(X 3) Films Interviews transcriptions (2020)
INTERVIEW JEAN-PIERRE SERGENT WITH THIERRY SAVATIER | THE EROTIC ART OF JPS | 3 PARTS | BESANÇON FINE ARTS & ARCHEOLOGY MUSEUM | SEPTEMBER 19 2020 at 3:00 p.m. Download the PDF
The artist Jean-Pierre Sergent and Art Historian Thierry Savatier, world specialist of Gustave Courbet, are exchanging about some erotical works of art of the artist realized since his New York years (1993-2003) until nowadays, during his exhibition: "The 4 pillars of the sky". Filmed by Lionel Georges, Louise Prevel and Lea Bruckert in the Conference Room of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Besançon on September 19, 2020. Transcriptions by Karine Joyerot.
PART 1 | SEE THE VIDEO
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Dear Thierry, it's always a great pleasure to record our interviews, we've already have done at least three or four.
Thierry Savatier: Yes!
JPS: So I wanted firstly present you some of my erotic works, and you also wanted to talk about the large scale format… So I am going to present a few large-format works, so that the public understands where I come from and how I started to develop this work, which is a bit organic somewhere, you see! So we're going to project visuals... Some large murals installations! And I wanted to quote Jack Kerouac, who's an author I love, and of course those American writers who wrote in the 50s and 60s in the United States, where there was a huge social upheaval going on, that is to say, what we can call the disappearance of spirituality. And Kerouac went on the road and they found a little bit of spirituality thanks to Japanese Zen Buddhism masters. He quotes in particular from D.T.'s beautiful book. Suzuki and in his book (The Dharma Bums) where he talks about emptiness, he talks about the Ryoanji garden in Kyoto, and that will explain a little bit how I develop the structure of my work somehow: About the Ryoanji Garden in Kyoto: "The shape of the garden responds to a mysterious order. Only the form can allow us to understand what emptiness is." Because emptiness is also one of the big metaphysical issue in my work, which is not systematically evoked by the Void but by its opposite the Full somewhere and I think it's important to talk about it. So, at the very beginning, the first works on Plexiglas in New York were created like that, they were assemblages of panels and adjusted all together these panels created a square, and that created a dynamic in the painting that I wanted to keep afterwards by always surrounding my paintings with a "sacred frame" composed of alternative checkerboard rectangles. Here we see how today, I frame my paintings, in the center my paintings are always 1m05, and that's what we see here in the large wall installation, these are modules that I assemble like this, that's about it. And so this is the first big wall I did in New York with 18 paintings and it just so happens that it was in my studio in Brooklyn on Jay Street and it just so happens that today the installation I have in my Besançon Studio is exactly the same size as this one! So I am continuing with that large size format and my body feels comfortable with it. Here, it was an exhibition in Brooklyn as well. At that time, I wasn't working on large Plexiglas panels, but they were 17 cm x 35 cm, gathered like this and I like to do this kind of assembling and mixing part of paintings, because for me, a work of art is not monolithic, it's composed of different cultures, we see here things of 'primitive' culture, erotic and sexual rituals, of regeneration... Here is the exhibition I currently have in Châteauvillain, the installation is titled "Cosmic Mechanics of Sexual Ecstasies" and is sized: 8m40 x 3m15, and at the opposite of the works presented here, which are almost non-erotic in the Museum, (because we have selected works that would not disturb too much the public), the exhibition is titled: "Voluptuousness"! So there, I exhibited only eroticals works.
But for me it doesn't really matter if it's erotic or not as: LIFE IS EROTICAL BY NATURE! So it doesn't really matter… That's it ! And so I want to present to the public now this installation and what I said in the introductory text of the catalog and the exhibition :
- "I want my painting and my art to be a wall-art (in French art-mur = armor), even an armor if you want, whatever, an art-architecture..." That is to say, I really want to get out of painting, "like Indian tipis", because the Indians did not paint on paintings, they painted on clothes or houses, on their tipis or their adobes… "An art-animal (like Lascaux)", since you showed it earlier in your conference with the "Scene of the well", it must be said that there was then, this science, this knowledge and this intimacy with the animal that we have lost, that contemporary man has obviously lost. "A tree-art, a river-art, a void-art." We talked about it earlier about the emptiness, "as for the Zen Buddhist monks). An art-nature, an art-sex, an art-death (like into the Egyptian tombs)"! The Egyptians impress me a lot, because all their Art is made for... To accompany the dead in its afterlife soul's wanderings. And this is an art that is really powerful, because defying death, it's kind of risky somewhere! One must have a lot of courage and willpower in order to do it! "An art-pleasure (in the Dionysian meaning), an art-presence, an art-soul, an art-joy as in the books of Jean Giono." I am very impressed by Jean Giono's books, I like his will to bring man out of his torpor and contemporary despair, and "An art-body as in sexuality." It's a bit of a play on words (art-corps pronounce as hardcore in French), but a art-body definitely incarnated! Now Thierry, would you like to speak?
TS: Yes, I would like to intervene about the panels, which perhaps you will present, which are, for example, the ones you have exhibited here.
JPS: Here they are!
TS: Yes, that's it! So what is striking, as I was saying earlier, is that there is de facto a Jean-Pierre Sergent style that means that you can find yourself in a room where there is about 500 artworks and 1 Jean-Pierre Sergent, there will be no doubt about it, you will recognize it right away and at first glance! And there are different aspects that seem interesting to me in this work and there I would say first of all from a formal point of view, not to mention the thematic, but from a simple formal point of view. Firstly of all it is this question raised just now by Jean-Pierre Sergent of the void, its works, at least on Plexiglas, it is less obvious in his works on paper. Its Its paintings on Plexiglas, it is some void into the anti-void in fact, because not only all the space is occupied by the graphics, by the colors but, it is occupied, without us really consciously realizing it, in three dimensions, since the technique he uses, which is the silkscreening technique, it is a superimposition of layers so what we can see here, and when we are in front of the installation, when we are looking at one of the works, it is necessary to adapt our glance. First you're going to see something that may seem highly aesthetic and at the same time may seem confused; and then you're going to concentrate on the work and little by little, the eye is going to get used to it, as one gets used to the darkness or to the light. The eye is going to get used to it and you're going to see the different layers that will appear, one after the other, and that's really quite amazing because there's no place for emptiness, but the place given to color and given to graphics, it's a place that literally is in three dimensions. There is a second idea that I find very interesting in Jean-Pierre Sergent's work, which is modularity, that is to say that we start from a format that is always and ever the same (105 x 105 cm), which is a square, and we can create a work that will make: 5 meters, 8 meters, 20 meters, infinity... We can cover an entire wall with the works and with, as everything is modular, with an infinite possibility of representations. You just have to take a panel and then change it, put it somewhere else etcetera... and you will have an infinite possibility of representations!
This is really something very astonishing and then it must be said; we see it in art from the seventeenth, eighteenth, even more so in the nineteenth and in a certain way in the twentieth century too, what distinguishes the good artist from the great artist; first of all it is the way of representing the nudes, this is especially the case in the nineteenth century, but it is also the possibility of dealing with large scales paintings, look at Courbet: "Un enterrement à Ornans" or "L'Atelier du peintre", they are colossal formats. And it is also found in the 20th century, let's have a look also at "Guernica", which is one of the paintings that marked me the most in my life when I saw it in the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, "Guernica" its, I quote from memory: 5 m x 7 m... It's colossal, you are captivated by a work like that and I think that the large format is also what separates also the great artist from the good artist. We see it with Jackson Pollock too, I mean, there are Pollock's canvases that are huge, that's about the large format! One must have courage and strength to complet large format, it's far from being obvious, very far from being obvious. And thanks to this modularity, with Jean-Pierre Sergent's work, we can achieve large format, I almost can say limitless… since we can always add new panels to the existing ones.
JPS: Yes thank you Thierry. Yes it's true it's one of my main preoccupations, it's to get out of the limit of the body but it's transcendence, we can evoke transcendence. It's really one of the subjects that is close to my heart, I want to reach transcendence but through my body and not through intellectual subterfuges, that's very, very important. Here I'm going to evoke, I don't want to justify myself, as an artist never has to justify for his work, we do what we want even if we have to pay a high price. It just so happens that in New York from 1993, I picked up erotic images in the press. Here are the first erotic silkscreens on paper and Plexiglas in New York (1994-1996). I wanted to quote here an extract from Anselm Kiefer, which illustrates what you explained so perfectly earlier in your lecture.
"Ethics doesn't exist in Art, because ethics and morality are always linked to time, morality always changes, so an artist can't have morality because otherwise its frozen in contemporary time!"
And this is a sentence that is important and that you have to think about when you see a work of art. We are always the germinations of our time but also the fruit of the history of mankind, so when you are in front of a work of art and it shocks you, well as we say in New York 'Don't take it personal!' That is to say that the work was not necessarily made for you, and be humble in front of a work of art too, instead of rejecting it, try to see it with your heart more than with your reason (or your artistic culture), I think it's important! So at the time I used to buy the New York Times and of course I used to screenprint images that I found in this New York Times onto this New York Times... That's a bit my "New York Times Series"! Here, it's this work that we see exhibited here: "Adam, Eve & the Graffiti", that I exhibited at the Remiremont Museum last year and I find that all religions are just too restrictive toward sex… because this is in the church's portico of Notre-Dame de Paris, it's Adam and Eve who are wearing sex caches of course, you can't really have sex with sex caches (vine leaves), of course, it doesn't exist... it's an allucination! And so, I just draw a big cock like this and I printed it, and behind this big cock, there's also a Japanese erotic drawing. The Japanese people, I'll come back to that later, have a slightly different access to sexuality than we do. And then this is one of the first print of an erotic series of 1998 and I retrieved the image directly... it was at that time when I started using a computer, so you can find pornographic images easily on the internet and I reworked these pornographic images to make them iconic somehow. So I will show you a couple of visuals and then we'll talk about that series of work with Thierry afterwards. It's a work entitled "Duality" and it's done on Serishi paper which is extremely thick, I bought it in Los Angeles into a mall galleries center and I made this series a little precious where there are just only two colors. It's an obvious incitement to sexuality. This work can make us think of Matisse, about whom we talked a lot with Nicolas Surlapierre (Director of the Museum), who is here, during our last video interview. Perhaps you wanted to talk about it?
TS: Yes, of course, on this source of erotic inspiration, one have to take it very seriously, I mean sometimes one can look at an artist's work, which, because it's of an erotic inspiration, will seem like not so serious, or even a decorative painting, well... Whereas in fact in Jean-Pierre Sergent's approach when you look at a lot of his works, when you read his writings, because it's important; he also writes and the fact that he writes by explaining his work, and the fact that he writes by explaining his work and being understandable, I insist! Because many artists are writing about their work but they could be abstract because their writings are abstract or at least abstruse. Jean-Pierre writes texts that explain his approach in an understandable way. And we can see that we are very far from the hanky panky. This is what Baudelaire said when he spoke about morals for the jackanapes, he is not a jackanapes. He would not be happy if I said he is a genius, to use Baudelaire's term, but he is not a rascal, is he? And so we must take this very seriously, the eroticism that we find in Jean-Pierre Sergent's works, he draws his inspiration from very distant times, that is to say that he will draw it from Pre-Columbian Art, from Egyptian Art, from Indian Art and also from contemporary Japanese manga, that is to say that we have here very old sources, sources of primitive art and then sources that are extremely modern because Japanese manga is extremely contemporary all the same. And he's going to collect all of that, he's going to assemble them and he's going to find... And that's something that is rare, because it's not easy, he's going to find a way to bring them into harmony, that is to say that we're going to find as well on a work: a Japanese manga with a graphic design that comes from Pre-Columbian art or Indian art and so on. And it won't seem incongruous, that is to say that he manages to find a harmony between graphics that might not at first seem to us to be able to co-exist… to be able to juxtapose each other, etcetera. I find that extremely interesting.
JPS: Yes, the artist is the one who can connect, in the religious sense of the word. That is to say, we connect dissimilar, disparate and anachronistic things... Yes, I think it's really important and essential for me to do that.
PART 2 | SEE THE VIDEO
JPS: This is the continuation of the "Duality" series (1999). I started to work a little on bondage images, I will explain it a little later, but it is a superb work, I had shown it... It's a small edition of 6 I believe, and I had sold one to a brain researcher (Neurobiologist) in New York, a Swiss German who had a crush on it and I'm glad I sold it to this friend. One have to understand that artists are very happy when they sell their works of art, it's quite rare, because you pass a baton somehow, that is to say that people appropriate something from you and it gives them joy and pleasure... That's absolutely it. So now, I want to talk about Marquis de Sade, you evoked him a little bit earlier so I'm going to read his text by and the public can read it too. It's hilarious and it's totally awesome. So it's a quotation from the "The 120 Days of Sodom":
(Everything is organized in his delirium, it's really very structured.)
"On September 30th. He fucks a turkey whose head is squeezed between the thighs of a girl lying on his stomach, so it looks like he's fucking the girl. He is fucked during this time, and at the moment of his discharge, the girl cuts the turkey's neck.
(It's strong there, if you don't laugh it's because you didn't understand anything!)
On the 31st. He fucks a goat doggy-style, while he's being whipped. He makes a child with this goat, which in turn to fuck later, whatever it is a monster.
(Then there, we laugh a lot because it is absolute delirium!)
On the 32nd. He fucks goats. (It's fabulous.)
On the 33rd. He wants to see a woman coming, jerked off by a dog; and he kills the dog with a pistol shot on the woman's belly without hurting the woman. (You have to dare to do that!)
On the 34th. He fucks a swan, putting a host in its ass, and he strangles the animal himself while ejaculating. That same evening, the bishop fucks Cupid in his ass for the first time."
It must be said that we are, you like me and the French people; we have been really lucky to have great philosophers, who have thought about sexuality and who have tried to get out of the stupidity imposed by taboos, imposed by religions, in order to reveal the desire present in Nature. That is to say that Nature has no morals somewhere and everything happens in there. It it is also an apology of the imagination because in order to write this kind of text out, you must have a really fertile imagination! So I'm going to show you this work that I did afterwards with Sade. So there we see in the background, Sade text's. It is important to say that it is a work that I never showed. Here, there is also what is named an axis mundi which comes from Maya culture, and of course it is exactly the same thing: that is to say that they sacrificed human beings to the Sun, they wanted to regenerate the World, they wanted to reenter the Cosmos and belonging to Life! And so all my work is talking about that. Here it's a little bit hot and trashy and when a gallery owner in New York (Eric Allouche) came at the Studio to choose some works for a collective exhibition, he saw this, he told me: "Jean-Pierre, if Matisse had been alive today, he would have painted something like this, but I don't think we'll be able to show it in our gallery." Because the owners were of Jewish origin, on the opening night, there were rabbis blessing the paintings, so I could have hardly imagined the rabbis blessing my painting like that, we had therefore chosen other more saleable paintings! But it's a work that speaks to me very deeply and I think it's also particularly very, very beautiful. There are 2 versions in this series and I would love to show them some day in an exhibition.
