foreword by claude rutault new york - paris - hong kong interview with hans-ulrich obrist de-finitions/methods glossary index

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1 claude rutault

2 new york - paris - hong kong foreword by claude rutault interview with hans-ulrich obrist de-finitions/methods glossary index

3 foreword by claude rutault 1973 first canvas painted the same color as the wall on which it s hung. this moment marked a definitive rupture in my painting; there was no turning back. i m up against a wall. in order for the painting to be the same color as the wall, i must paint. in order for the wall and the canvas to maintain this relationship across time, they must, at some point or another, be repainted. either the canvas must be repainted the same color as the wall or the wall be repainted the same color as the canvas or both be repainted the same color. inscribed in a space, in space, this painting is also inscribed in time. it is no long subject to it; rather, time has become the engine of the work. we re beyond a painting, beyond an object, in an open work, without end. my paintings have short lives, but they have many of them. the painting is first written: that s the de-finition/method. it states, simply and clearly, the goal to be attained. a stretched canvas painted the same color as the wall on which it s hung. neither form, nor format, nor color are stipulated. these choices are left up to the person who actualizes the painting, which in turn, actualizes the text. this person is called the charge-taker. if no charge-taker comes forward, the work remains a text. over the years, other possibilities have emerged. the non-painted in if the wall is not painted, then neither is the canvas; it remains raw. in 1995, i decided to repaint all my works from before as everything was photographed and documented, it wasn t a matter of denying what i had done before; rather, it establishes a coherence by extending the idea of repainting across my entire oeuvre. and again in 1995, i saw the possibility of depainting my old canvases, taking them back as close as possible to the state of a non-painted canvas. and yet because there are always traces left behind, they are still clearly paintings. this possibility has only recently been executed. so today, there are four principle modes of the work: - the canvas non-painted*, the prerequisite for painting, a non-painted painting. - the canvas painted, prepared with white. - the canvas repainted, the same color as the wall. - the canvas depainted, taken it as far back to the non-painted canvas as possible without ever getting there. these modes respond to different ways of working and are linked through complex relationships. unless specified in the text, the dimensions of the paintings vary according to the locations and tastes of the charge-takers. each work is accompanied by a document drawn up between the charge-taker and the artist, which is called a description. it documents successive actualizations, i.e. all the different forms that the definition/method has taken. this document constitutes the history of the work, while it also guarantees the authenticity of the piece for the charge-taker. because the number of de-finitions/methods has increased since when dé-finitions/méthodes, le livre was published -, i have re-numbered them, listing them chronologically and thematically claude rutault * these 4 terms are described further in the glossary p.228 4

4 interview with hans-ulrich obrist Hans-Ulrich Obrist: I thought it would be good to start with the beginning because I ve seen lots of interviews that only start with , but there must have been things before that? How did the first epiphany happen? I thought it would be interesting to structure this around your epiphanies. When did you have the first epiphany about becoming an artist? claude rutault: becoming an artist? it goes way back! i must have been 15 or 16. it s a tricky question. i really started painting when i went to university. i studied law and political science; in those days, you did both at the same time. that s mainly when i started to study painting. i spent my time experimenting with painting, with all kinds of techniques, and i went to the movies a lot. before bordeaux, i was in nantes, from 1960 to there was a small gallery there, galerie argos, but most of all there was the museum, which showed a number of abstract artists. in bordeaux i started a string of experiments in different areas. i didn t know many people in the art world. i had met a painter from michel ragon s group at a friend s house. he was an abstract artist who introduced me to other artists from the arnaud gallery on boulevard saint germain in paris, which published the journal cimaise. at the time i was reading journals like arts, reviews like l œil, catalogues whatever i could find. Who were the artists? people like luis feito, john-franklin koenig, gérard schneider and the one who attracted my attention most, and whom i met several times: martin barré. It was Art Informel? it was more abstract painting, like abstract landscapes, or gestural painting, like schneider s. there was a little geometry too. i met françois morellet, for example. we always got along well, but i never joined that movement of closed, formal systems. Yes, I wondered whether Morellet was a hero of yours because very early on, almost as far back as the 50s, he started to define, not de-finitions/methods exactly, but rules, in a way. back when i knew him he was mainly the creator and a member of groupe de recherche d art visuel, which also included julio le parc, carlos cruz-diez, yvaral, vassarely s son but i ve never done any truly geometrical painting. in 68 i moved onto vaguely figurative painting, which i thought was critical In terms of protest and figuration there is Gérard Fromanger in France yes, i knew fromanger well actually, we met in 1968 in a rather funny place! but i soon started to write texts against political figuration and move on to other topics, like sports, for example, before then settling on the marelle games (hopscotch). Often with artists there comes a moment: the catalogue raisonné moment. What would you put as number 1 in a catalogue raisonné? it would be the photograph of an abstract painting on the left-hand page and on the right-hand page, the same painting repainted the same colour as the wall. i was interested in hopscotch because there s 6

