Interview of Michel Couturier by Yannick Gonzalez (Bureau des Compétences et des désirs, Marseille).
Your posters with the views of shopping centre car parks have recently been shown in Marseille, in the entrance of several underground car parks of the city centre. They are part of a global project. Can you tell us more about it?
Over the past few years I have taken interest in car parks and shopping centres. Maybe I wanted to question the uneasiness that I experience when I am in these places. Or rather, the feeling that in these sorts of places, certain questions are considered with more acuteness than elsewhere. Questions that are related to the individual with respect to space or also to the feeling of freedom, as if society, but especially our condition, our existence, revealed itself more clearly or in a more violent manner. To tackle these questions, I started a film project with these places as the film set. It was a working method used to determine what needed to be done and a way for me to appropriate the grounds. The result is a video, posters and postcards.
In Liege and Brussels, I worked on an exhibition, experimenting and developing the work, together with the 251 Nord association: we placed the posters in specific places chosen for their nature to be at once public and private spaces. Quickly, questions concerning the form and the space where to show the work arose. And they came up in different ways. Moreover, at one point the project was without a place: in Lille, there was the fear of a hypothetical lawsuit. Due to the photographs having been taken of car parks owned by proprietors reputed for their insensitivity to contemporary art, the organisers decided not to put up the posters. They were, nevertheless, shown as previously decided, in lit panels, in Brussels and will soon be shown in Charleroi.
There, you are describing a presentation in a public space of which we understand well the motif : the images that have become posters reinvest the places where they come from. But how did the idea to present them in administrative places come up? Does this modify their meaning or is it a pure and simple intrusion?
The shopping centres resemble streets, public spaces, but they are private places, a matter that is not immaterial (and not only when it concerns the freedom to take photographs). I wanted to question this notion of public space, and more precisely, the notion that we have in different types of spaces. In Liege and Brussels, I was not interested in the administrative nature of the places. I wanted places that were open to the public, where one does not work, where one does not consume, where one waits, one is bored and therefore available. At the same time, these places are also where one carries out actions that are to some importance concerning our personal life. The posters were, among other places, put up in municipal administrations where they deliver identity cards, residence permits, birth certificates and death certificates, as well as in mutual benefit insurance companies. Later a report was done on how the posters were received by the public.
Why multiply the places that you photograph (Lille, Brussels, Marseilles, etc…) if they are all identical, a priori?
In the first place, they are not really identical. But, more seriously, my aim is not to show that they are standardised and generic places, or still, to see them as “non-places” outside of every reference, cultural or other, at once indifferent and interchangeable (which is otherwise what they are). I see them as the decor and organisation of our daily existence, the ground on which our history unfolds, and that, whether we go there often or rarely, or whether the places we live in and work in resemble them or not. My intention is to question our existence, both individual and social, in these emblematic places, hence our relationship to a space/time I do this work by confronting texts to images through video work and photography. This is why it is important that it’s a matter of places that are not generic but particular, situated in a specific landscape, that one can recognise and appropriate.
The Serial Objects are voluntarily amusing objects, their vocation is to attract attention through a wink – or grimace (?) – at the art market. To this effect, your tokens are perfect! How can they be resituated in the global logic of your project, Peripheries?
I view the production of the tokens as a new extension of the work with the places and texts. It has the form of a 1 € coin and like it, the token travels at the bottom of our pockets. But, except when we are pushing our trolley, it does not have the exchange value in terms of merchandise. Like the posters, and the texts on these same posters, it is out of line in relation to the consumption system. The words swirl round the two sides of the token we can read them from one side or the other, and from the centre towards the circumference or vice versa. I think that it’s in an analogous movement that, from a distance, suddenly appear the texts on the posters. If the token resembles a coin, it has the particularity of “sticking” to the one who possesses it (we retrieve it when we put the trolley back); it is not intended to circulate that easily. Like the historical and mythological references that are suggested by the engraved words, we do not get rid of them just like that!
The texts that you choose to go with the photographs are excerpts of works by Cesare Pavese “Dialogues with Leuco” and “The Moon and the Bonfires”, in reference to the film by Straub and Huillet. What importance do you give to these references?
The film by Straub and Huillet was a starting point, and at the same time something to lean on, a pretence. It is not a question of homage, loyalty or compulsory reference. It is a matter of excerpts, sufficiently transformed, of the same text. I make use of it freely, like a stock of materials, quarry, legos or Scrabble pieces. This collage technique is millennial. But, until now, the game with this text and this film has allowed me to create a sort of temporal reduction. It is indeed a matter of, in this 21st century, making reference to a film from the 1970s that presents a text from 1950, written in the style of a version of classic Latin or Greek texts. Texts, that in their time, were adaptations of still more ancient legends. This superposing of epochs suggests something like a well in time. This allows me, in places where the decor and the practices seem to want to conceal them, to tackle the temporal thickness and the historical dimension.
In this way, you evoke a poetic dimension of everyday life: an image, a few words, a situation of solitude, of wandering…A “Peripheral” situation, so to speak, that we also want to term as political…
If it’s a question of solitude, it is because these places – much frequented – are not intended for relations with others but rather for relations with goods and to the always-frustrating desire that they arouse. If it’s a question of wandering, it would be a bit like ghosts that haunt their everyday life, a life lacking in certain potentialities, of its individual as well as social existence Thus, it’s a question of alienation This is what my work is about. Maybe this is where its political dimension is situated.
February 2003 translation: A. Bellavita