A Conversation with France Languérand – Part 2

by Vichinie Suos

DISPOSITIF / conceptual

Poèmes (2006 – present) by France Languérand; prints on paper, dimensions variable

VS : As space and repetition, you aren’t interested in giving a new interpretation. You brought up repetition, how does that relate to what comes to mind when you think about conceptual artists?

FL : It’s a displacement, a sliding. It’s not a translation, or an interpretation. There is no material difference between the beginning and the destination. Repetition for someone like On Kawara brings a certain dexterity to the gesture. Except for the motif of his paintings, which evidently informs us of the date of production, you only need to observe the material of the picture to tell an older painting from a more recent one. In my case, the repetition of these activities reduces vigilance and makes errors more likely. Of course there are errors, naturally, because I use “manual” techniques and not a calculator.


Traces of activity allow the viewer to trace the path backwards, even to put the errors committed out in front. The object that has been materialized nevertheless has an existence of its own, which can sometimes pose a problem at the moment of exposition. There is this idea that the artist is the creator of objects. As such, activity is reduced to documentation, like a preparatory sketch, but the final object (book, poem, photo…) is anecdotal, somehow it is the object that documents that activity. For  “À rebours : Metropolis”for example, I used the 2005 DVD by MK2. The DVD being the means of diffusion and viewing of our time. It is no longer gelatin, but pixels. Like Bach or Camus, who chose each note, each word, I intimately know each pixel of the film. This let me create two films reconstituted in DVD format, meaning the initial format of existence for Fritz Lang’s oeuvre in 2005 and not the original format. The trace of this activity is 53321 pages of listing paper.

VS: Describe Poème (2006) that continues, each year a new series is made.

FL :- For Poèmes and Poems, I was interested not in a particular work but in a popularization textbook as cultural object as well as cliche. In a popularization textbook about poetry, there are always three chapters. The first and the second can trade places: the structure, the rhythm. And third is always: meaning. A chapter that does not appear in texts treating other literary forms. As if meaning was the prerogative of poetry.

In 2006, I started collecting all the words in French that I read to have a base of words for which I counted the value of each. I picked the French language because, to negate the meaning of words, you need to master the language they belong to. Poems are generated using words with the same value and the same number of letters. The structure is given by the value of the words. The rhythm by alphabetization and redundancy of letters. Poems are in A4 format which is the standard paper format, and the setting of the page comes from the default parameters of Word which is the most-used word processing software in the world. Each year, I collect new words that are added to the base of last year to create new poems. To be more efficient, I vainly try to not collect words that already appear in the database (more than 60,000 in 2009, for example) which is bit of an impossible challenge. Year to year, the poems unfurl themselves. From this series-flow chart of  Poèmes was born in 2010 a second: Poems which are poems in English. The form of the English poems is strictly the same as the form in French. What changes is the procurement of the base of words. The words are not collected English words, but a translation of the words of the French database taking every possible meaning for those words.

On looking for a new ontology

VS :This process/operation is an artifactualisation (something conceived, that is not natural) that makes the gesture possible. Almost like a folksonomy.

FL: Artifactualisation, I quite like that term because there is the artifact as parasitical phenomenon coming from experimental conditions, and actualization which recalls updating and making concrete.

Folksomical operation

FL : Folksonomy as a personal index is interesting. The problem is that it implies an idea of collaboration, of contributors, however in my case, I am the only contributor of these classifications. Unless one thinks that I’m leaning on existing classifications that I divert, modify.  

VS: Your artistic operations seem to want to unroll a conflictual intelligibility between the refusal of a possible programmed meaning (I mean your refusal of interpretation) and a operation which indicates the path of possible re-doing. Are you again operating with a scientific demand?

FL : I’m not sure if this will answer your question. These days, the gearing down of operations has led to the explosion of subjectivity, and in art has led to a vector of subjectivization. From that, the fact that there is no longer a movement, there are no longer groups of artists. Agambem proposes desecration as a hand-to-hand strategy with his daily operations, meaning reconstituting the common use that sacrifice (the sacred) has separated and divided. Desecration to return meaning to everything. So, I use these operations to in some way dispossess me from myself, to no longer have the freedom of the creator so as to not only make a better use of it but to make them free use. I’m not sure if that’s clear, what I’m saying – paradoxically – it is subjectivisation which comes from the game of a pure operation, without arrangement, without possible negotiation, and without trying to change its use or to create a better use. There are many current pieces that came from personal mythologies and operations put in place to serve these mythologies.

Subjectivisation uses the operation and tries to give it a better use: the spectator is trapped inside the operation.  With the operations that I use, playing the game  of non-subjectivisation, I try to be a non-subjective vector. The spectator can recover them, the operations return meaning to everything.

Establishment of a territory/map of knowledge where a threat of a programmed void reigns.