TS: Yes, it's true that the reaction, not of the public itself, but of the gallery owners, is always very interesting as soon as a work can seem either erotic or simply challenging. I have two examples that I will tell you very quickly because they are quite funny, and they concern Picasso. The first example is a work, from memory of the 1930s, which is a nice nude, seen from the back, it's a portrait of Marie-Thérèse, and where the anus is represented by a black dot, and Picasso shows this work to Rosenberg, who was his gallery owner at the time, and Rosenberg is absolutely appalled and says: "I don't want to show any asshole in my gallery!" So, well then! Many years later, it was in the years 65-66, and this was told to me by Roland Dumas (Picasso's French lawyer) when we were writing our book together about Picasso, because he witnessed this, Picasso shows Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who was his gallery owner, "Woman Pissing" which is today at the Pompidou Centre, and when he shows this to Kahnweiler, Kahnweiler says, "But it's going to be very difficult to sell it, I can't buy it". And then Picasso's reaction was very simple, he just said: "Yes, they will probably understand it in 30 or 50 years!" I mean, he didn't care, he painted that because he wanted to paint it. But we see this resistance from the gallery owners, which is not necessarily commercial resistance, only purely commercial, but which is also moral resistance in a certain way.
TS: In Rosenberg's case it's clear, because I mean this painting is absolutely splendid, it is at the Picasso Museum in Paris today, but Rosenberg didn't even consider showing it, whereas in his Gallery he had a special floor for the Impressionists, the School of Paris, that could satisfy its traditional customers, classic, and then above that there were the cubists, there was Picasso and the others, and there he would only bring up those he knew wouldn't be shocked by what they would see, but even that ("the Woman Pissing") he didn't want it… So you can imagine the reaction he might have had to the painting you just showed us!
JPS: Yes, of course! So this is another Plexiglas with a scene, it's a little bit inspired by India where there are all these erotic scenes, unfortunately enough, I've never had a chance to travel to India but their works impress me particularly deeply. So it's a Plexiglas that is presented actually at the "Voluptuousness" exhibition in Châteauvillain. And this, I chose this one because it is a large paper which is there, you have the chance to have a part of this big painting because when I print on Plexiglas the panels are 1.05 by 52, 50 m and I always print a large format and a smaller format on what I name the "Half Papers". And so I had showed this work at an Art Fair in Montreux and a lady who was eating there, because on the opening night, there were people eating in front of this painting and there was a lady who complained because there was this big dick hanging in front of her while she was eating. That's artist life's, it makes me rather laugh, but I think that despite everything it's a magnificent work because you can also see the Inferno that we talked about earlier, a manuscript from the Middle Ages, you can see a Pygmy work, you can see 'Silentium est' (it's silence), it's also a manuscript from the Middle Ages... Here, it's an angel that I found, you see the man there, it's an angel I found in the street in New York, on a background of the stock market, I'm mixing, not magically because I don't like that word too much, but I'm mixing the unconscious, the chance with the need or disdain for our economical systems somewhere, and then there's this woman I drew with the sex well notified, as you mentioned earlier, with pubic hair, vulva and clitoris, so it's all there! And then, on the top right, it's an musician Egyptian luth player, the gesture is so erotic that I liked it, there you go.
T.S: This little fellow you're talking about, by the way, so that's the great flaw of art historians, is that they spend their time seeing one work of thinking about other works and trying to build bridges, but it's still quite close to some of Braque's "Birds".
JPS: Yes you're right! But, it's just a little angel on gold paper that a kid had cut out (with round-tipped scissors) and that I found on the sidewalk and that's how it was done, that's what we tell, we tell about our aesthetic or human encounters, on the sidewalk and that's how it was done. That's stories we tell about: our aesthetic or human encounters, of course that's our mission for us artists… That's it. So now I'm going to focus on the bondage series and we are lucky to have two works from this series here, so I'm going to explain a little bit what I often explain so that the European public could better understands it: In Japan they connect and knot ropes like this on trees or stones to sanctify them somehow, that is to say that they define a sacred circle and one decides that there is a Kami spirit living in this tree and so people will gather, perhaps they invoke their dead, perhaps they want to be present in a specific place, so we can talk about spirituality.
That's what really interests me in bondage images, so there we see a Japanese bondage in that picture and I probably drew a drawing from it, I don't remember which one, so they name it Shibari (tied, bound) or Kimbaku-bi (magnificent bondage) and we can discuss endlessly about the relationship of the woman's body towards suffering or pleasure, but nevertheless, when we see that, we see more of an ecstasy than a suffering, and that's what I want to show very exactly in my work, that is to say, the moment when the body looses itself to precisely enter into ecstatic state... So I started this bondage series (Bondage & Freedom) in New York in 2003, just before leaving New York, and so here is a Japanese bondage image, and there you see a little drawing that runs through the surface, as one could say, surrounding the image, they are obviously prehistorical vulvas, so I drew them into the background. Here we see this work that is here, and the phallic drawing is a drawing that comes from the Asmats of New Guinea and the background is a drawing that comes from a Japanese kimono drawing. This is to explain a little bit my art work. And here we had printed with the Gallery Le Pavé dans la Mare, which was a Besançon's gallery about ten years ago, we printed onto a factory this large sized bondage, that I had exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Mulhouse and that I am currently showing in its paper version. Here is the Large Blue Nude, and to tell a little anecdote it is thanks to this large format that I get the chance to met my friend philosopher Marie-Madeleine Varet... Here it is, I don't know if you want to talk a little bit about these bondage series.
TS: Yes, but it's interesting because there is indeed between the European and the Japanese vision of bondage, a very big difference, that is to say that there is a spiritual dimension of bondage in Japan that we don't find in Europe, and then what is also quite interesting when you represent scenes... finally works based on bondage scenes, it's that they represent only women bodies, but bondage is of course also suitable for men, you just have to read, we were talking about Sade earlier, I'm not a big fan of Sade ; I like his revolutionary side in a certain way but I don't like his texts very much because, with Sade, the consent of the submissive is never required. As with Georges Bataille also, whom I don't like either; that's the way it is, at least I said it. But when we read other literature, I think of Jeanne de Berg or Jean de Berg since she was Robbe-Grillet's wife, we find also this bondage, but applied this time to men, and that is something that is quite absent from representations, including Japanese manga, in Japan it is always the woman who is bound, or practically always, who is represented and not the man. But what's interesting is, I think that through your works, in the viewer's eyes, you really ask a question because, a work of art, with all the conception that we have in the West of the work of art: that is, it's still "sacred". A work of art that represents some bondage, that is to say the 'spiritual dimension' as Japan conceives it, it still poses a problem in the glance of the Western spectator, who does not assume that there is a spiritual dimension in... the practice and the technique and the complexity of the technique of bondage.
JPS: Yes, but someone who doesn't have spirituality cannot understand a spiritual work, I'm deeply sorry to say that, but it's an obvious fact, a blatant truth. Today, 90% of the French population is atheist, you understand, where to find (or rediscover) our spirituality! It's a huge and real question of survival?
T.S: So this is a question that Jean-Pierre raises often and that I find personally fascinating, which is to say atheists people do not have a true spirituality in fact and there I admit that I have a lot of difficulty to adhere to this idea. I even go, so it is a provocation of course, but I will even tell you that the last place where one can find spirituality, it is into religions, and particularly in monotheisms, so why? Because when you look at how a religion is structured, I'll take the case of the Catholic Church for example, but I might as well take Islam. It's a power struggle, it's market shares, I like to make a comparison like that, but it's market shares, which one take or don't take, it's power struggles and it's money! And one day when we were having lunch together with Roland Dumas, I told him that, I said that for me, the last place to find spirituality is religion, because it is a question of power, it is a question of money, all the scandals of the Vatican's finances since Paul VI until today, it is still huge, it is always some questions of money. And you go into Islam and you find imams who make huge personal fortunes for themselves during the exercise of their duties, but I mean that's very well known, so where's the spirituality in that imbroglio? Question mark?
JPS: Yes, yes.
T.S: And finally, with Roland Dumas, we talked about it a lot and we came to a common conclusion, that is to say, ultimately that spirituality, one like the other, we find it in the works of art. That is to say, spirituality we find it in Art and absolutely not in Religions, and I think that a convinced atheist will find spirituality somewhere.
JPS: Yes, yes, for sure.
TS: Because spirituality can be a vertical relationship but not necessarily with an imaginary entity or whatever…
JPS: Yes, of course.
TS: One can have this vertical relationship with a work of art that inspires us and transports us.
JPS: Yes, but if it has spirituality at the first place, you can't find spirituality in an art work that doesn't have some.
TS: Yes, of course.
JPS: So where can you find it? Were is the starting point, the inspiration?
TS: Yes, it's true, it's true that when we were discussing this, we were talking about Giacometti's works, so yes, there is spirituality there.
JPS: Yes, yes!
TS : So yes, there is spirituality there.
PART 3 | SEE THE VIDEO
JPS : Yes, I wanted to talk about my current work, with some visuals from the "Shakti-Yoni" series on which I have been working since 2016. I really like this series because there are really no taboos, and I wanted to make some quotes to explain a little bit its title, so it's named: "Shakti-Yoni, Ecstatic Cosmic Dances". "Shakti, is in Hinduism the divine feminine energy, and the consort of Shiva."(Wikipedia) and "The Goddess to the Absolute, of which all female deities are only aspects..." (Alexandra David-Néel) According to her book that I am currently reading, in her In the Heart of the Himalayas, the Nepal, and she really embodies (this Shakti) this universal feminine form, which is the absolute mother goddess! Whose image and presence has been lost in Europe, in the West, and : "The Yoni in Hinduism, designates the female genital organ (womb or vulva); it is the symbol of the feminine energy called Shakti." "It is the sexual enjoyment which is the substance of the world. It is what brings us closer to the divine state." Says Alain Daniélou who is a very famous Hinduist whose writings I love, and the second sentence I would like to quote is: "Ecstasy is cooperating to the divine creation of the world." It's in Henri Michaux's, L'infini turbulent, and so I'm going to pass you some visuals, there are very few. I also wanted to quote again this 'friend', finally in quotation marks, Alexandra David-Neel who says in her book's about:
FREEDOM - SUBMISSION - EQUALITY
"Passang is Tibetan, he despises the Hindus and their religious beliefs. He himself has a brain full of the most grotesque superstitions, but that doesn't stop him from mocking the superstitions of others. We are all at the same point".
That is to say that it shows well as in our discussions, to be atheist, to be religious, that is to say that we all tinker around a bit with our own poor beliefs and what I try to really do, in a very strong way in my work, it's to shake up and push these boundaries that we have in ours minds to go a little further, that is what I hope at least. And we discussed it earlier during lunch: if you see a work like this you will all immediately (in France) think of: "The Origin of the World" I had some flyers printed where there was a woman's sex, and I was told : Oh "The Origin of the World"! That is to say that in France, as soon as you see a woman's sex: it's Courbet's 'L'Origine du monde', but it's never the sex of their girlfriends, it's never its own sex, it's never the sex of your mother or your sister. So we are still conditioned, Art and image condition us somewhere, we all have only that in mind "The Origin of the World"! It's great for Courbet but it's just of some kind of a woman sex. We may talk about it later, that's it! And here, I worked with a drawing by Hildegarde von Bingen, with these sort of cosmic concentric circles. And what is important is to understand that consciousness is something that evolves ! And Art too, it's somewhere present to make us evolve at the higher consciousness level, to become aware of something; and let's say that the work of art is this central point, the axis, in the middle of the painting and that afterwards our consciousness evolves and it encompasses the world little by little. And it's very important, for me, it's very important to try to develop that way of working and of thinking. Here is the last visual, it's an erotic work too, I don't know if you want to intervene, we're coming to the end of this presentation Thierry.
TS: There is a notion, which it is true, that we don't talk much about in Art, which is that of pleasure, and which seems important to me, both the pleasure of looking at a work, and probably also the pleasure that an artist takes in creating its work. So the pleasure of looking at a work is something, I would say that concerns the spectator, it's something that is variable geometry, you can have the pleasure of looking at a work and then your brother, your sister or even twins, will not share this pleasure at all, so it's really something very subjective. But what would interest me is to see the other side of things: not that of the spectator whom I know a little bit, but that of the artist... And what pleasure does the artist take when he creates?
JPS: Yes, well already, I take pleasure in all the stages of creation, already, when I recover an image that appeals to me, I don't know why it appeals to me? Why this image appealed to me more than another? I have pleasure in reworking it on the computer, I have pleasure in choosing the color. For me, yes, all is joy in the working process. Yes, it is a state of joy, one can't say that it is a permanent joy, because there are part of this work that are quite laborious, but it is a state of joy and presence, of being in the world. It is a bit of a great prayer somewhere, even though I am an atheist, as we talked about earlier, but it is a great prayer to the world and it is a great offering to the world too!
TS: Yes, it's an interesting question because what struck me, as I said earlier, is that I've known Jean-Pierre since 2006, every time I come to the region I visit him, I look at his works in his studio, etcetera, etcetera, and what struck me a lot is that he's someone who works all the time! That is to say, for example, during the last lockdown in which we were all at stuck at home... We couldn't do much, we couldn't exhibit, we couldn't do anything, anyway, so I would phone Jean-Pierre and he would say, "I'm working. "
I think it's wonderful as the conditions weren't really the most favorable to work, that's the least we can say. So, there is certainly, yes, this pleasure of working, which animates a certain number of artists, who really spend their time working, well, Magritte for example, you can't imagine that when one see his works, but Magritte had organized his work as an administrative civil servant; that is to say that he left home to his studio at fixed hours, he came back for lunch, he left in the afternoon to work at fixed hours and he came back in the evening at fixed hours. You can't imagine that when you see his works, but there you go, but it was constant work, besides that there were other painters who worked in a much more impulsive way, for a certain time they worked and then they stopped working, and then there are exceptions like Picasso who worked all the time, including at night. But that's what struck me a lot, this constancy in your work, even in periods like the ones we've known and which were not the most favorable.
