Uprising Art is media partner of the first edition of the BIAC, Biennale Internationale d’Art Contemporain de Martinique, that takes place between November 22, 2013 and January 15, 2014 and which theme is « On the Resonance of the Literary Outcry in the Visual Arts ». For this need, Uprising travels to the Martinique from November 19 to 26 to report on the event and conduct a series of interviews of the organizing team, the invited curators, the artists in residency and the artists from the International and Martinican Pavilions.

Follow us to know more on the backstage of the event and its main outcomes.

BIAClogo

Exclusively an interview of
Jean-Ulrick Désert, Haitian-born, Berlin-based artist
A.I.R. and « Parcours In-Situ »

This is the first edition of the BIAC in Martinique, FWI. What is the importance of such an event?

I cannot make a judgment as to its particular importance other than to say that we are all aware of all the positive dialogues that have emerged from the fact that Havana has held an art biennale for decades and helps to foster multiple international dialogues along the lines of visual culture from the Caribbean and beyond. One could easily begin to imagine how a Caribbean circuit could be extremely beneficial for everyone. It is worth noting that Miami Basel takes place in early December addressing an art « marketplace » and that there is also a small biennale happening nearby in Port-au-Prince with counter market roots. I had been asked by the young curator David Frohnapfel who leads the Ghetto Biennale (an unfortunate name that elicits much chagrin for me) but I had already committed myself, with some passion, towards an engagement here in Martinique with curator Johanna Auguiac-Célénice and artist Hervé Beuze as part of her team. I had had a complicated experience in the spring of 2013 with one of Europe’s premiere Biennales and was enthused to have conversations with a team that were clear and concise and with a vision to make things happen while shielding artists and curators from the complexities of the bureaucracies such events must always contend with.

You are artist in residence for the biennial and created Amour, Colère, Folie on the Place Abbé Grégoire. Could you tell us more both about your project as well as about the workshop you conducted?

The director Johanna Auguiac-Célénice and I discussed various possible sites and her team was keen for me to consider the site Place Abbé Gregoire (known locally as Terre Saintville) facing l’église Saint Antoine, which they revealed was well known as a Haitian and Dominican neighborhood in Fort-de-France. My artwork borrows the title « Amour Colère Folie » (Love Anger Madness) from the late Haitian author Marie Chauvet’s great (censored) trilogy of the late 1960s during the dictatorial regime of president Francois Duvalier. We also considered the theatre Aimé Césaire (l’ancienne mairie) where this work would have a more political resonance given the overall content and intent of this artwork – but there grew issues of safety raised by the local officials charged with public safety given the size of my work which measures 9 meters in diameter. The element of Haiti remains none the less in the artwork’s title and the literary author who had strategized it as a symbolic « monument to resistance ».

Jean-Ulrick Désert, Etude pour Amour, Colère, Folie, 2013 © Jean-Ulrick Désert

Jean-Ulrick Désert, Etude pour Amour, Colère, Folie, 2013 © Jean-Ulrick Désert

I enjoy teaching and working with art students (I teach workshops in a PHD art program called Transart Institute) and had decided that the students should be able to contribute to the content of this new work- so aside from the coordination that will happen for the implementation of the work- it will encourage the students to find examples of resistance that add to the collective voice and wisdom of a people.

What was your experience working with the students from the Campus Caribéen des Arts?

I met several times, often briefly, with the students with the introduction of Hervé Beuze who is a teacher/professor there. My first brief presentation was done in their computer graphics studio where I gave them a link to the animation study/etude of the work which also included some of the flashcode link thematics. I later on several occasions spoke to small groups of students that came by the atelier where I was working painting, cutting, drilling all the various elements of the project. There was always enthusiasm on the simplicity of the form, the topics that emerge from the implications of barricades and the description of the content of the links such as hip-hop expressions surrounding chlordecone and France’s current minister of culture’s eloquent presentations on the floor of the assemble national. The students offered to return to help with painting and moving elements and so one, some voiced an excitement to add to the flash-code content (something which had been strategized as a welcomed possibility). Unfortunately, the volunteerism of the students did not materialize in a concrete manner during the fabrication or installation. I have instructed the team that adding additional flashcodes remains a welcomed addition which can easily be done locally by the BIAC team.

Did you integrate in your residency the theme of the BIAC – “On The Resonance Of The Literary Outcry In The Visual Arts”?

Yes, « resonance », « literary » and « outcry » are all critical points of entry into this new visual artwork. I was inspired by the journalist Audrey Pulvar’s eloquent use of words and statements by the poet Aimé Césaire in her formidable text against a perfume mogul:

« Nègre je suis, nègre je resterai

L’arabe menteur, l’arabe voleur, le chinois travailleur mais sale, le juif cupide, la française sexuellement libre, le latino chaud lapin, la négresse panthère, la négresse lascive, le nègre danseur, le nègre rieur, le nègre footballeur, le nègre paresseux… strike ! En cherchant un peu, on pourrait en trouver d’autres, des idées à fournir à monsieur Jean-Paul Guerlain pour son petit précis de clichés racistes. C’est donc celui du nègre fainéant, bon à rien, qu’il aura choisi de nous servir, dans un silence sidérant, sur le plateau du 13 heures de France 2 vendredi dernier.

