Lecture Three / Monday 9 June 3pm in Atelier 15
Cyril Lepetit will present his artistic practice and his aesthetic approach in trying to respond to the following two statements:
From the fantasy to the act.
From the consequences of the action to its memory of and its possible future.
Cyril Lepetit (b. 1970 Cherbourg, France) lives and works in London. He studied in Belfast (1993) and in Caen where he received a MA in Fine Art (1995). He lived in Paris until 1999, before going to Japan and Taiwan for a four month residency. He has been living and working in London since his return.
The false innocence of the audience and the supposed gullibility of the artist are often at the centre of Cyril Lepetit’s work. It is about desires and human behaviour. He is interested in an aesthetic of emancipation; being ‘nothing but a fragment devoid of meaning if he does not refer to other fragments'1 in a global biological and economical system. Lepetit does not attempt to solve or resolve anything.
Since 1993, he has developed a series of installations and performances with the intention of involving the audience, and also, himself in the situation. With each piece, he undertakes to create a film of the interaction with the work, manipulating images of the audience to emphasize the possible meaning of our behaviour, as much as to serve his emancipation. These films are autonomous works and are often presented as installation or single channel video.
His work involves several media from drawings, paintings, digital imaging, sculptures, installations and performances, to the human being.
One of his last actions Will our desires evolves from our first caress to our last breath? was presented in the Quickie programme as part of the exhibition Seduced: Sex and Art from Antiquity to Now at the Barbican Art Gallery. His work has also recently been exhibited at the Tel-Aviv Center for Contemporary Art, Dimensija & CCA Vilnius, Camden Arts Centre, London; Leroy Neiman Gallery, Columbia University, New York; Abattoirs, Musée d’art Moderne de Toulouse; ICA, London; Liverpool Biennal 2006; Art Concept Gallery, Paris, Tadehalli Museum Helsinki, Ha Prestgard in Norway and in Beijing and Shangai in the exhibition Metropolis Rize: New Art from London.
His forthcoming project will include a presentation of new works in De Kunstvlaai in Amsterdam and in Nantes during the residency project ‘Coyotte Pizza’ curated by La Valise.
The art critic Tracey Warr (editor of The Artist’s Body, Phaidon 2000) wrote a text about Lepetit’s work entitled Consensual Art. This text accompanied his solo exhibition at the CAC Basse-Normandie and the publication of his monography Respectful Infidelity FRAC Basse-Normandie, 2004. It includes text by Pierre Giquel, David Medalla, Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux and Liu Yung-Hao (French/English 250 pages).
Lepetit has recently produced a limited edition of a DVD I am but a fragment devoid of meaning if I do not refer to other fragments (selection of videos, performances and installations presented internationally between 1993-2007). His films are also distributed by HYPERLINK www.exquise.org
1. In relation to notions of cliche and exotism, is your work in part a reaction or reinterpretation of how most people see French sexuality i.e. romantic, dramatic, deep, like in the movies?
If yes, so how do you justify using cliches in your own work i.e. the painting in the ceiling of cathedral where your attitude and clothes are painter like.
I know that people take my nationality (background) into consideration, as we often do when someone addresses an audience, and I suppose that I may play with this sometimes. But, if my work is a reaction or reinterpretation; it is a reaction to or a reinterpretation of how most people see sexuality as whole, more than something limited to French culture.
Let’s say that my work is about sexuality (desire and human behaviour) and depends on the social and cultural context where it happens, where I live, or I am invited to be. If it is a question of reaction or reinterpretation, it is possibly a series of reinterpretations of: my own culture - other cultures - my desire - the art world - history - architecture - politics – the media - social engineering ...
I am also interested in how our society sometimes uses the clichéd image of emancipation to serve other means (financial or political, ...). This often makes me feel that we are actually far away of a real process of emancipation of behaviour (tolerance).
I think that I prefer reinterpretation to reaction. I am interested in shifting ideas, or in other words searching for the complexity in reality. This comes from a (possibly child-like) necessity to question the truth or preconceived ideas. It is a matter of freedom: being able to take liberties. Whereas, being in reaction seems to me to be the attitude of the one who "goes against".
I actually think that the phrase that Aurora Biancardi selected from my biography for her poster "Lepetit does not attempt to solve or resolve anything" illustrates this. I don't see myself as coming up with answers in my work. That is a different approach to someone who would be in reaction, I guess. This does not stop me from opposing certain ideas. But, I am part of society, I am part of ‘most people’. I see clichés everywhere, everyday and I feel that digesting/mutating is a more appropriate use of my energy.
