All the time looking out for shock and novelty, self-taught French artist Ben Vautier has been overturning the foundations of latest artwork for the previous six a long time by his insightful and provocative painted writings. I sit down with him to debate the origins and which means of his artwork.
Final yr, the Departmental Area of Chamarande, a chateau positioned 45 minutes away from Paris, held a retrospective of your work entitled Etre Libre (Being Free). What does freedom imply to you?
I feel you aren’t free immediately. There’s much less and fewer freedom: freedom of thought, freedom of speech. I can’t go right into a raise with a pleasant woman and say, “You’re fairly.” I’d end up in jail. We’re in a world the place freedom is at risk. An artist ought to need to be free and may search for freedom as a result of he should suppose, “I need to do one thing new that others haven’t completed earlier than.” So he’ll do one thing new and he’ll be happy, however that’s a compressed freedom. I just like the phrase “etre libre”, however I feel it’s very unrealistic. There are an increasing number of restrictions.
How did the concept come to you to make written work or painted writings in 1958, utilizing phrases to enter into the artwork world and establishing writing as up to date artwork?
I used to be excited about summary portray, so I believed Viseux does this, Poliakoff does this, Soulages does this, Malevich did this, Mondrian did this, and I stated, “What can I discover that they didn’t do?” I found the type of the banana, and I stated I’m going to be the primary to do bananas, so I did quite simple bananas. Yves Klein instructed me that bananas had been completed as a result of a monochrome is stronger than a banana. A monochrome is like you probably have 4 aces and a banana is simply full home. It’s good but it surely’s not sturdy sufficient. So I gave up bananas and I went to a present the place the opposite artists had put their work up. I believed possibly I ought to simply write, “Have a look at me, that’s sufficient.” I put that up and everyone checked out it and laughed, and I used to be more than happy. Then I stated I’d change into the specialist of fact and I’d write esthetic truths: this weighs 20 grams, this weighs 15 grams. After which I’ll write subjective truths like “I’m jealous of Boltanski” or “I’m jealous of this, I’m jealous of that”. And it labored. It had my character. I grew to become “Mr. Writing”.
Are you at all times looking for which means and fact by your work?
Sure, at all times. After I do one thing, I doubt. I’m by no means positive of something. Fact and doubt go collectively. I’m a bit ashamed of myself as a result of I repeat myself. I wrote as soon as, “If an artist repeats himself, it’s simply as if he copies one other.” So I need to not repeat myself, however I repeat myself. That’s not good, but it surely’s tough to be someone else every single day. It’s inconceivable. You may’t reinvent your self every day.
You had been one of many first in Europe to carry artwork instantly into the streets together with your performances entitled Gestes within the ’60s. What had been you making an attempt to attain?
Sure, that’s true, however on the identical time, it was not intentional. We had no galleries in Good and I made a decision to write down on the partitions. There was a really lovely white wall someplace and I went at night time and I wrote wall “mur” (wall) on it and ran away. Then I wrote “maman” (mom) and “papa” (father) on the opposite partitions. That was attention-grabbing for me, however I didn’t do it considering of avenue artwork. I did it naturally and, to let you know the reality, when avenue artwork got here, I appreciated it, however not an excessive amount of. I met Henry Flynt in New York, a vital man. He took me to The Bronx, the place he confirmed me avenue artwork, which I didn’t like a lot, however I purchased two items. He instructed me he was taking photographs of someone who used to write down sentences on the partitions of New York, after which he found that this man was Basquiat, who signed by one other identify, Samo. I used to be excited about avenue artwork and in Basquiat, however I used to be not within the subway. Every thing was hidden, but it surely didn’t carry something new. It comes again to the identical factor: no matter your model, you have to do one thing new.
You’re a eager observer and analyst of society, and your provocative and insightful phrases query, problem us, shake up our actuality and our habits. How do your artworks proceed to stay related to at the present time?
I don’t see that I’m creating a lot. I’m extra curious. I take a look at one thing and I feel can that be artwork or not, did anyone do it earlier than? If no one did it earlier than, how might I current it? My huge principle is ego. As we speak, I’m a thinker in ego. I’ve a e-book referred to as La Théorie de l’Ego (The Idea of the Ego).
You have got at all times stated that there isn’t any artwork with out ego…
No artwork with out ego, however I’ve change into a a lot larger thinker as a result of I feel there’s nothing alive that’s alive with out ego. My cat is an egoist and this plant is an egoist as a result of every part needs to outlive. Should you take a look at the brand new movies on nature, you discover out that nature is stuffed with preventing. They spend their time preventing and consuming one another.
Why is the ego so vital to being an artist?
The ego is there even in the event you’re not an artist. The ego is when every part is alive, however an artist, to seek out one thing new, should take a look at what was completed earlier than and say what can he do this was not completed earlier than. An entrepreneur, a manufacturing unit employee, a financier, a journalist – all must have ego. I’m excited about ego. It’s making an attempt to elucidate the start of the universe as a result of I accepted the concept that all artists are egoists, all mankind are egoists, all animals are egoists, all microbes are egoists. So the place does ego cease? Should it’s alive? I believed that possibly firstly of the universe, 1000’s of thousands and thousands of years in the past, they will need to have been in a sort of boring state of affairs and ego began. That’s my private principle. I wished to current it to Hawking, however Hawking died. It’s a sort of an extrapolation, but it surely might work if I can get ego into matter. Coral or animals are filled with ego as a result of every part that reproduces itself is ego, however the world itself, the volcanoes should not filled with ego. I haven’t acquired the proof, however I’m going to get the proof. I need to discover a principle through which I can show that ego comes from the start of the universe, however that’s difficult. My newest work is on that.