(X 3) Films Interviews transcriptions (2022 - 2023)
ARTISTS' WORLDS #1: INTERVIEW BETWEEN ARTISTS JEAN-PIERRE SERGENT & CLAUDIE FLOUTIER | BESANÇON | FRANCE | JUNE 9 2023 | Download the PDF
Filmed at Claudie Floutier studio-apartment's on June 9, 2023. Cameras: Lionel Georges. Thanks to Millie Floutier & Guillaume Chilemme for helping with transcriptions and Christine Dubois for proofreading.
PART 1/4 | WATCH THE VIDEO
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Hello, everybody, today is June 9, 2023, and I have the great good fortune and honor of interviewing my friend Claudie Floutier, who is an artist and was also my teacher at the Besançon School of Fine Arts. We're here in her studio-apartment, and we're going to show some of the work you've done throughout your career. So, to begin with, you often talk about your childhood with your grandfather. It was in Provence. And you lived a bit like a wild woman, a tomboy, a bit in the wild, picking aromatic and medicinal herbs with him.
Claudie Floutier: With my grandfather!
JPS: Yes, well, if you'd like please, to tell us about your childhood.
CF: Well, I was born after the war, just after the war, and we weren't rich at home, not at all. My parents were really poor. When I was born, my parents thought it would be more interesting for me to go to live with my grandfather, who had two gardens and as so I could be fed more easily, whereas my father didn't have not enough financial means to support me, in fact. So I went to live for five years, until I went to school, because at the time, we didn't have kindergarten, with my grandfather, in a farmhouse in Apt, at the foot of the Luberon Mountains! At the time, my grandfather was a retired railway worker, and he had a friend who was a herbalist and therefore his second occupation, after his gardens was to herborize. So he used to take me along with him. And then I was extremely happy living with my grandfather and grandmother in Apt during all those years. I really enjoyed this life, which was also very humble, very simple, secluded, because I was living in a farmhouse. Perhaps I've never felt as happy as I did then. Because there were no disturbances, just smells of nature and magnificent landscapes… My grandfather was a quiet man, fairly silent, but he was an extremely tender with me, that's how he gave me a lot of love and attention. And then I felt comforted. So it was a very, very beautiful early childhood.
JPS: Yes, you were lucky enough to live completely in nature.
CF: Yes, to the fullest. We lived in a farmhouse that didn't belong to him. He wasn't rich either, so he had this Provencal farmhouse with chickens and rabbits to feed us, of course. But he rented this farmhouse, half of it… Because the second part was occupied by an Italian family, named Carboni, who were poor as well because it was at the end of the World War II. Mr. Carboni was a bricklayer, and they each rented this small farm that suited them... It was in the countryside and it was magnificent. In fact, I went to see this farmhouse again some time ago with Millie. It was extraordinary to see it again! It really was!
JPS: Millie, it's your daughter you've raised all alone?
CF: Yes, she's my daughter, whom I raised all by myself.
JPS: Yes, so maybe you could tell us more about your career as an Art teacher at the School of Fine Arts of Besançon?
CF: If you like, after all the traveling I have done… et cætera, et cætera.
JPS: So, maybe, tell us about all your journeys, if you like to?
CF: My travels! In other words, I started my childhood at my grandfather's house, where people were really simple… My grandfather was very curious, even if we didn't really have many books. We just did have: the Almanach Vermot (famous French Yearbook including calendars : agricultural, religious and recipes etc.) and the Life on the rail magazine (talking about railways all around the World), because he was a railwayman... Yes, and that's what finally enabled me to travel to Peru, because I had read about it, them when I was around five. At that time then, I went back to his house for every vacation. So I read this "Life of the railways" where I realized that there was the longuest cogwheel railroad that crossed Peru and climbed the mountains. And I thought, this is great! And also after having read Tintin: "I've really got to get on that train one day!" So off I went on my journey to Peru. After my childhood with my grandfather, I lived in another small village. Then there was boarding school, where I wasn't a very bright student because all I did was to read and draw. So it was all the same. But anyhow, I managed to pass the the baccalaureate and I also passed the Open Competition of Drawing for High schools. My parents were very modest and had never ever seen an exhibition in their lives. But the fact that I succeeded in my studies was a great help. And to have earned this diploma, meant that they had confidence in me to go to the School of Fine Arts in Montpellier. So I also studied Italian for a while, because with parents who'd never seen an exhibition, I had to be a guarantor of something! I could have been as well an Italian teacher.... But that was soon sorted out. I went to the School of Fine Arts, where I had an extraordinary painting teacher called Monsieur Dezeuze. Thanks to him, I went to McGill University in Montreal, and afterwards he found me a job at Lefranc Bourgeois... After a trip to Paris, where I also went to the Beaux-Arts de Paris, thanks to a providential meeting at this school, and after seeing that finally, I wouldn't be able to get by financially, I passed a competitive examination to become a teacher at the School of Fine Arts in Metz. But I'd already done a lot of researches on color, in relation to Lefranc Bourgeois (French company selling artist's paints), and I was able to pass the exam without any problems, thanks to the experience I'd already had. Then, after four years, I took a competitive examination to teach at the School of Fine Arts in Besançon, to be closer to my ex-husband. I've been here ever since and I actually love being in Besançon.
JPS: So you taught at the School of Fine Arts in Besançon for almost forty years?
CF: Yes... But I taught in Metz first, and then in Besançon. I was teaching the color in the first cycle of art. And in fact, I was immediately fascinated, because I already had this relationship with color, but I was already drawing as a child, I drew, I drew so much, so I had this relationship with color because I had introduced the Liquitex artist's paints colors in France in the 70s. I worked with only the three primaries colors and since that time, I've never stopped working with primaries. What's more, I realized during the working process, that I could, apart from absolute black and white, still provide the exact colors I needed. (Because if you mix the complementary primaries, you end up with almost black). So I worked on these complements and, at the same time, I was doing yoga. Indeed, the fact of going infinitely deeper into color made me realize that, in the end, this complementarity of colors came back to the unity of the World. Because with the red and green pair and the other two complementary pairs, you have the whole World, in reduction. So I was totally passionate about it. I taught this notion of the three primaries in my color classes.... A long time later, I saw an exhibition by Charlotte Salomon at the Jewish Art Museum in Paris. This woman died in a concentration camp. She was pregnant, she was young and she was denounced and deported. And it was this beautiful exhibition about her work, this woman had really an incredible charm! She was both a musician and a great painter, who worked also with all three primaries colours. So, when I realized that, between the music that was played during the exhibition, and the quality of her work... Because she was telling us her story, just as I'm telling mine, with these three primaries! Then, I said to myself: "Wow, these affinities come from very far away, from very deep!". It wasn't her who showed me the way, but I found myself in complete compassion and harmony with this woman and having a great tenderness for her, even though she'd been dead for a long time... And, yes, I really enjoyed my job teaching at the School of Fine Arts. At the same time, when I stopped, I continued to love what I was doing with my life. Like my grandfather, who was a railway worker, when he retired, well, he became an herbalist. I just continued to do my little things, my little bits and pieces, I continued my life. I didn't miss teaching at all, even though I really enjoyed it very much. I filled my life in some other ways anyway.
JPS: Yes, of course, but as a student, I'd like to thank you very much, because it's true that you opened our minds to other worlds. It's very important for an artist to have a master (or mistress) in quotation marks... because Art need to be learned too.
CF: Well, yes, I too learned from my teachers at the Art School. My teachers weren't very complicated, they weren't great intellectuals, but that was fine. They knew the trade and, above all, we were out in nature. We weren't yet into the concept of art as nowadays, so it wasn't complicated. I learned from them and then, since I was working at Lefranc Bourgeois, I was able to learn on the job. Then I did all the training courses I could in understanding color, yoga and so on. I'm constantly deepening my knowledge. And at the same time, I'm always curious.
JPS: Yes, that's it, we often talk about the books we read!
CF: Of course, I read and I'm always enthusiastic towards life. And then I find that Art is nevertheless an extraordinary tool to enter into a world that is both strange and marvellous and to enter even more
deeply into Life!
JPS: I wanted to quote something I found yesterday on Twitter. It's a phrase by Hermann Hesse, who did a lot of work on Hindu philosophies and spirituality. He's an important person for all us artists. He says this: "There aren't so many things from which you can expect help, things that reassure you and help you to live; it's important to know them". We were talking a bit earlier about knowledge, and it's very important that you, as a teacher, have had a culture open to the World. Because we often talk about Mexico together, we often talk about other cultures, including Hindu cultures. That's what you've passed on to us, and that's what emerges also through your work. Perhaps you'd like to show us some examples of your work or quote some texts?
CF: Yes, so I could quote a few texts and in answer to your question: "Have you done any large formats?" Yes, I've done large formats... And in particular, I had undertaken, after reading the Rubaiyats, to do a series on the Rubaiyats, in my own way. These were large-scale formats, which I'll show you later...
JPS: Rubaiyat, in other words? What reference are the Rubaiyat?
CF: Yes, Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. I was so caught up in this reading and, at the same time, the Gulf War was starting... And I was against the first Gulf War, I demonstrated in the City shouting: "NO TO WAR! NO TO WAR! NO TO WAR!" But then, the stupidity of all the world's leaders is such! That, in any case, there's nothing you can do. So reading the Rubaiyat was really healing for me, now, I'm going to read some short extracts of it, because it has a deep connection with my work.
JPS: Oh yes, Very good!
CF: - "# 110. On the day when this celestial steed of golden stars was saddled, when the planet of Jupiter where the Pleiades were created, from that day on, the divan of the feast fixed our fate. In what then are we guilty, since such is the portion we have been given."" # 129. In the midst of this whirlwind of the world, hasten to pick some fruit. Sit on the throne of gaiety and bring the cup to your lips. God is heedless of worship and sin. So enjoy here below what pleases you."
- "# 232. You asked me what this phantasmagoria of things here below is all about. It would take too long to tell you the whole truth. It's a fantastic image that emerges from a vast sea and then enters that same vast sea back again."
JPS: So this is by Omar Khayyam?
CF: Yes, these are quatrains # 110, 129, 232 of the Rubaiyat. At another point, he says: "This handful of donkeys placed between two oxen". That is exactly what we are! I was really extremely touched by these texts. I read them anew recently because of what's going on in all these countries around the World, stirred up by all these wars, by all this fury against women... I heard this morning on the radio that little girls in Afghanistan, young women who were going to school, were poisoned, simply because they were going to school! That's really despairing! Omar Khayyam, after all, is a man of the East.
- "# 348. This wheel of heaven chases my death and yours, friend, it conspires against my soul and yours. Come, come and sit on the grass, for we have very little time left before other grass sprouts from my dust and yours."
PART 2/4 | WATCH THE VIDEO
JPS: So Claudie, you wanted to present us some of your drawings. Which series are you showing us now?
CF: Yes, somehow, my work is in a constant state of metamorphosis, in other words, I don't have a straight line, I draw a lot, then I paint, then I write, so they're all very different series. You asked me about the Rembrandt's series? A few years ago, I went to Amsterdam and was completely fascinated in front of this really tiny drypoint etching by Rembrandt, which really showed me how Rembrandt was deeply aware, at his end, of his nakedness and his solidarity with the World. But above all... I don't really understand, it remains mysterious… I love so much this small etching so much. He is there present, he looks at us and says: "Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me...". Or, also, I'm trying to tell you how much I am not only this great painter, but also this man full, full, of contradictions and fears, anxieties... of loneliness, but also of inner strength. Because he is both, at the same time, very sad and very strong. As a result, I became so attached to him, that I drew some out, I did draw… I draw so much! I spend two years on this project and then afterwards, I also find texts that comfort me. Who also knows with what strangeness of my fellows, this face opposite confronts itself in me groping and trying to be understood". Henri Michaux in Passage: seeks to be understood... it's done... Voilà... And then, Pierre Reverdy, in Plupart du temps, collection 1915-1922, Autre face: "Black eyes! But they're pince-nez. A shadow slides over the cheeks. Two tears run down the cheeks. Is it for me or because of the sun? No one dares ask who they're looking at, and everyone takes the glance for themselves. I'm afraid that I am too small and too far away. I'm certainly too far away and the one in front of me is getting closer. To reassure myself, I tell myself that the eyes can't see everything, and there's nothing left in the heart but what it can hold." Voilà! "There's nothing left in the heart but what it can hold." That's it, and it's extraordinary!
