Experimental Art History (Class 30 September 2021)
Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
Section CARE / Exhibition practices (under the direction of Aurélie Gravelat)
Art history, as a human science, is a discipline that has been and remains in a state of perpetual crisis. If until now it was a question of conflicts of persons, of schools, or of a game of cat and mouse between artists and art historians, it is now necessary to count on new actors who intend to have their word to say about it: public opinion, media, institutions. This poor history of art is thus a kind of eternal teenager, that many souls seem to want to put in the right way. However, do we put ourselves sufficiently in her place? Do we understand her path, do we speak her language? The course proposes to take her out of the courtroom and into a theater. There, she will be a spectator - for once - in a play where we will take turns playing her role. It will be a matter of taking hold individually of a great question that has always animated her. It will be appropriate to try, like her, to answer it. Without fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Attempt candidly to answer a big question, in 20 minutes. Your answer will have to be very personal, based on your experience, your conception, your perception, your imagination. It will nevertheless be necessary to develop the most solid of arguments, which you will be able to support opportunely by a recourse to the history of the history of art, to any exact science, or human science, or to an analysis of a past or present situation of the world of art, of the figure of the artist, of the nature of the art. Everything will depend on the big question you draw at random and on your approach. This course will take place over a day that will be a bit disheveled, where a lot of space will be given to the word, and to the reactions to this word. The title of this day is "Experimental Art History", because we will risk the experience of art history, under his eyes undoubtedly as interested as amused
What is inspiration?
Brainstorm: Where does it come from? Is it virgin, divine, under influence? Does it come in the morning, at noon, in the evening, in nature, in the bath? Who or what blows it? What is it used for? What happens if it is not there? Is it an operative notion or an overused one? If it is inoperative, what can replace it to designate the phenomenon it covers? What is genius? Brainstorm: Is genius singular or commonly shared? And if so, in what way, and if not, why? Is one genius at all times, in all works, or only in some? Is it an operative notion or an overused one? What is the relationship between genius and society? Is it the genius who designates himself, or the society who designates his/its geniuses? And if it is the society that designates them, what is their legitimacy? And if they designate themselves, what is their legitimacy? If the notion of genius is now inoperative, what can replace it to designate the phenomenon it covered?
What is an artistic movement?
Brainstorm: Who determines the nature of an artistic movement, and on the basis of what criteria? Does the notion of artistic movement seem adaptable to the contemporary reality of creation? If so, which movements would you identify? If not, which movements would you identify? If not, for what reasons will it be no longer necessary to think in term of movements? What do we do with a movement, once it has emerged? What are the temporal and spatial limits of a movement? Is an artistic movement homogeneous or heterogeneous? Does a movement find its end? What do you make of the notions of post- and neo- (such as neoprimitivism, neogothic, postmodernism, etc.)?
What is originality?
Brainstorm: If the notion of originality exists, what are the criteria for establishing the normality from which it differs? In short, what is the norm, the convention? By whom or what is this convention determined? Can originality become a norm? What is the tipping point between originality and norm? What is the attitude of art history towards originality? What is society's attitude towards originality? Can an artist possess an originality that is entirely his own, or does he necessarily have a clone, somewhere in time or in the world? Does the regime of originality tolerate other, simultaneous registers of distinction and/or downgrading?
What is artistic fame?
Brainstorm : What motivates the success of an artist, even his fame, during his lifetime, or postmortem? Is the artist working for his own fame, or is it other people who are working for it? Or is it both? And if it is other people, who are they, and why do they do it? What about the artists' foundations that are now springing up all over the world, whose purpose is to promote the work of an artist or to perpetuate his or her fame? Is fame a fragile thing, or an eternal thing? What makes a work continue to be celebrated across the years and across civilizations? Why are some artists successful, and others not? Why are some artists celebrated during their lifetime and then forgotten, and vice versa? Where do the artists go and where are the ones who are never spoken of again? What to do with anonymous artists?
What is a museum?
