ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Nicolas Bourthoumieux - 2015 - Praise [EN, essay]
Some words about meeting Nicolas Bourthoumieux
For days I have postponed writing this collection of impressions because my visit to Bourthoumieux’s studio gripped me like a clenched fist. Firstly because of his photographs showing drug-using friends, reminding me of my own years lost to stupidity and my own friends lost. Secondly because of the slow but certain way he seems to have extracted himself from this hell, discovering the power of art. (I don’t know if he sees it that way, I’m just writing down what I felt.) In a strange way, this salvage seems to spring from the naked butts of girlfriends and other friends that have passed out on the floor. At some point Bourthoumieux (1985) seems to have discovered that one can also sculpt butts. In sculptures by a former assistant to Rodin, sculptures that are scattered about Bourthoumieux’s hometown, he must have found a way out of the material bodily world of drug abuse. Slowly a shining butt, surrounded by the night, must have turned into a loophole. (Suddenly we recognise our friends among the lying figures in ‘Le Radeau de la Méduse’.)
I stroll through Bourthoumieux’s studio and discover one work after another, all of them emerging out of a blackness, charged with sensuality, gasping for air. Two photographs form a diptych: on the left a black and white photograph of a dark animal’s lair in a white dune, on the right a tilted photograph of a white sculpture surrounded by dark bushes. I think the sculpture represents Amor leaning over Psyche. Tilted by 90 degrees, the sculpture reminds us of the female sex. It’s the origin. Here starts the world. Here starts a new life, dedicated to art. Another diptych shows a photograph of a broken sculpture on the left and on the right a slab of concrete, turned into a dark mirror by adding graphite. “It doesn’t reflect your face, but it reflects colours,” the artist remarks. From time to time we witness the birth of colour, for instance in a video showing a singer performing: the original image was so dark that it had to be brightened. The artist likes the resulting noise, but also the appearance of colour. A white ashtray in the shape of a hand shows a black palm, partly covered with ashes. “I had a friend who used his hand as an ashtray,” the artist adds. A black hood, made from what used to be a pair of trousers, contains only one opening for an eye… (“I read a book about the historic elephant man.”) Fragments from an unprepared canvas, sewn together, covered with chrome and tar, become powerful paintings. Their borders are covered with iron. The artist loves to weld. The studio contains two lamps, made out of cut and welded iron, but also two sculptures attached to the wall: big handles, visibly made from pieces cut out of an iron hand rail. Hand rails prevent us from falling, they help us to climb. Here, condensed, they become sexually charged. They seem to offer us something stable. They are shiny and black at the same time.
The artist now introduces me to nine looped videos he will show in the exhibition. The background on his desktop is black. The films were made with a small camera. Some have sound, others haven’t. I see an image of the singer in the dark, followed by an image of a tiger that repetitively laments (“Shot in Belgrade, on the same day the zoo’s director died.”). Both songs merge. Then I see the image of a pigeon caressing or attacking the eye of another pigeon. Somebody plays ‘Gloomy Sunday’ on a piano, with his foot. (“Suddenly the foot becomes monstrous.”) A crane resembling a dinosaur biting into a concrete building. A man holding a tripod, walking through a room filled with smoke. (“The tripod becomes a claw.”) A man killing a chicken with his bare hands. A leak, dripping. (“I like the word “fuite” (leak) because it seems to propel us, to bring us somewhere else.”) Reflecting sheets of coloured glass. A man rolling over the floor. Is he dancing or suffering? We don’t know. Together these nine short videos tell us everything and nothing. They speak about death, fear, tenderness, sculpting, sublimation and spirituality. The artist tells me he would like to sew the projection screens himself, using discarded pieces of cloth. I feel every detail will be taken care of. I’m curious about the sound. I wonder when the artist will find out that ‘Gloomy Sunday’ is actually a hopeful song.
“I grew up in the mountains,” he says. “Surrounded by mountains you feel you are nothing. It’s like you’re on a raft in the middle of the ocean. You can make art to decorate the world, but you can also try to evoke things that surpass us, things we cannot explain. I like music that becomes cosmic. Sometimes we feel there’s no place for us, but then we find hope in what surpasses us.”
Then I see more images of sculptures: potatoes covered with gold leaf, rotting inside, a concrete slab covering a mattress (and hiding two photographs of a friend who had an accident), a concrete slab on a chair of which one leg stands on an egg, a concrete block resting on the base of a rocking chair, a bicycle cut in two… The artist shows me the small camera he stole from his parents at the age of thirteen (“It has a wide angle.”). He shows me Dürer’s ‘Melancholy’. (“The rainbow cannot be explained. Art and science cannot help.”) We sit in silence. We think of Nan Goldin, Harmony Korine, Larry Clark and Dash Snow. We think of Nietzsche, Bukovski and Cioran. I remember my friends that are now gone. And I praise the lord for having created coffee.
Montagne de Miel, 16 August 2015