5 no real invention to it: it s a very widespread game. the idea was to create a parallel between the space of the game and the space of painting, or drawing, rather. in a hopscotch, the inside and the outside are identical. the game is drawn directly on the pavement. i saw one just this afternoon on a pavement nearby; it s always the same form, the same words, but with inevitable differences depending on who drew it. it has to be redrawn nearly every time you play. so you have the issue of a drawing, repetition, and words. the hopscotches can be very different. in the first ones i did in 1971 and 1972, the last square was a small canvas of blue sky with clouds, placed perpendicular to the wall because the sky is the last square in the game. they were composed of very thick paper rectangles, topped by this small canvas. they measured 3 to 4 meters. the hopscotch theme kept me busy for three years. i created a whole program by reading up on the game a lot. so when i did the first canvas the same color as the wall in 1973, [at the atelier] at rue clavel, i kept working on a whole series of hopscotches that were in the pipeline but unfinished. the reason i finished them is because i looked at that canvas the same color as the wall and said to myself: what am i going to do with that? i was very pleased with it, but at the same time i spent months just thinking and looking. there were three canvases the same color as the wall in the house: a grey one in the kitchen, a sienna one in the upstairs bedroom, and a pink one in achille s bedroom. so the hopscotches kept me busy for a while. That s fascinating because there were 150 hopscotches - or more. I think we can refer to Deleuze here and talk about repetition and difference yes, absolutely. at the same time, repetition is part of the game itself. after a rainstorm, every hopscotch drawing on a given pavement is a repetition that follows a basic principle, different and the same. it s a universal game; it was seen in china in ancient times, and in certain regions of africa, where it was used to designate the tribal chief. most of all, it s a progression from the checkerboard, and many other games are just a variation. i went on to make the link with the de-finitions/methods, like checkers or battleships, in which the form of the painting results from the game. in checkers, the canvases are arranged according to the position of the counters in the last move of the game. a hopscotch game plays on repetition and difference - differences and indifference - to quote the title of other de-finitions/ methods. in the game of checkers, each player pays to enter. one wins the work, the other makes do with the fun of having played. Since you worked on the hopscotches for many years, I was wondering Raymond Hains always told me that back in those days, in the 60s, there was a kind of spirit of personified abstraction; are the hopscotches your personified abstraction? they gradually became so, yes. the hopscotch pieces progressively became paintings in which the hopscotch was less apparent - the painting took over. almost always the same format. 100 cm x 170 cm, using a very thick sheet of bristol board, which was easy to cut. some papers were cut up, then reassembled in a non-orthogonal shape. i was still using grey exclusively. this long series ended very early in i had already started developing my work on canvases the same color as the wall. the problem with these hopscotches was understanding how i got there, explaining to myself how i could link the interior/exterior relationship in the hopscotch drawing with what the canvas the same color as the wall was saying. at this point in the new discovery, i didn t go any further. So there wasn t necessarily a break. It was already in the offing no, i do think there was a break, because the canvas painted the same color as the wall radically changes the way painting is produced. the shock was violent, so i didn t instantly grasp what it was that had already been suggested in the hopscotches. i am still thinking about this moment in my work. There s something else I find interesting that we haven t talked about yet. Because BMPT had been around a few years before that i didn t know them well. there were two terrorist groups in paris at the time, support/surface and bmpt. I always kept my distance from both. i soon became friends with niele toroni. i still am. i remember niele saying something strange: don t do what i did; don t lock yourself into a system. i ll talk about it one day. as for buren, [he told me]: with the canvases the same color as the wall and all the white walls all over the place, you ve got yourself in a tight corner. what followed did not confirm his prediction. Something happened in It was the next epiphany, so to speak. I m really interested in it because it took place in the kitchen Because my first show as a curator took place with an exhibition in a kitchen in 1991; it was called World Soup. And going back 18 years earlier, in 1973, you had your epiphany at 11 Rue Clavel in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. I wondered if you could tell us about the day the invention came to you, if you remember it yes, i remember it well. i couldn t tell you the exact date. it was in a new house we had moved to. i was hurrying to repaint the kitchen because we were expecting the birth of my son a few days later, so the paint had to be dry! so i worked fast, and i remember that some time around noon, i realized there were two small canvases in the room, 20 cm x 20 cm. i hadn t cleaned my paint roller, and i painted one of the canvases just like that, a bit by chance, without any forethought, really. after lunch i hung it on the wall. in retrospect, i say to myself: if someone had called me or dropped round at that moment, i might never have thought of painting that canvas the same color as the wall! at the end of the day, i m the only support-surface painter. it took quite a while for me to take it in, understand, and keep going. and i never suspected that this canvas would spark such developments. the next year i started exploring the formal relations between the canvas and the wall, but other preoccupations wriggled their way in. for example, format limite 3 in 1974 was meant to belong to two different people who had alternate use of the work. Did you immediately realize that you wanted to make this experience in your kitchen visible and public? Your first exhibition was in 1974, at a psychiatrist s. Can you tell us about that? a friend of mine recently repainted the apartment of another friend, the lacanian analyst jean clavreul. she paid a lot of attention to the paint, choosing a red ochre for the walls of a huge room on the ground floor in order to highlight jean clavreul s collection of african objects. i told him i would be really interested in showing canvases painted the same color as the walls of this room. he agreed immediately, even though he knew little about contemporary art. i remember i made four square canvases in different dimensions. there were african objects in the room, masks, a post from a dogon hut. he asked me if i wanted the objects to be removed. absolutely not, i told him. on the contrary, i felt their presence had an extra appeal. the exhibition faced a painting executed for the space with objects that had lost their original function. the presence of my paintings heightened the exotic nature of the collection. this first experience proved to be very useful later. i think that s when i understood that i couldn t go back. another positive aspect was that i had sent out around 100 invitations, and 70 people came. I was wondering who your influences were at the time? When you did this experiment in 1973, did you have references? the references came later. i was a provincial guy, most of what i knew about painting came from journals. there s no point kidding myself: i was somewhat behind in relation to my parisian colleagues i had ellsworth kelly s albums, several skira albums. i felt very distant from american painting, even though it had made a great impression on me. it was the hours i spent working on my painting in the garden of rue clavel that prompted me to study the work of certain artists. work like frank stella s, the series of black stripes, the equivalents of carl andre, ad reinhardt but it was the experiments of people such as kazimir malevich that fascinated me most, the black quadrilateral, but just as equally the texts; al- 8