Brainstorm: What is a museum today, unlike yesterday? How does a given society, a given city, a given country, position itself with respect to its museums? Are museums at the service of these entities or are they independent? How would a museum establish its independence from one of the above-mentioned entities? Is it necessary to have independence for this institution, the museum, from the other institutions that surround it and from society, or is it desirable to have the opposite? Who runs the museums? Who decides on the hanging of the permanent collection and the temporary exhibitions, and on the basis of what motives? Should art be preserved, and if so, why, and if not, why not? How do you preserve art that cannot be preserved? How do we do this when there is more space available to preserve other works? What if the quantity of works produced exceeds the capacity to present them to the public? Should the museum include a mediation service, which suggests de facto that art does not speak for itself to the public?
What is a work?
Brainstorm: When is a work completed? What determines the perimeter of a work? Does a work have limits? And if there are limits, what is there beyond them? What is the relationship between the work of a day and the work of a lifetime? Is the work entirely in what it gives to see, or is it worth as an extract of a larger whole? What is a masterpiece, an early work, a failed work, an unfinished work?
What is an artist?
Brainstorm : Is the world divided between people called artists and people called non-artists? What are the criteria for designating so-and-so as an artist or not? If you are an artist, do you stay one all your life? Is a child an artist when an adult is not? Is an adult an artist when a child could not be one yet? Is it possible to designate an artist in an a priori non-artistic field, such as plumbing? Is everyone an artist, but only the artists know it? Is there still a corporation of artists today? Does the artist, to be designated as such, have to be part of this corporation, or must he be a stranger to any school or doctrine? Must the artist express himself about his work, or must he remain silent? Is Marcel Duchamp's silence overrated? Can an artist who has never produced works or who no longer produces any be designated as such? If the notion of artist seems to you overused, by what would you replace it?
What is outsider art?
Brainstorm : What distinguishes outsider art from contemporary art? Can one be wild in certain periods, and informed in others? Crude in childhood for example, then scholarly when older? What is the threat that outsider art poses to scholarly art? Of what does the learned art distrust, being outsider art? Can the learned art approaching intentionally the raw art manage to be raw? Is this categorization between outsider art and learned art still useful, enlightening, or does it have to be revised on the contrary? And if yes, by what? And if not, why, and how to reinforce it still? If the outsider art exists, where does this raw force that animates it come from?
What is art?
Brainstorm : Is art made by the viewer or the creator? Does art reside only in the works of art, or is it elsewhere? And if it is elsewhere, where is it? Is it necessary to distinguish art from the rest of the world? Who has an interest in distinguishing art from the rest of the world? Is art a language, a coded, obscure language, a universal language? Who speaks this language and who does not? How is it that it presents itself to us coded, if it is indeed in its nature to be coded? What is not art? If we are sure that there is art, in this object, or in this situation, will it still be there the next day? Is art a material or immaterial thing? Stable, or mobile, volatile? Who is in charge today of the designation of the art? If no one is in charge, where does it come from? Is it necessary to distinguish a good art from a bad art, and if so, why and how?
Can art be taught?
Brainstorm: Is art a matter of solitude or community, or both? What do you learn in art school? How would you organize art studies today? Is there a model for art school that has worked in the past? Which one? How was it organized in terms of space and time and hierarchy? What is an art student and an art teacher? What distinguishes them? What justifies or invalidates their difference in status? If art is something that is taught, this would suppose the existence of a stable knowledge able to be transmitted, what is this stable knowledge on art? If, on the contrary, there is no stable knowledge, how can we teach a non stable knowledge, if it exists? How do we teach art to children? Are children, on the contrary, the ones who teach us art? What would happen if there were no more art schools? Would art suffer? Should the art school be called by a new name? What name should it be called? How long should an art education last? At what point do we know that we are no longer art students?
What is artistic progress?
