talk with you. And thank you to Lionel and all the people who helped us for this nice interview.
Interview conducted on June 24, 2020 in the conference room of the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology of Besançon, with the participation of :
Jean-Pierre Sergent, artist
Nicolas Surlapierre, Director of Museums of the Centre of Besançon
Nicolas Bousquet, Head of the Cultural Development, Coordination and Proofreading Department
Lionel George & Christine Chatelet, cameras
Romain Monaci, transcript
Fabien Paillot, logistics assistant