The original version of Psycho is from 1960 (a time when looking at Janet Leigh's underwear were censored...). The story relies on a simple and classical dichotomy between Good and Evil, visually expressed by the contrasted use of black and white and vertical and horizontal opposition. This latter is emphasized by Norman Bates' motel against the famous house of the mother on top of the hill. A mansion that became notorious, a real archetype of the horror house, definitively implemented within our collective imagination. Hitchcock wanted it to symbolize the American Gothic, mixing The Addams Family House with Edward Hopper's House by the Railroad painting. Born from Art, it only made sense that it turned over, covered again, embezzled, fantasized, directly or not. In Sarah Woodbine's Alfred's Story, the drawing of the house haunts the background of a scale model that obviously refers to the suspense master.
Psycho is also the title that Benoît-Marie Moriceau decided to give to one of his pieces. At the Espace 40m3 - Le Château, Rennes, he offers a simple project. He's completely re-covered this town house, and its evocative tower, with black paint. Sort of a 3D monochrome. The house becomes suddenly frightening, and turns into a giant sculpture, a sort of black monolith, the one which appears on Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey. An installation in which we cannot enter, which rejects us. We're not used to receiving this sort of attitude, we are not used to suffering in the face of art, we're used to getting everything easily. Actually, it is a work of emptiness, of absence. There is nothing to see or do except to feel black. A colorful experiment that reminds us the (no-) interventionism of Yves Klein. A conceptual dialectic that suggests rediscovering our environment. An urban Land Art work. A graffiti that would have degenerated....
Not that many artists deal with issues linked to architecture. Gordon Matta-Clark was the Old Master, but he died 30 years ago. The modus operandi consisting in reinterpretating an pre-existing construction is not a brand new thing. There are other ‘wrapping' and exciting examples. The act of Moriceau remains unusual. Maybe we could compare it to the work of German artist Gregor Schneider. Surprisingly, he also alludes to a scene from Psycho in Die families Schneider, Walden Street 14, a performance-installation dealing with banality and imprisonment. The link is clearer when a man takes a shower behind a translucent shower curtain, giving us the opportunity to consider ourselves as potential killers. The piece Das Schwarze Quadrate, homage an Malewitsch is more obviously in relationship with Moriceau work. The homage to Malevitsch distracts attention from the mere copy of the Ka'ba, the sacred cube in the Mecca, which directs Muslims prayers (the Koranic verses of the kiswa are erased). A work that comes close to debating, especially when it looks like... psychosis (we already warned you)!
Be that as it may, Psycho by Benoît-Marie Moriceau is a scheming piece with a fascinating aesthetic. It succeeds in providing us with a new reading grid for architecture, playing with exterior instead of interior space. One might object that the paint used can be removed with water. It would have been so powerful to leave the house irremediably stuck into its blackness, defying the city: as a useful public sculpture? A miracle! A masterstroke! As a sequence of 90 shots, 70 different camera angles for a 45-second scene. Well, I guess that, in this case, Beauty is a question of ephemerality...
What's most surprising in this exhibition is the Deller's proposition to dive into an unfamiliar reality. We are not talking about Uncanny (psychoanalytic slapstick) but "From a revolution to another" allows us to immerse into a slipping everyday routine. A kind of hyperreality is created which alludes to Dump, a work from "Superdome", Palais de Tokyo's most recent exhibition. Christoph Büchel's Dump was an ascent in an abyss. A door opened to an evil place above the Earth, a reverse paradise lost, a feeling that everything that was buried and hidden suddenly reappeared. In front of thousands of everyday objects we'd rather ignore, Büchel offered a hyperreality opened on a blurred and disconcerting existence. The two wills are similar and want to show an existing reality that we are not fully conscious of, an escaping space which shouts at us: simply two works of art.