JPS: Yes, but working for me is a strength and it's an energy too. We talked about a Shakti energy, it's really an energy of course… Yes it's important. And this desire and this joy of living is really fundamental, and when I see some of my contemporaries fellows, who are complaining all the time, I'm completely flabbergasted that they don't understand this joy of living somewhere, it's a total waste of time, and this also inducing an emotional loss too, people who are not joyful don't attract anybody, that's it. Did you want to come back to some topics or do you want us to conclude? I just had one sentence, maybe you can conclude on that, I saw a movie the other day on Arte (cultural Channel) which was quite beautiful, it's a film named: "Ichi, The Samurai Woman" by Fumihiko Sori, and so it's a blind young and beautiful samurai woman, it was set in 18th century Japan of the samurai, she says at one point this rather moving little sentence, she says: "Any being deprived of heat ends up dying of cold!" Well, that's absolutely what Art is about (it's warms us all); if you were ever deprived of Art, you will freeze to death too! So have a little more respect for the living artists, thank you.
TS: I think that's a nice conclusion, I have nothing to add!
JPS: Thank you Thierry. Thank you all for the cameras. Thanks to Nicolas Surlapierre (Museum Director). Good day to all of you. Thank you!
JEAN PIERRE SERGENT INTERVIEWED ON RADIO CAMPUS BESANÇON BY AURÉLIEN BERTINI | 3 PARTS | BESANÇON FINE ARTS & ARCHEOLOGY MUSEUM | SEPTEMBER 10 2020 at 7:00 p.m. Download the PDF
Radio campus Besançon Radio campus Besançon sets up its studios in the MBAA conference room for this special program in partnership with the mobile art center concerning the exhibition dedicated to Jean-Pierre Sergent "the 4 pillars of the sky".
Around the table: J-P Sergent, artist-painter, Nicolas Bousquet, in charge of the cultural development of the Museum and Louis Ucciani, Director of the Mobile Art Center and Lecturer at the University of Franche-Comté.
With on the set: Chloé Truchon, Alexie le Coroller and Amélie Pérardot.
Transcription by the students of the LP METI.
Filmed on the location by the artist
PART 1 | SEE THE VIDEO
Aurélien Bertini of Radio Campus: Direction to North America to begin this program, with music by the Navajo Indians, whose members are spread throughout Arizona, New Mexico and Utah in the United States. A song from this Native American tribe, which you, Jean-Pierre Sergent, painter and artist, acquired from the National Museum of the American Indians in New York. So hello first of all.
- Jean-Pierre Sergent: Yes, hello dear Aurélien, hello to everybody!
- AB : So, please explain us precisely what you finally feel; when you listen to this kind of music?
- JPS : Yes, well, it really plunges me into joy and a kind of inexpressible cosmic connection, that is to say that one feels that they belong to the world, to Nature and that they are full of energy. It is this energy that really interests me yes! And it's also very soothing too. It's a community that sings, they all sing together, they belong to the same "tribe".
- AB : So, you are a Franco-American painter born in Morteau. You studied architecture in Strasbourg and painting at the School of Fine Arts in Besançon. In 1991 you crossed the Atlantic, first to Montreal, then two years later to New York (1993), a city in which you stayed for ten years (until 2003), I think you told me that earlier, and in which, by the way, your work began on found objects, the Sculpture-Paintings and serigraphs on Plexiglas. You now live in Besançon and a temporary exhibition is dedicated to you: "The 4 pillars of the sky", at the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology where we are live on Radio Campus Besançon. So, it is a large wall installation of 80 square meters, including 72 paintings on plexiglass of square unit format, we will talk about it again, it has its importance, so it is installed in the large staircases of the museum. In the end, it is impossible to miss it when you are visiting the Museum. To get back to the song that we are listening now, you have submitted several titles, several pieces of music, I chose this one because, it is such a sonorous indication of your influences, of your creative process, songs that help visions and dreams, shamanic songs of trance, incantation and its vibrations; precisely, they breathe in your works, in your work that involves the body, spirituality and the enjoyment of being alive. So, as I said, we came here at the invitation of the Mobile Art Center and the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology, for this special program, which is part of the nocturnes proposed by the Museum. So, around the table: Jean-Pierre Sergent, we heard you already. Nicolas Bousquet is at our side, in charge of the cultural development of the Center's Museums, good evening.
- Nicolas Bousquet: Good evening Aurélien.
- AB: Good evening to Louis Ucciani, Director of the Mobile Art Center and Senior Lecturer at the University of Franche-Comté, good evening.
- Louis Ucciani: Good evening.
- AB: Are you all doing well? Ready for this new radio night? The set will be completed later by Alexie le Corollaire and Amélie Pérardot, our 2 journalists who will each come to look at your work in their own way, with some surprises... Students also from the pro LP METI, exhibition and information technologies, will also come to talk to us about their work and then about this dimension of of the installation and its hanging. That's what we listened to for this first intro and I also wanted us to listen to an interpretation of Bach by Glenn Gould, to talk about this famous vital energy that we can look for when we create. Jean-Pierre Sergent, do you listen to this music when you are in your studio?
- JPS: Not really when I'm working, because I'm too focused on my art really, I can't do two things at once, but I've known Glenn Gould interpretations for years and when we talk about energy, for me, I feel that Europe has lost its energy but Bach, he has this universal energy, the energy of the heart, the energy of joy and it's really something that fills me up and makes me want to live, there's no other word for it. And in this excerpt we hear Glenn Gould seeking for the right notes and sometimes we hear seagulls passing by and he is shouting out where he is climaxing so to speak. Because it is really pleasurable to be a creator, really. And that's what I also feel when I work.
- AB : So how does this creative process take place for you?
- JPS: Well, I look for, collect and find images. When I was in New York before, there were no computers, I used to go take pictures in museums, whereas nowadays, with the internet, you can access a large database. So on Twitter, sometimes I find images, for example, it can be from Egypt or other cultures and so as soon as an image speaks to me, I keep it in stock over the years... For example, I'm working now, with images that I made 10 years ago and then it turns out that at that moment given T, I want to use that image. I work on them with Illustrator or Photoshop on my computer.
- AB : So, to come back here, from what we can see, how did you created precisely this installation? I think it's one of the biggest you've ever done?
- JPS : Yes absolutely, it's thanks to Mr. Nicolas Surlapierre who is the Curator of this Museum and with whom we had this project for several years and who once told me: "It would be nice if your works could come to decorate, between quotation marks, the staircases of the Museum. " And it was postponed a bit because of a lack of budget from the City, but we finally did it last year, at this exact date, exactly one year ago. and I really need to thank all the technicians who worked for more than a month on this project because it's complicated to put all that together. But I have chose the images according of this idea of elevation, because in each tribe there is a place called axis mundi where people can communicate with their spirits or ancestors. So humbly, I hope to talk to the spirits... But whether or not they still exist, it is another question!
- AB : Considering the resonance of the magnificent exhibition location, it's a good place to do it anyway, we're really into something acoustically very interesting. So, at first glance, yes it's colorful, there are ethnic motifs, it's inspired by the divinities, perhaps Nicolas Bousquet and Louis Ucciani can also talk about it, when finally, beyond this first glance, what does appears to us?
- NB: To say a word about this presentation of Jean-Pierre Sergent's work, it is part of a museum curatorial program that allows us to see and rediscover their collections through the work of different contemporary artists. Obviously, Jean-Pierre's works resonate particularly within our walls in relation to different aspects of our collections. We have archaeological collections dating back to Ancient Civilizations, we have extra-European collections too, even if they are not on permanent display, although we can see some of them, currently, in an exhibition around Monin. We have erotic works, since this is also a strong source of inspiration for Jean-Pierre and, concretely, our spaces are intended to host works by contemporary artists; we will perhaps come back to this a little later. But this installation, The Four Pillars of the Sky, completes the decorative elements of the museum's architecture, which is a bit austere for its 19th century part, the staircases which were designed by an architect, we will say of neoclassical inspiration, named Pierre Marnotte. This architect planned a whole decorative ensemble in the common areas of the museum. With elements of course friezes, columns, murals as can be seen in many museums of that time, as in Marseille, Amiens or Nantes; but in Besançon, finally, there was not this painted decoration or decoration brought back on the building, for lack of budget at the time. Marnotte had taken a particularly shocking view of it. And so, somewhere, one comes to repair a kind of injustice done to this creator, to this architect, by inviting Jean-Pierre to exhibit his works in the stairs and so, obviously, the notion of ascent is strong, it reasons in relation to the work of the artist. In relation to the religious, mythical, cosmological symbolism that can be found there, but it also brings back a colorful dimension, an energy, as Jean-Pierre was saying just before, which is also that of a Museum that is transforming itself, that changed its image at the time of its rehabilitation. We want to be a museum that is today in touch with the issues of our time, with societal issues, and we also want to effectively capture and transmit this energy to our visitors, so that they can rediscover all our collections with a new and perhaps more inventive glance than they could have had before visiting the Museum.
- AB : So, it's true that it works really well when you arrive by the main staircase, you can already see the Besançon City sky and you are still struck by the size of this work, which immediately catches you in the face, I'd like to say. So 72 paintings were chosen from a series (The Entropic Suites), which you did between 2010 and 2015. So how did you choose them exactly?
- JPS: To be honest, I have chosen works that were not too explicitly erotic, because we didn't want to cause any problems, neither for the Museum nor for the City. It's useless to provoke a controversy, but I don't mind, because I have a stock of maybe 300 paintings, so there's nothing to worry about choosing some. I chose them according to the directions too, North, South, East, West and I'm really, as I said earlier, I'm very influenced by the axis-mundi and the 4 directions because that's the place where we center ourselves and that's the place of passage so these stairs are a place of passage too somewhere.
- AB : And you, how do you do to center yourself?
- JPS: Well: "Learn how to know yourself." Already I think you have to know yourself, get rid of a lot of things because we do have a lot of shit in our head somewhere... It's not hidden, it's right in our heads! Opening boxes and often it's not even boxes that you need to open it is really trying to think differently. I think that we artists have, for some of us... the freedom to create somehow our own path, well it sounds a bit pretentious to say that, but I have the impression that this is what I'm looking for somewhere. I hate being chained up, I hate submissions and I try to find my freedom through a very square structure, very set, my formats are also always the same size; 1,05 x 1,05 m.
- AB : So they are meaningful formats?
- JPS: Absolutely, we talked about that the other day. It so happens that I've been working on this format for several years, since Montreal, and one day I asked myself: but why 1.05 meters? And in fact it's the golden section of my body, as in the body, according to Corbusier rules… or also the Greeks, who knew about this golden section, it happens to be 1.618 and I am 1.72 m, it happens to be exactly 1.05 m at my belly button. So my body found it like the bees found the Hexagon. It's intuitively organic designed somewhere. I like this idea of working with the body and that the body is the master of what it does.
- AB : So how exactly do you do it, when you glean images, we're going to say at a time when digital has not imposed itself, that is to say that somewhere the body is invested, well I have the feeling that you visit places, you take some photos, there is a physical relationship and when you go from this axis of work to a digital axis of work, does it change anything for you ? Aren't you losing a physical dimension?
- JPS: No, because I find it again throughout the silkscreen printing process, because silkscreen printing is very corporeal. It's hard work to expose the screens and when I paint large formats on Plexiglas, it's very, very physical. So there's this whole physical stage. I can also feel that on working on the small formats, because we have to reclean the screens, expose them, so my body is always present when I am working. It's not only computer work.
- AB : So Jean-Pierre Sergent is a contemporary artist. Exactly what does it change for you, a Museum that reopened its doors in November 2018 after 4 years of gestation of this new project, it is not necessarily a usual line of work, contemporary art for you. So how does the presence of Jean-Pierre's work fit into this new project?
- NB: Let's say that contemporary artists have always been present at the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology. We're lucky to be in a territory with a School of Fine Arts and with many creators, simply, we've changed a little bit the way we think about including contemporary art in our collections. We have completely rethought the paths in a thematic chronological manner. With a journey that begins in the Paleolithic and ends with modern art, and throughout this journey we wanted to give counterpoints, off-beat points of view. So, in different ways, but the most relevant way, or one of the most relevant, at least was to invite artists to present works directly related to our collections. So the idea was not necessarily to have a permanent presentation since we are starting with presentations that last more or less a year, so we are almost at the end of our second year of operation. So there is a first installation of contemporary works called "And the desert is moving forward" for the inauguration and which ended with the first anniversary of the museum. Nicolas Surlapierre, who is the director of the center's museums and who is also a specialist in contemporary art, sets up these hangings with this temporality so as not to weary the eyes of our visitors and always sharpen their curiosity.
It is also the vocation of the museum to help young artists to launch themselves, to exhibit, but we also have a lot of pleasure in welcoming nationally and internationally recognized artists such as Jean-Pierre Sergent. For the second exhibition on the notion of "Nothing to see" or "How to see things differently", we obviously chose to invite 6 artists: 2 men, 2 women and 2 missing persons. So obviously this choice was a little bit, how to say, guided by the desire to make our collections dialogue with artists from the region, so we invited Claudie Floutier, Barbara Dasnoy, but also we invited Didier Marcel and Jean-Pierre Sergent for the living, but also 2 artists of the region who are unavoidable and not necessarily sufficiently honored in the most important museum of the region, namely Jean Messagier whose works we unfortunately do not have in our collections but who still deserved to be exhibited at some point in the museum, and then Jean Ricardon who was also a very important artist. So, we made this installation that will be completed in a few weeks for the 2nd anniversary of the museum where we will have a new hanging that will change; on the other hand the work of Jean-Pierre Sergent, "The 4 pillars of the sky", will stay a little longer in the Museum. Jean-Pierre makes us the pleasure and the honor to make us benefit from it a little longer; it is true that it is a piece which found its place in our staircases but obviously, as we do not necessarily have the means of acquisition sufficiently important to make the acquisition of it in a definitive way and well, we expose it as much as we can. But in any case, it's really another way of exhibiting contemporary art to have these annual rotations, so that we can always renew the artists' view over our collections and also to exchange with our visitors, the way of conceiving what really is a Museum, that is to say, it's not only a place with an exhibition, as the visitor you interviewed said, who is "frozen", but exhibitions change, permanent exhibitions as well as temporary exhibitions, we may come back to this later on with our next temporary exhibition, but in any case, Jean-Pierre's work has found its true place, for a time, in the museum and we are very happy about that.