« J’ai travaillé comme un nègre, je ne sais pas si les nègres ont toujours tellement travaillé, mais enfin… ». C’est la deuxième partie de la phrase, 13 mots, qui lui valent… quoi au juste ? On a bien cherché, on a bien attendu pendant tout le week-end, dans la bouche de tous ces responsables politiques, un début de condamnation, d’émoi, d’indignation. Seule Christine Lagarde a réagi. Pour les autres, on attend encore. En France, on peut donc prononcer des paroles racistes à une heure de grande écoute, sur un média national sans qu’aucune grande voix, politique, intellectuelle ou artistique ne s’en émeuve. Oh, les associations font leur job, qui menacent de porter plainte. Mais qui parle de racaille ? De scandale ? De honte ? D’obscénité ? De crachat ? Le crachat, que ce très distingué Monsieur Guerlain a jeté à la figure non pas seulement de tous les Noirs d’aujourd’hui, mais surtout, cher Monsieur Guerlain, sur la dépouille des millions de morts, à fond de cale, à fonds d’océan, déportés de leur terre natale vers le nouveau monde. Ces millions de personnes asservies, avilies, déshumanisées, pendant quatre siècles, réduites au rang de bras et de mains destinées aux champs de coton, aux champs de canne, à la morsure du fouet ou celle du molosse, tous ces esclaves, vendus comme une force de… travail ! Pas des hommes, non, ni des pères, ni des mères à qui l’on arrachait leurs enfants pour en faire d’autres bêtes de sommes, pas des humains, mais des outils, du matériel. Des marchandises.

Cher monsieur Guerlain, vous dont l’un des parfums suffisait, à lui seul, à rassurer l’enfant que j’étais quand sa mère s’absentait, vous dont le nom m’a accompagnée, de mère en fille, de sœur en sœur, aussi loin que remontent mes souvenirs et dont je ne pourrai plus, jamais, porter la moindre fragrance, moi négresse, je vous relis, je vous dédie ces quelques lignes, signées Aimé Césaire: « Vibre… vibre essence même de l’ombre, en aile en gosier, c’est à forces de périr, le mot nègre, sorti tout armé du hurlement d’une fleur vénéneuse, le mot nègre, tout pouacre de parasites… le mot nègre, tout plein de brigands qui rôdent, de mères qui crient, d’enfants qui pleurent, le mot nègre, un grésillement de chairs qui brûlent, âcre et de corne, le mot nègre, comme le soleil qui saigne de la griffe, sur le trottoir des nuages, le mot nègre, comme le dernier rire vêlé de l’innocence, entre les crocs du tigre, et comme le mot soleil est un claquement de balle, et comme le mot nuit, un taffetas qu’on déchire… le mot nègre, dru savez-vous, du tonnerre d’un été que s’arrogent des libertés incrédules ». Aimé Césaire qui, à l’insulte, répondit aussi un jour : « Eh bien le nègre, il t’emmerde! ». »

Jean-Ulrick Désert, Amour, Colère, Folie, 2013 © Jean-Ulrick Désert

Jean-Ulrick Désert, Amour, Colère, Folie, 2013 © Jean-Ulrick Désert

It is clear that the collective voices of resistance reinforce each other- whether it is struggles for marriage equality, as the French minister of justice Christiane Taubira has done so recently or the clear rhetorical precision and analysis of significant voices such as Frantz Fanon, an intellectual studied in great detail in post colonial studies around the world.

What is your feeling on collaborative pieces? Have you had the opportunity to create many?

Collaborative pieces are a delicate matter and there is no one manner to do collaborative works. Varieties of my works have been in some way collaborative- but at times, it is the audience that participates in completing the work. For example in my Negerhosen2000 series all the images are taken by strangers and are later incorporated in to the work itself as billboards or postcards etc. Another case in point are the Butterfly-fans in which many citizens of Havana may freely use their fans (an art multiple from the Goddess Projects) and participate in creating « the butterfly effect » of chaos theory. In this new work for BIAC, participation and collaboration was always at the heart of it- because collective wisdom and collective voices are at the center of this works intentions.

Lately, you worked with a choreographer in The Netherlands. Are you sensitive to the intermixing and decompartmentalization of disciplines?

