Keegan McHargue: Air Above Mountains / Xavier Veilhan: Sculptures automatiques
"Air Above Mountains"
I believe we are faced day-to-day with the residual history of generations worth of information, both good and bad and any combination therein. And in a time where we are exponentially speeding up information exchange I find we live a duality between making more and more new information and recycling the old, faster and faster at every go-round. This to me is both liberating and frightening, simultaneously. I feel that this is the beginning of a new person, a new culture at large, that will make us redefine what, exactly, a culture is. The world is re-illuminated by new combinations of information. As an artist, this is a sort of deliverance, a free pass to combine a little here and a little there, and see what happens between the two; a sort of parody of the way society at large is handling the changes. The lines we know to separate A from B have hardened and blurred and conjoined and fractioned apart, leaving but a frame on which to build freely… devoid of strict code separating the factual “reality" from the pseudo or un-reality to seems to be enveloping us.
For Air Above Mountains (titled in homage to the jazz musician Cecil Taylor), I want to duplicate this informational labyrinth that I speak of. To construct personal replications of so many different cultural themes and personal memories; to spread them all out, and use physical act of art making as the catalyst for further and further focus on particular themes that, as the work has progressed, have become looming omnipresent, inescapable, like the watchful eye of a cautious master: everything new is really only remnants of everything old. History has only become the stirring sticks mixing everything together, if you will, rotating ever faster around our most human of human traits, desires, obstacles; cutting deeper channels between dogma and doctrine, past and future. As artist, this is a time to honestly document our surroundings. I know that my work is my map so that I can find hope amongst the melee of information; untangle the knot of religion, war, regime, the collision of the past and the future on the shore of uncertainly. This is the responsibility of the artist in today’s world. -- Keegan McHargue
Interview with Xavier Veilhan by Christine Macel, November 2005.
CM: You present sculptures in your exhibition inspired by monuments like the Monstre in Tours and the Lion in Bordeaux. Until today, contemporary artists rarely used the word "statuary". Ever since you first started out, in the late 1980s, you have asserted as much interest in this tradition as in dance-floors. Now, when I hear Paul McCarthy proclaiming that he makes statues rather than sculptures, it seems as though this terminology is making a comeback. Can you specify your position back then, and how it has evolved since?
XV: I've always associated the most traditional and the most contemporary techniques in my work. I perceive the history of art, and more particularly the history of making works, as having no break; to this extent I see myself as a classical artist. A statue is a person made public. I make statues of friends, i.e. of unknown people whom the public cannot identify. This idea is a paraphrase, in a way, of the notion of an impersonator making fun of his brother-in-law and getting laughs for it, even though the audience has never seen his brother-in-law. In statuary, I activate a contact zone between the public and the private—very literally, when I intervene in both gallery spaces and public spaces at the same time.
When you look at a statue you look at a person who cannot see you; you become attached to the form of a being. Through my projects in public spaces, I try to set up a new relationship between city-dwellers and large-scale statues. In the city context, my works become autonomous pieces in the eyes of a public who knows nothing about the rest of my work; the very notion of "author" is dilated inside the urban space, within which the work has to act on its own.
CM: The originality of your position also comes from your ongoing interest in the very latest techniques. Can you explain the technique you use, both in your People as Volume exhibition at Andrehen-Schiptjenko in 2005 and elsewhere?
XV: Technology is frequently depressing; in its combination with economics it sometimes seems to have no pilot or direction, thrown up like a staircase rising into a huge void. Yet I still hold out hope that modernity can be reinvented through new connections between disciplines. Part of my work entails setting up relations between one field and another, basing myself on a global dilettante vision: I have just enough information to knock on the right doors and choose the right directions. I use and develop the 3D capture system. The models have to stand still for twenty minutes in front of a scanner that is moved around to obtain about twenty files; these files will then be composed into one single file which will command a machine-tool that sculpts a block of polyurethane mousse, wood or polystyrene. Theoretically, I have no physical contact with the process, except to choose the model, their pose, the size of the finished work and the type of material used.
CM: In Light Machines or your recent Paysages-Fantomes photographs—which use a digital image and a sanding process on aluminium to turn a photograph into a sculpture-painting—you explore the possibilities of digital images in a completely new way. Instead of using a computer to create virtual images, you think about the signification of digital as opposed to film, in order to create images that are "in-between" mediums. Can you prolong this reflection to your current research?
XV: I don't consciously look for that in-betweenness in my work. Nonetheless, there are of course obvious links between wilckerwork and wireframe representation, between chemical images (photography, engravings) and digital images. Digital puts images in the air, by highlighting the network in contrast with the single terminal and by transgressing notions of original (the master) and copy (materialisation, the final object).
Encoded reality is used to decode reality.
CM: Last year your created for the Pompidou Centre a huge black mobile, Le Grand Mobile, that hung above the central well in the museum forum. You are currently editing an identical mobile in a 1:10 scale version. In what way does this scaled-down work continue the research we discussed earlier?
XV: The Pompidou Centre Mobile is 30 metres wide and it is much too big to fit in my house. The model for the project, however, hung in my workshop for ages, accompanying my work and the comings and goings of visitors with its movements. This scaled-down version of the mobile is still an imposing size and I decline it like a mental sculpture, like giving shape to the electrical flux and waves of our brains.
In the cultural hybrid which the Pompidou Centre can represent, the ideas I wanted to emphasize with this mobile were shared by the visitors. This scale edition takes us back to a space and ideas that are more in the domestic sphere, so more intimate.
Translated by Gail de Courcy-Ireland