- AB: Jean-Pierre Sergent it is important to you, and what does it change for you to be exhibited here, at the Museum of Fine Arts?
- JPS : Well, of course, I'm very happy and very honored because it's been 15 years since I came back from New York and I found it a bit difficult, precisely, to show his work, because there are very few places dedicated to contemporary art in Franche-Comté, or these places are quite difficult of access for some reasons X, Y or Z, and it's because of this meeting with the director Nicolas Surlapierre, it worked out pretty well between us as he flashed on my work and for me, it's really an extraordinary chance, yes!
- AB : So we talked about vibration and energy already, and there was a question inevitably coming up, and it made me think perhaps also of one of the partners of the Museum of Fine Arts, which is the Higher Institute of Fine Arts and which, a few years ago, proposed an exhibition in Narbonne, at L'Aspirateur, in which you took part I believe? I hope so, maybe not?
- JPS: At L'Aspirateur? Yes, absolutely yes.
- AB : So it was an exhibition in 3 parts and there was one of the questions that were asked: is the artist a shaman? So we can see that there is something around this duet (artist-shaman) in some way, we don't know which one feeds the other? But you, precisely, on this occasion, what did you wanted to show?
- JPS: From the exhibition in Narbonne? In fact it was with Laurent Devèze, who is a friend and Director of the School of Fine Arts, and all the artists present were showing more or less shamanic works, trance works... And of course, that's what fascinates me, we've already talked about it, trance fascinates me, because it's accessing something else, it's forgetting the body a little and finding its fullness and its spirituality somewhere. Shamanism is what allows you to find your spirituality in the first sense of the term. A bit like when we are born, we have this experience of life or when we die, we don't really remember it anymore, but hey, it doesn't matter, it's not very serious, they are vital experiences... Art is a life experience, of course, it's absolutely certain.
- AB : So Louis Ucciani, we are often working together, especially around Fourier, and what I appreciate about you is that in the end there is always a Fourier dimension somewhere. For example, is there a link to be found between Jean-Pierre Sergent's work and Fourier's philosophy?
- LU : Yes, but about what is not necessarily present and visible in this exhibition here. So, I'm going to come back to one thing, it turns out that it's been 15/20 years since we met in Besançon within the art scene, and I was happy to have put together an exhibition on the links between Franche-Comté and New York. We had worked together at that time and this link Franche-Comté / New York, it should be known that it is eminently carried by Charles Fourrier. And that Fourrier left from here, or he stayed in France, but his disciples left for the USA, many communities were born in the USA thanks to Fourrier and, notably, it will be a work that we will do this year, notably the Chelsea Hotel, which is the place for the artists, which was created by a disciple of Fourrier. In the Fourierist tradition. So there you have it, the link is there, and the other link is indeed the erotic, which we will perhaps talk about later? But I can see one thing, I would like to pick up on what was earlier said, since the music playing of the Navajo and Glenn Gould, finally, we realized that they are doing the same job, at some point! They are in the same place of creation, in search of, says JP Sergent of a spirit that might no longer exist. In any case according to him, who has completely deserted the world we are in. So it is as a philosopher that I approach his work because I don't know how to approach it. We've talked about it a few times, but it's a work that's hard to describes. It's not painting, not installation as such, it's a way of representing a world that may not be there, that may no longer be there and that is in the process of being constituted. And to see these images being silkscreened behind the Plexiglas, what do we see being applied? We can see a confrontation... I'm going to say this rather in another form: this art is for me anthropological art and not ethnographic. JPS is using ethnographic elements, with popular images that he finds a little bit everywhere, in our contemporary society and in past societies and he compresses them. Finally, one has the feeling that ethnography, that is to say, the lived experience, the spirit of the shamans who may have disappeared, is frozen into the anthropological, which is the science of today; the discourses that we all have towards the past and that the spirit, could no longer passes through it. And the work that JP Sergent seems to be doing is to create the framework that could make something pass through it. This something, he will perhaps talk about it later on about what is this spirit?
- JPS: Thank you.
- AB : So it is 19:25 on Radio Campus Besançon and we are going to make a small musical break, I remind you that you can listen to us on the 102.4 frequency.
*Musical break* Circle Dance Songs, Navajo Songs 1933 & 1940, Partita n2, J. S. Bach, Glenn Gould & Segera Madu, Gamelan Angklung, Music Of Bali
PART 2 | SEE THE VIDEO
- JPS: Yes, so here we hear gamelans from Indonesia. Antonin Artaud was crazy about this music because it's really a music that moves, that sweeps away all the harmonious tones. It also brings back this cosmic dimension, you can feel this, this absolutely incredible energy and this joy of being alive somewhere and communicating. I really love that. It's also chaos somewhere, it's a bit of organized chaos, by and with the music.
- AB : Here it is and we'll say it again, all we'll hear in this show in the end, is music from your library, cleverly chosen for this day. Louis Ucciani, maybe you also want to react to what JPS just said?
- LU : Yes, there are some things that I could possibly react to. The music that was brought in, that might lead to a question. Does Art need music? That is to say, does the work that you do when you collect, as you do, images from different times, different places, different obediences and you compact them on the canvas which is here the Plexiglas. When we do this kind of work, we are in the negation of time. We are in something that makes us erase all temporality, all the strata that we saw earlier when we visited the museum, where we recompose the famous archaeological strata... Here, we compact everything. And so, when we compact, we remove the temporality, we remove the sound and we remove the music. It's a bit of this paradox that I would like to question, that is to say, how is it that we accompany the painting, (so we're actually on the radio and we're in the place of the sound). So, as it was said earlier, how difficult it is, when you do this work, to paint, to listen to music at the same time, it's impossible. Here, I'm asking the question again from another angle. Does Art adapt itself to music or is it not the negation of it? Which is not to say, by the way, that there is a place for music and a place for painting.
- AB : Or a place for both like radio ? Jean-Pierre Sergent ?
- JPS : No, I wouldn't manage things like that, I wouldn't think like that. I believe that an energy is an energy. Whether it comes through music or through painting. The important thing is that we receive it, I think it's a notion of pleasure. And you're absolutely right in what you say about the compression of time; there's a very beautiful phrase from the Upanishads, which is a book of Hindu sage that says: "There is no joy in the finite, it is the infinite that we must seek, O Venerable One, I seek the infinite." This is exactly that in Art! One tries to search for the infinite and the infinite has no time, as you just said. It's a bit pretentious, but it's true, what we're looking for is to get out of a given era. Because an era is necessarily restrictive from the point of view of morality, philosophy, religion, of course. That's what I'm looking for, to get out of an era, by mixing into my work, several successive time periods, I can find something that enlarges me. It's like when I was in New York, I was feeling bigger than when I was in France. It's a bodily sensation.
- AB : Nicolas Bousquet?
- NB: Yes this link with the deep time, with the compression of styles, forms, even forms of spirituality. Finally, it is the whole approach of museums, to concentrate objects that have lost their initial functions, which may have a shamanic function for certain objects, for example, the painted pebbles of the Azilian, that we present in our showcases. Objects that have been desacralized and that come from different churches in Besançon or elsewhere, from the cathedral, for example the statues of the Jubé. We also have works related to Gallo-Roman cults, with representations of Zeus, Mithra and some others... But what is interesting to see is that once these objects enter the Museum, they lose their religious functions but they keep their spiritual functions. We find ourselves with a compression, like this, of forms of human sensibility that continue to speak to today's visitors through the centuries and today's sensibilities. And Jean-Pierre's work echoes this function of the Museum, to preserve, beyond the initial function, on the contrary to bring out this notion of the sacred, through a compression, a reappropriation. In our collections we have several polyptychs, works composed like this of shutters, for example the very beautiful Altarpiece of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows by Bernard Van Orley which is also composed, in addition to the representation of the Pietà, of two shutters with prophets from the Old Testament, which had evoked the coming pains of the Virgin. The altarpiece was closed except for religious presentations and services, and so one could not see what was inside; it was opened afterwards and one discovered, as a revelation, what was inside. The work of JPS is a little bit of that as well; there is a side of searching for meaning, for understanding, for dialogue between the different strata that make it up, and this relationship to the sacred speaks to us and to our visitors and finally echoes what we may encounter at random, during these visits to the museum.
- LU : If I may, on the history of the infinite and the finite, I'm going to correct the Upanishad and dare to contradict it and interpret it and say a little bit the opposite around. All right, I'm seeking in the canvas, in the art object, to reach infinity, therefore to go beyond its finitude, but I create this way a perfect finitude that contains infinity. That is to say, I don't have to disperse myself to seek the infinite, it is in the perfect parcel which is the finite.
- JPS: Yes, of course, but it's a sentence like that, because Art is still a search, artists are searching somewhere.
- LU: And that's when I asked myself about museums and how they work. I happen to be in charge of the METI license for the students, which prepares them for the curatorial exhibition profession. And of course we regularly ask ourselves the question of what is an exhibition? And it's true that there, "The Four Pillars of Heaven" which are precisely in what was presented earlier, in this staircase that goes up to the sky or down. This could be the march of time perhaps? It becomes interesting, because it is composed of accumulated finitudes. It is a little bit this report that I would like to question and which would answer the question about Fourrier. The whole problem with Fourrier is how the individual can merge into the community and be realized in the collective, and there, how a painting is realized in a set of paintings. This is somewhat the question, and the exhibition in this stairwell actually takes on a different meaning than if it were in a museum room.
JPS : It's true, you are absolutely right.
- AB : So, in a museum, there are works, but fortunately there is also an audience. Yesterday, Amélie, you were here with your microphone, just waiting for another type of gleaning, collecting words from visitors, and you offered us a selection of a few testimonies.
- Amélie Radio campus: Yes, so like you said, I've been walking around this MBAA looking for testimonials about the work of JPS. To know that in order to access his creations, you have to go through an arduous path, because of the health crisis. These works are hung above the two main staircases.
- Testimony 1: I like it, it's both restful and abstract. You can manage to see motifs and perceive things little by little.
- Testimony 2: It looks like some trance.
- Testimony 3: There is both meaning and no meaning. Afterwards, it's contemporary art, I'm not an expert in this field. It's this side that's a bit disjointed... but, when you look a little closer, you see that there's still a whole search and meaning.
- Testimony 4: The checkerboard design bothers me a bit. But each little square in itself is a very precise work of art that I like very much with the colors in every paintings. But the whole installation set up bothers me a little. Is it only one artist who did this? So, He surely liked to make parts of his Art well dispersed, so as not to gather it all together as we are used to do.
- AB : JPS, is that correct ?
- JPS: Yes, this whole audience is right. Except that it is the artist who is right, in the end, because it is us who are doing the work somewhere. And of course, one apprehends a work of art with one's culture, one's bodily experiences too, especially in my work, it's very important. Sometimes I do exhibitions where I show erotic work and there are often women who come to see me and tell me that my work disturbs them. Approaching a work of art it has to do with the way one has been loved, pampered or not, or even beaten. And therefore, we apprehend it with our bodies and I hope that my work speaks to the body first and then to the spirit, if however indeed, we still can access that part of our humanity.
- AB : We'll talk about this erotic dimension in a few moments, of course.
- LU : I just wanted to pick up on what this lady said, we'll come back to that. But earlier, you had defined the fact that you wanted to live without hindrance and obviously not in chains. And it's true that we often saw, and I think the lady could react to this, to this women we see, chained and shackled, in your work in general?
- JPS: Maybe, yes, maybe?
- LU : I really don't know, that a question one can ask?
- NB: Just to react to these reactions from our visitors, it really pleases me because it goes in the direction of the Museum's approach, which is to be a generous, welcoming museum that tries to offer its visitors experiences, so not all experiences are pleasant. But one can see that these visitors were surprised and visibly, for the most part, interested. Not all of them necessarily understood deeply the work of JPS, but we still have media that can help them go further if they wish. In any case, it was an experience for them and obviously, it marked their visit, so for us it's a win win situation.
- Amélie Radio campus: For the listeners who are listening to us and who have not yet seen these works, they are laid out like huge puzzles and fit directly into the building.
- Testimony of a Swiss woman: These works fit perfectly into the space. I really like how it fits with the floor. And I appreciate that there is contemporary art, after all the older stuff I've seen, that's also really great, but the modern stuff reminds us of our time.
- Testimony 5: It's hard to say like that, I would say maybe different forms of spiritualities, stars, an oriental side. All this obviously with a modern aspect.
- So, among these visitors, there were also local people and even Dutch people. Elie was passing through Besançon and decided to come to the museum; she stopped in front of "The four pillars of the sky" intrigued :
- Testimony of Elie: It's very colorful and represents different regions of the world, because you can see lotuses, squares, butterflies, different images of animals. I think it also looks like Indonesian ikat fabrics. It's kind of a way to reunite the world.
- So for Elie, she explains to us that it's very colorful, that there are a lot of regions of the world represented here, so you can see lotuses, butterflies, different representations of animals. And also fabrics, at least, that's what she says, that it looks like Indonesian fabrics, and anyway, she likes the way this art work bring the world together.
- AB : Yes, that's also a dimension that hasn't perhaps been addressed enough, even though it has been suggested, but obviously it's a gleaning that concerns the whole world.
- JPS: Absolutely, I'm a New Yorker, I've learned to understand different aspects of the several cultures there, my life has been fulfilled and enriched like that. I don't want to talk about my private life too much, but I lived with friends coming from different backgrounds, my girlfriend was from Latin America; I had girlfriends from Africa, Japan, China. That's the diversity of life in New York, that's what is really interesting and challenging.
*Musical break: Gamelan Angklung, Music Of Bal, Eminem - Steve Berman, The Marshall Mathers*
PART 3 | SEE THE VIDEO
- AB : "This album is less than nothing, I can't sell this fucking record, Tower Records told me to fuck off. Tower Records told me to shove that record up my ass! Do you know what it feels like to have a record up your ass? I'm gonna lose my fucking job over this. You know why Dre's record was so successful? It hits big screen TVs, '40s emotions and blonde bitches with big tits. I can't sell that shit. Either you change the record, or it's not coming out." So that's a choice also on your part, Jean-Pierre Sergent; it's an opportunity for us to talk about this dimension that we talked about earlier, the sexual and erotic dimension of your work which, in the end, is an integral part of your work, there we may have dissociated a little bit, but here it is. So you wanted to broadcast this title, on which purpose did you really want to do that?