Yes, this was a wonderful and challenging experience for me. I collaborated with Thomas Körtvélyessy- Reàl Dance Company based in Rotterdam Netherlands on his new work « pelleas material ». I have always and remain a lover of dance and thus it was possible for us to have a dialogue between dance, content and artistic precisions. Thomas who has worked with Elaine Summers and stems from a conceptual based practice invited the young dancer Gavin Viano Fabri who hails from yet a different dance tradition in the spirit of Alvin Ailey, which I am also familiar with. My function as a collaborator was to bridge these different voices while remaining married to my own beliefs in visual economy and conceptual experimentation within the framework of Debussy’s music, which I in fact struggled with. Struggle and confusion in collaboration can be good when the challenges are met by the collaborators. Disciplines have traditionally been mixed, this in my opinion is not new- what I do believe is new is the aspects of the content and the experimentations surrounding gender race and the traditional use of opera in high culture. Much remained unsaid and symbolic in this project- in some regards it is still a work in progress. We will collaborate again at the Emily Harvey Foundation in Venice Italy in May 2014. Thank you for asking, it has reunited me with my love affair for the body in movement through space.

Jean-Ulrick Désert, Amour, Colère, Folie, 2013 © Jean-Ulrick Désert

Jean-Ulrick Désert, Amour, Colère, Folie, 2013 © Jean-Ulrick Désert

Where would you say you are standing as to your artistic career?

That is perhaps a question best asked to a 101 selected friends and enemies. I am perhaps and will remain in a state of « emerging » for quite some time now- This is a good lace of open experimentation for any artist. My work baffles some people because it does not remain stylistically static or recognizable (though the best of analysts will explain why and how all my works are linked as one magnum opus). Today there are artist-rating services that literally rate all artists, against their will- there are a variety of mechanisms that reward artists who participate in a status quo system- I have avoided this as much as possible as I have always felt the work and its intent should be liberated from markets. My work, in general makes no overarching attempt to be what is typically understood as a luxury good- but it in fact is. My interests in the ordinary have always been to recognize the beauty that is often ignored or not seen. So let’s just call me « emerging » with the clear understanding that I believe this is a good place to be for a very long time, both the artist and his/her viewers will benefit from this.

How do the various media you are working with complete themselves? (performance, installation, sculpture).

This is a very difficult and challenging question and evolves organically with each project. The parameters of every project differ from content to intent, from budget to venue- these elements when brought together reveal how the various mediums may interact with each other. I am trained as an architect (Cooper Union, Columbia University in NY) and this, the issue of scale and space often concern me- even in a painting or a billboard. Performance has navigated itself in various manners in my work- I have slowly been extracting my own physical participation away and inculpating the viewer him/her-self as the performer. One may view the performative aspect of the AMOUR COLERE FOLIE artwork for BIAC as being the performances of an online community collective of strangers who share their voices, ideas, revelations and insights on sites platforms such as Youtube and Dailymotion. My sculpture is merely the poetic structure that weaves these voices together as a support mechanism.

Do you inscribe yourself in the discourse on Black Body Portraiture and Representation?

The world inscribes me within a discourse of black bodies and portraitures– and I reflect my own truths and curiosities in every domain of human representations. As we approach the Christmas holidays the controversies around Zwarte Piet are remerging again in the Netherlands, does my art action of hiring a white man to pretend to be me while I play his helper constitute an act of black body portraiture or representation– or rather a reinforcement of an unquestioned status quo? Are my projects on male prostitution about black bodies when a small percentage of these African men transform the fantasies white men have about black sexuality into a commodity? To me these are projects and portraits of power primarily and a status quo understanding of economies. I am born in a country that self inscribes itself in an identity of race dating back to 1804 and though it has at many historical moments been advantageous to do so- the real and most significant narrative we should be following and creating and reinventing are the narratives of power. Narratives beyond the fluctuations of race particularly in a region where Creole can easily mean fifty different things in today’s parlance.

What are your upcoming projects?

I am working on a variety of things at the moment and as I mentioned previously I will collaborate again with choreographer Thomas Körtvélyessy–Reàl Dance Company in Venice in the spring of 2014 at the Emily Harvey Foundation where he will be in residency. I am also working with the French curator Régine Cuzin on a project that she has kindly shown much enthusiasm for and that I have been developing since a long while– it will bring together a number of my interests in symbolism and visual as well as literary poetry and the intersection of cultures and relevance. I will let you develop your own inquiries around Régine Cuzin’s interesting curatorial practice with her directly as I know she has interacted with Uprising before. More locally in Martinique, I am collaborating with a former Berlin Gallerist Caryl Ivrisse of 14n61w.org who has relocated his space to Fort de France. We are working on a special series of « instruction manuals and accessories  » a project of Art–kits that involve the gallerist as well as the collectors’ participation in completing the art-works. I have chosen to create a series of works that will serve as a conceptual extension to my BIAC intervention and will be called « incidental museums ». In Berlin, I will be organizing a curatorial effort on a topic that should reflect the times we are currently experiencing globally and I am teaching workshops in a summer PHD art program called Transart Institute. I would love to initiate an art-book, such a project will require partners and funders that remain part of my studios research in 2014.

More about the artist (biography, exhibitions, biennales)

By Clelia Coussonnet

November 2013

Headline picture’s credits : Jean-Ulrick Désert © Astrid Baumgärtner