Brainstorm : Does art advance on a regime of progress? If there is a regime of progress, how can we consider the art of the past? As a primitive art, announcing future advanced forms of art? Does it still exist, always, an avant-garde? What determines the avant-garde? Who determines it? What animates the avant-garde? If there is no more progress in art, should we consider that art vegetates, even, degrades, declines? Does art know periods of growth and decline, and if so, why? How fast does art progress, on the basis of which stimuli? When, on the contrary, does it stagnate? Can art regress? Is progress in art simultaneous with progress in other fields of human activity? Is progress linked to technique? Is the demand for progress healthy or tyrannical?
Is art useful/unnecessary?
Brainstorm: Is art useful? How does it serve the individual, society? If it is useless, why devote ourselves to it? Why and for whom does it manifest itself? Should we intentionally include a utilitarian dimension in an artistic creation, or does this dimension unfold itself within the work? Should we intentionally include a useless dimension in an artistic creation, or does this dimension unfold itself within the work? What assures us of the uselessness of art: how to establish an irrefutable uselessness? What assures us of the utility of art: how to establish an irrefutable utility? At what point, from a personal point of view, did art prove useful to you? If art is useful, can we establish a kind of functional picture that would reveal its scope? Are there commercial opportunities?
What is the value of art?
Brainstorm: Is art worth money? Is money a good way to monetize art? Is art measured by its monetary value? What is the value of art that was worth a lot right away and remains expensive? What is the value of art that was worth nothing and is worth a lot today? What is the value of art that was worth nothing yesterday, and is still worth nothing today? Can we hope that it will be worth something tomorrow? If such or such art is eclipsed from the regime of the monetary value, in which regime, in which universe does it evolve? What is the role of an art gallery today? How should an art gallery position itself with respect to art history, artists and their careers? Is it the museum, the art market, or both, or even other actors, that determine the position artists should occupy in the scale of art values, and thus in art history? If the value of art is not monetary, what is its value, if it has one? How should art history position itself with respect to the art market, from an ethical point of view?
What is the mystery of art?
Brainstorm : Are we hiding something? Is our creation hiding something from us? What do we discover by creating? Can we discover things in the work of an artist that the artist himself had not seen? Does art reside solely in the artist's intentions, or does it go beyond them? Is art the product of an unconscious, of a divine influence? How should art history position itself with regard to the mystery of art? Should it leave to art an intentional part of mystery, in order to preserve the desire that we can nourish for him, or in order to leave in fallow parts of grounds that will be probed by new tools, in the future?
Space and Copy (Classes from October, 2020 to January, 2021)
Academy of Fine Arts of Mons, Belgium
Spatial Research studio
With the collaboration of Djos Janssens
Select a real space, then by moving any furniture, and/or adding any props or furniture found on site or nearby, as well as possibly changing the lights, create a space that evokes the mood of the work of one of these three artists of your choice: Vincent Van Gogh, Piet Mondrian, Louise Bourgeois.
Make the work that Georgia O'Keefe would make in Bruce Nauman's place. Make the pastiche that she would make, marked with both her signature and that of Bruce Nauman.
Assign a color to each accessible classroom, or to each room in your house that would be accessible. Explain why you assign a particular color to a particular room.
Make a work of art. Then, reproduce this artwork as many times as there are accessible rooms in your school or home, each time changing the variation from the original artwork a little, influenced by the room where the variation is displayed.
Determine the dominant color of the accessible rooms in your home or classroom, by establishing a color chart of the present shades, by object and/or surface, and deducing from this as rationally as possible the dominant shade.
Make a mood map of each room that is accessible to you, in school or home. Take pictures of each room and attach a written description of the atmosphere, the emotion that emanates from each room, trying to be more objective than subjective.
Make a list of the spaces that are available to you at home or at school. Open two folders on your computer, titled: Objective / Subjective. In the Objective folder, collect photos and written descriptions of these spaces that are as objective as possible. In the Subjective folder, collect photos and written descriptions of said spaces that are as subjective as possible.
Make a work that Alicja Kwade and Haegue Yang would create if they worked together under one artist name.
Make a work that Yoko Ono and Marina Abramovic would create if they worked together under one artist name.
Make a pastiche of a work by Camille Henrot that is missing something.