Jeremy Deller and Christoph Büchel share a common rock passion and a highly social and political consciousness. Deller won the prestigious Turner Prize in 2005 with Battle of Orgreave, a vivid reconstruction of a battle between miners and police in the mid-1980s miners strike. Büchel excited the art world with the demoniac installation (all interpretations allowed) Simply Botiful at Hauser & Wirth, London. It is incompressible and indivisible but we can try to cut off a significant example: a set of copies of Mein Kampf (Hitler, 1923) translated into Arabic, among a pile of prayer mats woven with motifs celebrating the events of 9/11. Well, a pretty thoughtless and carefree environment.... This set incarnates absolute Evil and deals with Israeli and Arabs conflict, international events in Middle East but it also reminds that the first translation of the book dates back to early 1930s, and that the first French editor, Fernand Sorlot, compared, in his Advertising, its influence on people to...the Koran.
This set of copies has been sold at the Frieze Art Fair 2006 edition by Hauser & Wirth Gallery. Quickly sold, quickly removed. Afraid of eventual retaliations? Absolutely not! People were stealing the books. When reality becomes stranger and frightener than fiction.... "Why would anyone want to walk around an art fair with a copy of Mein Kampf ?" questioned the dealer Iwan Wirth. Probably people who wished to take apart a piece of "fantastic" reality, happy to access the hyperreality art had created. As fascinating as Clare Family's mechanical elephant, as hard-hitting as Ed Hall's Anti Nazi League banner fluttering on Palais de Tokyo's ceiling.
But, somehow, two names keep coming back regularly, or at least have been for the last 5,000 years of (conscious) creation. That‘s a lot of people, including a few stars... But only two chosen ones remain: Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol.
Here comes the anxious reader, thinking frantically: "You are not going to speak evil of Duchamp and Warhol.... How dare you?" A dreadful and unforgivable crime, a violation, like those bad taste caricatures you can find atop La Butte. Immediate condemnation. Execution. Of course, Warhol and Duchamp are two mere art genius and often empowered as factice gods for bad reasons. Somewhere between the shoe designer and the king of "Be quiet, Marcel! They don't get it. Shut up, and you won't say crap!" strategy, we could consider a new historical approach.
One might even think that they were two unhappy innocents creatures. Well, not that innocent. They both obviously wanted to be glorified and to attain mythical work... until fossilization. Maybe they didn't claim for such a result. Let's take an example. "Theft is Vision" (JRP/Ringier ed.) is a great collection of articles and interviews by art critic and American curator Robert Nickas. There's the snag: half of the articles quote Duchamp and two-thirds of them quote Warhol (probably due to American solidarity....). Is there really nobody else to speak about, or to write about?
This kind of artistic deification could be laughed at. However, it reflects a larger trend. Young people in France are discovering Leonard Cohen's cold and broken "Hallelujah" as covered by Jeff Buckley. The heavy on-air rotation could make you spit up your Host. Society seems to regain its faith in a post-nietzsche dead God. Such a return to religion is never neutral and appears to be the sign of our loss of marks and referents. In this instance, you'd better hold on to trustworthy people... Like Andy and Marcel.
Opposed to this pathological "duomania", some artists choose variety and dispersion. Take the exhibition "From the voice to the hand" by Melik Ohanian (does it refer to Nauman's "from hand to mouth" covered by Marclay's "from hand to ear"?) at the Plateau, Paris, from September 18th to November 23th 2008. A long line of white neon lights enlighten small piles of letters (as in a-b-c, not mail) put on the floor or grouped together along side walls. Upon the neon lights, a long litany of names, a learned assembly of philosophers, thinkers and erudite writers. We'll reveal the surprise: the piles of letters refer to a quote by each personality named above. Too easy for you? The artist has taken a letter from each pile in order to complicate the game.... Ok, that's much better now! Let's play! The installation is beautiful, Ohanian is (usually) a good artist, that's not the issue. The piece does not allow any sort of comprehension. It is a fruitless, useless rampart. It symbolizes the excessive multiplicity of historical gathering points. This is a massive trend in art since the rise of artistic post-modernism at the beginning of the 1980s, known as name-dropping. An accumulation of quotation including names of people, artists, writers or cultural personalities. A way to reassure yourself and fill up an embarrassing void on sacrosanct speech about your work of art. While the referents are not judged, the way some artists use them, is. Some artists know what to do with them, some of them don't. More precisely, storing up references to the verge of incomprehension is nonsense. In that case, it's better to quote just... Warhol and Duchamp.