6 exander rodchenko, the three monochromes in 1921, red, yellow, blue i was interested in people who made radical gestures at one point, who pushed things to the edge. rodchenko and his three monochromes; he stopped in 1921 and started again in 1927 with paintings i consider catastrophic! malevich had pretty much the same path. and pollock, with his return to figures. these paths gave me food for thought. i told myself to be careful not to fall into this renouncement, maybe. once i finished the hopscotches, i did nothing but roll out canvases the same color as the wall, unravel the threads of my initial choices. So painting is a daily practice? yes, it s a daily occurrence. i write or rewrite my painting every day. i make progress in painting by writing. by reading and writing, julien gracq used to say. i write painting through the de-finitions/ methods. i also sometimes set off down byways, the kid going grey, following, distances This is the paradox that I find very interesting, because in interviews and all the literature, you re often referred to as one of the main French conceptual artists. And at the same time, you say you are a painter. yes, and it s funny, because right now i m working on a response to matisse. i m keeping close to the works in the book album verve, adopting an uncompromising pictorial position and simultaneously composing a text compiled from things he said about his profession as a painter, in which he stands in complete opposition to the literary, intellectual side of an artist and says that the only thing he wants to transmit is the feeling. this is indeed not my line of thinking. yet this book will be an album of paintings. i will paint five double-spreads in each copy. i realized that the only way i progress in my work as a painter is by writing, and when my painting provokes writing. i have to do it i couldn t do it any other way, and similarly, i always read with a pencil. i have loads of notebooks filled with texts that i can read over and write again. i have always advised my students to read as many artists texts as possible - and not necessarily the artists they prefer. At what point did the idea of instructions appear, around 1973? it came almost immediately, by the actual definition of the process of updating each work. i think it led me quite naturally in 1995 to repainting all my paintings dated before a big job. So the instructions for the first piece in 1973 came retrospectively? You had the epiphany in the kitchen, but the next one led you to the idea of instructions. it came during my first exhibition, in 1974, which confirmed the choice made the year before. because when i started out on this path in march 1973, this canvas could easily have been considered a monochrome in a pictorial genre that was already very cluttered. it was a grey canvas on a grey wall. the break we were discussing earlier only happened once i made this statement: a canvas stretched on stretchers, painted the same color as the wall on which it s hung. it was doubtless written after the exhibition in 1975 at the pompidou centre. from then on, it was no longer a matter of a monochrome; my entire work rests on that sentence. i had no idea where that sentence would take me, that it would keep me busy all this time, even today. at the same time, unlike many artists of my generation, i think i was saved by the fact that there was no fixed structure to rigidify the painting. it all started over again every time, with each update. this strikes me as a key difference because a choice like this produces an unpredictable work with no end. It also means there that whoever conducts it has a responsibility. obviously; that s why i don t talk about collectors any more but charge-takers, the people who take charge of the work. for me the charge-taker is someone who takes part in the painting. without a charge-taker, my painting remains a text. my goal is to have a painting actualized in order to gauge what is still possible in painting. you can compare it to a musical score, on the condition that it isn t closed, a participation that goes beyond mere differences in interpretation. And there s even a chance that it will survive longer than any other painting that s the idea of a never-ending painting. 300 years from now, you ll be able to repaint a canvas the same color as the wall, and it will still be the original. i went for the medium that is most commonly used these day, which is still the canvas stretched on stretchers the novelty is elsewhere. people may say that painting is dead, but when you go to museums, art fairs, and galleries you still see a lot of paintings. it s not all you see, but there are still a lot of paintings. and if you look at the works that cost the most, they re usually paintings. One of the exceptions is the work of Félix Gonzalez-Torres. but that s what bernard blistène said to me one day: you should have died earlier after all. he was thinking of the artists who die young. a romantic vision of art! So back to the notion of the history of the temporality of the work. Because time, you say, is a big word, but there are two distinct yet interdependent ways to envisage duration in my painting. First, actualizing, i.e., when a charge-taker carries out the text of the de-finition/method, he or she determines the place, the form, the format, the color, and the arrangement according to the text, which means they get a lot of freedom. (...) Two actualizations of the same de-finition/method executed by two different people in two different places at the same time can appear very different. This freedom appeals to charge-takers because they know that any actualization is limited in duration. If they want to modify their actualizations, they can do so at any time. (...) The second way to envisage the life of a de-finition/method is to underscore the unlimited quality of actualizations. The work s life is limitless. * Could you tell us about these two temporalities? the text of the de-finition/method is a set of instructions to execute a painting. its particularity is that it s incomplete. the person who actualizes the work has choices to make: always the color and generally the dimensions, the number of canvases, and the hanging. this is how the text exists. it is designed to keep me at a distance from the work. this is risky painting. i will have surprises, good or bad, but the work s evolution, survival, and actuality come at this price. the way i see it, thanks to the text, the work is not subjected to time; time drives the work. the work will exist in the long term. the painting is always yet to come, the actualization is just a moment - often very brief. the painting continues from one actualization to the next, one intermission to the next. the totality of the work exists at every moment. as soon as one actualization is shown, we wait for the next. because we know that just as time condemns it, it also means it can come back. there isn t one work left from the first ten years that is still in its original state, they have been repainted or exist in other formats. the charge-taker will have changed the format, the number of canvases, the hanging and, of course, the color. as a result, i have never seen over half of my paintings. this distance, which comes from the nature of the text and alters my relationship to my own work, appeals to me. Not even in a photo? no, not for most of them, not even in a photo. when i m asked or given the occasion to see them, i m delighted to discover them. there s no refusal or dogmatic stance. and life goes on. i always say that it s only ever a light anticipation, for this painting is closely related to death, but perhaps even more so to life. Can you talk more about that? About death for each de-finition/method, there is a succession of appearances, interspersed by eclipses. there is night and there is day, which now become one. a sudden death, then a painting again, different and the same. i wrote in 1994 a little book called my paintings are short-lived, but have many lives. it is indeed about time s stating a duration whose limit can t be imagined. a painting that dispenses with 10 * Excerpt from the interview with Marie-Hélène Breuil in claude rutault, éditions Flammarion, Paris. 2010

