Keeping in mind the unkeepable
Līga Marcinkeviča, Artist
Audrey Cottin. Charlie & Sabrina, Who Would Have Believed?
18.10.2011.–05.02.2012. Jeu de Paume. Paris
Audrey Cottin’s (1984) exhibition Charlie & Sabrina, Who Would Have Believed? is the last one of four in the Sattelite series of exhibitions, which are being held in the exhibition hall Jeu de Paume in Paris and curated by the Lithuanian curator Raimundas Malašauskas. The opening of Cottin’s exhibition coincided with the opening of Diana Arbus’ retrospective. Participation at an exhibition opening at a Paris museum involves presenting an invitation at the entrance, and the person who had such an invitation was Ieva Epnere, whom I had met by chance the day before. That’s why the meeting with her is mentioned – but not only.

Audrey Cottin is last year’s graduate of HISK (Higher Institute for Fine Arts). Mention of these four letters doesn’t call for further explanation over here anymore, although the World-Wide Web can be of help if the need arises. In the course of creation of this exhibition for the Satellite series, Audrey collaborated with several artists of her generation whose creative work involves concepts such as authorship, shape and performance. These artists “of her own generation” are students of HISK. It is necessary to bring this intrigue to end – Audrey has collaborated with Miks Mitrēvics by “lifting up” the elements of his work Priekša, aizmugure, labais, kreisais, augša, apakša (‘Front, back, right, left, top, bottom’). She has also “lifted up” Ieva Epnere’s work Jaunā flāmu ainava (‘New Flemish Landscape’), and in addition invited Ieva to photograph the “lifting up” of other artists’ works. The time has come to explain the meaning of the concept of “lifting up” in the previous sentence (I deliberately use the term “concept”, instead of “word”). The central (conceptual) axis of Audrey’s exhibition Charlie & Sabrina, Who Would Have Believed? is the “lifting up” of an art work: the artist visualizes her idea by lifting the art work up physically.
Audrey Cottin. 2011
Photo: Līga Marcinkeviča
Several attempts at “lifting up” art works, captured in photographs by Audrey, have been included in the catalogue of the exhibition. She changes the location of the art work (object) in space by lifting it up and holding it in her arms, thus becoming a transmitter or antenna. The art works of other artists lifted by artist Audrey Cottin have been “initiated” and they certainly are art works. She has widened the prism of perception and the space of interpretation. Speaking humanly, sometimes it is beneficial to change the point of view. It is good for both the eyes and the mind or perception and thought, and everything previously mentioned sums up in reflection and conclusions.

Back to the exhibition. An important part of it is what these days is fashionably called “research”. Some time ago, artists called it the process of creation of an art work which was not revealed to the audience, as an art work remained under wraps until its completion. It’s different these days, at least with respect to the art of the more recent period, which I sometimes refer to as “trendy art” for the sake of easier classification on the basis of form. I’m sure that some of those reading this will have already gathered what kind of form I am referring to with regard to art works and exhibitions. In order to avoid any misunderstandings, here’s a concise outline: a linear drawing on the wall, printouts of A4 size with text symbols on them, a photograph, a small vessel filled with water, strings stretched out across the room, or simply a clump of strings, etc. – this should be enough. But see, by changing the point of view, I’ve drawn new conclusions. The emergence of this form of art works, exhibitions or installations is etiological; it is an outcome of the dominance of the Web, as it has become a universally available storehouse of media and resources. Here we could mention an analogy: searching on the Web and reading a book. Look here, exhibitions of this sort resemble searching on the internet, where after typing a single term in the search box you have toiled your way to the umpteenth website and all you have in your brain is something similar to the main structural points of an essay, as opposed to taking a book about a certain subject, reading it from cover to cover and, having finished it, placing it on the table next to you.

