The exhibition Double Je works on the basis that artisans, artists and criminals all have the same obsessive fascination with detail. You and Janaina Mello Landini worked together on the Labyrinth space at the Palais de Tokyo. What did you want to create?
Following the theme of the exhibition, the room represents the moment when, in a schizophrenic state of duality, the artisan is transformed into an artist. Whether it’s Janaina or me, we both focus on day-to-day objects. Here I worked on a plaster moulding, the sort that is often found above our heads. I generally try to deform a rigid materials using the past and future codes of living spaces. I was interested in extravagance, as it looks as though this moulding is swollen. It usually marks the perimeter of room in four different places, and here it has grown bigger, as if there were parts of this moulding dripped everywhere. With Janaina’s work I feel like I’m looking at Aztec ruins surrounded by vegetation, and I can see the dialogue between the two.
What was it like to work with Janaina?
We relayed each other perfectly. I had a head start on my mouldings and she worked around what I had already accomplished.
Why did you choose the labyrinth theme?
This space represents a psychological labyrinth and the transformation of an artisan into an artist. When you make a moulding, you are an artisan, but when you bring it out of its usual environment you become an artist. You have a freedom without references, and you slip into the world of artistic creation. It’s thanks to our projects around the theme of deconstruction that the curator Jean Loisy chose us.
You started out as a craftsman with the Compagnons du Devoir guild. How did you go from artisan to artist?
I started with an apprenticeship as a painter-glazier, then worked for around 15 years with the Compagnons. The organisation has nothing to do with design or creation. If you ever ask questions you are told that’s just the way things have been since 1862. This approach means certain techniques live on. I owe everything to them. They didn’t train me, they raised me. Everything I do is naturally linked to them. But while I was there, I began to grow tired of always doing the same thing. I ended up wondering if there was any meaning in restoring things to simply see them fall apart again. You sometimes have to prolong this process, and as I was fascinated with this aesthetic I also thought it was important to bring it into the 21st century. But through this frustration I relearned what I had been taught, and that got me to where I am today, with the same codes and materials.
"I don’t have any preconceived ideas, and I can even understand that some people think the whole idea is pointless. As I developed my craft in something of an artistic straitjacket with its imposed rules, I’m now trying to create something different from it."
When it comes to art, do you prefer ideas or creation?
I couldn’t care less about the creation itself. For example, the moulding is covered in gold-leaf because I wanted to create a caricature, transforming it into a completely separate element. Mouldings usually disappear into the décor. But it could have been fluorescent, it would have been the same thing.
Contemporary art has to convey so much meaning nowadays that the idea of beauty has been forgotten. Is it important for you to produce accessible work?
It’s less and less important. It’s easy to hide behind beauty, but far more interesting to go beyond. Even if people don’t understand the work today, they will in 30 years. Or not. But it’s good to push boundaries. The glass pyramid at the Louvre was heavily criticised at the start, and now no one can imagine the museum without it. Thank goodness people evolve and redefine established codes! There is a certain form of contemporary art that is so elitist it is only aimed at a few people. This sort of approach is neither educational nor generous, and I can’t relate to it. I’m at the border between the artisan who creates understandable shapes and the artist who makes shapes with references that we all enjoy and which conjure up memories.
Is contemporary art an elite, untouchable world?
A movement of self-criticism is beginning. And we are also starting to criticise and comment on the biggest stars, some of whom have even exhibited here! A fashionable artist creates something great, but a star does it again and again, and stays. You have to remain contemporary, it’s not enough to just have something to say.
Anish Kapoor said that as an artist he had nothing to say. Do you have something today?
I am trying to accomplish something poetic, I want lots of people to relate to it. When I created the Kiss Room, some people saw themselves in a garden, while others saw themselves in a spaceship or surrounded by waves. I loved the fact that each person saw something different. I don’t have any preconceived ideas, and I can even understand that some people think the whole idea is pointless. As I developed my craft in something of an artistic straitjacket with its imposed rules, I’m now trying to create something different from it.
Photo : Alexandre Guirkinger