- JPS: Because it clearly shows that we have entered a world that is totally politically correct, that is to say that, as we said with Louis Ucciani, I've been around in Besançon for years and my work has never been shown in a museum, so it's really an important event for me, because there's this whole sexual side of my work that disturbs people eminently; it's frightening and I sell practically nothing, because people can't morally do it. I do have doctor friends, who have the money to buy it, but they tell me: One can't put that in a dining room. But somehow, I could answer them that the place of Art is not necessarily in their dining room. And I think the Art World suffers a lot from this political correctness, because if you look closely at the art market today, 90% of the art that is sold is something that can always be sold in Dubai, Hong Kong, New York, or India, and, of course, you don't have to shock the bourgeoisie. It's a real and inescapable problem for real artists, in quotes, for artists who give sense into their works, as one might say, yes.
- LU : Yes, but that's the paradox of compression, because on the one hand, we're going to look for it in Art, we're going to look for traditions a little bit everywhere, and Art finally defends itself, or society defends itself, by compacting its resistances. What it does is that we have a common taste all over the world; while this work manages to show, that's why it is strong, it manages to show the traces of myths that are perhaps ancient myths. What interests me is how it arouses aesthetic pleasure, we'll say, and therefore philosophical reflection from the logic of transgression, which is as old as the world, there too, but why, it's always the same themes that are transgressive? That is to say, just as when we have the perfect finite, we find infinity, we can say that when we find the perfect body, perhaps we also find a form of infinity?
- JPS: Yes, transgression allows us to access space. Yes, that's right, transgression is important for change. Yes, it's absolutely connected, yes.
- AB: Nicolas Bousquet?
- NB: Yes, what is interesting is that a visitor from the eighteenth or nineteenth century who would find himself in the museum today, would be particularly shocked, because finally, on our picture rails, we exhibit eminently erotic works which for several centuries now have finally lost their transgressive side; but, for example, if we see The Nymph at the Spring (1537) by Lucas Cranach, it is an eminently erotic painting. Moreover Jean-Pierre was inspired by it and it is also present in the catalog that we will release together. The fact of having characters, young women, even young men, languished on paintings in our large 19th century room that we walked trough and which is just a stone's throw from here; the Courbet room, Courbet himself also has eminently erotic compositions? And nowadays, of course, they hang on the walls of the Musée d'Ornans, on the picture rails of the Musée d'Orsay and on our own picture rails. So, finally this place of eroticism and eroticism in Art and which is a poncif, one could say, of the museums. Simply, transgression evolves, that is to say that what could shock in Roman times, was no longer what could shock in the 19th century. And in the twenty-first century, today, even if, it sometimes happens that our visitors get shocked, we hope that what we present will not distort the way we want them to look at our collections but, on the contrary, enrich them. And that's what's important with Jean-Pierre's work, whether it's his works with a mystical or spiritual dimension or his works with an erotic dimension, there is always this aspect to refer to Man, to his deep feelings and roots and to what connects him to Nature. And this sexual dimension is profoundly, in some kind natural and animal, one could say, and this is why it flies over the centuries and runs through the works that are exhibited in museums.
- AB : In any case, these works can be seen in tis Museum Conference Room, which is not totally accessible or which is accessible by reservation only, I believe? Some people may see it as a debasing of women, reducing sexuality to a sexual act, and then of course one can answer that perhaps the vision of the West and castrating, in any case, that there is perhaps a form of rejection of bodies? Jean-Pierre Sergent?
- JPS: Yes absolutely, Japanese people don't have the same relationship to sexuality as we do, of course. We talked a little about it among ourselves the other day. Japanese, with their Shintoist animist religions, which are very ancestral, think that nature is animated, as in all animist societies. It is as there were spirits everywhere! And to define the specific place and space of a spirit, they bind it; they make a link around a tree and they define this tree as sacred where a Kami (deity or Shinto spirit) lives, in a manner of speaking. So the idea of bondage comes from this old practice, to make a body sacred somewhere. Yes, it is not a humiliation, it is a rather a sacralization!
- AB : In Japan?
- JPS : In Japan, yes, but now cultures are interpenetrating, why not in France ? I mean, I don't want to reduce my life because it pisses someone off in Besançon that I'm working on the theme of bondage. I don't practice it at all, I'm not interested in it. I hate being chained up and I hate chaining anybody up... But I find that these images show ecstasy and it's like before, when we had Saint Teresa of Avila in ecstasy. Before, ecstasy was eminently religious only, which led us later to sexual ecstasy, as Georges Bataille talks about in his book on eroticism. But what interests me more specifically, is to talk about eroticism, because it is still the primary mean in order to regenerate and generate Life. You lose so much when you don't have joy in life and no eroticism... it's terrible!
- AB : We get back to sexual climax precisely...
- LU : Yes, but I was also thinking, on the side, for those who don't see, because we're on the radio and there's the absence of the image problem; I thought that if I had to explain this painting to people who haven't seen it, I would take it back to Matisse so there's not much of transgression a priori. We're at Matisse's or Warhol's, obviously, for the support and the material, and there are winks to Keith Haring? So I don't know if I'm saying these three names if that ring a bell to you?
- JPS: Yes, I'm a little less close to Keith Haring work but closer to Basquiat, really yes. I love the energy of Basquiat and Matisse, we talked about it for a very long time in the interview we had the other day with Nicolas Surlapierre, the Director of the Museum, we talked firstly about the beautiful paper cut-outs of Matisse, because it's exactly the same technique as silkscreen printing. Exactly, I put colored flat tints on my paintings, that's exactly it.
- LU : So that's why it's an answer somehow, it's still part of the History of Art, one can see the filiations and it's true that Jean-Pierre Sergent is one of the rare artists to continue on this really special path.
- NB: I totally agree with you; it's true that the idea is to continue our presentation, we stop; on the George Besson Room's with his magnificent donation of this art critic who includes several Matisse. And indeed, our still life by Matisse refers perfectly to this dimension at the same time, of compression of the plans but also an erotic dimension, since we see that there is there, inside, a sculpture of a naked woman and especially, what is important to know, is the filiation, somewhere, with the artists of Jean-Pierre's generation. But new creators too, since we continue to work with the School of Fine Arts, we talked about it, we had a planned exhibition of drawings that could not take place during the period of lockdown, but in any case what is important for us is to enrich the glance carried by our visitors and not to think that, when one is in a museum, he is only dealing with works of dead artists or lost or distant civilizations, but on the contrary, to see that this richness of the decorative motif, of the pictorial motif, of the religious motif, finally, finds an echo, still today, in the creators. And I think that the effectively erotic-transgressive dimension that can be found in different works of the museum, finally, is not so present in the works of Jean-Pierre. That is to say, we can indeed discuss certain practices represented, but in any case, the spiritual dimension seems to prevail in his images. At last, that's my feeling.
- AB : So the clock is ticking and I wanted to talk about something else, of course. Obviously what is great when we work as a journalist on an artist like you, when you go on your website, you have information ! There, we are really very pleasantly surprised, since there are, I think so we talked earlier, about the 72 works... and I was wondering if there are not 72 videos maybe, more or less or something like that?
- JPS: More than 300 yes! It's true, I am filming a lot of video interviews.
- AB : Yes, there is a lot of video interviews, and so I invited my colleague Alexie to research about this communication aspect, on which we'll talk about it again later and which is very important for an artist.
- Alexie, Radio Campus: So yes, when you search for the name Jean-Pierre Sergent on the video part of Google, there are exactly 50,600 results listed and the first page of the search engine is totally dedicated to you. An artist that one cannot ignore. When we seek deeper on your website, it is indeed more than 72 videos that we find classified by years and kinds. From reportages to portraits, through the retransmission of conferences, exhibitions and so on… I watched the discussions or rather the interviews with and by your friends, a former professor, an art historian or philosophers. Do you remember the 1978 to 1981 years? when you were at the Besançon School of Fine Arts, your color teacher was Claudie Floutier. That was 40 years ago, and since then it is a profession that has disappeared, but your friendship has remained intact: "So that's something you have to know, you have to know that it's something quite wonderful for me because we've remained friends during all that time, despite the empty times and the different space-time etc. But hey, distance doesn't abolish thought, so thought was there, there and there and it it has been there very early! Because I had spotted you at school, because you were already a bit eccentric. You weren't obedient, you were attentive, but you weren't the one who wanted to hear something without deeply reflect on it"
So you had been spotted at school by Claudie Floutier and since then your reflection has continued to grow and this resource, you communicated it, notably with Marie-Madeleine Varet, philosopher: "Hector Lagos: We are going to talk about a loner, he is a painter and the decoration here, so this table which is a work table with also behind us, this big wall. And so this painter, Jean-Pierre Sergent, whom you know very well and you like a him lot? Marie-Madeleine: Whom I like very much, who has become not only a friend that I respect, but who has especially brought me into a universe that I had not yet approached, at my age, which is perhaps worrying! But that's the way it is, I admit it and that this discovery has changed many things in my life!"
This resource and this openness, you may also owe it to your experiences around the world. Here is an explanation in this excerpt with Jean-Louis Garillon, bio-quantician doctor: "JLG: You have been experienced the trance yourself? It's very interesting because it's a human experience but at the same time, for the artist that you are, it's an opening to other fields, to other dimensions... And let's say, that gave you what feeling? What sensation at first? To exist differently or to perceive things and your inner dimension differently than before?
JPS: It's like another life! It's like discovering another life truly,
JLG: Yes, another part of life?
JLG: Another part of life!
JPS: Yes, another part of life with stronger, brighter colors and spacial translations, which means that you can travel...
JLG: In space and time!
JPS: In space and time!
JLG: Yes, okay!
JPS: And that's cosmical somehow!
JPS: This cosmic revelation that I had in Egypt, it was revealed again throughout shamanic trances.
JLG: Ok, I would even say it's quantum, that what we name nowadays the quantic!
JPS: That's it, quantum!"
But in the end, the real question and the real answer is with Thierry Savatier, an art historian and Gustave Courbet specialist: "Thierry Savatier: There's a question that everyone always asks themselves when it comes to an artist, it's that we consider that an artist is someone a bit particular and we wonder how one becomes an artist. So that's my first question: as for you, how did you decide to become an artist one day?
JPS: Well, it's not really a decision, it's more a life path, I believe. Yes it's a path of life! It's not a decision, but you still need a lot of strength and determination to continue working as an artist, of course! And it's what fills me with joy and happiness. That's really what gives me the most happiness in life, being an artist!" So Jean-Pierre Sergent, when is the next video that tells another part of your life?
- JPS: Very soon, yes, I can't live without that because in hearing all his friends' voices, I feel really honored and blessed. It's a very, very harsh choice, to live this artist life. But I feel very honored to have met so many great people who look at my work with kindness and interest, so maybe we'll have an interview at the studio; maybe we'll talk with Aurélien, it would be interesting to show you the studio. But really, being an artist is being able to share things and informations. And I'm lucky, because, I learned how to communicate in New York, because when I was there, we had no digital yet and I couldn't do interviews unfortunately, but today, that we have digital cameras, I spend a lot of time; I just spent almost 2 months editing the interview we did with Nicolas Surlapierre and it's not a time that is wasted. Because we often talk about artists, but we don't certainly know what they really thought. We only have their work to try to understand them. Some have written but not so much and, for me, it's a privilege that I can, first of all write, secondly filming interviews and be able to diffuse my work, because if I don't diffuse it, I don't exist. And likewise, if I don't sell my work, it doesn't exist neither. So it's a bit of a respect for me and my work, to show it, to have it exhibited, to make it known and appreciated. So, I am here to defend it, in some way, I'm the greatest defender of it. But Marie-Madeleine or Nicolas or there are many other friends who want to defend it too. Because it must be said that to enter the Art Market, is practically mission impossible nowadays. Art doesn't sell and at less than $50,000; you have no chance of entering the market if you sell even at €5,000, so it's of no interest, it becomes very pernicious, it becomes almost vulgar, when you go to the Basel Art Fair, you're astonished to see so many mediocre things. One shouldn't judge things too much, but hey, so much art that's a bit easy to sell!
- AB : This program is coming to an end and to go further, there is precisely this video you were talking about, Jean-Pierre Sergent just now, with Nicolas Surlapierre, the Director of the Museum.
- NB : Yes, absolutely Nicolas Surlapierre conducted this interview, it will be edited soon, so it's the very last one. For us, the role of museums it is also of defending the work of artists and making them express themselves, allowing them to present their works in confrontation with our collections. We just printed out the exhibition catalog's based on Jean-Pierre's work: "The 4 Pillars of Heaven", and we will soon be holding a conference as part of the "Journées du Patrimoine". We have invited Thierry Savatier, whom we heard earlier, to come and talk to us about eroticism in Art. He is a specialist who has also written a very beautiful work on Courbet's L'Origine du Monde painting and it will be a very interesting dialogue with Jean-Pierre. So, I invite, obviously, all the listeners to come for these Heritage Days to this encounter and then obviously, we try to work around the development of artists from the region and you will come for, we hope, our new Contemporary Art Exhibition in November for the 2nd anniversary of the opening of the museum.
- AB : Thank you all very much for participating to this emission: Louis Ucciani, thank, you Nicolas Bousquet, thank you, Jean-Pierre Sergent, thank you.
- JPS: Thank you all.
- AB : I would also like to thank my two colleagues: Amélie and Alexie for bringing their added value to this program. On the technical table it was Chloé Truchon, thank you Chloé. So I'm going off the direct now and in any case this program will be in replay on the Soundcloud of Radio Campus Besançon. Nice evening to all of you.
*Musical break: Steve Berman skit, Eminem & Polyphony of New Guinea*
INTERVIEW BETWEEN JEAN-PIERRE SERGENT ARTIST & NICOLAS SURLAPIERRE, DIRECTOR OF THE MUSEE DES BEAUX-ARTS ET D'ARCHEOLOGIE DE BESANÇON | 4 PARTS | JUNE 24, 2020 - Download the PDF
Jean-Pierre Sergent talks with Nicolas Surlapierre about his current mural installation: The Four Pillars of the Sky (80 m2) at the MBAA, as well as about twenty images from different cultures (Mexican, Japanese, Oceanian etc.) chosen by the artist. | http://www.mbaa.besancon.fr
Nicolas Surlapierre (NS): Hello Jean-Pierre.
Jean-Pierre Sergent (JPS) : Hello Nicolas.