7 any need to be restored. read de-finition/method #14 from 1974, a touch of paint, a touch of youth. i m not worried about my work, i hope that something will be left of it. i named an exhibition at catherine issert s gallery behave as if i was dead. if i was painting paintings today, then yes, i d be worried. Poetry has travelled a lot through time. But there s music too, with its scores and instructions. The entire repertory of Diaghilev s Ballets Russes is being replayed, for exampled. The Ballets Russes had a short lifespan of only decades, but a hundred years later, its work is as present as any other. Or as Ionesco once told me - I met Ionesco when I was 17, in Switzerland. This great writer wanted to draw, that s all he wanted to do. And he said to me: You need to understand that I m here in Saint Galle, but I m in Paris every evening because The Bald Soprano has been performed for the past 50 years. You understand it s more durable than bronze. i insist on this: i m interested in art that lasts, the artist s path. for art to survive, it has to have a temporary aspect. for painting to live, paintings must die. this is a condition, not a contradiction. a painting that can renew itself in the long term, and even follow fashions! over the past few years, several chargetakers have chosen yellow, and not just for practical reasons. yellow is two coats, blue is at least four. there s a lot less white than in the first years, color has taken over. very few charge-takers leave their work white. at some point they opt for another color. it s obvious however that very few make the most of the freedom the de-finition/method gives them. again, time will come into play, and is already doing so for some of them. i recall something paul maenz said during an exhibition at his gallery in cologne. i had installed the de-finition/method between us and the eiffel tower, which involves hanging a vertical canvas painted the same color as the wall at each end of the wall. the work includes not just the two paintings but everything that appears on or is hung on the wall, the furniture i told paul he could add any elements he chose: i m a gallery owner, you re the artist. i like being surprised by my own painting. i don t need to follow my works step by step. i know some things won t be respected. that s interesting too. the text remains: a fixed point, a platform from which anyone can work, 360, a text which I myself go back to often the charge-taker needs to consider the proposal for what it is, i.e., to make it his or her own. my painting is designed to elude its author. So we could say this de-finitions/methods book is something very important, like a catalogue raisonné the de-finitions/methods book contains all my work for the period It s not a catalogue raisonné in the normal sense because each text includes the possibility of executing far more works than an initial reading suggests. it is a book to be re-read. i see new possibilities every time i re-read one of the texts. it is an open book. it does not contain everything about how the work functions, however. the description, for example; it s more than a mere contract; it is part of the work. the description serves to authenticate the work, of course, but it does much more as well. the elements of each actualization will feature in it, including the address, the type of space, the dimensions of the walls and the canvas(es), plus a sample of the color of the walls. but no photos. photos would risk locking the work into a definitive shape. the painting can be photographed, of course, but the description will not feature any photographs that could serve as a model. the description of the actualization is made by the charge-taker. there are two copies, which the two parties sign. the main function of this description is to record the work s history. obviously, the more actualizations the description features, the more weight the work has. So we could say that it s the catalogue raisonné since And the catalogue raisonné of your prior work is a book that will be published one day it will indeed be a tome that will list all my works prior to 1973 that have been repainted. there are 400 to 500 works, mainly on paper, but also a number of canvases. all the canvases have been repainted, except for some destined to be depainted. actually, even the repainted ones can still be depainted. there are a few un-repainted hopscotches left because one day i might confront them with the first de-finitions/methods. but this is still a hypothesis for now. repainting cannot be reverted. and there are some 40 works dating before 1973 out in the world somewhere! some have not been located. for others, very few people are willing to let me repaint them. i have offered them a canvas the same color as the wall in exchange. now i m waiting. So the catalogue raisonné for the period prior to 1973 would be all the hopscotches and all the depainted or repainted paintings. And when did the idea for depainting occur? i very logically realized that the sentence a canvas stretched on stretchers implies that it would have to be repainted at some point. in fact, today there are more to be repainted than painted. repainting has become the primary element in the work. which is why the revised book will no doubt start with the de-finition/method repainting, finalized in 1995 but present in collection 5 in depainting comes from the non-painted. i used non-painted after being asked the question: what do you do if the wall is not painted? the answer was: i don t paint the canvas either. so we have a non-painted canvas on a non-painted wall. the wall can be brick, stone, wood paneled, whatever though the wall and the canvas will no longer be the same color, they share an absence of paint. depainting: the idea is to take paintings that have been painted back to their primal state. not just erase the image, but remove all the paint to go back to the start, the un-primed, non-painted canvas. to subtract. i had a few done by a professional restorer, (she found it very bizarre to be destroying a painting). the result is quite surprising, because we can see that the painting has been painted and then depainted. traces and shadows remain. it s impossible to confuse the non-painted with depainted. i have to confront the two together very soon. today there are four terms which can be used to explore my painting: painted, non-painted, repainted, and depainted. So it s all there. It means you could have more than the de-finitions/methods book featuring 500 works; you could also have another catalogue with all these repainted and depainted paintings. Plus the 40 canvases that you haven t managed to get back all the pre-1973 paintings were photographed before being repainted. the photos are available. so i am not disowning what i did; i m just trying to ensure that there won t be any finished works, locked in a moment on my journey as a painter, beyond myself. There are different books that haven t been done yes, it s one more thing, a lot of work. the archives of that part are all at the mamco in geneva. And did repainting and depainting happen in the same year? no, not at all. i started working seriously on repainting in the early 1990s. it took me a while to actually do it. it s no mean task to set about repainting 20 years of work when you know there s no going back on it afterwards. today i regret all the paintings that got lost or destroyed when i moved house or didn t take care of them properly. you could say i no longer have a fixed corpus, in a way, but at the same time i have a mountain of works that are still alive, and i m not talking in images. my works are permanently yet to come. i have 1,500 or 2,000 canvases at my studio. they re my working capital. they re canvases but not (yet) works. taken as a whole, this stock is transit, which has been active since 1983: either canvases that come back from exhibitions, material that has been prepared but not yet used, or canvases found at flea markets that have been restored or are waiting to be repainted. i have made the decision to repaint the works that come back from exhibitions white, ready to set off on new adventures. i want the repainted canvases and papers to revert to the de-finitions/methods. these old paintings are reintroduced into the cycle of paintings to come. Going forward a little, there s another point I m interested in from 1975 Marie-Hélène Breuil (a 12

