Tique | art paper asks six questions to an artist about their work and inspiration.
This week: Colin Guillemet.
Lives in Zurich
How do you describe your own art practice?
For short, I usually say sculpture; although it is more exactly where conceptual approaches and objects meet (whatever the objects are and wherever that might be).
I choose not to work with a particular medium, or with a specific theme, but am concerned with the interaction between ideas, their material signatures, how these instruct expectations for the viewer, and then how to derail those. I like the idea that we all have a slapstick relationship with the world, trying to answer its demands while not fully grasping the bigger picture; and that art is both a witness account and a syntax of these relationships.
What was your first experience with art?
Art was always present in some ways as I grew up; my parents met in art school, my father is an artist and also an art history lecturer. I can’t really pinpoint a specific event, or a precise moment of discovery.
The Live/Life exhibition of (then young) british art at the ARC in Paris in 1996 was certainly a decider in my going to art school. I can’t recall any of the works in the show now, but I still remember being completely bewitched by the DIY attitude, the energy and the cheek of it… and wanting to join in.
Early on as an art student, I remember seeing Dead Pan by Steve McQueen, a retrospective by Thomas Schütte, and works by Francis Alÿs as electrifying and formative shocks.
What is your greatest source of inspiration?
Some years ago, I was working for a few days in the Science Museum in London as a freelance art handler. It coincided with the grand re-opening, after an extensive refurbishment, of a space called the Launch Pad: a big, a very fun playground in the museum, with various experimental contraptions for children to play with while discovering science phenomena, or vice versa.
The day before, the museum had asked its staff to come and test the new space, and give all the equipment a proper workout to make sure it was sturdy and safe for the next day. The following morning kids were let in, and by closing time pretty much every apparatus was broken or out of order. It’s one thing to built hefty handles and levers, it’s quite another when someone will gleefully ignore their intended purposes. It was a tsunami of kids quite literally savaging the laws of physics, as well as an instant and boisterous rebuke of targeted didacticism. To this day, it still hasn’t stopped amazing me.
What do you need in order to create your work?
I find that the more I try fulfil what I imagine are the ideal conditions, the more it starts to feel staged, I become self-conscious and the whole set-up becomes more stifling than anything else. So I am going to say: surprises! (but good ones, preferably…)
However and almost needless to say: time, some peace of mind, and space to reflect are key ingredients.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am always working on several things at the same time. I find that different projects can inform one another at different stages and it helps to avoid getting too convoluted or simply stuck.
At the moment, I noticed that some people around me seemed to be obsessed with the idea of having content. I remembered a game-show from the 80s where contestants were handed a mystery box, that they would resist swapping, or not, for various prizes they could win by answering trivia questions. And so I started working with cardboard boxes which may or may not be full.
I am also still working on a ongoing series of blueprints using reviews snippets as found on movie posters or book covers. They are compositions made with quite an intense layering process and using descriptive words for works that have already happened; originals made from stereotypical responses and commanding their own reception.
And other things…
What work or artist has most recently surprised you?
Something completely floored me recently. It’s in the overture of Parsifal by Wagner. Musically, it consists in a series of single chords or very small melodic phrases that swell in intensity and come back down. At some point, one of the notes starts with the violins, but then gradually turns to brass instruments and then to woods. It’s absolutely seamless and as if the instruments slowly morph into others, like by alchemy. It’s a stunning piece of music doubling as entirely baffling and very exciting sculpture.
There was also an exhibition this year by Cerith Wyn Evans at Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich which was a masterclass. I have been a big fan of his work for a long time, and this show had some of his works reconfigured as installations that were extremely thoughtful and technical in their approach; he somehow works by conceptual arcs, the same way one would speak of narrative arcs in a novel. He manages to make the works both objects in the room and time-based structures by systematically contrasting stasis and duration with each smaller element. It was gorgeous, dense but with real clarity, very complex and yet legible and generous. It’s real dandy work, and I can’t think of many artists working with that degree of complexity. It was truly impressive.