Collect ten objects that you find in your school or home. Give them a title and an attribution: attribute them as they are (without modifying them) to 20th or 21st century artists, as if they were authentic creations.
Write a small 6-page visitor's booklet explaining the current exhibition in one of the rooms of your house or school, even though there is not, a priori, an exhibition in the room you have chosen. Pretend there is, and imagine it, and tell it to a visitor.
Write a statement for an exercise of your choice that would engage the notions of space and copying. Ask two of your classmates to do the exercise independently and submit the results to you to present to your teachers.
Make a Duchamp-like Box-in-a-Suitcase: a miniature copy of all the important works you have made, transportable in a small container (no larger than a suitcase).
Create a space like a Russian doll: a space, in a space, in a space, in a space, in a space...
Write words (not sentences) on paper fragments that describe the visible elements of a room of your choice, at home or at school. Glue these pieces of paper to the items you are describing, as if you were identifying each thing. Be as specific as possible. Then take a photograph of the "named" room in detail.
Write words (not sentences) on pieces of paper that describe the unseen elements of a room of your choice at home or at school. Tape these pieces of paper around the room where you feel it is most appropriate to identify and locate the invisible elements you have identified. Be as specific as possible. Then take a photograph of the "named" room with your glued paper fragments in detail.
Make a list of the materials involved in each object and surface in a room of your choice. Write down the techniques used to obtain and transform these materials. Also indicate the origin of these materials, according to your interpretation if you do not have visible information on this subject.
Take a recent newspaper. Cut out all the pictures that represent spaces. Write a caption below the image that explains what space is represented in the image.
Take a recent newspaper. Cut out all the images that represent spaces, excluding from the image by cutting out or obliterating the figures present.
Take a recent newspaper. Cut out all possible images. Classify these images according to nomenclatures that you define yourself.
If the artist Matthew Barney were an architect and urban planner, what city would he build? Sketch the city plan, and gather images (other than images of the artist's work) to establish a visual panorama of your proposal.
Turn an open space into a closed space.
Turn a closed space into an open space.
Make a logical space illogical.
Make a sad place funny.
Turn a space in your home or school into a funeral site.
Rethink the ergonomics of a room in your home or school, moving objects and furniture around to make it more practical, easier to access, easier to navigate.
Select two spaces in your school or home: transform one into a maximalist space, the other into a minimalist space.
Transform one space in your home or school into a space with an African character, according to an African country of your choice (transform it by engaging the art of arranging objects and furniture according to the aesthetics of an African culture chosen by you). Then do the same, in the same space, by coloring the layout with an art of arrangement more characteristic of an Asian culture of your choice.
Read Paul Gauguin's biography on the internet and collect images of the places where he lived. Then select another image for each location image showing a corresponding contemporary location, as if Gauguin had lived in our time.
The exercise of the schema (Class December, 13, 2019)
Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Brussels
Art History Class
I wanted to submit an exercise revolving around the founding myths of art history. It may seem a bit naive, but as John Cage and Sister Corita Kent used to say: "Consider everything as an experiment". I am therefore curious to see what your reaction to this exercise might be. I would also like to hear your point of view, based on your experience as a creator, which is as good as mine.
The instruction would be this: I would like to see you make a diagram representing what the creative act could be, and a discipline of art history that would account for it, (re)modelled according to your convictions/intuitions. How would this be drawn, articulated? I would like to see your thought structured. I am asking you to build a kind of cosmogony of creation.
We will proceed in groups: each group will discuss for a while how a diagram can be drawn, either by going through an individual sketch stage, cross-checked by a pooling of opinions, or by going directly through the collective debate, tending to arrive at a consensus on the way to realize the diagram.
Each group will then come and briefly present their sketch to the class. An oral support to the diagram is expected: where it is explained to the others, where all the information it carries is given. Don't think that you need to be knowledgeable to engage in this vast portrait of the creative act. On the contrary, I am addressing you who have a creative experience already underway. Please feel free to base this on your personal perception, which you will try to extrapolate.
