A Conversation with France Languérand – Part 1

by Vichinie Suos

16777216 colors : 3999#2 (2007-2010) by France Languérand; 4096 x 4096 pixels

France Languérand is a multi-media artist who lives and works in Paris.  Languérand’s installations utilize the subjective nature of activity as its subject. For Languérand, activity does not stop, and is in constant flux. As such the artist’s work allows for new readings. However by virtue of this autonomy, her practice negates interpretation and carries out a ritual close to “zero interpretation.”

Videos and literary works undergo a “sliding” motion, which is invisible after all is said and done, but still remains the epicentre of her practice. What is given to the viewer, as poems, books, or video, leaves the image of an artist who considers herself “visual.” In fact, the visual effects of the experience remain relegated to secondary status, if not uselessness.
There is a practice of playing games with  the institutions and codes of intellectual property. The artist amuses herself with this juxtaposition by freely leaving out signed and digitized editions, confusing the viewer who is free to use them. There are multiple pieces but none of them are the same and all question the sacred reasoning of copyright and copyleft.

Between the inexhaustible rigour of a notation in notebooks and the possibility of error, pieces take shape over long months, leaving notebooks with a pre-written history that gives new shape to the eternity of a conceptual hypothesis. The mechanical allure of a coding system again creates possibility anchored between scientific ambition and artisanal religiosity. The traces of the informal and scriptural scenario still remains between the advent of her practice and the event of the operation. These traces mourn for a uniquely analytical description.

VS: I’ll leave you the floor, to let you describe your work.

FL: Activity is fundamental to my work, I know when it begins but with no expectation of what it will look  like at the end. It’s a constant “work in progress.” The protocol is there for clarification, but it isn’t the piece. It is activity that constitutes the piece, even if it it is somewhat immaterial. I need to put a lot of time into producing each piece, sometimes months, often years. And because the activity is at human speed, the same processes could be executed be a machine in only a few days, weeks. All of the pieces are series containing series. It is true that these could be seen like flowcharts.   For example Poems is a series composed of one series per year, within which there are series by the value of words.

VS: That is vertiginous.

FL: I don’t believe that it is time that is vertiginous, rather the production that flows from it. And that is because, for months, nothing is visible, but when the activity is finished it produces a torrent of pieces. For example, in 1677216 colors there is not one photograph, then another, then another: there is nothing visible, and then there are 80467 photographs.

VS: How do you go about it?

FL: I get into a direct rapport with the objects, with the clichés that I am referring to. I try to interrogate their meaning, to produce meaning without ever reaching the original sense of the referent. I chose the “mastodons” of wWestern cultural heritage (those with an international reach) or clichés coming from this heritage. I use the word “mastodons” not only to mean “something huge,” but for the initial meaning: the mammals who were the ancestors of mammoths, who have been gone for more than 11,000 years but whose remains we still find, and still eagerly place in our museums. 

For example, Metropolis is the first film to ever be added to the UNESCO register of World Memory so as to protect it from deterioration because 25% of the 35mm films are missing. So, these are remains which are part of heritage and not the whole oeuvre of Fritz Lang in its integrity. In 2008, a copy on16mm film was found in Argentina, but the images in that copy were altered and the original format had been changed. As a result, even if we have almost all of the missing sequences and the original visuals on that version, it’s only a part of the original work. The original work of Lang no longer exists. 

VS: The Stranger by Albert Camus also inspired Robert Smith, the lead singer of the Cure, to write a song called Killing an Arab. You seem to have an anecdotal relationship to the documents you refer to, how do you explain it?

FL: The objects are there, in a state. In fact, Killing an Arab is an anecdote, it has nothing more to say, even if that anecdote is often on the bottom of the page of commentaries about The Stranger. In that, it is an anecdote that deserves to be “anecdoted.”  The Stranger, as the most-sold book since its publishing in pocket format, and as such the most read.  It is also an available object, part of heritage. Personally, I have never read it, but it was my “bedside book” for 8 months. I did my best to never read it, to only count each sign, each letter, and never reach the meaning of the work.

VS: Camus’ text has been translated many times, and also has several adaptations. For this piece, you stayed with the pocket format, with the words of Camus. How do you explain this refusal of interpretation?

FL: The choice of the pocket format was easy: in 2003  The Stranger was (and maybe still is) the book sold the most often in pocket form since 1953. It is that object that interests me, because it is in that form and certainly because of that form that it become “cultural heritage.” The pocket format allows for a massive diffusion of a text.

There have been thousands of interpretations of  The Stranger. Camus even explained several of his own interpretations. The time for interpretation is past: “each oeuvre from the past is only completely readable in certain moments of its own history which it is important to know how to seize” said Agamben. And after all, Mersault, the character from  The Stranger, dies for the truth. And the truth suffers no interpretation. Interpretations always gives meaning to reading. Multiple interpretations lead to a modification, a deplacement of meaning. For example in  A rebours: BWV1080, to make the most effort towards zero interpretations, the pieces are played by a software using a Grand Piano sound.

VS: Your work is helped by Excel-style software. And the new version works using a system of grids. The letters are classed by their particularity and their frequency in The Stranger by Camus. For Bach’s music, the work leans on original partition, where the notes are counted and classed by a defined (and as such limited) grid. So, they belong to a similar category.  Is the composer similar to a mathematician?

FL : Not really. He has long been considered the mathematician of music, that’s why many people love him less than Mozart or Beethoven. Too rational, not sentimental enough. Even if that vision of Bach as the mathematician has been refuted in the 20th century, it remains present. It’s really a cliche. In most biographies for the general public, that’s the vision that appears.

VS : BWV1080, in any case, evoked the Continuum de Ligeti for me.

FL : Yes I know Ligeti’s piece, Continuum. Are you mentioning it as the continuum that is presented as a series of instinctive behaviours anchored in us since birth; or for the repetition and time taken as space; or for the idea of informal music? Or for something else?

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One Response to A Conversation with France Languérand – Part 1

  1. Pingback: A Conversation with France Languérand by Vichinie Suos | The Engine Institute, Inc.

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