JPS: So, you want to talk a little about the existential void and getting out of it through Art, somewhere?
CF: With Rembrandt it's Art that saved him…
JPS: Yes, but isn't that a question we can ask? We all feel this sense of finitude, and Rembrandt expressed it beautifully!
CF: Yes, yes, yes, as far as I'm concerned, there are writers whom I love deeply, who also say essential things... I read a very beautiful book by Salman Rushdie, which I used to introduce this series: "Life comes (how shall I put it) near to its end. You realize that you don't own anything, that you haven't found your place, that you're just using things for a while. The inanimate world laughs at you, you'll leave one day, but it'll stay here. What I'm saying isn't very deep, Sally, it's Winnie-the-Pooh philosophy (and that's exactly what I am : Winnie-the-Pooh), I know, but it's still heartbreaking." So, I'm not much of a philosopher, I am doing my Winnie-the-Pooh's philosophy, I'm someone who is always seeking for things, and I can also find some in reading, which I love enormously. And here's a passage from Michel Houellebecq: "In the midst of complete physical collapse...". Because Rembrandt himself, all his life, spoke of nothing but this, because he speaks only of his own time, when he makes his self-portraits. You see, Rembrandt himself became aware that "vanity of vanities, all is vanity". And for me, this is the essential basis, I believe, of my work: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity"... Everything is collapsing... "In the midst of widespread physical collapse, which is what old age is all about, the voice and the gaze bear irrefutable witness to the persistence of character, aspirations, desires, everything that constitutes a human personality". In The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq.
JPS: By the way, he was talking about an artist in this book, about Contemporary Art and an artist, yes!
CF: Yes, I am quoting him because : "At the end of the day, there's nothing left but loneliness, cold and silence". He says: "Then you stop laughing... You always end up with a broken heart... You stop laughing..." When you die, you don't know how much you're laughing... And so it is for me, given that I've spent my life... Fortunately, I was a single mother and I was lucky enough to have a daughter, whom I raised... But somehow, loneliness is important, when you're a single mother, so when I wasn't looking after Millie or teaching art,I enthusiastically fell back on drawing, painting and writing… As so, you can break the solitude when you're in that creative state, you're in your world and that world, despite the fact that you don't always do happy things, it's a wonder to be into a creative mind!
JPS: Of course, yes! Maybe you'd like to present us a few pages like that, in silence, so that people can have a look at your work. And then I'll scan them and put them in the video. There, you've put all the papers you wanted to show us today, or do you want to show others?
CF: Small, very small formats. This is a slightly sad note, but I'm a multi-faceted character: John who cries, John who laughs. So, John who cries and then John who laughs ! And then, as I like to draw a lot, for a while, I drew little objects from my house. Some small objects, so this is a completely different way of drawing, because I don't use shadows at all, I just work with the line…
JPS: Like in the Middle Ages.
CF: Well, obviously, I like a lot Middle Ages art works. This is a little drawing of objects I have at home, that I bought in Mykonos or on the Greek islands. So I did this little drawing and I added that: "plus the seagulls" because the sea was missing, after all, in this drawing. So I wrote: "plus the seagulls". These are also objects I have at home. This is an object I brought back from Peru, well, these are statuettes I brought back from my travels. I like stones... I've made this connection between objects. Here, too, is a statuette I've brought back, and here again, I'd put this phrase that obsesses me a little: "Polishes its weapons, its jades, its gods, its songs, its grelots from a few decades ago, a troop emerges from the water, then everything cascades and returns to the blur". Quote from Norge, a poet I like very much… That is, from one day to the next, I stop something and I do the exact opposite, because I feel that if I do a lot, a lot, then, I'll get saturated. And when I've finished saturating, I say to myself, "Oh, I've got to enjoy myself anyway, what am I going to do to enjoy myself?" So I start again, but at the exact opposite, it's a complete pirouette. I say to myself: "Am I going to write? Will I paint? Am I going to draw?" But I don't really ask myself this question like that, it's because I'm like that, that I do the opposite, because it pleases me to seek all-around, to turn things upside-down. So, at the same time, I'm a very attentive person, but I do Philosophy and Art, a bit like Winnie the Pooh. In other words, for me, Art is something that's both extremely important, but at the same time such a pleasure that I'll also seek pleasure in anything, i.e. in any form of work, even things that are a little crude, a little vulgar... But if I'm going for this slightly crude, slightly vulgar side, it's because all of a sudden, II want to state, quote: "Stop the Art, good taste is tiring like good company!" Said Picabia. So let's go and do something that's different from what you are expecting from me! I'm different and that's that!
JPS: Yes, you're not locked into any mind framework, you are a free spirit!
CF: No framework at all!, in the sense that I'm a nobody... I don't have a gallery, I'm not famous, etc. So, let's have fun... Well, let's have fun and please, let me have fun already! Let's have fun! I'm having fun! But I'm doing it in a very serious matter…
PART 3/4 | WATCH THE VIDEO
JPS: We're now at Part 3 and I I'd like to ask you a question, as you often are talking about your double, your alter ego, your "Trobéïrice" character. Trobairitz is a feminine form of troubadour, in the langue d'Oc, the language of your native region. Occitan-speaking poetesses and composers, they lived in the south of France in the 12th and 13th centuries. We're back to the Middle Ages somehow. So, did you create this character to escape a nowadays life that was too difficult, a reality that was too flat, too absurd, too disappointing? Do you want to restore joy and re-enchant the world? And does art somehow reinitialize life? In a way, it's our role as artists to enchant the world once more?
CF: I think Trobéïrice came about as a form of resistance, a protective force in this warlike world, in relation to wars all over and so on. And then, above all, in relation to the fact that I really wanted, me, to be protected? Well, I don't really know, because it came out of nowhere... By this enchanting little character as a lot of power. When Trobéïrice is with me, I feel as if she's my grigri. And it's helping me to resist, sort of, this decay of the World, this form of World that is endlessly dominated by the same powers... And Trobéïrice, she's a poetess after all, and she's also a form of feminine resistance. So that's what she is, it's all about the feminine. And of course, I'd also worked a lot on this notion of the troubadour. Firstly: because I'm from there; secondly: because I'm very fond of Jacques Roubaud writings, who, regarding to me, is a great poet, philosopher and mathematician and member of L'Oulipo (L'Ouvroir de littérature potentielle).
JPS: Can you tell us who he is?
CF: Jacques Roubaud is a poet and philosopher.
JPS: From what period?
CF: From the 20th century and who worked a lot on the troubadours and who wrote an essential book, which is called: "The inverted flower, The art of troubadours". It's a very serious, well-documented book, with a lot of informations, and I had read it a lot. And I said to myself: Trobéïrice, she's also born from this knowledge and interest, I am have for the troubadours histories. So I named this character Trobéïrice because I've incorporated myself into this Medieval Art; because after all, as far as I'm concerned, all my sources aren't necessarily in Contemporary Art! It's everything I've encountered during my numerous travels and so on. Also in my visits to museums, both the Musée du Quai Branly (Ethnical Museum) and the Folk Arts and Traditions Museums. In other words, my sources are a bit like Picasso's: elsewhere than in what I see as very contemporary. I go to Contemporary Art exhibitions, but I don't feed on contemporary artists works, I feed on everything that has deeply fascinated me, that has interested me, whether it's the Quai Branly, which I love, or the Cluny Museum (Medieval Museum), where I go very often, now that it's been renovated with all the work on medieval sculpture and so on. I'm passionate about it and really inspired by it! But on the other hand, I've spelled Trobairitz differently, since I'm also that Winnie-the-Pooh character. It's not Trobairitz, it's TROBEIRICE! I run the end of the word, spelling it, not in a noble way, but more popularly, underlining it with this spelling, thanks to the strong hindsight my southern accent gives me, because I keep my accent of which I am proud, because I'm from a certain part of France and above all, because I've also read Pierre Bourdieu in his book: The Distinction, he says: "Accents ensure that the Provinces are discredited by the political Parisian power etc.", So, I'm a citizen of the World with an accent, because I consider myself to be from somewhere, even though I adore Franche-Comté, were I live now. So, Trobéïrice, she did come at a certain time... She came at the same time, as I noted in this notebook, thus: she doesn't show up, one don't see her, she's very rarely represented. She's a shadow puppet with a kind of magician's hat and a childlike's plait. She has a lot of knowledge, but she remains always the child she once was. "It was at this point that Trobéïrice appeared as a shadow puppet, ageless, with only a long nose, a little girl's braid held back by a bow and a big learned man's hat. In my drift, my hopelessness, she always comme back to show me the way."
It was also at this point that I met, here in Besançon, someone who introduced me to Chaos Theory: Michel Planat, a CNRS researcher at the Laboratory of Oscillator Physics and Meteorology in Besançon. We had organized meetings with physicists at the Fine Arts School. I didn't understand a word of it... I really didn't! Nothing at all! But, we were curious about each other worlds. Michel Planat is a very, very great man, who dealt with these chaos theories. And finally, we all ended up eating together and drinking glasses of rosé, one after the other, which may have made us a little drunk! I'm interested in Chaos Theory, but I don't understand it. I can't start being a physicist either. So that's how Trobéïrice was born, and she's with me now all the time… And, given the versatility of my work, Trobéïrice is like a metamorphosis character, allowing me to metamorphose myself into whatever and whoever I want. She goes from one Universe to another and is the unfailing link that binds all my Universes together.
PART 4/4 | WATCH THE VIDEO
JPS: Now it's the fourth and final part. The two of us are lucky enough to be participating in a major exhibition at the Popular Arts and Traditions Museum in Champlitte. The exhibition is entitled "Witches! Women's spells…" and your work is perfectly suited to this subject matter, because you've been working on the female body and the women condition during all your life. I will present a large silkscreen print on paper : The Goddess Ixchel, she is the Mayan goddess, associated with Water and Death and I think it's going to be a very important and landmark exhibition... So maybe you'd like to show us some of your witch-related or magical works? Or do you want to talk about witchcraft? And how women bodies have been persecuted throughout all of mankind history? There have been a few matriarchal societies in Europe before, as we know, but they're pretty rare. So, as a woman, perhaps you could say something about that. We've already talked earlier about the situation of women and specially little girls in Afghanistan, where it's terrible! But these stories of witches who were persecuted, like Marguerite Porete who was burned alive for writing her her great and passionate book in the XIIIᵉ century: The Mirror of Simple Souls, that's terrible too!
CF: As early as at the School of Fine Arts, I had read Michelet's The Sorceress, and I was terrified by the fate meted out to these women. In fact, I tried to read it again for this exhibition, but I stopped, because I felt much more down emotionally than when I was 18. I mean, when I read this book, it was for my general culture. And there are descriptions that are so atrocious, that I stopped reading Michelet's book, which is an essential book to read. So I've always been interested and tormented by these stories about women condition, women burned alive etc. A while ago, in the 70s, before becoming a professor at the Fine Art School de Metz (1973 - 1977), I was at the Fine Art School of Paris (1971 - 1972) and I was somewhat involved in the the art scene. There were certain women who had emerged after 1968, who were very, very powerful at that time, and they had initiated a magazine called "Sorcières". They were very, very kind and attentive to me, very kind, but I felt out of place with these women. As it was a very elitist Parisian feminist milieu. They invited me to take part to their Art Magazine. I know they had invited me because they sensed in me this telluric force within my work in fact... So I was part of this adventure. After that, I became a teacher in Metz and I didn't go back to that milieu. Then, as I'm always interested by this subject matter, a few years ago, I saw a very big exhibition on witchcraft at the Musée des Archives Nationales in Paris, as I go to Paris a lot because I also live in Paris. There were some incredible documents, and I found myself in this kind of very strong emotional state, about the fate that had been reserved for all those poor women. There were a lot of documents from Haute-Saône... which were on loan from the department for this exhibition. That's when I realized just how many women were burned in this specific area of France. And when I spoke to Caroline about it...
JPS : Caroline Dreux, which is the Museum Director?
