A SENTIMENTAL DIARY OF AN ENCOUNTER WITH the ARTIST JOËL ANDRIANOMEARISOA
Sentimental, the exhibition currently showing at Maison Revue Noire, contains a subtle linguistic dimension that also informed my conversation with the artist Joël Andrianomearisoa. In the work, the artist makes varied use of archives as well as of his own life story in order to create an inventory of his love affairs and of his life as a Parisian artist in an attempt to take stock of his thoughts and feelings. An analysis of act I was provided by Charlotte Okito in a previous article. During my conversation with Joël, we discussed act II of this work in progress. What follows are my reflections along with a few excerpts from our discussion.
Sentimental is a project staged in two acts. This type of theatricality resonates with the artist’s work because it provides a vocabulary and a metaphor that serve as a tool, or even a theoretical and aesthetic model, for the artist’s intentions: Sentimental is a work, but it’s also a project, a statement, a state of mind, a mood. I became immersed in this thing two years ago and since then I have been living with it, creating with and for it, and thinking with it. That is not to say that I’d never thought about this topic before. But I really wanted to make this reflection more explicit. So you have to consider the whole scope of this project. The term “project” is the most accurate. It is a project that has to be considered independently from the work, even if it encompasses individual works.
To answer your question about the acts, it’s like the book. The book is made up of works and images, but it also contains breaks. These breaks are interesting to me because that’s also where I find pleasure and meaning in my processes of questioning and production.
A mix of practices, an enthusiasm for a contemporary apparatus that at times marries characters and dramaturgy, allows for an overlapping of several ideas: I did not simply want to invite friends to exhibit their work in act II. There had to be interplay between the works to symbolize the sentimental ties that exist between us. I wanted the interaction to be fluid. That was important to me because I am not a curator, I remain an artist. I know how to create interaction, movement, a back and forth between my work and the work of another artist. We are not necessarily talking about dialogue here. It can also be a real confrontation. But whatever the case, these clashes and intersections were crucial.
In this project, Joël Andrianomearisoa also plays with the codes of Madagascan culture—not to claim an affiliation with an identity, but because these cultural codes are simply rooted in the consciousness of the Paris-based artist. He works with the codes of customs, such as the shrouds that symbolize the passage from this world to the beyond in traditional Madagascan funeral rites. Thus the pieces of cloth that replace the portraits of the young Adonises exhibited in act I become a symbol of their disappearance, the end of a love affair or of desire.
The shrouds derive from Madagascan tradition and culture. In the piece I undertake a re-reading of certain traditions.
In Madagascar, people are not buried in coffins, but directly in the ground, wrapped in a shroud. All those shapes are shapes that do exist. I didn’t make up this business with the cloth. It comes from traditions of sewing, of weaving. All I’m doing is reinterpreting these traditions.
In this immaculate white room, which almost seems as if it was intended to blind the visitors and have them forget all their fears, we encounter sculptures of white paper, meticulously assembled by the artist. This act of production also suggests that the artist is at work weaving each moment of his existence, no doubt hoping to find a purity of sentiment. This large sculpture made of white pieces of paper stands in total opposition to those presented at the entrance of the exhibition. From sadness to happiness, how is the trajectory of the exhibition constructed?
The first installation is a forest with real branches. We enter a sentimental forest, a garden, a meandering of feelings. There is complexity, always complexity; it is unclear what is happening in this forest. This room leads to the labyrinth of passions, a real labyrinth, totally black, made of textiles, where you move around between 50 m of cloth, a bit lost. It is a little like coming face to face with oneself. The second part is a room upstairs, which represents the search for sentimental perfection: everything is white, and gentle; this is the soft side.
In order to avoid any linearity in this tangled question of sentiment and emotion, the artist decided to create new temporalities in a rhythm that extends from a tribute to Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s work to granting a carte blanche to Elise Atangana, curator and only female element in this sentimental proposition. Why create new temporalities in this exhibition?
The presence of Rotimi in act II evokes the sentimental death of another era, but also the present. It is something that still speaks to us… Rotimi’s images are very beautiful, it must be said—especially Nothing for lose IV. Why was it not included in act I? I think it would have invited too much of a comparison with some of my images that are inspired by his work. My work, or even his, would have gone under. It would have been too obvious. Rotimi is somehow better placed in act II, which is more fragile, more mysterious, more evasive—he remains a pretty evasive character. I also hone in on the notion of the artist’s love story and the story of his work. That’s what I am most interested in. As far as the proximity between my work and Rotimi’s, all I can say is that I don’t know what would have happened if I had known him when he was still alive. I think that that is part of a beautiful mystery that ought to be preserved in the work.