In this kind of exhibition everything “fits into the right place” if you’ve been present at the opening day or any other day when the artist is present, as all the items selected, created and arranged by the artist “obey the master” and amount to the human scale of the creator. If the artist is not present, you can view exhibitions such as this on the internet, using search programmes, or social and other networks etc. Art works of this type are extremely subjective. Their field of creativity has reached the “point of a needle” and the prism of interpretation for such works has a very narrow angle. As regards the relationship of presence between an art work and an artist, importance of the creator, the authorship escalates.

Until quite recently I was intolerant of exhibitions like this, because if there are several such works in one large exhibition, it is extremely hard to get to the bottom of what are the key points of the artist’s “research” and to evaluate the exhibition fully in a limited period of time.

However, these problems of finding the direction of “research” don’t come up if there is a professional and thorough curator who has carefully picked up all the small stones dropped in the forest by Hansel and Gretel (i.e., the artist).
Audrey Cottin lifting 'New Flemish Landscape' by the artist Ieva Epnere. 2011
Photo: Ieva Epnere
I requested the artist’s and the curator’s permission to publish the interview that appears in the catalogue of the exhibition, because after reading it you can feel the presence of the author, even if she is not present physically. This interview has come into existence by combining parts of conversations which have taken place at various times.

Raimundas Malašauskas: Are you several people and one artist? Or more artists than people?

Audrey Cottin:
I am one, made of many. A crowd. As a person and artist I compose a volume of people to collaborate with, and from it I generate a reconstitution of myself as person and artist.

R.M.: How did you select the words that are engraved on the marbles?

By elective affinities or by referential strategies.

R.M.: Why are your marbles made of steel?

For the art of noise – they are part of the referential ambiance.

R.M.: Do you think that practising contemporary art cultivates and develops certain mental or physical power?

It is a principle of individuation. “What makes a human being is himself, different from all others, it is neither his matter nor his form, but the process by which his matter has taken form in a certain system of internal resonance”1 As an individuation “phase” is archived, another “phase” follows, which Lacan named déphasage, and so on. Where you grew up – that’s your inner world. We are still growing up.

R.M.: What skills and knowledge does playing the marble game with you require from the player?

Playing the marble game with me requires no prior knowledge or skills. We can fix our individual expectations while we are playing – to define our virtuosities.

R.M.: What is your favorite precept?

“The freedom of some ends where that of others begins.”2 It entails paradoxical parameters that are elastic and rigid, depending on whom is your collaborator and proximity between you.

R.M.: Do you draw a line between public and private activity?

We can instrumentalise both of them – the public and private are tools, once you have understood their parameters you can interact and interfere to draw your environment; symbolic, imaginary or real.

R.M.: Why did you decide to play marbles at the Jeu de Paume?

I don’t play marbles, but I can understand why I play them or look at a marble game. There is a spirit of the space and historic background: the jeu de paume is the grandfather of tennis. You can still go to the Château de Fontainebleau – they have conserved the jeu de paume court and it’s a very sculptural space of 360O: floor, ceiling, walls, roofs, windows, nets, a grid, a drum, a bell: those elements define the realism of origins.

It feels like an anachronistic context – a theatre set for privileged local and impassioned gamblers. A popular game from the past turned into the luxury3 of today. Although the Jeu de Paume in Paris went through Kafkaseque transformations in order to display art – paintings for a long time and a photography gallery later, moving from light to less light, the building veils multiple uses and needs. Playing marbles at the Jeu de Paume is a homage to a hand, it’s a reminder of traditions and origins.

R.M.: What is in the book accompanying the exhibition?

The book is composed of photographs – a chain of symbolic, imaginary or real collaborations. Pictures capture different social or professional exchanges in potential productions.

R.M.: “Larger than life” canvases?

“Art is what makes life more interesting than art.”4 A few months ago you and I witnessed an act of reconfigured laws of nature: a duck and a rabbit playing family members on a street in Brussels. The duck and rabbit impresario has mastered a tear-jerking genetic narrative. At the impresario’s signal, the duck ran across the pavement to show its motherly feelings to the rabbit. Nature was never more elastic than that night. “Charlie & Sabrina, Who Would Have Believed?” smiled the impresario in agreement.