CF: Yes, Caroline Dreux, who's going to curate this exhibition. She told me: "Yes, we've lent some documents to the Nationales Archives". And one thing led to another: Caroline knows my work for a long time. I showed her the magazine "Sorcières", which is currently at the museum, and in which I have two documents photographed. There's also an other document that will be in the exhibition. And when she asked me if I wanted to take part in the exhibition, I said yes, on condition that you didn't think of me as a witch. I'm a woman who wonders about witchcraft, but I'll never do evil spells or black magic. I am white magic. I can also testify, finally, to all the pain I feel, because most of these women were not great villains, they were poor women who had been denounced by their neighbours…
JPS : They were herbalists! Healers!
CF : They were bonesetters, herbalists, women who were certainly of great quality. The same as nowadays, it's unbearable that little girls are being poisoned in Iran and Afghanistan at this precise moment, just because they're going to learn at school! As soon as they felt they had a lot of knowledge, they tied them up, chained them up and burned them! That's unacceptable for me. So I said yes, I'm coming. That's why I'm taking part in this exhibition.
JPS: Thank you Claudie, we'll be waiting for you at the exhibition. Ans as we've known each other for a long time, you told me about your somewhat mystical experiences in Israel and Peru. Would you say a few words about that, please?
CF: That is to say that I'm a convinced atheist, I have no religion, but I'm always looking and seeking for... something meaningful. I've had a great knowledge of the Bible since I was a little girl. And I have always said to myself: one day, I'm going to go to Israel. And I was pregnant at that time, carrying my daughter, but I didn't know if I was going to keep her or not... You have to look at it like that! So I went to Israel, and since I knew the Bible inside out, I followed Jesus' itinerary. At one point, I was staying at a youth hostel in Capernaum, on the shores of Tiberias Lake. And I said to myself, I'm going to walk up to the Mount of Beatitudes, even though I was pregnant, but at the very beginning, and I'm going to look out over at the Tiberias Lake from up there. It was almost sunset, and it's true that I was in a kind of state of ecstasy... Despite the fact that I'm completely atheist!
JPS: Yes, you're not a monotheist, but you are animist in some way? Yes but things need to be precised!
CF: Yes, absolutely, I'm a pantheist, I believe in all the little gods and so on. I believe in nature, I believe in streams, I believe in little things. This Jesus character, he's a character who certainly existed but, I was going to say, he's a bit like Che Guevara, the fool in the joke. And so, when I was up there, the landscape was so beautiful... The scenery was really gorgeous and impressive… And the silence... And then in my head, I thought: down there, that's Tiberias all the same. So in my head, I told myself some kind of story, and I was in a state of ecstasy... It was almost sunset, and it's true that I was in a state, in a kind of ecstasy...
JPS: A cosmic connection?
CF: I don't know what it was, but it felt good. And then, the funny thing - we always finally see the dark side of the story - was that when I went down, I walked to the lake shore, I crossed the border… And at that period of time, we could do that, it was long time ago, when Israel, was in peace. And on the way down, I came across a black dog that chased me. I climbed on a tree, and guess who called him back? It was some Palestinians who had tents and were camping there. So I was in this state where I said to myself, at the same time, there's this ecstatic state and then suddenly, out of nowhere the black gushes and bring you back to reality! Between the heavenly spiritual experience, flying, flying spiritually and there's always the terrestrial and purely material realities that bring you back to earth, reality always catches up with you. But at the same time, these Palestinians were very kind, they made me eat and they took me all the way back to Capernaum... So I experienced both this extremely mystical side and then, this furious dog that had come along to try to bite me.
JPS: Yes, the devil, some kind of?
CF: The devil... Or at least Reality. Reality arriving with the dog, you see? So all I had to do was take refuge and climb on a tree to save myself.
JPS: Claudie, thank you very much for this interview. Thank you for having us in your studio. And good luck with everything, have a great show! We'll see each other soon. A big thank to Lionel, who was filming behind the cameras, and good luck to all of you! Goodbye and see you soon.
CF: Thank you Jean-Pierre and thank to you Lionel, for being so patient!
INTERVIEW JEAN-PIERRE SERGENT WITH KARINE BERTRAND, "ABOUT JPS'S EROTIC WORKS" BESANÇON WORKSHOP | OCTOBER 28 2022 | Download the PDF
Jean-Pierre Sergent & Karine Bertrand (sexologist in Besançon), exchange about the erotic works of JPS. Filmed at the Besançon artist's studio. Cameras: Lionel Georges and Christine Chatelet.
PART 1/5 | SEE THE VIDEO
Karine Bertrand: Hello Jean-Pierre.
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Hello Karine.
KB: I am delighted to be here and thank you for your invitation.
JPS: You're more than welcome!
KB: So, we're going to share this little moment together, so you invited me for my skills as a sexologist?
JPS: Yes, but not only that, I think you really appreciate my work... And so it was an idea to have a little exchange like that, a little informal, to discuss a little bit about my work and about life in general.
KB: So I'm delighted to be able to talk about your work and to give you my opinion as a sexologist, but also on the intimate (personal) view, your work really appealed to me; as you know, I really like your work. I was very touched by this work the first time I saw it. I am even more delighted to exchange with you. So, why was I touched by this work?
JPS: Yes, why that?
KB: For what reasons I was touched, my dear Jean-Pierre, it was already this play game of light; for me, there was a play of light in which I was invited completely into a dynamic, into the living. So already, there is a first glance, for me, who is not an Art specialist. And I speak from what I am. There was a dynamic of the living, something which invited us into some play of lights.That was the first invitation and then, when I got to the second level of reading (as we had talked about). Your work is made up of several layers of reading and at the second reading that I was able to make by looking at it a little more closely, I saw all the erotic suggestions, which obviously challenged me a lot. And then this third reading: there can be many! This third reading, which comes to invite us in the erotic suggestions but also at a given moment, pornographic... And I think that we will develop it. That's what touched me in your work. All this set of suggestions, invitations. Ultimately, one can very well pass by and not see anything at all! And depending on the person, the moment. And the viewer, must also stop right in front of your work to discover it fully. I think it is very important in order to discover your work! People can pass by; but in fact, if one don't sit down, and stare at the work, one don't see, where you invite us, in a phantasmagorical introspection at the end. I would say it like that.
JPS: Yes, you are talking in particular about my current exhibition at the Besançon Fine Arts Museum?
KB: Yes, I am indeed talking about this exhibition and then after, about your invitation and my visit to your studio where I was able to take pleasure again in seeing this great magnificent wall that is exhibited behind us.
JPS: Well yes, there are many things that I try to develop in my work because of course, I am looking for the multiplicity of things and the successiveness and chain of events (karma); we will talk about it a little more in detail later. But as an artist, I have to spread informations. That is to say that I gather informations; I am a bit of a gleaner of informations that I diffuse, throughout my art, to the public. And as you said very rightly, most people don't get it because this artistic process, is maybe a bit too complicated or too simple? We don't really know why people don't get into the work? It's really questioning, especially nowaday; where I think that, as I often say: we have entered a post-cultural era, that is to say that we no longer have access to a deep culture. Somehow, we have access to a somewhat superficial culture. But my work is very deep because it speaks, of course, about sexuality, death, continuity, the collective unconscious... All these things, which we will be able to develop a little later.
KB: It's true that in order to bounce back, Jean-Pierre, it's quite surprising, because it's also very societal, this way of looking at Art where we must already see immediately something. Except if they are already famous painters like Picasso or others… where we will wonder about them because it is good to wonder about them. But for the time being, it's as if we had to be invited immediately, that's interesting too...
JPS: But what people don't really understand deeply, is that Art requires an initiation. It's a little difficult to say, because an initiation requires a certain culture, it takes a certain time... So, here it is...
KB: And you know what it makes me bounce back to? It makes me bounce back to the question of the erotic preliminary?
JPS: Yes, eventually.
KB: Because foreplay, in the end, is also an initiation. We don't go there right away, we invite and we take the time to look at each other, to taste, to discover, to invite ourselves into something that will invite us into deeper intimate desire. And basically, does your artwork, it comes to me like this: but basically, isn't your artwork foreplay? It's a great compliment for me to tell you that.
JPS: Yes, but one can say a preliminary Art; But at the end, it has nevertheless an existential and metaphysical deepness. Art must touch the deep and intimate energy of the human being.
KB: But isn't sex exactly that? Ultimately, Jean-Pierre?
JPS: Of course! But it all depends also on the culture in which one have been raised and educated!
PART 2/5 | SEE THE VIDEO
JPS: We are now approaching this second part and as you have noted very well and people also see it in an obvious way, I reuse a lot of pornographic images in my work. And this is what our society diffuses the most since about 50% of people are viewing pornographic images on the Internet. So this plethora of pornographic images are somehow nourishing our collective unconscious... It's obviously a business on the other hand and above all. But what do these images give off? And, can we find in these images, somewhere, a trace of sacredness, as one could say. Because what interests me is the sacred in sexuality. It is not sexuality as a monstration, it is the other dimension... It is not the intelligent dimension but the cosmic dimension. Henri Michaux said in his book "A Barbarian in Asia" that the Indians made love to their women as if they were communicating with God. And I deeply think that in sexuality, we forget, of course today, our cosmic communication. And all my work is really based on that. So I start from porn, I use a lot of genitals, images of orgasms too, to talk about this elsewhere. In bondage as well, the body is bound but it can enter another dimension. It is the force of the brain and the imagination. We have the same nervous impulses in pain that we have in the pleasure; they are exactly the same impulses; it is our free will to switch the pain in pleasure... And it is what interests me, it is this mutation, this transformation, this metamorphosis of the pain in pleasure or of the pleasure in pain or conversely and maybe the transcendence of the body also to pass beyond the body, that is it.
KB: Yes, I hear the question of the sacred, of the sublimation of pleasure and of a very transversal jouissance. I hear the question of pleasure-pain. So there, the sexologist will say: always if it is framed, desired and played. Because sex must always be played. But in the meantime, I hear well indeed.
JPS: But Art is a game!
KB: Indeed and in the end, we are always a little in limit games, of invitation; and it is true that, after the transcendence in the climax, it is for me a gift that one can make through the desire and the sexual pleasure. It is a real fundamental question. And what about in your work…? Because, what also appealed to me, for sure, when you talk about pornography there is this paradoxical side to it, I think?
JPS: Absolutely, yes, you are right!
KB: Because pornography is what is visible! That's what makes pornography, otherwise it's eroticism: eroticism is suggestion and pornography is what we see! We see the organs and it is there where it is interesting, the different readings, it is that you propose us the 'not seen' in the 'seen', that is to say a paradox between, if I go to look for your images, I will see that there is pornography but otherwise, if I do not go to look for it, I do not see it!
JPS: Yes, it's obvious.
KB: Yes, but it's all this multi-layered reading at the bottom because it's true that porn, it is by definition, what we can see.
JPS: Yes, it's what we see. But I forgot, earlier, to talk about rituals, because that's what interests me, as we are living in a totally de-ritualized society; there are no more rituals except for the soccer World Cup or the Tour de France. There are no more rituals, somewhere, that connect us to Nature with a capital N; we redefine it a little differently today but it is all this reconnection that I want to integrate and provoke through my work, with the patterns etc... And you are right, yes, yes.
PART 3/5 | SEE THE VIDEO
JPS: Would you like to talk about the different levels of reading?
KB: Yes, the different levels of reading... What did you mean by the dance, to enter the erotic dance?
JPS: Yes, my work is an invitation: that's it! To enter into the dance, of course, the artist's true role is to play a game with the spectator, of course, because nobody really paint for oneself alone; it's not interesting. And then... you have to find partners who want to dance the same dance as you and with you. It's not that easy, of course.
KB: It's not so obvious, because for you, you paint? Because painting can be also sublimatory in itself, that is to say therapeutic, introspective, expulsive and one can keep, in the end, one's creation to oneself?
JPS: Yes? but no!
KB: Are you inviting us for a dance? Are you looking for a dancer?