8 researcher) spent a lot of time working with you. But her interview jumps from 1973 to 1980, for example. And I think it s interesting to proceed chronologically, to follow your epiphanies step by step, as it were. It makes it easier to understand how you got to these de-finitions/methods. Your notebooks from 1975 show that they were called constructions ; they weren t yet called de-finitions/ methods. in late 1973 i started exploring a number of simple possibilities: one canvas one wall, the series dependence and independence limits, the format limits, and a touch of paint, a touch of youth series; i quickly wrote specific instructions, even though these texts didn t have the de-finition/method title yet. i let marie-hélène find all that in my archives. for my first show, organized by jean hubert martin at pompidou centre in 1975, which had a large canvas matching matisse s the king s sadness in the hall, the invitation did not feature the term de-finition/method. the actual term appeared a little bit later, in There s a very interesting aspect of this conversation with Marie-Hélène Breuil, when you say that these 108 little texts sparked the de-finition/method formula. Can you tell us about these 108 little texts? they are the first de-finitions/methods from 1973 to 1979, published in when i was composing the book, i realized that it was mainly a formal exploration of the relationship between the wall and the canvas. that was the start, even though i was in new york in 1978 and wrote the suicide-paintings, whose form evolved every year. In fact, the exhibition at Galerie Perrotin in 2011 was called exhibition-suicide, in reference to that text. So it all happened in New York: do you remember that day? it was on park avenue, in a tiny room that some friends had let me use because i didn t have an apartment at the time. and one day i wrote the six or seven texts, very quickly. initially there were several forms. take the rectangle: the first year, the rectangle is whole, the second year, the rectangle is divided by a diagonal, and you take half away, the third year you take away half of the remaining triangle, etc. for 10 years. you take away half, and the price is doubled every year. if the canvas is purchased or if the artist dies, the formal evolution stops, but the canvas will remain the same color as the wall. if the painting is not taken in charge by a charge-taker once the 10 years are up, it no longer exists. only the text remains. So it s the opposite of the idea that a gallery calculates the price of the paintings i ve always enjoyed playing these little games. it was a very successful series. i was asked to make new ones several times. but there were only ever eight. the series is over. And why does it take place over nine years? i varied the length of time. for the circle, for example, i decided on six years. it s like the principle of cutting a cake. i realized that in work, loss and gain go together. it s hard to distance yourself from the painting. if it s good, you re reluctant to repaint it, but that s life. it doesn t matter if an actualization is catastrophic or simply shoddy, it s always only temporary. What were some of the catastrophes? the colors or the arrangement, the fact that the actualization was simply literal, or repetitive. i know, that s part of the game. I ve been very interested in the instructions. The idea of the art of instructions was a key part in the Fluxus movement, for example. John Cage talks about the open scores that Fluxus then embraced. Then there was Yoko Ono with the visionary Grapefruit Book, published in I wanted to know if you feel you re working along the same lines as Cage. i have real admiration for john cage. my students have often pointed out my kinship with john cage! notably dominique pasqualini, who was one of the founders of information fiction publicité (ifp). he has very good judgment. i believe he has moved away from the strictly artistic sphere, which i m sorry about. So music played a role for you? of course, i m interested in its abstractness. there is a kind of absolute in music, an abstraction i find fascinating. there s also the whole idea of interpretation, which you find with cage s use of open scores and chance. i m looking for the most open work possible. for example, i have always said that i never choose the color, among other things, and today i go far beyond that. So you don t have a favorite color? no. and even if i did, i wouldn t tell you! i go by the principle that people live with these works. and since they have a choice, it s normal that they should choose a color they like. i m not denying the pleasure of the painting - that s very important to me. it s a good way for people to project themselves into the work. And chance too? the first chance element is meeting the charge-taker, but it s also meeting the place. i take places as they are; i rarely choose them. each place has its own constraints, which you have to play with. galerie perrotin, for example, has five rooms with the same dimensions and form. that can be seen as a chance element or a constraint. i think that constraints are one of the key conditions for performing an actualization. constraints make you rethink the text. they can make the work evolve and create the unexpected, even though most of the de-finitions/methods are general enough to fit into any space. these spaces force you to think about the actualizations in different ways. it s actually about exploring chance. Yes. As you say, you are a painter yes. who could seriously say i m not? they could say that i write which is true, but i write paintings. Another thing that interests me in your writing and instructions is delegation. In the past few years there has been a lot of talk of performance and delegation in art again. I m very curious to ask if you could talk to us about this definition of the principle of delegation. Because in another interview with the Journal des Arts, you say that it doesn t actually mean you re renouncing your responsibility. You feel very responsible. It s responsible delegation. delegation can only exist in relation to the painting s text or past history. anyone who wants to actualize a text will generally know a number of my works and actualize the work in relation to what they have already seen or read. as long as they respect the text, i can only agree. there are actualized works out there that i haven t seen and won t check. i let the collector execute the work the way he or she understands it. i can keep track of it anyway through the updates of the description. i can always ask to see it. what i m saying is that if i made a mistake in the writing, and the collector steps into a breach that could contradict my vision of the painting, it s my fault. but as long as the actualization materializes a possibility in the text, i have no comment. A year or two after the suicide-paintings epiphany, you had another epiphany, in which this notion of definition suddenly struck you as suspect because you say it is stable and definitive. The word definition has a very definitive side to it. And all things considered, you prefer the short form: d/m. since then, i ve found a solution. it took me a long time to write definition as de-finition. to take this change literally, the hyphen after de- eliminates or at least lessens finition, i.e., the definitive, frozen authoritarian nature of the word, which doesn t suit my work. it goes back to the idea of openness. the word had been bothering me for a while, as demonstrated in volume 2 of the second edition of the de-finitions/methods (1985), where i kept both words but crossed out definitions. i m no fool, i know what an artist is, but i try to be the least authoritarian possible, or let s say i try to share my authority 14