R.M.: Are there any more people at the art centre?

It’s full! Charlie & Sabrina, Who Would Have Believed? is a continuum of my research into ancient, modern and contemporary cultures of “participation”. This project has been built over a decade of collaborations with artists and non-artists, theorists and non-theorists, under various deformations, without tearing or glueing, but rather through a succession of phases: an indivisible series of contributions where everybody is perfect.

R.M.: Are they the main characters of your play?

Their importance is growing each time we try to design balanced exchanges. All collaborations are done under immediate and complementary needs. The collaborators and their contributions become a means of production. Works are made in common with undivided ownership regimes. “I eat fish although I don’t fish.” Participation comes through friendship, exchange or wages.

R.M.: Who is Hélène?

In Greek Hélène means “sunray, shining light”. Hélène has many variant forms: Aileen, Ailene, Aleanor, Alene, Aline, Eileen, Eilidh, Elaina, Elaine, Elana, Elayne, Eleanor, Eleanore, Elena, Eleni, Elenore, Eleonora, Eleonore, Elianora, Elinor, Ella, Elladine, Elle, Elleamora, Ellee, Ellen, Ellenora, Ellette, Ellie, Ellin, Elliner, Ellinor, Elly, Ellyn, Elnora, Galina, Halina, Helaina, Helaine, Helana, Heleanor, Heleena, Helen, Helenann, Helene, Helenna, Helenore, Helia, Hella, Hellen, Hellena, Hellene, Hellenor, Hellia, Ileana, Ilene, Ilona, Jelena, Lana, Leanora, Lena, Lenore, Leonara, Leonora, Leonore, Leora, Lienor, Lina, Nelda, Nell, Nellette, Nelliana, Nellie, Nelly, Nonnie, Nora, Yelene... I only know Hélène Vanel through Jessica Warboys. Hélène and Jessica are not collaborating with my show though.

R.M.: How do we arrive at the beginning?

By being in the process of becoming. Like if a crowd of participants becomes the main stage of the exhibition. Unveiling topological strategies where two fluid sculptures made out of plastic tubes and internal knots seek parameters of resistance to determine their potential forms. The sculptures’ fluidity depends upon the internal knots and, ultimately, how the pieces fit together with the space. A constellation on demand.

R.M.: Why topology and not arithmetics, for example?

Arithmetics is the combination of numbers. Topology is convergence, connectedness and continuity, upon transformation of space. Arithmetics is rational and systematic. Topology is rational as well, but in an organic continuum that can quickly turn into irrational representations.

R.M.: Do you understand birds’ language?

Only blackbirds, parrots, magpies and Gabon greys, when they are well trained to imitate human languages. I do understand whistlers from the 19th and 20th century though. In times long past, theatres hired people to applaud, thereby guaranteeing the success of a production. The heyday of the claque was mainly in the 19th century. In the 20th century the claque fell upon hard times, theatres got tired of their presence, several theatre managers started to ban to claques from their houses while the cinema industry flourished. Whistlers are haters of the claque. The audience starts to whistle at the claqueurs to defeat them. Whistlers are revealing the internal claque corruption by counter-gesture.

R.M.: What do we have to know before we come to your installation at the Jeu de Paume?

Our collaboration is a rupture in reason, I just think it’s all about people cooperating and facing that, a suspension of disbelief, a performative presence. I use performance and sculpture to mediate continued transformations between real, symbolic and imaginary collaborations.
Audrey Cottin lifting an element of 'Front, Back, Right, Left, Top, Bottom' by the artist Miks Mitrēvics. 2011
Photo: Ieva Epnere
R.M.: What do you mean by “to beat time”?

I mean: if we start in the future where is the present then?