JPS: It's the whole public that I am inviting, it's a shared and fusional dance, of course. No, I'm not looking for a dancer. I always remember going to see a beautiful exhibition of artist Yves Klein at Pompidou Center, with his big blue monochromes and when you are in front of his works, your brain changes its vibration. And that's exactly what I'm trying to do: that the body changes its vibration, changes its energy. Because nowadays, most people have totally lost their cosmic energies and connections; we spoke about it earlier. My Art, is, perhaps, a real invitation to enter, yes, in the true cosmic dance (Life-Sex-Death). In something else, in other cultures, because we are of course the full amount, of all that preceded us. And there are so many cultures are disappearing before our eyes nowadays. So, I have a little bit this will to say that at that time period, for example in precolombian times, there were the Mayas who communicated with their Gods by making self-sacrifices... We do no longer sacrifice anything for the World today, to regenerate the World. We are fiercely selfish and destructive. And we are somehow 'vaccinated' towards Life. We no longer enter into Life, in any ways. Antonin Artaud said a very beautiful sentence: "You are outside of Life!" And I think that my work invites us to enter back to Life again.
KB: Yes, by the way, it makes me bounce back to the painting I offered myself for my Christmas last year, it's one of your silkscreen works that I'm very happy to have with at home. And there are all these different levels of readings, and the first one that caught my eye was the: Pachamama!
JPS: Oh yes, Mother Earth!
KB: It is Mother Earth, there is something of this kind of energy, that invites us also in eroticism etc. But first there was this invitation to Mother Earth.
JPS: Yes, yes, it is a fusional, maternal dance, yes, you are right. It is the Regressus ad Uterum: the re-entry into the womb, of course. It is the place of creation. Artists often invite people into their place of creation.
KB: And it's amazing, because when friends come over, they have a glance… and every one… obviously, I don't say anything; and they all have totally different interpretations. So, it's quite funny because it also allows you to see how everyone is formatted, basically, in their questioning.
JPS: But one can only understand what one already knows, and that's where the problem stay for ages! People don't understand my work, because they don't really know what I'm talking about. Of course, we all have our reading grids, we all had an artistic education, we know all that and therefore, we do only with what we have, we can't go into the unknown. It is very, very difficult to go into the unknown... For example, if you read the Upanishads today, you will not understand anything at all; but if you read the Upanishads when are sixty years old, well, you may find it fabulous! So It is therefore a whole level of awareness and knowledge that must be acquired and Art is somewhere there, to awaken the level of consciousness.
KB: Yes, I think that we can talk about Art which could awaken the levels of consciousness but I also think that, as you said earlier, it needs also a time of discovering it. That is to say that people do not take the time to observe, because there are numerous things to be seen, which are also readable and which one interprets, each one in its way and that there will be various levels of readings. So it's accessible, somehow, but my feeling is just that, deep down, we no longer take the time to look curiously and with interest? That's a real question!
JPS: No, we don't really take the time anymore, that's true, yes!
KB: To take the time… I was yesterday morning at the Besançon Museum and I saw your work again. As you can see, people don't stop or they don't stop very often. They don't stop but not necessarily only in front of your work and I was surprised to see how people visit a Museum... like a supermarket. So not all, obviously, I don't want to generalize; but it says something about a society too, it says something about an era! You have to take the time to be touched and overwhelmed. We are consuming, we are consume non stop!
JPS: Yes, one should read Krishnamurti, he talks about attention. The only time we are fully present to the World, is when we are attentive. And it's the same thing for knowing "God", in quotes, or the cosmic forces or even Art, yes. You have to pay attention to things and people don't pay attention anymore, as they are, as you said, they are in linear time; but I am in the multiplicity of all times, so it is very difficult. And in order to access that, you must have lived, at some point, some deep spiritual experiences; you have to fall on your head and get up again and say: well, that does exists and this, that doesn't exist anymore, why? Why did we destroy the whole World? Why have we destroyed so many indigenous cultures? And is our culture, our selfish way of living, worth more than any other cultures that have been destroyed? Of course, we have to ask ourselves this question. That's it.
PART 4/5 | SEE THE VIDEO
JPS: So, let's have a little extra-bonus dear Karine...
KB: Yes, with pleasure.
JPS: I worked, not during all this Summer, because it was too hot to work and screen printing uses a lot of water; so I worked only on films during Summer and printed in the fall this new batch of a series titled: "Karma-Kali, Erotic Dreams & Paradoxes". We talked earlier about paradox! we are right in the subject of our interview and so I printed probably more than 200 (232) and all of them are unique prints. I really worked a lot! And just finished the job a couple of days ago and took pictures of all the prints. I had chosen five silkscreens to present you. In this one, you can see exactly what we talked about, which is eroticism. It's a woman dressed all in lingerie with fishnet stockings, garter belt and bustier: it's the 'hidden-unveiled' that we talked about earlier... As well as the pattern that I drew by hand on the film, like this and... yes?
KS: Well, it makes me think of the Orient, you know those windows where...
JPS: Exactly, the moucharabiehs, yes.
KB: Yes, where you are hidden and revealed, in the background, right? The suggestion is that behind this window you see parts of body. For me, it is a very oriental representation of the feminine behind this window which is often very charged very intricate an entanglement were we often see, as there, snatches of the eroticised body.
JPS: Yes, that is to say, necessarily and to thruly enter sexual orgasm, it is necessary to avoid all the cultural structures, since our cultures do not teach us to have orgasms. The revealed religion (or religions) (which is anti orgasmic by essence) has repressed the female orgasm (throughout its history). As we can unfortunately witness with what is happening right know in Iran: women are not allowed to show their hair in order not to 'excite' men's desires. Or they can only excite them at home. The body is something very political, the female body in particular has always been very repressed by many cultures (almost all of them!) throughout the World and throughout human history.
KS: So, us, as sex therapists, we make a difference between orgasm and pleasure...
JPS: Maybe so, but that's not the point to discuss right now!
KS: In any case, it is the true question of enjoying one's body freely.
JPS: In its fullness!
KS: And to be able to express oneself and experience it.
JPS: Yes, it's like excising women, these are terrible and inhuman practices... And so, there is here the geometrical structure that eventually prevents the body from dissolve itself, from ejaculating somehow, from reaching its plenitude (confinement versus liberation and fragmentation); we can see and interpreted that way too.
KS: That's amazingly interesting!
JPS: You had a bit of a crush on that silkscreen and I thought that this image of bondage was almost virginal in a way. What interests me is to find ecstasy into this woman's face. Since we all know very well, more or less, the photo of the statue of Saint Teresa of Avila who is in ecstasy. She falls into ecstasy by communicating with God. But one can also communicate with one's own body and enter into ecstasy. Truly, the ecstasy is perfect, it's good, it's subtle, it's amazing!
KS: I really love it a lot because it is very obvious with its strong and vivid colors... Bang! It's challenging us and finally, there are absolutely no suggestions and we are directly immersed in it!
JPS: It's true!
KB: That is to say that, perhaps, compared to the work which is behind us (the big mural installation), it is a work which comes to catch us! We directly go to the point! With the colors and by the readability. So there is no suggestion or invitation, or...
JPS: Yes, it is direct!
KB: We are taken somewhere and we are perhaps also a little bonded; in any case, it is an invitation, that's what I can feel...
JPS: Absolutely yes, it creates indeed a direct link, precisely, with the spectator, since it challenges...
KS: Right away!
JPS: For good or bad, because for example, there are people working at the Museum of Fine Arts in Besançon who criticized my work by saying that it was pornographic! So, afterwards, as we said before, everyone has their own culture, everyone has their own open-mindedness, more or less... But yes!
KS: It is surprising in regard of this society which is rather very open and even a bit too much, on the dynamics of pornography...
KB: So that's what you were challenged on, at the Museum?
JPS: But we do live in a society where there are hardly any works showing sexual penetration in any Museum in France for example. (except the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, which is a metaphor for the transublimated sexual act). And that, when you think about it, is as if we had been amputated of the body and its creative functions and of our two arms. It is the man or the woman always lowered, incomplete, asexualized and subjected to moral and aesthetic dictates. You spoke a little about it during your conference yesterday: the female pubis has practically never been shown complete, in Western art, well, from Greece onwards, very little.
KB: Yes, very little, yes!
JPS: Very few in fact, and so, other cultures showed it because it was the first place of life and joy!
KB: So I'm discovering your work as we go along!
JPS: Yes, that's the rules of the game!
KS: Because it's an important moment, so I let myself get caught up by emotions and I would say, that the pattern makes sense in its relationship to ritual, it's the question about the ritual that I am seeing here. What did you put in it? What is your message, your messages?
JPS: No, but I don't really have any messages, anyhow we have been talking about rhythm earlier.
KB: Yes, the ritual and the rhythm, yes.
JPS: It's true that when I draw this , I find a rhythm, a scansion. For exemple, it's an image that I found, most of the images are images that I have recovered. Which were created by artists thousand years ago, or ten thousand years ago, or three thousand years ago, or two hundred years ago, or I really don't know when? And the patterns they created appeal to me and so I redesign and reuse them. But I don't really know the state of mind in which these artists were neither the true spiritual meaning of these drawings. But during the transformation and reinterpretation that I do (by hand drawing the drawing of an artist who made it!); I can renter again in its energy and in something spiritual. Here, you can also see flowers like that. It probably from Mexico but I don't remember. And you can also find this in some of the Middle Ages manuscripts where people enter in their prayer to speak to God. So, making Art is a way to talk, not really to an entity but to something that transcends us. A stillness... a state of non-thinking; a zen state like.
KB: Yes, the state of floating, of suspension in the ritual.
JPS: Yes, that's it, a zen state, of awakening. It's almost a satori state, if you will... There, that's the Stag (or an Elk?). That's one the last images I printed. I had this image for a very long time and I didn't like it very much (I thought it was too simple), it's a prehistoric drawing that I picked up, I don't remember in which culture? I didn't like it and so, before printing this image, I drew some arrows on the film. They are arrows of energy. That is to say that the animal releases its energy towards the outside. It is not towards the inside. It is Life Forces that comes out and radiates by essence!
KS: Yes, the life force of the Stag, yes, right! The power beyond, basically and that's what's interesting... It's the idea of the beyond, we go beyond our own body!
JPS: Yes but we are present into the body; the body is present, it is not abandoned, dead already!
KB: Absolutely, but when I say in the beyond, it means it doesn't stop at our carnal envelope? The energy?
JPS: That's up for discussion; it's really a metaphysical problem. But here, the Deer is alive! Because the energy of the dead, it is difficult to speak about it. I don't really know, I don't know, but whatever! And here, it's a very erotic serigraphy too, I thought it was very appropriate! You talked about dance, rhythm and scansion and well, it's really the rhythm of en erotical dance and ejaculation...
KB: We are way beyond eroticism in this print?
KB: There, sex is suggested very obviously!
JPS: Yes, but it is erotic because it is not pornographic: it is ART!
KB: Yes, definitely!
JPS: But well, that's for sure!
KB: In any case it's interesting, beyond the erotic graphics, it's also the idea (the sexologist is talking) of two women who play and climaxing together on a potential penetration, even a penetration de facto.
JPS: And of an ejaculation also!
KB: And an ejaculation, yes!
JPS: It's a game, as we said earlier! Art is a game!
KB: Yes, that's right, it's a game, yes! It's really interesting because you also play about the question of the genres, in the question of the games of meeting: man-man, woman-woman, you would be more into woman-woman?
JPS: No, I almost never paint images of men, except for shamans in ecstasy and ithyphallic. Because I am a man, I know it, it does not interest me more than that. I prefer the strange, the foreign and the elsewhere... Besides my whole life is based on that. I can't say that I have traveled a lot... But I like the ELSEWHERE! Thank you very much dear Karine.
KB: Thanks to you!
PART 5/5 | SEE THE VIDEO
KB: And now, let's talk about the patterns?
JPS: Yes, we use that word in English!
KB: Well, to each his own, but on the question of the repetitive pattern, when I naively asked you, I admit it, what was the pattern or the repetitive pattern; and in repetitive, you see, right away, it makes me think of dance.
JPS: Yes, dance or sexuality...
KB: Sexual dance and the repetition of something or not always... But yes, on the question of the repetitive pattern, on this erotic dance, on this suggestive dance? Which is, at the end, a ritual and an erotic and suggestive dance of the bodies.