9 with the charge-taker. You re also very interested in Seurat. I saw a Seurat exhibition at the Musée d Orsay. What links you to Seurat? apart from his drawings, i m interested in his attempt to use michel-eugène chevreul s formalisation of simultaneous color contrast. it s a questionable or even naïve attempt, but it has a flexible application that appeals to me. is a certain form of naivety necessarily a weakness? there s another of seurat s ideas that appeals to me too: painting the frame the color that s complementary to the one right next to it in the painting itself. i can obviously relate to an attempt to continue the painting beyond the canvas. in reality, seurat was merely enlarging the painting robert relaunay did the same thing in the windows series. after that, i used small canvases in different shapes but similar formats, painted the same color as the wall, to draw a rectangle with the exact measurements of the painting a sunday afternoon on the island of la grande jatte. an incomplete frame, with many things missing. we move visually from the interior to the exterior of the absent painting, echoing the hopscotches that we have already discussed. So Seurat is one of your masters. But there are others: Poussin, Vermeer, Géricault, Matisse, whom you ve mentioned, Mondrian, Rodchenko, and Reinhardt as well. And you say it s linked to Thomas Bernhard too. here s what i can say: when you want to carry on painting, it s best to know what you re talking about. And you have a special interest in Vermeer, don t you? to me one of the most beautiful paintings in the world is vermeer s the art of painting. i had a chance to spend several days in vienna, preparing an exhibition at the secession. i went to the museum every day, just like reger in thomas bernhard s old masters, not to the bordone room to see tintoretto s white-bearded man, but a few rooms further along to see vermeer s painting. i also have a de-finition/ method on the theme of the studio and vermeer. the title of the book backgrounds refers to a painting by gerhard richter. in the de-finition/method flat painting, instead of painting a landscape, i put two sawhorses in front of a landscape and place a raw canvas flat on top of them. the canvas leads the viewer s gaze to the landscape. there s no need to paint. And it s linked to Richter s landscape? yes, because richter painted a flat landscape like this around here, near chinon, and here we are in oiron, so very near. it also refers to caspar friedrich s work, with paul-hervé parsy playing the part of the character looking into the distance. And the link to Richter is interesting because Thomas Bernhard is one of Richter s favorite writers. Is he one of yours too? he s not my favorite, but he s one of the writers i re-read, like karl kraus before him, another austrian. Talking of writing and literature, I wanted to know a bit more on this topic because there are lots of links with writers. In fact, we could do an interview on this whole aspect one day But there s notably also this idea of stretching a sentence out over 1,000 pages with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. to simplify, let s say it s the blanchot generation. there s also a much less well-known writer called roger laporte, whom i admire greatly. his work on biography is irreplaceable. all these people have supported my work. i haven t worked with them, but reading their texts has often comforted me. plus some of beckett s texts, such as worstward ho. And which Laporte texts? two little books in particular, moriendo, a biography that brings writing and living as close together as can be and always picks up its previous discussion under titles such as continued, continuing, and codicil until one day you stop writing. the second is letter to nobody, the follow-up to moriendo. in it, laporte writes that he wants to get it done before the biography degenerates into dismal prattle. how not to ask yourself this question when you re an artist? So you ve been inspired by writers. But you haven t necessarily worked with them. You did a collaboration with Tanguy Viel. It s very interesting because Tanguy Viel wrote a manual to writing a novel yes, i didn t know it. i heard about the book once it was done. the mac/val had started a small collection along those lines. i don t know if it s still going on. So he did the literary equivalent of a de-finition/method? i don t think it s a literary equivalent i ll have to read it again. i wrote him a reply that I never sent. we met at the mac/val for a discussion. it seemed to me we had hardly any interests in common. Have you worked with any other writers? no. it s mostly that generation certain nouveau roman authors, like robert pinget, someone, the plough, the harness ; i often re-read philosophical texts, past or present. yet i m wary of philosophical discourse on art. martin heidegger s book off the beaten track was very important for me, not for the first text, the origin of the work of art, but for why poets? or the analysis of nietzche s word: god is dead or anaximander s saying. i read poetry, but since (almost) finishing my work on the série noire [crime novels], i don t read crime novels any more, or any novels at all, for that matter. I still have a few more questions. Are there any major points we have missed? there are the participation works. And how did you get that idea? i don t remember the first real participation work was written in 1976, de-finition/method #49 generalized interchangeable. it involved selling 36 shares of one work to 36 people. The person becomes the coach. yes, the person chooses the medium, the form and the dimension and paints the medium the same color as the wall on which it hangs. it is he, and his conception of the proposal, that make the painting exist. For your show at the Musée d Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1983, you invited people active in the world of art to actualize a de-finition/method of their choice. generalized interchangeable was actualized for the first time at this. It was set up by ghislain molletviéville. so there are 36 charge-takers. each has a notebook featuring the text of the de-finition/method and the rules by which the work functions, including one that says that no one can own more than one share. this notebook lists the 36 participants, with their names and addresses, the dimensions of the wall and the canvas and a color sample. when for one reason or another a charge-taker updates his painting, he sends the 35 others the new actualization information and a color sample, so each can update their notebook. the work initially seemed utopian but it works very well, with very few losses. So the paintings are sold in fragments? yes, all the paintings are only fragments of a much bigger work. So in the 1983 case, the list is like a kind of co-ownership. it is a co-ownership. we hold a general meeting from time to time. the last one was at ghislain molletviéville s home and 23 charge-takers were present. I bet this story was a big influence on Philippe Thomas. well, it s not for me to say he was my assistant for the exhibition in Did you know him in his early student years? in 1980 or at the beginning of this interview, we mentioned the house on the rue clavel. it was at the back of a garden. there was a studio in the front. after discussing it with the students, the studio 16