R.M.: I thought it will be like that moment when you walk down the street, it is that time on a beautiful grey day, a city you know and don’t know, strolling across a park inhabited by sculptures and animals, kids and writers, days and singers, love and infidelity, cities and trajectories, longing and smoke. Or something in no particular order of no particular type. Then suddenly the street-lights go on! You know that moment, right? Nothing changes drastically, but you were there when it happened. And it happens only once a day, a very brief moment, much shorter than the song of a bird or a person. Will you sing in the exhibiton? Will you sing the exhibiton?

You mean when future is too close to present? A premonition. If I sing I make sure to be under private parameters – although the exhibition access is public and free, so I will not sing. I will clap the exhibition and other people will whistle it – a balance!

R.M.: Are you saying that in the open air anything can transform into anything can transform into anything else in an endless way? Where do you stop? And where do you start?

Birth is the start stopped by death. In the open air various deformations happen without tearing or glueing, but rather through a succession of phases where anything can happen in continuous and endless ways.

R.M.: If we drop, do we drop from history to space or just on the floor?

A premeditated drop? As a means of misfortune a conqueror falling from his horse in front of a superstitious audience could determine territorial history. And still the horse has four horseshoes. Drop again, drop better.

R.M.: Will there be any puppets in the show?

Any show has puppets and puppet-masters.

R.M.: Ducks and rabbits in the open air: you are a psychedelic farmer! Do you see yourself as part of that tradition?

Charlie and Sabrina – a duck and a rabbit? I am less psychedelic farmer and more busking engineer. A few months ago you and I witnessed an act of reconfigured laws of nature: a duck and reabbit playing family members on a street in Brussels, remember? The impresario tradition? – “The world in my hands, I saw the destinies.”5

R.M.: That was the beginning of your “sculpture as a trip” idea? Or was it “trip as a sculpture”? Is there a difference if it is in the open air?

Sculpture is what makes a trip more interesting than sculpture. I can talk about the vehicular protocol of the clapping group and switch to the picture-series of “lifting” as a chain that relates to the internal knots of the travelling sculptures until a guided walk at night in the Tuileries Gardens! And all this through friendship, exchange or wages. The only difference of being in the open air is the lights. I think of Frédéric Bastiat.

R.M.: Why Bastiat?

Moving from light to less light, the configuration of the Jeu de Paume asks for a certain amount of light inside the building for conservation reasons. So restricted light parameters. And what if the art centre staff is missing vitamin D? And what if all Paris is missing vitamin D? Claude Frédéric Bastiat is the author of Economic Sophisms, his most famous satirical parable, his Candlemakers’ Petition6, asks the government to block out the sun to prevent its unfair competiton with their products; candles, tapers, lanterns, candlesticks, street lamps, snuffers and extinguishers, and from producers of tallow, oil, resin, alcohol, and generally of everything connected with lighting. He shows the absurdity of logical extremes through his work on economics and political economy. I often think of Bastiat in my everyday life – even more at the Jeu de Paume spaces. If Hélène comes to the show she will meet Frédéric.

R.M.: That ambiance is referential, isn’t it?

It depends on the interpretation. Reading and re-writing take time to enhance virtuosity, the gaping lack of mastery pushes me to say: “Everybody can participate, everybody is perfect.”

/Introduction translated into English by Jānis Aniņš/

1 Gilbert Simondon, L’Individuation à la lumierè des notions de forme et d’information [‘Individuation in the Light of the Notions of Form and Information’], Grenoble: Éditions Jérôme Millon, 2005, p. 48.
2 French precept : “La liberté des uns s’arrête là où commence celle des autres.”
3 There are only three clubs in France where you can play jeu de paume: in Château de Fontainebleau, Mérignac and Paris.
4 Robert Filliou, 1970.
5 Voltaire, The Death of Caesar, 1736.
6 See Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Sophisms, Volume 1, Chapter 7: “A Petition from the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, Candlesticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from the Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting”, 1845.
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