JPS: Yes, you have to think about voodoo dances, trance dances and ecstatic dance dances, of course, because what interests me is also to talk about trance. We haven't talked about it yet. But this binary repetition, we can also feel it with the aborigines of Australia when they play their didjeridoos. And so, they enter in trance by chanting some repetitive words and then with this sound and this rhythm, like that, which make them enter in trance and precisely, enter in another geographical dimension of the cosmos and dreams (Dreamtime Stories). And I had the chance to experience some shamanic trances in New York. We always did it under the shamanic drum beat repetition, to enter into these trances. And that is exactly what I want to talk about. I want to talk about that rhythm, the rhythm of the body. The body is so important in my work, it is an essential subject of course... Because without the body, there is absolutely nothing.
KB: Indeed that is the question of repetition but also of corporality and emotionality that I find very interesting into your work. Deeply, your art speak to me through my guts. And that really interests me. Today, we intellectualize things so much; your art is obvious. And we have this possibility to listen better, deep down: an emotion, a sensation, coming from the belly, something that takes you deep down... And the shamanic dance, it's that! There is no reflection! There is no methodology of dance steps. We are on pure sex, pure emotion, elsewhere and beyond... And indeed, sex is also this invitation.
JPS: Yes, we are elsewhere and beyond but we are inside!
KB: We are indeed inside of course!
JPS: Yes, that is the humongous paradox of course! I would like to talk about this paradox: we are inside.
KB: But there is some paradox!
JPS: Yes, but it is our body that can generate these images of cosmic travels, of course, and of course sexuality is very rhythmical; inevitably, without rhythm in sexuality, sexuality does not exist, period, and then it is silence and death!
KS: Indeed, on the question of dance and erotic encounter, we need this rhythm. If we do not speak the same body language, we may have difficulties to connect ourselves in an intimate moment in any case.
JPS: Talking about dance, I was long ago, at a party in New York and there was a Brazilian friend who was dancing the samba. There was a live samba band playing there and it was a really fascinating moment! And it's true that it also brings us into the Joy. I would also like to talk about the joy. This scansion of the repetitive beats like that; and the meetings man-woman, woman-woman or man-man, make us enter in a common and fusional space. It is a sharing and exchange moment… And the Art is also a sharing, obviously. It is very important, yes!
KS: Yes, and it is true that on the question of the presence of the bodies in your work, I just wanted to repeat that the bodies: they are sublimated, fantasized, desired, suggested... In short, we are constantly invited like that, in discovering your artwork, if only we take the time for it. So, I am really inviting the listeners to go to the Museum of Fine Arts of Besançon and to sit on the stairs! And to take this precious time, to have a glance at what happens in your huge mural paintings. Because this invitation of mosaic and colors and dynamics of life, if we don't stop there, if we don't look deeply at it, we are loosing the meaning (it doesn't mean that it's not nice by itself this mosaic of life!); but if we don't look profoundly at it, we missed more than three quarters of your work; and that's a shame.
JPS: One could say ninety-nine percent of my work!
KB: Well, yes, indeed I didn't dare say it!
JPS: Yes, yes, but it's true. Karine, thank you very much for this beautiful interview, thank you to the friends who are behind the cameras: Lionel and Christine. It was really a great pleasure to exchange with you, thank you all and see you soon, goodbye.
INTERVIEW JEAN-PIERRE SERGENT WITH NICOLAS SURLAPIERRE | BESANÇON FINE ARTS & ARCHEOLOGY MUSEUM | JUNE 30 2023 | 4 PARTS | Download the PDF
Jean-Pierre Sergent talks with Nicolas Surlapierre, the Museum director, about his mural installation: "The Four Pillars Of The Sky" (80 m2) at the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology of Besançon. Filmed on June 30, 2022, cameras Lionel Georges and Christine Chatelet.
PART 1/4 | SEE THE VIDEO
Nicolas Surlapierre: Jean-Pierre, I'm quite happy that we're doing a new interview again, we did the last one, I would say almost two years ago. We were in the Conference Room of the Museum where we had presented a series of small, beautiful and erotic serigraphs "Eros Unlimited". We had a discussion that lasted an hour and a half or two hours, I don't remember. And some time later, I had watched the videos and had found, how many elements that were told to me, directly, had escaped me. So, I found it extremely interesting to be able to go back to an interview, even if this evening, it is at your initiative. So, an interview is one of the most difficult exercises with artists, why? Because what is important is not so much the person who is going to ask the questions; but it is to be able to listen to you. To hear you on this work, on this great installation at the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology, on which we will come back, this monumental work: "The Four Pillars Of The Sky" that, I think, one sees well, I hope, behind me!
First of all, what I would like to do is to try to start this conversation, because it is also a conversation and that is how we conceived it, through quotations, quotations that you transmitted to me in a very framed, very structured way, and I find it quite fascinating to enter your artistic universe. The first question I'm going to ask you, that I chose among the quotations in the example you gave me; I chose the first quotation I'm going to read. It's an Apache proverb, it's a very short one and I'm going to ask you to react to this Apache proverb, which touched me tremendously and this proverb says : "I'm not here to fit into your world, I'm here to protect mine." I'd like you to respond to either part of that Apache proverb, that aphorism, if you will, maybe explain what you mean to protect in your creation and how you do it? And by what images, by what references, perhaps, you install this protection and what is this type of protection?
Jean-Pierre Sergent : Yes, well, Art is necessarily a fight. I think that all the artists feel it. It is a fight against the stupidity of the World, against the destruction of the World! We try to regenerate the World, we make in some way, rituals of regeneration. We are really like the shamans n the old times and we are also fighting into guerrilla warfare since, necessarily, the materialistic world tries to destroy all creation. Especially nowadays! It is true that we are in a state of resistance (as one could say!) And this Apache proverb is very interesting and absolutely correct, since we are every day into a fight to try to defend the humanistic values, the values of beauty, the values of color, the values of life too! You see, I am not 'Pro-Life', in quotes, but I am for Life. I think one can feel it very strongly in my paintings because I use a lot of colors, I use a lot of energies and it is really this particular struggle that I wanted to name and present to the public. So whether people can feel it or not is another problem and I think it will probably take some time before people feel the strength or the power of my artwork. But anyhow, it is inherent and consubstantial to Art, it always takes some time for it to be understood...
NS: So, I was interested by this quote, this Apache proverb, because I think that this is one of the functions of Museums, because Museums are not only there to protect collections, to protect people but to accompany, in any case the staff and the visitors but we are also there to protect meanings and that's why I liked this quote, as I really believe, sometimes we don't really know, how the message that will be given, how we will be able to diffuse it... So much the worse if it is lost but sometimes there are things that come back in a strange way; but not necessarily, if I understand what you say, not necessarily at the moment when we expect it the most. That's why I think that this idea of protection of meanings is, I think with you, a little different. Because it is a protection of a universe or even universes, and you used this theme of shaman, which would pass, in a aesthetic way, obviously but also in an almost ritual way, in a ritualistic way, throughout you. So we are in front of this great composition of the "The Four Pillars Of The Sky" I will not ask you a very complex question. I will come back later on what I feel about this large painting, can you explain us a little bit the genesis and then how you conceived this great wall installation and how and why? What is the shape that it took, why always these 105 cm by 105 cm modular units, why the square? All these elements and of course, the motifs; all these elements that are constitutive of the "The Four Pillars Of The Sky"?
JPS: Yes, I started developing this kind of work on Plexiglas in a very organic way in New York where I started by putting together a few small panels on the wall and then finally, in my Brooklyn studio's, I wanted to cover the whole wall. It's these wall installations that fill me up and soothe me somehow. Because it's not that I want to do large scale formats for the sake of doing large formats; as it's always small units added together, that I do on a daily basis. They are always small units that I make on a daily basis, which come together and form what we can call this big mural painting, an artist's universe. And what also interests me is that it is completely heterogeneous. Sometimes there are links because, as I reproduce the images with the medium of screen-printing, I can repeat an image several times but otherwise there are images that have absolutely nothing to do with each other and that creates for me, like that: a dynamic, a chaos, in which I can live. My first references are really the tombs of the ancient Egyptians, because finally, it was the place where the dead could survive for eternity. So it's a bit of a quest for the eternal, somehow, in all modesty and on a daily basis. It's always a work in progress. It's the work itself which is inscribed in the duration, that's it.
NS: By the way, in your Notes, because you wrote in several Notes and particularly in Beauty is Energy where you also evoke this great composition "The Four Pillars Of The Sky". You said that you attacked, in a certain way, rationality. There is something that you attack! Can you be more specific? Because I thought it was a beautiful idea, on this question of rationality? Why I ask you this question, because when the visitors pass in front of the composition, as we have this square format, which is repeated... There is a great stability, we have also the symmetry of the staircases… The layout looks on the contrary, extremely rational. One feels that it is very mastered plastically and aesthetically, I was going to say. It is also very mastered at the level of the device; and yet, you speak at a given moment of wanting to attack rationality. What do you mean by this: attacking the rationality?
JPS: The structure of my painting is rational and organized (like an organic body), of course, since it has to be shown, it's architected; in order to present it in this architecture, of course, but in this sense of attacking rationality, I mean that we live in a very rational world where it is money that dominates us and enslave us! It's a Franc plus a Franc, an Euro plus an Euro or a Dollar plus a Dollar... That is to say that everything is added all the time and endlessly, like that, and the whole spiritual world has disappeared (the free of charge & generosity). I wanted to quote Andreï Tarkovski who says in this very beautiful book that I am reading Sculpting in Time:
"Since the WW2 war, culture has collapsed. In the whole World. And the spiritual world too. [...] Today, more than ever, we must safeguard everything that has a link, however tenuous, with the spiritual." Sculpting in Time, Andreï Tarkovski
That is to say, the 'rational' (materialistic) world is always in combat with the spiritual world. Except that now all the churches are closing, it's becoming ruins. So where to find the place of the spiritual? That's kind of our approach as artists; not to save all that, but maybe to try to save the last pieces (the last snippets) of what has lasted for millennia... Because, I feel a certain responsibility to oppose this rational and technological world, which locks us in a crazy speed all the time, which eats up our time to live and to love. And you see, in my work, I speak about immemorial things, I speak about Egyptian rituals, I speak about sexuality which exists since the dawn of time and for everybody; for the animals and for ourselves! I am talking about the wisdom of the Buddha, since the Buddha exists, this wisdom exists. You see, I want to talk about this collective memory; that we can call the collective unconscious. And I think, for example, that if ever the artists disappeared; it is the sentence of the famous German artist who says: "If Art disappeared, the human brain would also disappear", dixit Joseph Beuys.
"Art education is a problem all over the world. Deep down, everyone knows that man cannot live without art. Without art education man would probably wither away after 2000 years without art he would probably lose his brain. We are talking here about an art that gives back life to man directly from an unknown space, but which I try to designate with the term "counter-space" and by asking the question of man's entire existence: How does man come into the world? What are the forces that nourish him?
Art is food for man, January 27 1970, Joseph Beuys
JPS : And I think there we have a true role to play, somewhere, so that the brain does not disappear.
NS: Or that Art does not disappear!
JPS: Yes, but Art is less important than Life, somewhere, yes maybe?
NS: So, it's interesting what you say because I had never asked myself the question, we feel this part of spirituality in your work, or some interest, for what I could call the spiritual knowledge or or The spiritual in Art (Kandinsky) to quote the title of a famous book. But I didn't necessarily associate it with a place, be it a church or a temple. I thought that it could be as well in a sacred hill and finally, I say to myself: how do you consider yourself in relation to a landscape, outside? Because I see you from time to time at the Courbet Museum in Ornans where one can discover the painter Courbet, who is also a great landscape painter and perhaps one of the great landscape painters of the 19th century. What is your relationship with Nature? And is it possible to explain to us this relationship between spirituality and finally observation, I was going to say of the pattern, of the landscape... Because, that's what's interesting in an interview. There are things that we have swept away and then, suddenly, there is an idea that arises... And according to me, this idea that arises is precisely the difference between the interior and the exterior. And I'm really talking very architecturally about the term. You spoke of churches, so here we are in a Museum. But because for me, the spiritual can be in a valley, in a grandiose landscape or even not… where the spiritual can express itself very, very strongly, sometimes one does not know so much, not well; the way in which the spiritual can express itself. Does the exterior have an importance, do the landscapes, the atmospheres, do they have an importance for you? Or is your interest more through vestiges, traces, or through your knowledge of contemporary art of course? Some Vestiges, traces and finally something rather patrimonial in your images stock?