VS : The idea of a translation came to me as well, but you prefer to say “sliding” in the sense of moving, somewhere then does the experimentation become generic, to allow room for the idea of a gesture that evades the usual processes for elaborating definitions?

FL : Gesture – why not The Gesture (which is a cycle of epic poems recounting the full adventures of a hero) of which the hero is the constituting element?

VS : What kind of Hero would it be, then?

FL: A hero that cannot escape its author, or who risks coming apart in its escape (the materialization of the object.) A bit like Icarus, the constituting  element-hero, wanting to escape the arcane darkness of digital immateriality, burns itself with the spotlight of the display place of the materialized art piece.

VS : It’s an epic then! Do you act like multiple, elaborate Homerics? Following what Steven Meier said, and the “Gesture,” do we return towards something like the  ghostly spectacle oriented by two directions that he suggested? Especially working on the multiple, do your operations lead to towards ghostly documents?  

FL : It’s true that at the end there remains something ghostly.

VS: John Fare is a “ghost writer” of fiction-I have the impression of a “ghost performance” that I would qualify as a codified, centrifugal re-writing following a long, formal operation.

FL: I didn’t know that “legend.” It’s fairly extraordinary. I will certainly end up arriving there one day, dismantling myself to reactivate myself! No, I’m joking because for that my body would have to have become a cliche, an object like that of a pop star.

VS : Your protocol is a protocol of capturing and saving. You elaborate a double reading of action in which the image is always coming from a prescribed selection. In your practice, is there a mourning for the event? That practice already known since the avant-gardes places your experimentation, how would you explain that in our context?

FL : If the practice can let you think of a mourning for the event, it still ends with an event: the materialization of an object that escapes me completely, and a somewhat random materialization because not all pieces can be materialized. Once the activity ends, the integrity of the pieces exists in a way that is immaterial because it is digital. But whether its due to digital material that finds itself degraded by being materialized, and/or because of impossibility of materializing the series which is too numerous, beyond the human scale, the pieces can never be completely materialized, they are only traces of previous activity. The viewer can never reach the piece in its whole and in its integrity. The only way to attempt this is to trace the path backwards. The event takes place despite me even though I remain the origin… And then there are those events that, despite me, create my mistakes, it remains a “personal non-reading.”

VS :You experience by performing its own initial conditions. That reminds me of chaos theory. This idea from Deleuze and Guattari, on the question of experimentation, when they thought of correspondences between art, science, and philosophy. Said otherwise, an element that articulates areas and forms of thinking. In your case, isn’t it the idea of seeking a possible regression? Like searching for the source? 

FL: I was asked once if this had something to do with autopsy. I answered that in an autopsy, the idea is finding the causes of death, and in my case I’m more looking for why they are still there, available. It isn’t a deconstruction. It isn’t about finding the essence of objects but about re-activating them.

VS: A conceptual practice would be movement in favour of experimentation freed of the practice of its ontological representation. What is your relationship to the conceptual? I’m especially thinking about unconditionally characterizing your work as a conceptual practice, and not as belonging to an order of thought. You set out a certain model of dispersion between theory and practice.

FL : Ah, the moment has come to talk about this idea of “the conceptual.” Like I told you, I don’t like that word to qualify my own practice but its always the word that others use. I’ll talk about why: I have no choice but to explain myself in relation to conceptual art. In Europe, especially, conceptual art is seen as a movement and not as a practice. You only need to look at the French Wikipedia, “Conceptual art is a contemporary art movement from the 1960s,” and, further on, it’s specified that it goes from 1965 to 1975. Or again, the timeline by Sara Fanelli which goes over Tate Modern: Conceptual Art (more or less between 1968 and 1972.)  With the end of the 1970s, conceptual photography. At this point, I wasn’t even born! So if I have to, I can recognize myself in the notion of the conceptual if it isn’t a movement but a medium, it is the concept as a means to an end and not a particular ideal or idea. I think truly think that these stories of movement and of medium no longer apply to artists younger than 40. But the vocabulary evolves more slowly than artists do. The proof is in art school, there are professors of painting, of drawing, of volume, of photography. It doesn’t make sense anymore. Jean-Luc Verna is a drawing professor. Seriously, its very reductive talking about his work which, if I had to give a label to, would be more performance. But openings for a professor in performance, the ministry hasn’t always envisaged them. Movement, medium, and signature no longer belong to our generation. You only need to look at the work of young artists. Take Julien Prévieux, Société Réaliste, Detanico and Lain, Siboni and Giraud, for example, which medium can we attach to them? And since the form is never the same, the signature no longer exists either. Or the work of Julien Tibéri,: for each new work, he changes his drawing technique. You couldn’t recognize his drawings from a style like you could with Picasso, Goya, da Vinci, or even Jean-Luc Verna.



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