Drawing this schema of a new history of art (or in other words, a schema of the creative act, in time and space) suggests that you make a statement on the following notions:
Contexts of reception
Once your schema is in place, and your ideas are clear, your group should be able to respond to the following questions, even if they seem naive (this exercise is about having the audacity to go back to the root of these questions, to see what plant, what tree would emerge, with all its ramifications, subtleties, laws).
Thus, you must imagine that your group will have to face the following questions, which you will have to answer, to defend your schematized hypotheses:
What is art? What is not art?
What is a work? What is a finished work? Unfinished? Completed, unfinished ? Successful? Failed?
What is an artist ?
What is talent ? The absence of talent?
Is the work of an artist shaped by the place where he lives?
Is the work of an artist shaped by the life he leads? By what happens to him ? By the family context from which he comes?
What is inspiration? Where does inspiration come from? When does it occur?
What is the relationship between art and suffering? Art and religion? Art and politics? Is art the means of expression of suffering, of religion, of politics?
What is the relationship between art and pleasure ?
What is the genius ? What is the influence ?
Is art a universal language? If so, how can we describe the way this universality works?
Is it possible to copy art ?
Does art function on the principle of originality ?
Is art subject to a moral?
What is the avant-garde ? What is avant-garde, who is avant-garde ?
What is fashion?
What role does the artist play in a society? In the Western society? In the East?
Who is an artist and who is not?
What is an artistic movement? Does an artistic movement have a limit in time? In space ? Are the artists all singular or are they linked by certain aspects, and which ones?
What is history? The history of art? Who writes history? The history of art? Does the history of art follow the history of humanity ?
Is art history fair (equitable, ethical, democratic - how to define this "fairness"...)? If it is unjust, how to make it just? Should art history select/value some artists more than others? Some works? According to what criteria? Are some works better than others? If so, in what way are they better?
What is a masterpiece? What is a minor work, an early work?
Is it the context of reception that determines art? Is nature an artist? The only artist ? Is time the artist ? Is space the artist ?
Is it the artist or the viewer who makes the painting ?
The principles of collaboration (Classes from November to December 2019)
Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Brussels
"Let Love Rule" Seminar
In collaboration with Lola Martins-Coignus, Loraine Furter, Florence Cheval, Aurélie Gravelat
Time 1: Students are asked to write down as many principles of collaboration as possible (they can also be "immoral" principles, as they are found in the working world, or even absurd, poetic principles). Some principles of collaboration for example: One is the hand, the other is the mind / Some do the so-called manual work, the others the so-called intellectual work / One gives a basic idea, the second appropriates it and then gives it back to the first, who modifies it again / One launches an idea, then all the others (or the other) determine the limits surrounding its implementation / One gives an instruction, the other executes it once to the letter, another time in a more vague way / One gives an instruction, the other does the opposite. .. Everything is pooled afterwards, in a large pot of collaborative principles.
Time 2: Students are asked to bring in stimulus objects of any kind. For example, a newspaper article, a picture, an object bought at a flea market, a natural element... Any possible element, even abstract ones.
Time 3: Work groups of two, three, four (or more) students are drawn at random. Each group draws a collaborative principle from the common pot, and a stimulus object. The groups are formed on the basis of the very realistic principle of "double job" (student + student job / teacher + food job). They must therefore run two hares at the same time; be involved in the creation of two projects (at least) and manage the "agendas" of these two groups.
Time 4: On the bangs of the groups, two "UN observers" are appointed. These observers observe. They follow the progress of the collaborations. The power relationships, the interactions, the working methods at work around them.
Time 5: The groups, equipped with their principles of collaboration and their stimulus-object, create an artistic work based on them. For example, this would give: One is the hand, the other the mind / on a newspaper article talking about the steps taken by Pascal Smet to establish a bicycle path around the inner ring road in Brussels, to three students. The group organizes itself around these constraints. One can possibly multiply the groups, the use or combination of instructions, the number of final creations, etc.
Time 6: The group comes together, this time in a horizontal hierarchy. Each participant writes a testimony in the form of a combination of texts/images/drawings gathered in a pdf, going back over the experience of the said form of collaboration and its result. It is an exercise in editorial formatting and meditation on what this or that form of collaboration generates, according to this or that work protocol.