JPS: That's a very good question. What fascinates me is Art, of course, because that's where the sacred remains and endures... And I didn't have any Buddhist training; but when I go canoeing into Nature, I can feel... Firstly, I feel an absolutely neutral space. That is to say that Nature doesn't give a damn about us and somewhere you can bang your head on a rock for hours; and the rock won't talk to you more in any way, if you want! And it's very important, this neutrality... Because we are very pretentious (Men) and we think that we have an importance. But we don't have much importance. Our only importance is to define something sacred and to define it together, and of course, now that Art is selling at exorbitant prices, if a painting sells for 2 or 3 million Euros, it becomes a sacred object in a way. And it is money that makes things sacred. But before, the works or the people had their own sacredness and were integrated into a community through common rituals. And, I have the deep and real impression that our rituals have, for the most part, disappeared. And we're kind of on our own. So, we go back to the point that maybe, nowadays, it's, maybe, artists responsibility to bring everyone together and create the connection between each of us. But it's a bit pretentious, but maybe in front of a Pollock's canvas we can feel this cosmic energy or this sexual energy that he wanted to depict? What is important is that the public can feel an energy. Spirituality it's that! It's to feel an energy that is beyond us, that is transcendental somewhere.
NS: And so, I would like to hear you, not to conclude; but when I am in front of "The Four Pillars Of The Sky", I see something quite well organised, quite structured, a quite stable composition and yet there is something that in spite of the mandalas, in spite of some lotus motifs, in spite of certain motifs that we find often in your Pantheon and that we are beginning to know well and that are almost formal attributes; one may have the feeling that there is absolutely no center? And this is what disturbs me, but in the good sense of the word; in the sense that interests me! I say disturbed not to say interested, the term is a little more common, which disturbs me. One has the impression that one does not know in these "Four Pillars of the Sky", whereas it should be structuring. It should be Four Pillars that, in a certain way, build our relationship to Art, or perhaps even create reference points? While there, on the contrary, one has the impression that one slips constantly, that one can never concentrate in the image; while being at the same time, and it is that which I appreciate... It is to say that there is this aspect, I do not want to say it is an: 'at the same time', but one cannot really completely concentrate in the image and yet: there is this effect! By a repetition of certain motifs that we could call the 'pattern', it is not, by erudition, it is more in the American meaning. I find that the term is more accurate than the 'decorative motif that repeats itself', like a psalmody, almost like in a hypnotic relationship. So there is something of the concentration. And I don't know if it's really a question but in any way; I really find some aspects, to summarize in a rough way, the mandala or the mandala form or the lotus form. That is to say, something that bring us towards a concentration and towards a very, very precise point... And precisely, I have the deep feeling that, in this installation, I find that it is rather marvellous, that we are almost in a world before the discovery that the Earth was round. That is to say, if there are no boundaries and we are in a world that is edgeless, precisely, as we are in a borderless world, one can be scare that if we approach too much the limit of the work; perhaps we can fall. And it is the motif, in a certain way, that we try to find back and sometimes the links too. That we find... The bodies, the straps that allow us to go back to the surface of the image or in any case, to remain on the edge of the world that you are giving us. Because you offer us indeed, I do not know if you propose a cosmogony but in any case, very certainly, you propose a world. That's how I talk about this installation, I'm particularly interested in the execution and staging of your art. this set up of your Art. And I had a very simple question: do you think it is immobile? Are your compositions immobiles or, at the opposite, do you see movement in it? Because I can't decide, that's why I ask you the question.
JPS: Yes, it's a very interesting question, I want to talk about infinity, of course (the perpetual motion)! That is to say that there is absolutely no center at all! You did perfectly understood that. There is no center, it is a coalition, a conglomerate of movements, images and informations; just as in shamanic trances. That is to say that everything slides, everything merges and the times mix, obviously. There is not only one time T; there are several T times! There are 'at the same time' and merged together: Africa, there is Siberia, the Tiger, the Snake, Death and Life… Everything really mixes, it is like what one could name like the New York melting pot. Everything mixes and I think it's very important because it creates another dynamic. You did have pointed that out very correctly: with my Art, I am getting out of the linear time, yes, that's exactly it.
PART 2/4 | SEE THE VIDEO
NS: So perhaps now, to go further, beyond the "Four Pillars Of The Sky", we could now try to move forward and think on what you called in the Notes you gave me: "liberator Art and rescuer Art". With also the part of saving and liberating for the artist and also for the public, because the public does not put the liberation or the salvation, in the same place. You had several quotations, you had proposed a quotation from James Joyce, there is a beautiful quotation from À rebours, from Huysmans and then, you had put some notes, notably from your New York Diary's, from your Notes of New York and then, I like it because it is very short but in my opinion it would deserve to be developed and it is perhaps the object of this interview. So, you say in these Notes from NY: "beauty is born out of confusion." I would like you to come back to this theme of confusion, or in any case, its relation to beauty?
JPS: Yes, we talked last time about stumbling, I don't know if you remember that, in our last interview?
NS: Yes, I had forgotten the world but it is very beautiful indeed! One day we'll have to stop stumbling, but in that case, we'll be dead!
JPS: Yes, it's certain that Life is always a matter of chance, of coincidences and stumbles. I wrote this little sentence in New York because there is always so much informations and things that happen in this World-City. And also, today, we are constantly overwhelmed by and in information and in this confusion. It is as if there was a kind of iceberg of beauty lost and floating somewhere. Well, maybe beauty exists beyond all these horrors; and Life is still of incredible power and beauty. When we go into Nature and it is untouched, it moves us every time. And when we are in front of animals, it is the same, they do have this vital energy, once again, when it is not damaged. And it is this beauty that I also feel within all the first peoples, before they were exterminated like dogs. So this beauty there... And this confusion, because unfortunately we cannot name beauty, it is true. And then, it is so infinite, I spoke about it before, it is way beyond us. It is something that moves us, that moves the infant to the old man who hears a bird song and smiles!
NS: Yes, what can be retained: it is the multitude of information and that perhaps, the beauty quotes or leaves this multitude; where one does not see anything any more, what one calls besides on Internet: the 'noise' in fact. This brouhaha even insane. It comes out a little bit of freeze-frame almost and to get out of this confusion, of these hundreds, tens, thousands, billions of information that, in a certain way, prevent us perhaps from having a true gaze, prevents us from stopping and understanding, it is a little bit trite, they are clichés but nevertheless; I am struck by the fact that we finally confuse... Communication, information and finally real knowledge, not scholarly knowledge but spiritual knowledge, which is not quite the same thing. So, what is really interesting is that we can see in all this knowledges, because at the same time in your works there is a multitude of images, there is a multitude of references and references of our contemporary time or of the most distant times and maybe even parietal, to the Cave Art. And precisely, by a rather strange system of quotations, you manage to create a coherence and isolate images in order to break up and destroy this overall confusion. Even if, in my opinion, your confusion is not only a defect. It is not you who are confused.
JPS: Of course, yes.
NS: But confusion certainly brings energy, and from this confusion comes energy, because this is an aspect, for the moment, that we haven't mentioned yet, beyond the images and beyond the refinement of your pictures, through the technique of silk-screening, of the way it's very well painted. It is perfect in terms of realization, there is a great technicality. There is energy; there is a confusion but which is put back in order and well organised. It's like as if you wanted to try to put order into the chaos and how do I go about putting some order in the chaos? And so, that's why I like this quote, which puts in relation beauty and confusion; which, sometimes, oppose each other and sometimes, on the other hand, enhance each other as if; the designers sometimes say: "As if it dressed the form". Dressing the form because otherwise, it would not be nude, but it would be indistinct. Thus, we can get out of the indistinctness. And in the exemplary list that you gave me, I will quote, I have chosen two quotations. I told you I was going to talk about one, but in the end, I think I'll talk about two. The first one, I'm going to read it entirely and I'd like to hear you on this quote, it's taken from Manières d'être vivant by Baptiste Morizot who says this:
"Dancing in the ropes, to dodge the dualism of animality as inferior bestiality and superior purity. To open up a still unexplored space: that of the worlds to be invented once we have passed to the other side. To catch a glimpse of them, to give them to be seen, a great breath." Ways to be Alive, Baptiste Morizot
JPS: Yes! Well, that's exactly what I do in my work and you said it earlier. That is to say that by mixing all these energies with all this chaos; It's my artist statement and will of working in the chaos in order to reach, precisely, a higher energy. And here, I am going to speak a little bit about Tantrism, because it is not very well known... I am going to try to find the passage:
"Tantrism embraced the existence in its totality, was conscious of the whole universe located in the heart of the human person. All thoughts, all acts, including sexual energy, were channeled towards spiritual development..." The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen
As in Tantrism, they work with all the 'shit', in quotes, the body's waste products: they work with sex, death, corpses they work with all that... They are mixing, merging and assimilate all that in order to access spirituality. That's a bit what I do in my work: I work a lot with pornography, which is the ultimate shit of society because the pornographic business is as big as the arms business! It's a huge business worldwide! Here, in this exhibition, there are very few pornographic images but a big part of my work uses pornographic images and therefore it can question the public too; because sexuality and sexual acts were very little shown in Art, a little more in Contemporary Art but we spoke about it very little before. You see! And all that, it boosts from all sides, I have to go to the limits of the World, as we said earlier. To move things a bit. Because, it's true that I'm a little bored... In fact, Western Art bores me a deeply. I'm here to boost, to move things beyond the lines...
NS: Why? What bores you when you go to see an exhibition or in Western Art? What do you find boring? It's not a question of taste but finally, you don't vibrate or you don't feel much interest; even if it's well done, well produced because there are many great artists?
JPS: Well, precisely because it's still on the ropes. I like people who transgress. Pollock, had transgressed. Afterwards, you can also feel a transgression in Giotto or in Cave paintings. But I do not feel it or very little, in paintings... Except, for example in Vermeer, where he transgresses because he painted a space which is infinite (divine), That is to say that he gives us to see an infinite space; there is an infinite dimension. The colors are right... It's DING! It's something that exists like that! by itself! And through these paintings, you enter another World somewhere. It's the door to another World. Just like when you reach the satori awakening in Japan: BOOM! You didn't understand the World and suddenly you understand it! And so, if it's a painting that just describes me a landscape whatever... For me, it's not enough! It's just monkey's gestures! But fortunately we are each different in front of Art, of course!
NS: And in this quote? It is said as a dualism by Baptiste Morizot? This duality? Because that is present, not necessarily only in the "Four Pillars of the Sky" but in many of your serigraphs: this question of animality and bestiality. I like the fact that he makes, in a certain way, the difference between the animal and the bestiality. Do you feel it? Do you understand it? And do you know how to define it?
JPS: No! I haven't really thought about it. Concerning the animals, I lived for ten years on a farm with horses so I know really what animal sexuality is! The energy, the vitality of the raw body, I know what it is. The insemination of mares, I know what it is. Zola spoke about it very well in his book The Earth. This sexual act releases an incredible energy but, to name and differentiate bestiality or animality? Well, these are a bit technical terms, somehow. No, I don't really see any difference. One should read Georges Bataille (Erotisism) on this subject matter, yes.
NS: Yes, I'm sure that, just by hearing you, for example, in order to answer the previous question or react to the quote: "Dancing in the ropes", I'm sure that bestiality, it's not that it's something superior but just that it's out of the ropes. Unlike... well, for me. Because, if I had to make a difference with animality, I would be rather in the extreme expression of animality, rather within a ritual, whereas bestiality, it is precisely to escape this ritual. Finally, I feel a difference and I feel that this difference is important. And in particular, it is important not so much to know what is the exact definition of the beast and the animal? What would be the fundamental difference? But more exactly, because we, it is our role, of Historian of Art, Curator of Museum, to try to understand, to protect the meanings and to protect them, it is necessary, at the first place, to find them. And thus in the motives and in particular in the motives of the animals... I remember that you had shown me and I had stopped quite a long time on a representation, however very simple: a serigraphy of a Stag!
JPS: Yes, that's it, the shamanic ithyphallic Stag!
NS: And this Deer, for me, when you showed me this silkscreen; besides, I had looked at several of them and I had constantly come back to this image...
JPS: That's right, yes!