10 was turned into a space for experiments and exhibitions. philippe thomas joined the group a little later. it included jean-françois brun and dominique pasqualini, whom i had known as students at saint charles (university of paris I), brigitte de cosmi, an architect, catherine lagarde, who worked in sound at radio nova, didier vermeiren was a sporadic member we worked there for more than two years and held a number of events and exhibitions: jenny holzer, peter downsbrough, didier vermeiren, philippe thomas, jean françois brun (in the garden) the last exhibition was lefevre jean claude. Apartments still play an important part in your work. oh yes, of course, the house - because we screened films in the garden in the summertime. And film has played a large role in your work too; you were talking about Godard yes, i love film. when i was a student i used to go the cinema a lot; then there was a whole period when i didn t go, for family reasons. these days, i try to go as often as possible. i think seeing a film in a movie theatre matters. i m less convinced by film in museums. to me the quality of the seating is part of the quality of the movie. The house has been important from the start because you also took part in 1986 in the exhibition Chambre d amis curated by Jan Hoet. What did you do in Chambre d amis? Could you explain it to us? It was too early for me, I was too young. i d be delighted. i went to ghent to meet people who would be welcoming my work. we talked at length, i gave them a copy of the first version of the de-finitions/methods with the following instructions: you will read the whole thing. i propose to write a new de-finition/method for you by taking elements from three existing de-finitions/methods. two months later they came to paris and presented their project. i agreed to it. i went to their place to set up the work. it was a wonderful experience. today there is a de-finition/method called right of proposal. So it s been recomposed. yes. above all, it proved that this kind of work was possible, like generalized interchangeable a few years beforehand. i remember that the exhibition was really very stimulating. Yes. I have one more thing to ask. Do you have any projects you haven t executed yet? Projects that were too big, say? Dreams? Utopias? Censored projects? Self-censored projects? Projects lying in drawers? Projects that are only half-done? there are things that i d really like to actualize. TRANSIT, for example, a stock of canvases in all dimensions. a shifting space, the departure point and point of return for exhibitions, plus numerous canvases that haven t been used yet. it s imperative to have easy access for canvases as they come and go, and to be able to look in from outside. plus the problem of managing it. transit is a place where things are in transit, it changes all the time. the canvases leave transit white and most of the time come back in color. so they have to be repainted, prepared in white, ready for new adventures. And TRANSIT was another epiphany. How did it come to you? it was triggered after the exhibition bonjour monsieur manet at the pompidou centre in i had done a short text: i am like manet: i paint, i have been painting canvases the same color as the wall since 1973, and i had assembled all the canvases painted between 1973 and 1979, which corresponded to the first book of de-finitions/methods. when the stock came back to the studio on the rue clavel, i realized that it was a work in its own right, a work that followed the logic of what i was undertaking. in transit. all that was left was to find a space for them. So it was never executed, so to speak? yes, the stock was entrusted to the ccc in tours, which was run by alain julien-laferrière from 1993 to 2001, then it was installed in one of bernard tschumi s follies at the parc de la villette. TRANSIT worked. i had to leave the space in 2007 and haven t found a new one. Are there other unactualized projects? Or public commissions that have been postponed? artists always have a number of projects they would like to do. but the mere fact that the de-finitions/ methods are written means my works acquire an initial mode of existence, so there is no urgency about actualizing them. i m sure that numerous de-finitions/methods won t be actualized until after my death. they are designed to avoid what could at first seem to be an obstacle. i have even been asked whether, after the first canvas painted the same color as the wall, it would have been possible to say that the de-finitions/methods would not be actualized until after my death. but the question is irrelevant, since it is too late. however, i have a big problem with AMZ, which is one of my favorite works. i know the obstacle: you have to read a few pages of text, which is quite unsettling at first for an artistic project that is actually simple and unfolds logically. it is a work in three parts, A, M and Z. A is the center or the matrix of the work, made up of 100 raw canvases in different shapes and formats. the canvases are presented in stacks. once a canvas is taken by a charge-taker, it is hung on and painted the same color as the wall against which the canvases are stacked. A belongs to the fonds régional d art contemporain des pays de la loire at carquefou, near nantes. M is all the canvases taken by a charge-taker in A. becoming the charge-taker of a canvas in A involves reconstructing a replica in a place of your choosing. the surface of this replica is the same as the canvas from a minus a certain percentage, which is the sum of two factors: the order in which they are taken by a charge-taker, the first, the second, the third and the distance between the place where they are hung and nantes. Z materializes the surface difference between the canvas a that stayed in a and the corresponding m replica. this materialization takes the form of papers, following the now common rule: if the wall is white, the paper can be any color except white, and it must be white if the wall is not. the work exists for a small circle, 20 or so very close friends, but it s still confidential. To make it permanent the A part, the stock, is in nantes, the Z part, the papers, is managed by the centre des livres d artistes in saint-yrieix-la-perche. these were the cornerstones that i wanted AMZ to develop from. Rainer-Maria Rilke wrote a lovely little book that is advice to a young artist. What would your advice to a young artist be? it s a difficult question, because you tend to trust your own experience. i have an assistant who wants to be an artist. i tell him to work and to read, to read books that go far beyond the field of art. art only exists when it is rooted in its time. AMZ works as a network in which most of the data eludes each individual charge-taker. it s not unlike the banking system, where i can t control what happens to my savings. i use this example because AMZ is very different from generalized interchangeable, the first work with multiple partners. generalized interchangeable is a closed-circuit system, 36 partners who each have a notebook that keeps track of the work s movements. AMZ is, on the contrary, uncontrollable, open and multiple, impossible to grasp except in a few scattered fragments. it s not possible to imagine managing a work like this, which combines space, time, and later, money, without the aid of computer tools and canvases stretched on stretchers and painted the same color as the wall, for now. So your advice is to work? yes, i think so. but in every field: i.e. not just sculpture if you re a sculptor or painting if you re a painter. you have to understand how production is organized in society in general. do we consume production or produce consumption? look at everything there can be in a century. i get the impression that a lot of young artists behave as though nothing happened during the 20th century. the 20th century rapidly became a museum. a few years ago, i saw three malevich exhibitions in three major museums in the space of a year and a half, and thought it was dangerous for the work, meaning that all that will remain a few years down the line will be a few spectacular images; red cavalry will be preferred to black 18

11 square on a white background. Has there been a book on all of your books? not yet, but the centre des livres d artistes is planning to publish one; it should happen next year. i have other book projects, several of which are not exactly de-finitions/methods, but more along the lines of lointains, which i d like to see in it. Some are catalogues and others are more artist s books. I like the one that you can stick things into. I love the idea of being able to stick things in books. It used to be quite common in art books. So it could be redone and updated? it will be redone because i really want it to happen. i ve already been working on a new edition of definitions/methods for some months now. there is more than 500 so far. i don t know if they ll fit in one volume. in any case, the form is going to change. there ll be a chronological list, and it will be organized by theme. the idea of redoing is always present in my work: several de-finitions/methods will be rewritten, corrected or augmented. some of the series will be interspersed with short texts. this book will be published by christian bernard, who runs the mamco in geneva. 20