Let’s say that when I use a cliché, it is to create a time frame that starts from a common perception to go to a richer view point. It is to move somewhere else: I am not necessarily what I look like and things are not always what we think they should be. I live in a society where the marketing industry often reduces matters of life and existence to a single channel idea or shiny concept. Even as an artist I rely on my bio, my education and my national identity. So, lets say that when I use a cliché it is because it is part of my culture. It is an appropriation, I use cliché as a collage or a ready made. I might also be interested in clichés, as they are often associated with an idea of correctness/averageness, I might use them to captivate the attention of the audience to then perhaps move on to the indecency of the mind (my desire: an exotic activity).
Despite the old colonialist connotation, when I think of exoticism, it implies a desire for experience, an attraction for the unknown territory, the unknown being, the unknown body. It also obviously makes me think of the tourism industry and the boxed dreams of safe destinations and mild fantasy. To what extent are we ready to discover?
ATTITUDE & CLOTHES
In your question you were referring to my piece "The Ceiling of Art", a work I started during a residency in Rome (2002). Fascinated by the ceiling paintings of Italian art and their simple power to make a group of people gaze at the power above them, I challenged myself to attempt a representation of a ceiling and create while lying on my back. The first performance of this series of paintings was in a converted convent of the old Jewish ghetto and I had a much more intimate audience than that of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican (I did not need any security guard with walky-talky to direct the flux of visitors).
In this work, my attitude is painterly because I am actually painting and I am fully committed to the work: the process of painting a ceiling (with its architectural and also semantic references: ceiling as a limit. And this piece is about the process of creation, the artist’s responsibility for the images that he creates.
Regarding my clothes, I was just wearing a simple dark blue Macintosh and a pair of black trousers. They were my everyday clothes, I chose them as it was a matter of being elegant and inspiring confidence. When an audience of about 60 people entered the room, I also had a palette and a little canvas in my hand to let them understand that it was going to be about painting. So, the first time I realized this piece, I used the clothing as a means to set up a situation, to achieve my aim: to make the mental image I had happen (that of the artist lying on his back painting a small canvas held between the legs of a woman standing upright).
I believed in the power of this process and the variety of questions that may occur from it: its erotic dimension, my responsibility as an artist, my manipulative power, my fantasy, my submissive position, my voyeuristic position and that of the audience, the power of the model on me and the work, the incidence of our relationship upon the painting...
I could say that I used a cliché as means to start the process. From that point onwards the events that followed were instinctive decisions and behaviour influenced by my aims as well as the context and the people who were taking part or witnessing the situation. I started to look each member of the audience in the eyes. Some people safely avoided my sight and others returned my gaze with a sense of possible complicity. I chose a quiet woman wearing trousers and invited her to join me in the studio space I had prepared in the middle of the room. Then a series of elements I had not consciously thought about came together and fed the meaning of the piece even more.
The woman was standing above me, the white canvas was facing me and in its perspective her eyes were looking at me. This had the sudden effect of isolating us from the other people in the room. In a very classical approach a process of painting had just started. The brushes were an extension of myself (my hand) and when I was touching the canvas, it was like touching the person's body. I was highly responsible for my actions and the painting I was going to make: more than a portrait, it would reflect the time of a relationship with the person standing above me, and failure was also a possibility. During that time the audience calmly continued to witness the process in thoughtful way.
So, it is a matter of setting up a situation in which I will play with the false innocence of the audience and my presumed guilt as artist. It is to serve my aim, an aim that can only exist with the presence of the other.
The outcome of this first Ceiling Painting opened so many questions that I decided to develop a series of painting that I am still working on. Among the 31 different Ceiling Paintings I have completed up to now, with different individuals (women and men), I worked in different contexts: I used a scaffolding in an empty room of a museum (Tadehalli Helsinki) and I made a painting of a different person on each level of the scaffolding until I reached the Ceiling of the building. I did 3 paintings in a mine in the Czech Republic. I wore a different outfit, each time for example at the ICA or in Colombia University, I was wearing a Salwar Kameez (traditional dress worn by both women and men in South Asia). I had long hair and a beard at the time and some people saw me as a Jesus figure and other saw a possible reference to the "Arabian Nights"... and this double reading key of my status interested me.
2. Your work seems quite long or have a slow pace which creates a space for the viewer. What does this space means to you?
Maybe my answer to this question is the title of my recent Quickie performance I did at the Barbican for the exhibition Seduced: Art and Sex from the Antiquity to Now.
From our first caress to our last breath, will our desires have evolved?
Blowing at strangers' faces in the exhibition space.
Slow blowing right at the edge of the hair and face. The slow movement starts at one ear and follows the line of the forehead to reach the other ear. The movement is then repeated in reverse.