NS: We were not in the representation of animality, as we can see in "L'Hallali du cerf", by Courbet, which is kept in the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology in Besançon; but we were really, in bestiality. Because the relationship to representation, according to me, is linked to a ritual. Perhaps even to a priapic or almost sexual ritual. And thus, it violates the simple representation of the animal. And therefore, through this ritual, it enters fully into bestiality. And I find that it is something which is beautiful, the bestiality; because it is a little bit like during antiques times, when Greek Gods and Goddesses sent spells on the mortals and the demigods or the demigoddesses. That is to say, we are out of control. And in my opinion, in bestiality, we escape control. This does not mean that, in animality, there is not an incredible force. And especially, as you underlined it, since you observed it in your personal life... There is not an incredible force in the animal, in itself and in particular in its sexuality or in what one can imagine of the animal sexuality. So, I think it's a beautiful nuance, which would deserve to be deepened, to be almost reflected, in a way. And then, I hope it's not by surprise, but I had forgotten that you were quoting a filmmaker who may seem to be at the antipodes of your aesthetic, it is Visconti. You quote Luchino Visconti in a sentence where he reflects, basically, on the aspect of decadence. What is decadence? And also, finally, in his cinema, it is a long reflection. And that's why he gets along so well, not as a friend but with Thomas Mann. That he feels so close to Thomas Mann and in a certain way to his book Death in Venice. It's because Thomas Mann understood what decadence was. And what I like, then, I hope that you can make a link with this quotation that you gave me and that you thought about it?
JPS: Yes, of course!
NS: What I like is what he says, about what decadence is, for him; what he's interested in anyway about decadence is maybe not the definition of decadence; he says: "It's the examination of a sick society":
"I have often been called decadent. I have a very favorable opinion of decadence, as did Thomas Mann, for example. I am imbued with this decadence. What has always interested me is the examination of a sick society." Luchino Visconti
Why you have chosen from dozens of quotes and that you are a very big reader. By the way, it's always a pleasure to come to the workshop because I love looking at your bookshelf. You really read a lot, and your books are annotated! There are bookmarks; the books have lived... Why have you, among these hundreds of quotations, retained, finally, one could say: the examination of this sick society?
JPS: Because I live it daily, of course. Everyone can feel that society is 100% sick; beyond the very beautiful films of Visconti, which are to die for, of course, his films are magnificent! But, I come back to the situation of the animal and then, I will come back to Visconti right away. In his book Lascaux or the birth of Art, Georges Bataille said that "The animal is like the human being, only holier." (Apache proverb). That means everything if you want! It means that he is in contact with God with Nature: HE IS IN CONTACT. I close the parenthesis and I come back to Visconti and then Thomas Mann... Of course, I don't know the true history of Visconti but they probably both lived through one or two World Wars... The people and the artists who lived through that; how and what to create after that? It's terrible! There are many artists who refused to create. They decided to speak about this bourgeoisie or aristocracy... And later on, Pasolini, whom I also adore, showed, very well, the disappearance of spirituality through the new ways of life of the bourgeoisie, of the industrialists, of the modes of production... And everything that destroyed the world, that destroyed the animals, that destroyed the wood, the forests, the rivers. And we really must be aware of that destruction. I think that there are filmmakers who have become aware of this and who were able to, perhaps more at a certain time period, in the seventies, eighties, when, I think that Art, was much more political than today. Except for Terrence Malick, who makes magnificent movies. Nowadays, we don't have any more the firepower of people like Godard or even Fellini, so it's a bit sad. It's true that the preoccupations of those creatives years, after the Second World War, are disappearing a bit. We also see it in the Contemporary Art market that doesn't seem having the same concerns. And in this world of entertainment, I get back to decadence, necessarily, if there is 50 % of people who are watching pornography on the Net, we can name that decadence; or not! But it seems anyway, that there is something that we are all missing globally. There is a huge lack. Is this lack spiritual? Is this lack emotional? Were this deep lack come from? I really don't know? But of course in the past, people were a little more grounded and connected. They went to church. The Mayans did their rituals to the Flowers, to the Salt and to the Sun. They didn't live in this great existential void that Sartre spoke about so well. So, this existential (and metaphysical) void, how to fill it again? I really think truly that Art is one of the possible answers and solutions.
NS: So we could think of a form of misery, like we talked about erotic misery? isn't that?
JPS: Absolutely, yes.
NS: Because it's not necessarily an economic misery, in fact, in Visconti's work, it's the very upper middle class; even, in Louis II, Ludwig, The Twilight of the Gods, the upper aristocracy! And we could talk about the difference between poverty and misery...
JPS: Yes, and you see in Pasolini's Theorem, the rich people are all miserable and indigent.
NS: Miserable, yes.
JPS: Miserable, except for the 'maid' who goes up on her roof at the end of the movie and she meets Jesus. Pasolini said at the time, that it was only the poor people who can still spoke to God. But now, even the 'working class' vote for the National Far Right! So they don't talk to God so much anymore! We are really and deeply FUCKED UP! I don't know, unless we go and live in a convent, we're in deep trouble I think… Ultimately, the solution maybe not to go wandering in the desert and talk to God; but to respect something sacred: the LIVING, yes!
PART 3/4 | SEE THE VIDEO
NS: So, in this part, we'll perhaps orient it and concentrate on some terms as well. It is always through terms that one understand very well; of course, when looking at your artwork and that one enters in a poetic way, almost in a reflective way; I was going to say almost meditative in your work. I would like to read this quotation, because in my opinion, there are terms on which it would be good to comment or to hear you. This quotation is taken from Moon in a Dewdrop by Master Dogen Zenji. I am going to read it and I will hear you, on which terms are the most important in this quotation for you. And I will tell you, according to me, which are the most important terms in the quotation but in my opinion, they may be the same. It's not choosing the terms to choose the themes, but it is choosing the terms, according to your work. Maybe, in another context, you wouldn't be an artist or you would be doing something else... We wouldn't of course, pick the same terms. So I quote:
"But, to understand this clearly, you must have overcome the illusion of the past, present and future. Awakening is transcending Awakening; going to the bottom of the illusion is transcending the illusion and reaching the great Awakening. Either way, you are surrounded either by Awakening or by illusion." Polishing the moon, cultivating clouds, Master Dogen Zenji
JPS: Yes I chose this quote, because it speaks of paths of life! Anyway and whatever you do, you're screwed... Whether if you reach enlightenment or not. And often the great spiritual masters say that, whatever you do, it's the path that's important. I have the great luck, the great happiness and the privilege of being an artist. And I know how much I owe to my family, who allowed me to continue this work... And that's it; it doesn't matter what terminology you are using. And I wanted to talk more about this subject… I quote it, it's in my Besançon Notes 2021:
The Hindu māyā in my paintings: "Am I painting a reality of things, an epic and Dionysian version of the human adventure or precisely the māyā: this great mystico-cosmic illusion? Either way, as it says in this sentence: you are surrounded... so maybe, it really doesn't matter what the deeper meaning of the realization is."
Because I often ask myself, when I am alone in my studio looking at my large wall installations: what am I painting really? Do I paint? Yes? Am I a Hindu and painting the illusion? No, but is it possible? Yes... maybe, who knows? Because we, artists, we paint something that does not exist. We paint something fictional and why do I paint this fiction, me, while most other artists paint something totally different? They paint sunflowers or whatever… It's a choice to go into the imaginary realms, maybe? And maybe this imaginary has more strength than reality? That's what I hope anyway.
NS: Yes, anyhow, what one can feel, also very well, when we look at your great compositions, your installations; it is precisely this way of abolishing the borders by largely using patterns, to abolish the borders between past, present and future. Perhaps this is also what irritates or doesn't matters for you in Contemporary Art? It is not always as simple as that!
JPS: Exactly, yes, it gets out of linear time!
NS: It goes out of time... Finally you don't say to yourself, I'm going to put such and such image; there are some images that are very dated historically, notably the pornographic images, we can see clearly from which aesthetic they come from and almost from which period. But in the end, it is hard to say in which chronological moment of the representation one finds oneself. It is this absence of chronological moment which is particularly intriguing, in my opinion, in your Art. So, if I were to come back to this quote, even if I am not here to talk about myself, I am here to talk about this quote in relation to your work. Of course, so you understood it: the past, the present, the future; this distinction is not a good one, truly. That's what we understand. It may even be the illusion so, I really like that idea! But I like also the idea of two things: I like the idea of enlightenment, I think it's a beautiful idea. Obviously, because awakening, I'm not going to teach you that; it's also spiritual awakening.
JPS: Of course!
NS: And it's the awakening too, it's a bit old-fashioned today, as an expression, but for my generation, it was the awakening to love, the awakening to sexuality, the awakening to desire... It's something that we learn in a strange way, moreover, that we don't completely understand, even if we had post-Sixties parents who took pleasure in explaining all that! But awakening is something that I like very much; precisely, because it can be written in different ways and then what I like very much in this quote and that I would have liked to understand; it is: "You are surrounded." So, there, it would mean, it's almost a term for guerrilla warfare or war or something that can be violent, that can be religious as well. One can be surrounded by magical powers, sometimes occult and that's what I find interesting and finally, when we read the words, one by one, of this quote, we have the keys to enter also in into your images. That is to say, we could very well imagine that, in this device without a real center, there are still targets, there are still indications. There are still things that are targeted, and I think that's absolutely new. I had not thought about it… I was convinced that it was something completely centripetal; and in reality, at certain times, there is a centrifugal power, because one cannot escape, in a certain way, I don't know what one cannot escape? But there's, in fact, something one can't escape. So, it's all these elements that, in a way, are organised, in these large wall installation the: "Four Pillars of the Sky".
JPS: So you think my painting surrounds, circles and encompasses people?
NS: Well, it all depends on the installation. When it's just installed only on a wall, a little less but anyhow, by the hypnotic process: it takes you somewhere else, so that's a first thing but, there especially in the Museum's staircases, a given moment: imagine if we had a fourth wall! We would really be completely surrounded; and it would be nice to try! We would really be caught in it, we would be surrounded too... I'm going to take an image that is rather silly and I apologize for that. It is a bit like when you are in a trap in the forest, for the game and it falls in. He then has no place to hang on. So, he has to find some places to hang on. We could very well imagine that the images that are behind us, we need to hyper-concentrate, at a point, one need to stop; to think and find the points of attachment. Of course, at the beginning, I look at the installation, in one piece, without trying to isolate the motifs, but at a given moment, in order to be able to circulate within it, to be able to move; I need to find these points of grip. It's this idea of being surrounded. So, the term is a bit violent; in a certain way and from the moment when we have found these reference points, in a certain way, we can reach what we could call, in different ways, the awakening! In the awakening, we are aware that what we see can bring us something, either a change of scenery or an interest for something to which we had never paid attention at, and finally, an interest for something. And it is always what works very well in your installations, in your paintings: it is to lose one's reference points but at a given moment, one is caught up by something, precisely, so as not to be completely lost. And it is also for that reason that it is not a desperate Art. One don't feel anything desperate!
JPS: It's true, yes!
NS: By the way, while preparing this interview, you talked to me about laughter; we don't talk enough about laughter in Contemporary Art and even in Art altogether. So, I don't know if there is humor, but there is certainly a form of laughter and there is also a form of distance in relation to the images that are given for us to see. And perhaps, in the subjects that we approached, there seems to be a lot of gravity but it has nevertheless, also perhaps also in Contemporary Art, this kind of humor or, I do not know if it is laughter but certainly, there is the presence of the humor. And this presence of the humor, it is, in a certain way, exemplified, for you, in the quotation that you chose by Octavio Paz. You chose a quote from him that I will read. So, Octavio Paz, precisely, who knew perfectly how to mix the great mythologies mainly, the pre-Columbian mythologies that he mixed in a form of texts either poetic, or of prose but with the everyday. With the gestures of the daily life, with the daily life, with the daily positions. And it is also quite singular how, the part of magic, the cosmogony; how the very heritage of a past, a bit mythologized as well, of the pre-Columbian Art, can continue to survive in the simplest gestures and in certain words that he used. But now, I would rather make you react to this quotation and to this question perhaps of the humor or in any case, what allows, the humor as path of access. So I quote: Octavio Paz in this title: Conjunctions and disjunctions, he says:
"Neither the phallus nor the ass has a sense of humor. [...]