Time 7: An exhibition of the printed pdf's (possibly replayed, depending on the space) is organized in the last place, where all the pdf's are gathered, in addition to the "objects" produced during the previous workshops, guided by the other participants (Lola, Loraine, Florence). These objects are sent to us so that we can integrate them into the exhibition.
What would we do if we would be americans? (Classes from November 14 to November 19, 2016)
Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Brussels
Workshop during the SHARE week, dedicated to the French Theory
(The following text, intentionnally mixing French and English in an irreverent way, was distributed to the students, as an introduction to this workshop)
Je me souviens I remember du film français of the French Movie Les visiteurs avec Jean Reno and with Christian Clavier who was really hilarious sans parler de la délicieuse Valérie Lemercier just astonishing it was en 1993 il y a bien longtemps déjà we can call it a cult movie c’était vraiment fantastique avec Godefroy de Montmirail et sa cotte de maille and Clavier who is known for some great quotes like jour/nuit jour/nuit playing with the interrupteur et alors ce qui est extraordinaire avec ce film a surprising move is that ils ont décidé de faire un remake destiné au public américain but I think that Valérie refused to play in it du coup ils ont dû lui dénicher un remplaçant and it was the same for other actors anyway le film se passait cette fois en Angletterre et aux Etats-Unis et it was titled Just Visiting a kind of joke in itself I guess sorti en 2001 ce remake a été un flop monumental because Gaumont invested a huge amount of cash in it beaucoup de thunes my god.
Je vous propose like an invitation I mean really kind de prendre part à un workshop de deux jours thus very intense au cours duquel vous serez invité à réaliser your own remake de votre propre meilleure œuvre the best one it doesn’t matter if you work with textile or with photography ou que vous êtes un sculpteur just bring your best work with you physically très important de ne pas l’oublier and also take the tools you used to make it amenez aussi les instruments dont vous vous êtes servi pour faire et même pour finaliser cette œuvre matériellement and bring also some other tools that may be usefull for you comme de la colle, une perceuse, de la peinture rouge, du bois, some pieces of metal, some sheets of glossy photo paper, a huge canvas et tout ce qui vous excite lors de la première journée you will copy yourself en vous mettant dans la peau et dans la tête d’un artiste américain what is the american aesthetic of the time ? et quelle est la tienne ? ami français ou belge si il y en a un qui traîne là par hasard because I mean it’s interesting to consider what are les paramètres de l’imaginaire américain d’une part et les données de votre imaginaire on the other side pendant la seconde journée on termine les œuvres et immediately we build an exhibition with all your double works l’œuvre originale et la copie américaine and we’ll just look to what it gives and we’ll have some fun and everything is gonna be alright enfin j’espère je compte sur votre enthousiasme délirant.
En résumé / abstract
> You come with ta meilleure œuvre d’art personnelle of your life achievement
> Tu viens avec les outils que tu as utilisés to make this work in the past
> You listen to me because je vais vous montrer un peu d’images d’artistes américains du moment, you’ll see that they are quite motivated
> Tu fais une nouvelle oeuvre in a very short time qui sera un remake à l’américaine de ton oeuvre
> Tu participes à la construction d’un very nice group show express where both of your works will be exhibited
Mute (Class of November, 9, 2015)
National School of Visual Arts, La Cambre, Brussels
Drawing section : Module 5
In collaboration with Catherine Warmoes
> prior request by e-mail: bring as many drawing utensils and sheets of paper as possible, as well as the initial object.
Students bring an object they found on their way to the school and create a first drawing/work from it. Then they each randomly draw a phrase from Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies and modify their drawing accordingly. They pass their work to another student who continues the work based on new phrases drawn from the hat.
A conversation about the work in progress between the teachers and the students is established only through texts and drawings made on the board with chalk. For the rest, the teachers remain silent all day.
To conclude, a screening of the film: Le rayon vert by Eric Rohmer