NS: So we're going to spend a few minutes together, even more than minutes to talk about your journey as an artist, one could say of a French-American artist... And I would like to start with a little anecdote. I've been wanting to present Jean-Pierre Sergent's work for a long time, a work that is particularly dear to me because when I arrived in Franche-Comté 12 years ago, 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 and 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 rather informal way, in any case, relaxed, with a lot of sympathy around four works, important somehow, that we have selected and perhaps, to start with, get you to react to this work La tristesse du roi de Matisse, which is a large cut-out paper that you can find at the Musée national d'art moderne, so that you can tell us about it. Why, after all, 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 are like paper cut-outs somewhere, because every time I print an image, it's either yellow, blue or purple, only one colour. And Matisse's work is very close to what I do with the silkscreen technique. But I understood that afterwards, 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 was working in his hotel in Nice with his assistants and his assistants were painting the blue and then he was cutting out the shapes with scissors like that. And it's incredibly simple, incredibly spiritual and incredibly exotic. And so it's all there in my work somehow. That's kind of what I'm looking for, the simplicity, the exoticism in quotes and the spirituality and the beauty.
NS: And what we can also see very well in this Tristesse du roi, is of course you talk about exoticism, but apart from the cut-outs papers that remind us of Matisse's trip to Tahiti; this way he's going to stick with another form of culture. And also, this way of being able to work on a very large format while he is in a fairly physical situation, even if the term is not very beautiful, quite diminished. And why am I making this remark? Because it will have something to do with when you will 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. And that's why it's very touching, because we are on the formats of the American painting, of American abstract expressionism, but with a different protocol, a protocol that clearly shows that the strength of painting is not linked either to virile strength, or to strength, we could say, in a way, physical strength. 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. Also I studied at the Fine Arts School in Besançon, but I had none whatsoever knowledge of American painters and I happened to buy the book Le ravissement de Lol V.Stein by French writer Marguerite Duras, which had this painting by Rothko on the cover. And for me, it really have been like a kind of revelation, that is to say that it was a door that opened on something else, a new universe that I didn't know anything about. One can talk about mysticism, cosmic energy or pure poetry. This red is incredibly sensual and one can maybe see the Masculine, the Feminine and the Neutral. One feels these energies that I will discover later on with Indian art from India (Hindu). I think it is of a rather high spiritual level. And what really interests me is to enter into an approach other than just aesthetic in art.
NS: And then, what's interesting with Mark Rothko is that we talked a lot about abstraction, but he didn't consider himself as an abstract painter. Precisely, he talked about reality, he always used the artist's reality and not realism, which is not quite the same thing, simply because he opened onto a space that is a metaphysical space.
JPS: Absolutely yes!
NS: And I think that this metaphysical space sums up in a certain way, a large part of your work.
JPS: Yes, it's a beautiful painting and I had the good fortune, of course, being in New York, to see a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1998. It was fabulous, but, well, afterwards, it's like all masters, it is necessary to detach oneself from them… Yes, you have to let them go away.
NS: So to continue, in this iconographic introduction, which invites us to discover the universe, or the roots of Jean-Pierre Sergent's universe, I think we can talk about a very beautiful painting, quite complex by the way, by artist Frida Kahlo. Can you tell us a bit more about this painting, what you see in it, what you found in it and when did you discover it? And how did you find out about it?
JPS: I discovered Frida Kahlo in New York museums and of course afterwards while traveling a lot in Mexico. I understood what she wanted to tell us about, about all these strong energies, about the pre-Columbian cultures. Here we see the pyramid, maybe of Teotihuacan? Or an other pyramid, it's a bit of a Manichean picture because on one side, it shows all the Aztec, Mayan, Olmec cultures, all the cooking as well. The food is important too and the dark side of the United States, with the industries, the fumes, the machinization, the industrialization... So, she puts on one side, the joy of life and ancestral cultures and traditions versus the stupidity of our industrialized world. And she, she's there right in the middle with her little Mexican flag. she is a little bit tiny like that in this big setting and it makes me very sad because it's a reality that we encounter more and more every day, that our world is collapsing because of the industrialization of the world. And all these ancients cultures are disappearing little by little, in front of our eyes and so it is an act of rebellion, that she proves with this beautiful painting. It's maybe 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. She also shows in this painting the fact that not everything can be linked to a form of rationalization of production. And I think that the works you've done since then show that there is not this hyper-rationalization. On the contrary, even though I know that somehow, you don't like the term magic, 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 a 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 tell us a little bit about this horseman.
JPS: Yes, it's the entrance into a city, this beautiful painting is at the Ottawa Museum. I've always said it's the most beautiful painting in the world! I really don't know why? Because it's a bit christic. You could say it's the pinnacle 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 beautiful. It's a very small painting like this, this big (48 x 43 cm). I've always been... every time I go to Ottawa I go to see this painting. It fills me up, more even than the Mona Lisa by the way, it fills me up with energy.
NS: And as always with you, there's this ambiguity because is it an entrance? is it an exit in Jerusalem? and finally, is it an entrance or an exit in what may have been medievality. This painting sums it up all together, with at the same time, all the hopes that one might have about the Renaissance and also all the doubts that one might have about this time period.
JPS: Yes, it's both a hello and a goodbye. But it's also very sexual because the horse is a very phallic and very sexual symbol. It's like a man coming out of a bedroom after having sex in quotes.it make me think about that.
NS: Yes, there's something of the triumph, of the coming out. Something, I triumphed over something and maybe a desire.
JPS: Yes, you are right!
NS: It's very obvious even in this painting that is still quite severe, especially in this architectural and geometrical construction. So these four paintings allow us to better understand a little bit your way of circulating throughout images. So if I was so keen 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. There was even a symbolic celebration, the one year of the reopening of the museum around this large mural installation named The Four Pillars of the Sky. And I would 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 proposed me this beautiful space on the stairwells and we had to deal with a lot of technical issues. It was very complicated to install. 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, as I say in my texts, I think that architecture has killed painting because it has locked it up in a kind of "window painting". That is to say that all the paintings that artists have created since the Renaissance are made to be installed in architectures. And what fascinates me is the art that is made on Indians teepees, on nomadic things, that you can carry around with you, with which you can make prayers, you see like the Tibetan Thangkas scrolls, and therefore to install that, these 72 paintings that are put together, what we call The Four Pillars of Heaven. Because I thought it's both to... My painting has to be a construction somewhere, it has to be built like an architecture (healing evil with evil) and therefor to hold and support the sky, to hold a little bit our spirituality that is slipping away endlessly today. So I put all these paintings together in four crates. It's an idea I had in New York to make a very modular work that can be easily and quickly disassembled and reassembled. Today, this installation is in Besançon. I hope that another day it will be in Berlin or in another museum. I like things 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, anyhow 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 publish this important catalogue on the Four Pillars of Heaven. Iconostasis, which is the 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 retable system. The altarpiece, which in the end is not panels that are modulated together, although it is quite present in your installation. But let's not forget the etymology of the altarpiece, that is to say that it's 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 it, the square format, which is particularly reassuring in a way, which also refers to a way of representing the world since ever, and the architect's plans at the same time. But you say: I'm also impressed by painting before the arrival of architecture. And this very simple sentence has helped me, at least for me, to circulate better in the way you made the different images interact with each other. And that's one of the qualities, it seems to me, of this great installation The Four Pillars of Heaven. I may have a question: in The Four Pillars of Heaven, we have different formats, all the same. 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 one side, 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 and do the images that are hung next to each other, are connected to each others? do they talk to each other? Or is there a part of chance, between images that are extremely linked to certain cultures, which can be Assyrian, Inca and others, Greek even, 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 somehow, this dance of images between them?
JPS: Yes, you're right, it's a dance, that is to say that I don't ask myself the question, a priori, of knowing which image I'm going to put with another and especially that in my Plexiglas paintings, there are three layers of superimposed images. So I have absolutely no idea how it's going to look like in the end. I'm working backwards too. So what I'm interested in is working with my unconscious, that's somehow a big matter! And also not knowing what I'm realizing. I don't go towards something I know; I go towards something I don't know! And that's what gives strength to my art. It's a bit different on the paper work we see behind us, but with the Plexiglas paintings, it's really every time a discovery. I don't plan what will happen at all, nor for the colours neither... So that's what interests me about working in this fluidity. Fluidity is really essential in my work. One could say it's like an initiatory and shamanic journey. And I try to work without taboos, without morals. If an image appeals to me, I add it in my computer and I have a data bank of ten thousands or twenty thousands images, or maybe more. And so, when I work, they appear like that. They're in me, that's how they appear. It's a bit 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 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 Heaven, it is the relationship to the decorative. There is a relationship to the decorative and I think that is one of the qualities and one of the originalities of your work. It's because your generation and the generation after you have been, 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 with regard to the decorative. But you, I have the feeling that you assume this aspect of the decorative. Perhaps also because it goes against 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, 90s, notably through an art historian, a historian of taste in a certain way, called Jacques Solilou, who had written an extremely important work on the decorative, where, precisely, it was a question of a little break between the ornamental, the decorative and finally the architecture. When I say break, that is to say to stop cleavages, perhaps fruitless. But if I had a question to sum up very briefly, what difference would you make between the decorative and finally the ornamental?
JPS: Yes, well for me, nothing is decorative, absolutely nothing. It's a huge mystification. Well there are some contemporary artists (politically corrects) who are working on decoration, one could mention Jeff Koons for example. But when I use a pattern, what's called a motif, I often choose it from the Native American or Oceanic tribes and for them, it has a meaning and a purpose. It has often a genetic meaning, that is, the father and mother. I don't deeply know what that meaning is, but they did. So, it's to try to recover something that made sense at a certain time. For some specific people. Gratuitousness is a view of the mind and does not exist in nature and among these people, even less so. All the tattoos that they did on their bodies, all have a social and symbolic meaning. So, for me, if people think my work is decorative, yes, maybe because it looks like decoration, but it's not. For me, everything is meaningful, even if I've lost the meaning of it. I know that this shaman (or yogi) knew why he used triangles like this or the metaphysical emptiness in Hindu philosophy. Yes, for me everything is really meaningful.
NS: So it would go around the idea that eventually, and 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 (or represented) a ritual.
NS: But of which we've lost, and that's what you're saying in the end. In any case, part of its meaning. But we feel that this ritual was present. That's why I like the 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. And I think that's 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 question?
JPS: Yes, the axis mundi, in fact, in every ancient tribe, for them, there was always a center of the world, with the four directions and whether you go it could be within the Navajo, the Sioux, all the Native Americans or even 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 Mayas, or to the celestial worlds. Well, there were 4 or 5 infra-worlds in the Maya and 12 celestial stages. So, this notion of pillar of the sky is a bit like that. This is the place of passage. Boom, we're here! And suddenly we're somewhere else! And that's fascinating. But We may talk about this later. This is what happens during shamanic trances. It's really the place... yes, the axis mundi, you have to go through it (it's like the matrix and the vulva)... It's like the revelation. I had the chance to travel to Egypt in a priest's cell, I had a revelation and I really went from a stupid human state (profane) to a cosmic state (sacred). It's a change in state of consciousness, a metamorphosis.
NS: And maybe to conclude on this first part of this interview... Could you come back to a word that you use from time to time and that you've noted, by the way, when you say: The painting object pisses me off, then the term is a bit trivial, but it doesn't really matter. It has a value in itself and more to perhaps conclude on this first part. What do you mean by: Killing the painting? Since it's an expression you use.
JPS: Yes, because our collective mind, well, our European imagination, is full of images that we see in museums. But these images no longer have any energies. For me, they have no energy left. And what interests me is energy and pure energy, sexuality and death. All the other worlds. And when one compare, I know that we shouldn't compare things, but in front of this Aztec Coatlicue statue, one can feel this great energy, we are captivated in front of the violence of life and we will talk afterwards about Artaud. Artaud understood very well, that contemporary art or European art had taken a wrong path. That's what I also think. I don't really enjoy seeing a painting so much anymore. It's because I went elsewhere, afterwards, we can't judge… Everyone has their own tastes. Everyone has his own pleasures. Yes, absolutely, I'm more comfortable in front of a Pollock painting or a shamanic mask than in front of a European painting, yes!
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? Or is it for another reason?
JPS: No, the relation to the body, to the body, yes! And also to the cosmic dimension which, in Pollock's works, are quite fascinating, yes!
- NS: So 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 is going to 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 of Mircea Eliade, of course, and I won't add other references so as not to make it too heavy and to really come 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 certain 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 commentaries.
- JPS: Yes, with pleasure. So here, I wanted to quote an extract from 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 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 is this non-death. It is to be conscious of belonging to something that also encompasses us, which 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 well. I think that as long as humanity exists, we will have access to this data of our imagination. Exactly, that's why images are so important... And that's why I use a lot of rituals in my work and that's why I'm so 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, shall we say, a spiritual inspiration? And how do you articulate both?
- JPS: No, it's all connected, really. As I said in a certain text. The big problem for me as an artist today is that you can't be a shaman-artist on your own. There's always a tribe, in a society, and it's kind of an incredible challenge to talk about that, but still, because I did some trance experiences in New York, I think it enriches my work a lot. On the one hand, by the colors and by this gift of ubiquity, since the images are counterbalanced, shock each other and oppose each other somewhere. As you said earlier, I use and mix pornographic images with sacred images, in quotation marks. I like that, I like to create that chaos. It's like bumper cars, It is to create a chaos somehow! Everything happens at the same time and that way I get to another level of energy and consciousness. That's what it's like.
- NS: So in Paris a while ago, there was an exhibition at the Quai Branly called Les Maîtres du désordre, which was an exhibition on the relationship between shamanism and contemporary art. And indeed, there were many aspects that might interest you. And precisely, a term that I would like us to remember. Because I think it's enlightening in relation to your work. As we were talking about dance earlier, 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 it true? Is it false? That is not what is important. In any case, it is not important to answer it now. And it doesn't really matter, in any case, a knowledge or knowledges and an ability to put the images beside each other. You have chosen a certain number of photos, and I'd like us to discuss these photos and tell us a little bit about why you chose them, where they come from, what they obviously represent?