But the violent ejaculations of the phallus, the convulsions of the vulva and the explosions of the ass erase the smile from our face. Our principles are shaken by the tremor of a psychic shaking as powerful as an earthquake. Shaken by the violence of our sensations and imaginations, we go from seriousness to burst of laughter." Conjunctions and disjunctions, Octavio Paz
JPS: Yeah, well, that's kind of what I do and would like to do in my paintings. I mean, a lot of times in New York people would laugh a lot while looking at my paintings because I use a lot of texts profoundly obscene, trashy texts: FUCK ME, FILL MY ASS! All stuff like that... Bullshit, profane insanities in a way! But well, here at the Museum, we don't see much of it because we had filtered the images a bit...
NS: We were very cautious!
JPS: The informations… But it is to create surely, an aesthetic shock and a reaction of the public, so that people laugh and lose their certainties and preconceptions! It's precisely, what Octavio Paz said very well in this paragraph, is that, at the moment when we laugh, we lose control of everything and we enter another reality. Exactly as in sexuality, about which Bataille (in Eroticism) speaks very well. For example, when a really well-dressed rich bourgeois woman makes love, during the sexual act, she enters into animality and becomes like a bitch. It is the same connection to animality of which we spoke earlier! It is very true, that all my work claims and states an animality. In its greatest magnificence, in its almost, infinite and cosmic dimension, yes! That's it, to reintegrate the World and reintegrate Life, yes, yes! And Octavio Paz, I have read... I cannot say that I have read all his work, because he has written a lot, but I liked very much the book The Critique of the Pyramid where he talks about the cultures of Latin America and he also wrote a very beautiful book In light of India. So it should be reread and thought about. Here, he also speaks in the same book that we quoted, it is a small chapter that I will read, it is titled:
"Eve and prajnâpâramitâ
The oppositions between Tantrism and Protestantism are of the type light and shadow, heat and cold, white and black. Both grapple with the insoluble conflict between body and mind (emptiness for the Buddhist) and both resolve it through exaggeration." Conjunctions and disjunctions, Octavio Paz
(The same as in my painting.) Because my work is an exaggerated work, I go beyond what one can imagine. It is not in the grotesque like Félicien Rops, James Ensor or other artists of this kind... But I want, in a way, to exaggerate Life, of course! To pay homage to it!
NS: By the way, you're not, because I've never thought there was caricature in your work, even if sometimes you take images that are caricaturals, because they are extracts, in fact, of a kind of erotic misery or lack of imagination, on which you rework and on which you add filters; filters of images, filters of beliefs, filters of rituals, and it's true that when one look at your works, it's amazing what you're saying there: that in New York, we laugh in front of your works, while here; I don't say that we cry, we don't cry at all. But we see it with a lot of seriousness!
JPS: Yes, in fact, the relationship to Art is totally different.
NS: Completely different! And it's also interesting, what you say about how laughter would finally cause a loss of control: at the end ultimately, the superego would be swept away by laughter.
JPS: Yes: BANG! Destroyed with a bazooka!
NS: Maybe that's why Freud was so interested in puns, of course in slips of the tongue and then often in the spoonerisms that can bring about laughter, and that's an aspect that I hadn't grasped in your work. This violence of laughter, this jolt, which finally prevents you from doing anything else but laughing. That is to say that in the place of laughter, you can only do that. You can only do laughter, because it is absolutely frightening to be seized by a giggle and often in situations that would require the greatest seriousness. So, that's what I think, but it's maybe because laughter is the last of what remains of sacred violence or of certain myths that would be reactivated in this way... Or of animality, as you said, more than bestiality; that would come back to the surface and show that finally and sometimes, it can be good, I don't know in what sense, but to be dissipated! To have a form of dissipation. And what we also find in Octavio Paz, it is this relation that he makes constantly between... Less the time besides, it is less the time that interests him, that the space. It is the question that the only way; and what we find, moreover in "The Four Pillars of the Sky" and in many of your compositions... The only way to overcome this temporal chain between: present, past and future, it is precisely the displacement in the space. not in the linear space or perhaps? But above all, a spatial conception of the image. The image, does not have a background, it is that which is interesting because, almost all passes through the filters. There are some filters and through these few filters, it creates this space and this very fine understanding of the image, which leads to these beliefs, to these repertoires. To what we could name, a metaphysical aesthetics in a refreshed sense and not in a dramatic sense. That is to say that it is perhaps what is changing; it is that in your work, on the contrary, one would have a metaphysical aesthetic which finally would have humor! A form of humor and a form of distance.
PART 4/4 | SEE THE VIDEO
JPS: So, in this last part, I wanted to present some children's drawings that I had found on Twitter, which are really beautiful; here, it's a little seven-year-old girl, the Twitter account is: Earthly Education, I'm going to read it in English since it's written in English:
"Dear 2045, I don't think we are going to survive. If you end up hearing this story, I just want to say I am sorry! I will try taking care of the Earth."
Well, you all get it and I'll do a subtitled translation. But you can feel that this little kid is ashamed of what is happening to our Mother Earth, as the Native Americans say so well. She feels responsible and she doesn't think that she will live until 2045, which is not that far away, because she is seven years old and she doesn't think that she will live until thirty. So I wanted to pay homage to her, because ultimately, Art does exist somehow; but, it is not necessarily the artists who make Art only, it is also the children of seven years. We created nowadays these structures: Museums, Galleries, Contemporary Arts Centers, Schools of Art, art Fairs, Art Market and so on. where only the artists can create and show Art; but today, there are many artists who do not create any more Art but who are making only business! And here is a drawing by Dasha, which is in the metro of Kharkiv.
NS: In Ukraine.
JPS: Yes, in Ukraine and so she describes her situation in the subway, which we all saw on TV. They live in the metro; there are bombs falling over them... And there are these two Ukrainian flags and we see her here, very small, playing with her little brother?
NS: Yes, that's her brother because I think she's there; she's watching in the subway.
JPS: Yes, you're right, that's her brother and there's a tent with their sleeping bags... And what such a sad reality today, to be back once more into a war in Europe again. So congratulation to her and maybe, if she can survive (let's hope so!), she will become an important artist of 21st century, that's it.
NS: Then you chose this one too, which is very beautiful, yes, accurately!
JPS: This photo that I'll show in the video of course, it shows us precisely what Art should be; that is to say, but we don't know for sure if it's a photo that was staged or not? So, it's a little street kid in India who left his little soaps out of the picture. And this represents the Sacred. In an other word, the person who created this drawing, with chalk, designed this enclosed, inclusive space where the kid feels good and Within which he can sleep peacefully and were he is protected. And it is this protective and wombish function of Art that we need to rediscover. This little drawing is magnificent, it's like a kind of Santa Claus or grandmother. It's a generous character that welcomes him and in which he can sleep peacefully without having nightmares… And then, you wanted to come to the last part?
NS: Yes, I wanted to come to the last part that you titled... already, I would like you to react to two things, first to the title of this part that you titled: "Overcoming death or paradoxical thinking." Why this title? What does it mean? Also to hear you; you had put three quotations, well two plus a Note and I had retained a quotation from Alexandra David-Néel who says this in Mystics and Magicians of Tibet:
"These monks here will never defeat death, because they believe in death."
What does that mean to you? What is the resonance that this quote produces? How can you relate it, because we are here to talk about your production of your Art, your artwork. How can you relate it to your creation?
JPS: Yes... Actually, in my work it is always: construction-destruction! And Life is also: construction-destruction, construction-destruction, endlessly! And way beyond that, Man has always needed to believe in something. It is precisely the monks who do not succeed in overcoming death; because they did believed in death! It is because they saw it too closely and for example; we have been talking about it before, in some tantric rituals, sometimes they even go as far as eating corpses, the flesh of the dead... To surpass themselves, to go beyond their mortal conditions. How to make this superhuman overcoming? To access this transcendence? I think that language and thought are barriers to entering the Elsewhere. Because in this Elsewhere there is no more nomination, obviously. Since some monks name Death, they can no longer go beyond it. And I add to the quote: "It is the same for Art: to overcome Art, one must never, yes, never, never again, believe in it!" Notes from Besançon 2022. Because it is true that we artists, when we are trained a bit into the Schools of Fine Arts etc., we believe in Art, we believe in Matisse and all those great countless artists… But somewhere, you have to fuck them, you have to get out of the established patterns of thinking, otherwise you can't do anything! It is for your survival! And anyway, it is something very violent to be an artist. It is really necessary to destroy all these frames established, because if not, one could only paint flowers and all bullshit like that! Other way you don't get out of the frame, once again. I impose this violence on myself and I think that, somewhere, people encounter this violence in my work and it is undoubtedly that which disturbs them. Because I push things a bit far... Yes, it's true that I have to push the barriers; of course! I do transgress, I MUST TRANSGRESS!
NS: Well, I don't understand the quote in quite the same way, because for me, when Alexandra David-Néel says: "These monks will not defeat death, because they believe in death", I would add that in reality, these monks are no longer fighting, in my opinion. What she is also saying, and this is what can be very beautiful, is that there is no fight. From the moment you believe in death, in fact I hear acceptance.
JPS: Yes, maybe, yes!
NS: In this quote, there is a form of acceptance and precisely, that would be very close to what we called earlier: the enlightenment and to accept like that... The finitude, because, I don't know if they think that life ends with death, probably not, for the mystics and the magicians of Tibet but certainly, there is this idea of acceptance. It's amazing, because I don't read in this quote revolt but on the opposite, a very great wisdom of not wanting to fight...
JPS: Oh yes, to be submitted to Karma?
NS: No, it is not a question of submission, it is on the contrary much stronger than that. Because there is no submission. It is not because you accept that you are submissive, on the contrary. It's like these great movements of Queens, because I think of Berenice: she knows that he doesn't love her enough, for Titus to simply give up all the Roman Empire. And simply knowing and telling the other person that you know; that's incredibly powerful!
JPS: Yes, I understand, yes!
NS: From the moment that the other person knows, that we know, if I may say so, without playing endless games with words... That's what's strong! And so, one can accept everything because we have the conscience, we do it in conscience. And that's it, that is to say that they accept death. Also because perhaps they believe in reincarnation; in the Tibetan, Hindu and Buddhist religions... So, these are those Life-Death cycles and I find it rather haughty as an idea, to be able to defy death in a certain way, precisely by impassibility. It is this impassivity that I feel, in the quote of Alexandra David-Néel. And, are you interested in representations of death, which is not quite the same thing as being interested in Death? As you are interested by the Cosmic, by the Sacred, by representations of sexuality etc. I was going to say from Cave Art almost to the images diffused nowadays on the Internet... Does this question of death, represented by the image, interest you? Do you think about it? When you choose this work of Gustave Doré, which could be a representation of the afterlife. What can you tell us about it because, I believe that you, in your personal life, have come close to the afterlife and that you have had this experience?
JPS: Yes, absolutely, I came across this beautiful engraving by Gustave Doré that represents exactly what one live when we have a near-death experience. That is to say that they are concentric circles (a vortex of energy sucks us in) with which we enter the Tunnel of Light and then we arrive at the center of the Light. Thus, we dissolve into Light. Gustave Doré illustrated this very well in this print, he says that they are angels (who are carrying the soul of the dead in the otherworld); and I also have seen the souls of the dead leaving the Earth and entering like that; in this energy Vortex. And I must say that it is quite impressive. Well, that's debatable. Some scientists say that it is the brain that sends these images in order to remove the fear of a person at the moment of death (with chemical molecules such as DMT dimethyltryptamine). I think this scenario really exists. Since I had experienced it, I think it does exist. Then is there something in the light or not? Where do we dissolve? What is the journey of the soul after that? Does the soul travel? Does it disappear completely? Jean-Claude Carrière, whom I appreciated very much, said that he thought there was nothing after death. But anyhow, perhaps this particular moment when you enter the Light is, anyway, a fantastic moment! I have often used this spiritual experience and made drawings from it that I sometimes use in my work. And of course I am also very interested in mysticism, but it requires a discipline that I don't have. But I do have the discipline to be an artist and I create every day that I can!
NS: Thank you!
JPS: Thank you very much Nicolas, it was very nice talking to you, thank you very much to all of you.