ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Odilon Pain - 2012 - Disquieting Strangeness & Relief of the Bondage of Self [EN, interview]
Disquieting Strangeness & Relief of the Bondage of Self
Some words about the work of Odilon Pain
A painting of a dark yawning mouth reminds us of Bacon’s attempts to paint mouths as dark holes. How to depict a hole? How to show what seems to be missing? How to complete the world by adding more empty space?
Later in this text Odilon Pain quotes Giorgio Agamben who, in his book Stanze, explains how poets or artists can evoke things by not mentioning them, in a negative way, so to speak. They try to evoke the rose absent from every bouquet, as Mallarmé put it. Pain’s oeuvre is like such a bouquet, evoking dozens of splendid roses absent.
The first thing he did in his new studio at the HISK was to replace two missing tiles by thick cement stones that proved to have exactly the same surface. They stuck out of the floor as two minimal sculptures. Today, during our interview, he used one of them as a stool. His second intervention was to paint a big glossy red stain in one of the corners of the space. “It made the corner violent and sexual,” he told me, “it filled the space, it made me angry.” At the time I visited Pain for the first time, a few days later, the red paint had been covered by gray and the result had been baptized The Phantom of my own Opera.
Today, fifteen months later, I notice a painting that represents a space with a gray painted corner. The studio also contains a wooden screen, painted green to be used as a movable background. A huge vertical, flat tile, one might say, sometimes serving as a green key. The artist shows me a beautiful movie, made in collaboration with another artist, Jennifer Dujardin, who happens to be his girlfriend. Though projected in a loop, this movie starts with a beautiful reenactment, created by Jennifer Dujardin, of a fragment of Godard’s movie Le mépris. In another scene both of the characters dance with costumes made of colored hairs produced to make brushes. The movie is comical in a refined way, far from the boring pseudo-intellectual French humor one encounters sometimes in the art world. While writing this, I think of Rrose Sélavy, which is one of Duchamps best creations, because it almost accepts or overcomes his sexual inhibitions. In the movie I see today, sex doesn’t appear as a neurotic, ironic impulse that has to be overcome, but as a lively, warm color that is allowed to tint our every action. One of the sentences we hear in the movie is “I would like to appropriate the things you like in my work”. Pain’s work starts from the unclear borders of our identity, which seem to open the world for us.
At the core of Pain’s work is the idea of an unclear identity or an “inquiétante étrangeté” as Freud coined it (a “disquieting strangeness” as the French translate the term “das Unheimliche”). He likes to create things that seem to be inappropriate: misfits or parasites. A lot of his work has to do with adaptation or grafting and a resulting metamorphosis. “You can compare it to the hero of Gombrowicz’ novel Ferdydurke,” he tells me, “who is treated as a child by the others and who tries to adapt to this uncomfortable situation.”
Pain thinks of his work as an interface that can change the meaning of an object or an action through the relationship with a space and the public.
In general his work has a humane, generous touch to it. It doesn’t try to convince in a hollow, intellectual, arrogant way, it spreads like an elastic exercise in doubt. It shows us a world of attempts, of failure, of missing elements, of things covered or wiped away.
One of the tools he uses to wipe away performances, sculptures or installations, is to turn them into paintings, flatly painted, reminding us of Magritte’s decision to make non painterly paintings, just images or reflections upon images. It still takes guts to make such paintings, but Pain enjoys making them.
Some of these paintings are in themselves characteristic for Pains continuous disappearing trick. They represent strangely stylized landscapes, which actually are copies of early renaissance (gothic) landscapes from which Pain has removed the characters. “This is a copy of a painting by Giotto,” he says, “but I removed Saint John the Baptist. I removed the story. Suddenly the landscape seemed to present itself as a theater set.”
Not surprisingly, Pain makes costumes. At first, he fabricated them with artificial human hair used in African hair shops to make extensions. They exist in every color. Later he discovered the huge world of the manufacturing of brushes. The amount of textures and colors used to make hair for brushes is almost unlimited. The material allows him to make objects with it that cannot spring from his mind or from drawings. They come into being as a result of handling the material. It is transformed into costumes, but we don’t forget it was intended to create brushes.
Odilon Pain: According to Giorgio Agamben, the true contemporary artist doesn’t capture the light, but the shadow. And it’s true: if you want to see something shiny, you have to focus somewhere else. In art, the vanishing point becomes the meeting point. In my paintings, things disappear. For instance, you can create volumes by leaving parts of the canvas unpainted. Or in this painting I have tried to imitate gold without using gold paint… I like the idea that Kepler wrote a fictional story about people living on the moon to transmit the difficult scientific idea that the earth had a spherical shape. Perhaps my paintings resemble such fiction.
After the last HISK show somebody wrote that the world was burning, but that the artists at the HISK didn’t seem to know. I wondered how I might say something about this burning world and I thought of Oldenburg’s hole. He had asked workers to dig a hole in Central Park, to take a lunch break and then to fill it again (Placid Civic Monument, an underground monument in Central Park in which the process of construction provided the meaning of the monument itself and which is considered to be an example of politics at play). I wondered whether there would grow grass on his hole today. So I made a painting of grass. Finally I wasn’t pleased with the painting and I gave it the shape of a piece of wooden board I found somewhere. It’s glued on the board and cut out according to the board’s contours.
I just came back from Genève, where I showed a sculpture, a painting and a wall painting. The painting shows a classic experiment with a pigeon that has to move a box to get to a banana. I like this experiment because it shows how the solution of a problem doesn’t spring from knowledge, but from a sudden insight. The wall painting is nearly invisible. At first it was a copy of a triangular painting by Barnett Newman. Then I covered it with white acrylic paint. (You don’t notice it, but it is mentioned on the exhibition plan.) My erased Newman speaks about space, sculpture and painting as did Newman’s paintings in his time. By erasing the painting, I show that the actual making of the copy was more important than the result. After having covered it with white paint (a decision I took in collaboration with the curators of the show, I allowed another artist to intervene. Erik van der Weijde added four photographs that showed the disappearance of elements like trees in cityscapes. I was very happy with this new layer. I like working with layers. Things can stay what they are, boring or nice: if you start to create links between them, they grow into something else. For instance, the addition of photographs showing the past of a city enhances the importance of time in the erased painting.”
Montagne de Miel, 3 October 2012