12 de-finition/method #2. painted / non-painted / repainted ( la place des vosges, 1974) / depainted ( les joueurs de boule, 1969) 1973/1977/1995 the repainted is what connects the painted and the non-painted. there s not much difference between the canvas painted the same color as the wall on which it s hung and the papers, which can be any color except white if the wall is white and must be white if the wall is not. the painted: 1973; the non-painted: the repainted is the parenthetical element that confirms what was initiated in 1973, but it s no rival for that which was gradually instigated between 1977 and 1987, the non-painted. the nonpainted marked a point of no return, but it is also the place and the moment where it all starts up again. if the painted and the non-painted have become the hazy memory of the previous, sacrificed painting, if the painted and the non-painted again find an historic justification for their position, for their presence - while misleading people by being hung on a wall - the non-painted cannot but fail, fail leaning against a wall or lying on the floor, in an interminable low tide. the nonpainted has become the eternal watchman and last bastion of the impossible return of the painting. a final opportunity emerged in 1995 at the same time as the repainted: the depainting of an earlier work, taking it back as far as possible to the nonpainted canvas. as far as possible because traces of the earlier work will always remain, and to such a degree that the piece will always still be a painting. by changing its mode of production, painting regains its foothold in the present moment. let me repeat: in order for painting to live, paintings must die. a stretched canvas primed white and leaned against a wall. a non-painted stretched canvas leaning against the wall to the right of the first one. a stretched canvas repainted the same color as the wall, hung right next to the preceding one. a stretched canvas, depainted, hung to the right of the repainted canvas. claude rutault la place des vosges 1974 claude rutault les joueurs de boules

13 de-finition/method #4. painted / repainted ( la france défigurée, 1969) / non-painted 1973/1995/1977 three canvases. the first is painted the same color as the wall, with one layer of paint. size: 100 x 100 cm (39 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches). a new canvas will be used for each actualization. the second is a painting by claude rutault, la france dérigurée, painted in 1969; it is painted over, the same color as the wall. the painting was originally 100 x 100 cm, but was damaged and reframed on a 100 x 97 cm frame. the third canvas is left non-painted and placed on the floor beside the first two. size: 100 x 100 cm. claude rutault la france défigurée

14 de-finition/method #6. painting / depainting ( le monde 1971) / repainting (untitled 1962) de-finition/method : three canvases, ideally of the same dimensions, are hung next to each other in a specific order. the first canvas is painted the same color as the wall. the second is scraped, i.e. the paint has been taken off to reveal the raw canvas. the last is repainted the same color as the wall. the actualization makes the three canvases into a single work. for each installation, the third canvas will be repainted the same color as the wall, and the first canvas will be a new canvas. claude rutault le monde 1971 claude rutault sans titre

15 de-finition/method #490. the test of painting de-finition/methode: a first canvas painted the same color as the wall on which it s hung is kept as it is for as long as possible. it will be neither restored nor repainted. a second canvas, identical to the first, is hung a few centimeters away. this second canvas, following the rule of 1973, is painted the same color as the wall on which it s hung, so, unlike the first canvas, it must be repainted every time the wall is painted a different color. this proposition contrasts two ways that painting has of responding to the passage of time: to do nothing, succumbing to age, or to take the passage of time into account by modifying itself when its context is modified: repainting. 28

16 de-finition/method #500. painting in the balance 2010 de-finition/methode: a circular non-painted canvas leans against the wall, as vertically as possible. a big rectangular canvas, painted the same color as the wall, is balanced on top of the circular one. the lower edge of the rectangle must be perfectly horizontal. neither of the canvasses is attached to the wall. 30

17 de-finition/method #55. positive/negative a canvas stretched across standard-format stretchers and cut diagonally, creating two triangles. one triangle will be hung in the corner of a wall, and the other hung so that the hanging reproduces the original format. work/response to rodchenko s diagonal, drawn in blue pencil in the catalogue of the 5 x 5 = 25 exhibition in moscow in actualization (selected) 1982 rue clavel, paris - for the catalogue of documenta 7, kassel, germany 32

18 de-finition/method #102. elements in a spiral 1976 a series of canvases - though other supports can also be used from time to time - are hung in a spiral. it s an off-center spiral, and it uncoils until it touches the edge of the wall. all of its elements are painted the same color as the wall. although the number of supports is not pre-determined, the spiral that they create should be readable at a glance. the creation and installation of the spiral are the charge-taker s responsibility, and he or she can change the work at will within the rules given above. 34

19 de-finition/method #555. cardinal canvases 2011 in a room with four walls, each of which is oriented in a cardinal direction, a canvas painted the same color as the wall is placed on each wall. the charge taker has two choices: he or she can either hang a canvas painted the same color as the wall, as usual, or lay the canvases flat on two sawhorses in front of each window, in which case, they are left non-painted. if none of the walls is oriented toward a cardinal point, each canvas will be fixed vertically by one of its sides and aligned in one of the cardinal directions. the canvases are painted the same color as the wall against which they re fixed. if the canvases are perpendicular to the wall, they are stretched with canvas on both sides. if the room is a trapezoid, the canvases will be hung combining the different rules given above. many other configurations are possible, and it s up to the charge-taker to find the simplest solution... he or she may have to change the space. 36

20 de-finition/method #522. turning the page 2010 two contiguous walls painted different colors. canvas is stretched on both sides of the stretchers; the front is painted the same color as one of the walls, and the back the color of the other wall. the canvas is hung in the angle made by the two walls, pivoting on hinges so that it is always the same color as the wall it s resting against. like a page being turned, the canvas can easily be moved into any number of intermediary positions, all of which belong to the work. 38

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