Concluding in December with women is to pursue another trail independently of male/female sexuality. I think that female sentimentality is a very particular thing.
Joël’s installations are staged and adapted to the visitors’ wanderings. He brings together objects, actors and hand-constructed sets. The literal or psychic integration of the visitor in the apparatus, as well as the spatialization of aesthetic experiences, are a vital principle of his creative approach. It is up to the visitor to become aware of the methods of representation. Here we are wandering around a labyrinth of wall coverings, some of which are silky, some rough, reminding us of the different states that the feeling of being in love can generate when we are face to face with the one we love. In the course of this sensory experience, this dramatic staging of feelings using the different materials, also points to the way we, as individuals, carry out our relationships, whether they are with family, lovers, or friends. The idea is to keep the visitors moving so that they will continuously find new ways out: The 2nd act is writing and is more sense-oriented, to allow for a better understanding of the project in all its depth. At the same time, this exhibition is more sensory, less straightforward, with pieces that are more ethereal. My aim was to make Sentimental more fragile with this second act. To repose the question. It is important for me to reposition it in a more abstract sense, by means of shapes, words, trajectories that are also internal. This means making things more fragile, and it also explains my desire to provide room for certain people. It means that this is not a solo show anymore, but rather little discussions, little openings, mixtures.
Like a hybrid theater, or, at times, a theater of disenchantment, Joël Andrianomearisoa puts forward fictions that can be unpredictable and stages a polysemy of interpretation offered by the invited artists. This fusion of the scenic and the figural, like that of symbolic space and “real” space at work in this contemporary display, constitutes what Michel Foucault calls a “heterotopia.” Here we again find ourselves among the wall coverings after traversing the forest where the video boys I love you by the artist Rina Ralay-Ranaivo was projected, telling the story of his nocturnal wanderings through the mysterious, sometimes fantasized, streets of Antananarivo.
The invited artist Benjamin Sabatier offers us a map. In act II, his A bientôt j’espère reveals a desire to experience love and the hope for a possible return. But whose? His father’s, a friend’s, a lover’s, a visitor’s.
In view of his personal story, the artist chose to slip a tribute into the work by placing a family photo in a minimalist white room filled with serenity and the hope of connecting with the beloved. Honoring his father in this way evokes a sense of absence, of nostalgia, but also of therapy: why include this very personal family picture? The first boy is my father in a state of being in love, a very ambiguous state, the first sentimental relationship. I know that this picture of my father gives another dimension to the work, where one least expects me. The idea of emotion is here, and it’s an incontestable emotion… We are not in the act here but in a signature where all of a sudden I give something away. In a way, it’s also about death, with my father’s tiny portrait set up just here… It is a very particular relationship one has to a person who has died and whom one loved. That’s why I chose this image of my father. If my father had been alive, the sentimental relationship would not have been the same. But death adds another dimension. Nostalgia, absence. Desire when the person is absent is a very particular thing. Being sentimental in the absence of the person also interests me along the same lines.
These then are the stakes of the theatricality of this project, a project that is constantly finding new openings. Act II makes it a point to show pieces that resonate with people, including the ready-mades created by the artist. With the sentimental products, the artist emphasizes that this choice, more than being economical, reflects his desire to make these works accessible to everyone. Nevertheless, they will not be sold on a large scale.
Yves Chatap is an independent curator, art critic, and editor based in Paris. He founded vusdafrique.com, which focuses on contemporary African photography. Chatap’s research is on the artistic, social, and political context of images in the contemporary world. He curated the show Intimités at Treignac Projet, (France, 2011) and at SAVVY contemporary (Berlin, 2013), and Clichés (Off Dak’Art 2012). Chatap is also a founding member of the curators’ collective On The Roof and co-curated several projects such as SYNCHRONCITY (2011) and Cyclicités (2013).
SENTIMENTAL – JOËL ANDRIANOMEARISOA
Maison REVUE NOIRE, Paris
1st May – 31 December 2013
from Wednesday to Saturday – from 1pm to 7pm