- JPS: Well there, I think it's in the North, probably among the Inuit, and 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. That is to say that it is necessary to know that when we enter into a trance, we practically, systematically meet what we call an animal spirit, that is to say a spiritual guide. So there, the two shamans are transformed into walruses. Often, they are transformed into eagle and they carry on them clothes which undoubtedly come from a walrus. This one can be ermines... What is interesting within shamanism practices is this induced and fusional relationship with Nature. They are part of Nature, they are not like us, westerners, out of Nature, rootless and ungrounded and for them, all this interconnection is very important because it would not exist anymore without Nature at whole. And that's what we've definitlly lost! And that's kind of what I try to say in my work. Here, we see the shamanic songs with the drums and it's very impressive of course to see trance-like sounds, I've never seen one, but I've done some. So well... Already entering into a trance, it's really an experience that we can perhaps live in birth or death, or in sexuality. Or even throughout sexual ecstasies. But it has to happen very, very well. And there, we see for example this woman shaman, I think it's in Siberia and so she has her drum, she is on a totem pole and shamans are people who take risks. She climbed on her tree, like this, and she sings and invokes the spirits. And because they are protected by spirits, they can take all the risks they want. They are always facing death, illness. They are really very brave people. They have incredible strength. Well, I don't think that in Europe, there are still shamans. Before, there were the druids and the people who painted Lascaux, probably had hallucinatory and visionary mental capacities. Because to go and paint the scene of the Lascaux well at the bottom of the cave, for example, you had to really strongly want to do it, yes! These images are very beautiful. And here we see: The Four Pillars of the Sky, it is in the sky, it travels in the cosmos.
- NS: And then there's also... I think she's manipulating a drum, which is an important element of shamanism. This is one of the main attributes of shamanism, just as we talked about the pillar, just as we talked about the mask or other attributes that we could mention.
- JPS: Excuse me, I'm cutting you off, because during the shamanic sessions I did in New York, my psychologist played the drum, in fact. I think it's to bring the body into a different rhythm. That is to say, maybe the heartbeats and the brain waves are calming down or accelerating? They now do electroencephalograms to see what happens during trances into the brain. Well they find some pretty amazing things! Well, that's good news. I think you can access it in meditation state as well. 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 is a form of...? at the same time you're chosen, you have a message, there's a form of dispossession too... How is it reconcilable with your universe which is, I find, something very structured, very organized? One can see it in the photos or in the reports on your workshop, there is something that doesn't leave room, I'm not going to say at random, but the protocol is particularly well mastered. So how does it work? Does it intervene, shamanism I mean like motives? Or does it intervene in a form of unconsciousness? Who could, like that, nimble or nourish the iconography?
- JPS: No, I know chaos and 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 as within the Kogis people in Colombia. You have to have discipline, otherwise you go into a tailspin and end up homeless on the street, that's all. No, I do think you need incredible discipline and then a strong will, because it is necessary to go and see, it's an hard way.
- NS: Can we maybe look at this other picture?
- JPS: This feels like it's in Tibet. But I don't know the exact source. What I like is this deer mask which is completely marvelous. I saw some Tibetan masks in New York that I wanted to buy, 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, as I said before. It's beautiful, perhaps cruel too, it's animality par excellence, animality in spirituality. It's a whole, that's it.
- NS: And would you agree that, in any case, there are certain shamanic figures that are frightening. 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. Do you feel that in this type of photo? Is it something that you are looking for in a certain way?
- JPS: Absolutly not, I don't really like black magic. I'm not on that side. I'm more into white magic. I think we live into a wonderful world. Well, some artists are attracted and fascinated by suffering and desperation, there are many of them, you can see that, there are artists who work on war scenes and everything... As for me, I'm just really attracted by this beautiful side. It's just beautiful. It's here and there, it's present. There's nothing to add. The shaman, he's in his trance and he's not hurting anyone. And maybe he also helps humanity. And me, I am rather in this caring side... And even in my images of bondage, one can think that it is putting the woman body into a state of submission. Not at all, it's rather a glorification, a liberation, it's freeing oneself from the body (with this body & not with the spirit) in order to enter another world. I don't have this dark side at all. I don't have it at all. I am not at all anxious, but it is 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, which respond to it, can you comment on this very beautiful woman, in a procession?
- JPS: Yes, I don't know if she is from Africa (no doubt) or Oceania, but well, there are shells and there are all the symbols of fertility. She is incredibly sensual but also incredibly present. Georges Bataille speaks about it very well with all his images in his book's L'Erotisme. Eroticism is a presence-absence. Ecstasy is a presence. This woman is present and we can put all the images of top models who are doing fashion shows in Paris, none of them will ever have that presence. Because she does exist, she is a whole full of energy. She knows her identity, she is not ashamed of her body and she symbolizes fertility, she is just 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: A thousand years old!
- NS: Yes, and that's the beauty of it. It's that it still makes this knowledge alive, knowledge that normally had every chance, not so much of disappearing, but of dying.
- JPS: To die of, 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, now I'm going to come back to the scale of external dimensions. It so happens that I, as a child, suffred from asthma, and I'm going to quote a sentence by Antonin Artaud who says: "Who has not suffered in the essence of his being, ignores the difficulty of life, because it's not enough to learn to think, one must first exist". That is to say that this man is, he does exist. So I come back to my story as a child. I was in Briançon and when I see pictures of myself in front of the mountains, I am really tiny in front of the mountains and I was in the high school for asthmatics with other children who came from all over France. And we had to create our own imaginary world somewhere in order to survive. Because having asthma attacks is to think of dying every time. You don't know if you're going to survive the next day, or even the next hour... And so this anguish can be transformed into creation. And then, for the shamans it is often that. They were often sick. They have been healed. And they can transmit their knowledges and their experiences to others. And this is an image from a Colombian director's film called The Snake's Embrace. I discovered it on TV, and took a screenshot of this big wall. And this metaphysical reality... we see this little man doing his gigantic fresco on this huge wall, engraving a lot of things, symbols, axis mundis, animals, geometric symbols. And that's exactly what I do in my work. That's me somewhere, I'm that shaman painting this wall!
- NS: Then, to react on my side, I think a lot about this ritual, this Snake Ritual. Which is a text and a lecture by Aby Warburg, precisely, on 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 also linked to fertility, that is to say that Varburg'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 to 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, well I had the great chance to visit the Museum of Anthropological Art in Mexico City and you come across statues like that one. And this is a statue that's quite large, I think it's maybe 10 feet high, which is a granite monolith. So it's really impressive. And so, it's wearing skulls of death, it's wearing snakes, it's wearing pulled out sacrificed hearts too. We know that the Aztecs made human sacrifices. So it's really the mother goddess who regenerates the world, by any means. On the side of beauty, we can say that she is ugly as a louse, but she is magnificent, but she is so magnificent, because she is The Vital Energy! In front of all the Aztec, Olmec, Mayan statues... I still have this energy shock if you want! As it happened to me also a few times in my life to meet people who have this superhuman energy. Once in New York, I met a girl who was Master Yogi. I went to see her and told her: but you have an incredible energy. She replied me very accurately that it takes two people to be able to feel this energy, and that's it. In fact, shamans or Yogi Masters may have this energy or what we also call old souls, and so there, when one see that and we can understand it, we can feel that we belong to an "old soul", to something common to all humanity in quotes.
- NS: Does it also mean that to create the energy that we feel in your installation, in your installations, but particularly the one we're 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 just because it's your goal to be an artist and to be exposed, but it's 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 a bit complicated. The deep relationship of the viewer in front of the artwork. Does the viewer have to be initiated to feel the energy? Perhaps? I realise that the only people like my friend Marie-Madeleine Varet, who experience my work in a really fusional way, are people who have had a cosmic revelation somewhere. Anyhow, you have to be sharp. Yes, the relationship to the work is complicated. But on the other hand, I am not aware of this energy. I do things like that because maybe it's a gift, I've learned so much. I've met so many interesting people that it's fluid, it's like that. Maybe afterwards one day, it will stop. We don't know. It doesn't really matter. But in order for people to feel this energy, as I told you, you need to be initiated to the deep meaning of art. Something really has to have happened to them, something has to have happened to them. I think, a trigger. I think a guy who lives in Besançon and went to school in Besançon, if once he hasn't stumble, he has little chance of entering into my art work, but that's artist's life! Maybe he can like the colors, the images or something else, it doesn't really matter.
- NS: In any case it would be a great 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 precisely from this 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 that's a little scary, I must say, but you don't see it as scary, do you?
- JPS: No, quite the opposite. Because they're actually two Asmats friends. I must say that in New York, I've always been fascinated by the poles of the Asmats people that speak of life in its pure materiality. It's the grandfather, the father, the generations, that pile up and stack up like this, until that a new baby arrives. And the baby is necessarily born from an ejaculation. It's really more interesting to show this than to show nothing in museums. And here we see two Asmats budies, and they are carrying their ancestors around with their belts. And for them, death is not a metaphysical problem at all. It's a daily problem. They were close to their ancestors so they wear them as totems because they helped them. They are alive thanks to them, they pay tribute to them and to this life and I find that in France or in the West, we no longer have any recognition of our ancestors. We treat them like dogs. It is absolutely incredible. I lost my dad not long ago, my grandfather too and my mom is still alive... but I am always grateful to them for giving birth to me and spending so much time with me. Because, you know, creating an artist is not something you can do with a snap of your fingers. If you want to be an artist, you have to read thousands of books and you have to go to hundreds of museums. You need a little bit of money. And these people (these Asmats), you can feel that they have been well fed. Or it can be their family or their enemies that they carry with them, because they are proud to have killed their enemies. It's totemic. And we no longer have a totem pole. We don't have any more intra-human connections. Somewhere, our connections are loosening up more and more, and that's what scares me the most, deep down inside. It's something that upsets me and saddens me deeply, it gives me great emotion. And when I see this image, they are 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 in the end, 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 guardian goddess, a tutelary god and into a fundamental relationship to the circulation of symbols.
- NS: So, Jean-Pierre, what's interesting about your work is that it obliges us, well, 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 that I like very much who is Georges Bataille. Obviously, I plunged back a little into what he had done in the journal Documents, because it's not unrelated to the way you put images together, but of course, with the work he published in 1957 called L'érotisme, which is really going to revolutionize, or I don't know if it did, but it will contribute something to 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 a manner of speaking, get married and get along sometimes, have attractions or on the contrary repulsions. And it is this aspect that I would like us to evoke, always looking at a few images on the same very simple principle, also recalling this beautiful formula of Bataille 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 that in his 1957 essay on eroticism: Eroticism is the paradox. Pleasure is the paradox, that's well said. I'd like to give this first quote and perhaps try to start with either a quote that I think you had also selected for this interview and then some comments on the images.
- JPS: Of course, yes. I wrote once: The sacred work is necessarily erotic.That is to say that it is consubstantial (Bataille speaks about it very well!) the sacred work is necessarily erotic because it always speaks of the moment of ecstasy, that is to say, of entrance into an other world, in some way, the worlds of creation and of regeneration. These two aspects of things are important. One could also add pleasure, but then again, pleasure may not be that important somewhere. I think the most important thing is ecstasy. It's the way out of this world and out of our body somehow and to enter, for the body to enter into its dimension, full and whole (in its wholeness).
- NS: So we could retain from this quotation this aspect that we haven't talked about, well, we've talked about it in an induced way, which is simply the sacredness. There is an interest in you for what I called, following the example of the great exhibition at Beaubourg, which was quite remarkable, Les traces du sacré (The traces of the sacred). What remains of the sacred and the sacred would not be something that would simply be religious. But I like to recall Yannick Haenel's definition, which is: Yhe sacred is the contact point 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 capital A, that is to say with transcendence, one can in a certain way relive in that 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: firstly, to embrace the totality, totality of postures, totality of relationships, totality of psyches and totality of stories. And finally, another thing also 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 interpretation of the reading of it's books, and then from its application into your work, even if it is not a school application, I would like us to comment on a few images. In particular, we could start with this prehistoric fresco that you could comment on.
- JPS: Yes, of course. Bataille talks about it very well, he wrote a whole book about Lascaux. So what we see here is a bison with a bird on a pole. We make the hypothesis that it would be a shaman who would be in a trance because this shaman is ithyphallic. 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, tetanized and that he communicates with his animal spirit that we talked about earlier, which is on a pole again, and the buffalo is wounded, he is going to die. And it's this whole relationship between animals and men, the sexuality, because necessarily, in order to have sex in quotation marks, you have to recall your animality again, otherwise you don't really fuck. It's a bit crude what I say but Bataille talks about it very well and he says that he goes to dinners where he sees women sumptuously dressed and he finds it hard to imagine them in ecstasy, having orgasm like bitches. And inevitably, there is this ambiguity, the absolute confrontation, between the dressed man and the naked man... It's something else. It is another world and no one never reveals the sexual ecstasy. What I want to do in my work is to unveil enjoyment. Well, like that, maybe by play too. Yes, I think all this is very important because at the end, in art history, there are quite a few erotic images and in museums, practically none. So eroticism is often phantasmed through myths and symbols, but copulation scenes? It must be understood that the West has practically no copulation scenes.
- NS : But it's above all that Bataille had a connection, I'm going to say to extreme nudity, when I say extreme nudity, it's not the naked body but it's what you could say or what Bataille finally says very well, this idea of animality, notably of the animality of the sexual act and you justly quote Bataille and you are right to quote his essay on Lascaux where precisely, for him, even if after the great prehistorians may now going to tell us 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 ; in front of our eyes, the appearance of the human in the animal and the animal in the human. I like this idea very much, in this way that animality is not inferior to the human. Finally, it is this kind of related relationship that he tries to discover, that he tries to follow and also all that we don't know about the animal. And this is what he is going to develop in his essay, which is quite brief, on the caves of Lascaux. And also how (because he asks himself this question), how were these famous Lascaux frescos completed and under which spiritual state. And there, in the image you have chosen, we would have a clue, it would really be in a trance state and it is 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 really know how many meters long, you have to go deep to the very bottom of the cave, so you have to have supernatural powers to go down there. Otherwise...? It's like the Amerindian shamans, who can travel with their spirit, otherwise you're going to get stuck and loose your soul.
- NS: So the second image that brings us closer to the essay, in a certain way to the notion of eroticism in Georges Bataille's work, is this illustration, this small miniature to be more exact, that I'll let you comment on.
- JPS: Well, these are Indian miniatures that date from the 18th and 19th centuries, and where we can see, it's always very symbolic, it is the goddess Kali (the feminine energy Shakti) with skulls of the dead, a little like the goddess Coatlicue that we had seen before, with a sword that decapitates the god Shiva, it's a little like accessing knowledge, satori, you have to decapitate the self to enter into the self, to enter into an elsewhere, a wisdom. And this is the god Shiva who is also ithyphallic, that is to say that they copulate and during this copulation, as I said previously, they are entering into the whole Nature, in this wholeness of Nature. It's really fabulous, it's magnificent. All Hindu paintings fascinate me by their beauty. One could also say that it's a little bit of naive art, but not at all, because what it says is very, very strong, very violent. Just as real life is exactly: BOOM!
- NS: And then there's a great deal of sophistication. It's very sophisticated in terms of the representation technique, in terms of miniaturization, but also in terms of the information that we can glean, especially since there are dogs that devour corpses and also birds of prey that I couldn't recognize, and that's another aspect. That is to say that this relationship, which is a poncif, but which was important, in any case for Georges Bataille, between Eros and Thanatos and this proximity, 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: Inescapable!
- NS: Or in any case, inescapable, 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 made a lot of human sacrifices. And here we see this sacrificed man, it's a statue from which they removed the heart and we see the organs hanging like this. I saw this statue at the Guggenheim museum where they had a very beautiful exhibition on the Aztecs (The Aztec Empire, 2004) and these statues are really fascinating. Maybe for you or for some people they could be scary, but for me, they don't scare me at all. Because it's really like a hunter who would go and skin an animal. Well, that's the reality of things. We see the organs, we see death as it is.
- NS: No, it doesn't scare me. It's as if we've flayed what could be both desire and a form of eroticism at the same time. It's almost a kind of diagnosis of what violence can be, not there of the sacred, but the violence of eroticism. And finally, before moving on to some of your images, I would like you to also comment on this very beautiful goddess.
- JPS: Well, yes, she's a goddess, and she's probably at the Metropolitan Museum. And almost every Sunday, I used to go there in that museum. And to see these Indian goddesses, who are still absolutely fabulously sensual... The clothes are made of, it's not lace, but they're objects that are sewn on the costume. Her breasts, rond, generous and full are really beautiful! It's incredible! Her face! Her eyes! One feels that it is a benevolent goddess and who knew sex. It is not the Virgin Mary. It is important to say it. We cannot live always with iconography of the Virgin Mary. It is terrible. Or of Christ crucified on the cross. These images soothe me and they make me love life. Yes, they are marvellous!
- 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 of a sensuality... terrible.
- JPS: She has a sex, she is sexed. She's enjoying it, she had experienced sexual trances. Nowadays, people don't know climaxing anymore, they're are completely trapped, deserotized ; it's terrible. It's very sad. Well, too bad for them!
- NS: Especially since jouissance, to remain in a Bataille note, is a means of access to knowledge. It's through jouissance that we know, 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 made a full series entitled: Bones, Flowers & Ropes, about Japanese bondage. Because, once again and contrary to what one might think, it's not an humiliation of the woman, it's not a 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 people who have kept their traditions. For example, they're going to knot ropes around a tree and put small objects in order to define it as sacred one. It can be a stone, it can be, I don't know a toy... To define that this space is sacred, it is a sanctuary. And that's where one can communicate with the spirits that lives there. So, they copied those practices to bondage out women, and it's a little bit the same thing. That is, it's very aesthetic, and all the sexual places of the woman's body, the sexual places of the woman's body, are notified and and excited, like for example sex... they put a knot on the sex so that it triggers the pleasure. Except that the woman is tied up. It's a fact that in our brain, our human brain, suffering goes through the same nervous channels as pleasure. So, somehow, it's up to us to say whether it's suffering or pleasure (the free will of the relationship to the body). All persons who have been imprisoned, who have lived through atrocious moments, know that at some point you can switch and change the impulse. Well, Art it's a bit like that! It's switching the switch. We all are suffering but somewhere, we can say to ourselves: I'm in positive switch mode Well, then, I'm enjoying life, that's as simple as that!
- 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 are making between a bondage that could be a humiliation in certain 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. What you also explained very well, in this idea that we attach objects in order to make it sacred, we tie it as a totem, we tie a tree, a rock... to give it a particular strength.
- NS: As I said in a 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 read again 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 cited, had not been quoted so much. And perhaps we will have some explanations to give about this text. I mean, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we talked about the Diary of the Year of the Plague, of course we talked 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 included 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 that it's a reasoning 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 his Theatre of the Plague, if we summarize his text, is 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 frees them from something and it's a form of liberation. I recall this text, because I think it's very topical and accurate, but above all because it has marked you, as generally all Artaud's texts.
- JPS: Yes, you're the one who suggested that we talk about Antonin Artaud, who is really an author that I adore. In fact, I had to read Le théâtre et son double a long time ago, which I've been re-reading recently these days, and I find that he speaks not only of theater but of course, you have to understand that he speaks about Art, in a generic way. 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 Theater and its Double, he says... because I had a bit of the same revelation as him in Mexico. Were he had his mystical revelation. You can talk about mysticism in Mexico. So he says: "In Mexico, since it is Mexico, there is no art, and all things are useful." It's a very important sentence. It serves, the art here in Europe it's useless somehow, it has disappeared. "And the world is in perpetual exaltation." That's fabulous to want to live in this exaltation, and we feel it in his works, we can feel it in his writings. So, to come back to Covid, he says in Le théâtre et la peste: "Above all, it is important 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 very quietly home and the imaginary did not arise and creativity did not spring up as we might have thought or expected somewhere.
- NS: In any case, for the moment, by all the measures that had been taken, it was precisely measures that in a certain way prohibited this delirium. And I like very much in his text Theater and the Plague, this idea, not because it kills people, I'm deeply sorry about that, but quite simply this idea of contagion, that is to say, this contagion of desire of which he speaks. Basically, he has several sentences about this idea of contagion and he also explains them, and I can feel that also through 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 theater, as in the plague," I also feel something in some of the images you propose of victorious and vengeful. Not because you seeking revenge, but because sometimes you confront us with images that place us, not in a discomfort, but at least in a different relationship to the image, as some people would not be comfortable into the image. That's what's quite amazing, with a very careful treatment, very careful silkscreen prints, with bright or sometimes very soft colors. 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's this aspect or these fertile paradoxes that interests me particularly in your installation. So, indeed, there is this Theater of the plague ; Artaud, when you say he's talking about the theater, he's obviously talking about the arts. Perhaps I wanted to make you react to two of Artaud's works that you chose, especially 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, it sends a spell, it sends an invocation (a spell) to someone to die. It's a magical object and it's burned just to make the magic take effect. He was well into this term magic, and one can see crosses and probably stars. It is a cosmic manifestation, perhaps with blood, rust or sperm. I don't know exactly what materials he used. He wants revenge on someone, something or life itself that may have made him locked 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, to exist. As you said earlier, my works are victories over life. Yes, I am alive and I want to bear witness to that. That's it. And then, I wanted to quote Artaud, precisely, at that moment, because we come back to this Covid and to the completely obvious situation. Because this virus has spread out also thanks to or because of our way of life and globalization. And he says in The Theater and the Plague: "And the question now is whether, in this world that is slipping, committing suicide, without realizing it, there will be a core of men capable of imposing this superior notion of the theater, which will return to us all the natural and magical equivalent of the dogmas in which we no longer believe". It obvious, 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 that's not the least of the paradoxes, because there is a world in which we no longer believe, and in this drawing, in this kind of ex-voto that has a magical virtue, in any case there is a magical desire, 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, this interest in religions, in beliefs and in the circulation of religions among themselves. Can you tell us a little about it? Why in a certain way, in your work, it becomes coalescent between different modes of beliefs or practices, also because for you the belief is never as such, it seems to me very, very much linked to a practice and a practice that is obviously with the integration of the body?
- JPS: It's a huge question. I think that man recognizes himself in the first rituals we know of since prehistoric times, which was to bury the dead. It was not to throw them away today as we did in the within the nursing homes now. No, but it is very important, this relationship to the human, the meaning is that here, we are discussing together, we are in front. There has to be a communication. Imagine one second that our parents had died from Covid and that we were not able to attend the funeral. It is the disappearance of the ritual. It is also the disappearance of the human being as such, somewhere. And that makes me really... sad. And all religions have tried to develop this spiritual side, which has been completely erased, totally annihilated, especially in the monotheistic religions where sexuality has been completely buried.
But, we know exactly why: it's because often religions were promulgated by men and feminine pleasure always scared them somewhere. It's true that seeing a woman climaxing is something else than just walking down the street quietly. Bataille speaks well of it. It's a fury. It's indescribable the feminine pleasure with the screams and everything... Somewhere, it can be frightening. You were talking about fear, well, it's true that the feminine pleasure is eminently feared by certain men, so they invented a lot of rational systems so that women could not enjoy sex anymore. That's their thing. But into matriarchal societies during prehistoric times advocated this enjoyment and fertility, women were well gendered. The breasts and the sexes were generous. So now we're back to that with pornography. But it's sexuality where there's none of the fertile side anylonger. It's just pleasure for immediate pleasure, which doesn't have much interest anyhow.
- 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 that can be, not buried, but which would be distant, disappeared. And how, perhaps, in a certain form of sexuality, or in any case of pleasure, one could bring back to life throughout resurgences, certain images, certain customs. Perhaps even some knowledge. I feel this in your representations and also in the representations that we have 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 simply get out of the iconological analysis. That is to bring these images back to life, with an aspect that interests me enormously, that interests me enormously, as I took part a few years ago at colloquium named: So that the images never die, that's exactly what it is. I have the feeling 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 we could, in a way, but 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 take a term that Artaud has discredited, has made us forget. In any case, there is something too, almost of a desistment of the artist's hand in Artaud, since he write under the influence of spirits or chance and that gives a particular strength to this drawing, sketch, I really don't know how to name it, ex-voto, perhaps too.
- JPS: I just wanted to come back just briefly to what you're saying. It's totally true because we are the last living witnesses of the first peoples. And all their knowledges, their wisdoms are disappearing. And Jean Malaurie, who runs the Terre humaine collection and whose books are all eminently interesting, says that faculties should be created to teach those knowledges. And the Aztecs, of course, no longer make human sacrifices, human sacrifices are not a good thing, but beyond that, once a month they would 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 to be interesting (to teach respect for Nature). 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 is also linked to his practice of theater, of the body of the actor in the theater. And it is 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 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.
- JPS: This one, "And that's when the theater settles in. The theater, that is to say, the immediate gratuitousness that pushes us to useless acts and without any benefit for the present day". It's perfect, it's art, it's the very definition of art. And then the following quotation: "We can now say that all true freedom is black and is inevitably confused with the freedom of sex, which is also black, without us knowing very well why". (We have just discussed this). "For it is a long time since the Platonic Eros, the the genesic sense, 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 vigor, with an ever-renewed force towards life". So there we are! One must project oneself constantly towards life. It is an immense flow. You have to be in the flow. That's it, that's so perfectly said!
- NS: So it would bring us back, I suppose, to this idea that you feel in your work, especially if you look at The Four Pillars of the Sky and other large installations you've done, this idea of moving from one image to another and from one silkscreen square, if I may say so, to another. There's another thing 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 without benefit for the present day".
Could you explain a little bit what you mean, simply of course?
- JPS: Artaud said that. It's true that being an artist in a society where art no longer has any value or importance, as he says so well, except commercially, that is to say that my works have an interest, and thanks to you I'm exhibiting here. So my works have a value because they are presented. But if the works are not presented and if they remain in the studio they have absolutely no value, they don't even exist. And nowadays a work has value because it is worth two million dollars. If it's not worth two million, if it's worth 10 euros, nobody look at it and it has no value. So we artists are working somewhere for free. It's very difficult to sell works of art. Yes, it's an other deal. It's a bit of a priesthood. Well, where I find that the problem here is that French society has practically no recognition for its artists and creators. There is not much support. There is not much interest. When you listen to the radio, it's very, very rare for visual artists to talk about their work. Or maybe on France Culture, but, well, all intellectuals will say the same thing, except for those we continually see and hear in the media. But I don't think there's much echo. That's why I am pushing hard myself to work enormously and continuously, like 24/7: to make videos, to do interviews like we do today and to present my work. Because I think that thanks to the internet now, we maybe can get a slightly higher audience.
- NS: Yes, and I think what's important is that there is work of art completed and that we shouldn't be discouraged by the difficulty of critical recognition. And if Artaud had asked himself the question of critical recognition, perhaps 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 would also hear differently, that is to say, recognition of signs, and especially of signs that can perhaps feed our imagination. In any case, I didn't think you were going to quote that. But 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 to useless acts, and also you who produces images and who loves images, because it is the very nature of your creation, without benefit for the present day.
It is this idea that we could also imagine, that we produce even if we don't have a return, whether it be financial or immediate media return, that there is no return from the news, from 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 more meanfull. Perhaps it is going to look for something that will remain in time.
- JPS: Yes, I hope so, I really 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 would like to make you react on two things. Firstly, about a work that you have chosen and I would like you to tell us about it because it is a little bit enigmatic. And secondly, I would like you to read a quotation that you have also chosen and 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 titled: Pure Consciousness or the Meta Cosmic Void, and I believe 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 works of Morris Louis, working on emptiness, or Yves Klein working on emptiness as well. And it's decorated with little blue flowers. We evoked earlier decoration, but it's not decoration. We also talked about being framed. And here, the emptiness must be framed because we cannot live in absolute emptiness or void. It's too hard for us. And Hindus have 19 life forms of it, the Buddhists as well. While us westerners, we only have the nothingness, we have Being and nothingness, it is sadly very poor. And I am fascinated by the metaphysical power of the Hindus. And it's a work that transfers me towards a beautiful idea of humanity. To be able to talk about the void is to have already reflected thousands of years, because prehistoric man may not have had an idea of the void, but these Hindus, with their limited technical knowledge, because they didn't have the technical knowledge of the West, in a sort, they knew a lot of things and they developed their metaphysics much more deeply. And every time I read books by these people (like the Upanishads), I am fascinated. It can be the same for the aborigines of Australia. Except that, they wrote very little and there are quite a few works of art that have survived. Maybe their 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! Today, crossed by roads with trucks, overflown by planes carrying their profane passengers over the Himalayan peaks where the Indians placed the residences of their Gods, these voices have fallen silent, where perhaps there are no longer any ears capable of hearing them". This is the relation 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 traveled from Tibet to Mongolia, he spent years like that traveling practically alone 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. It 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 this is a magnificent conclusion and I thank you once again for this interview and for the richness of our exchanges.
- JPS: Thank you dear Nicolas. It was a real pleasure to talk with you. And thank you to Lionel and all the friends who helped us for this beautiful 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