Jacques Julien



Do you remember when I wanted to get rid of a sentence and you spat on me ? PAUL SZTULMAN, 1998

We've had plenty of discussions, some of them unruly, and one or two snatches have regularly ended up on paper. But whenever it's been a matter of organizing things a bit, problems have cropped up like so much wild grass. There wasn't much point in busting a gut, our act as duellists was never properly developed. Art and sport are words which have noisy echoes. They all lug about a swarm of arguments, but the connection these two words can establish in language is definitely what each piece tries to break. Based on this kind of trick, they are taken out of our question-and-answer exercise. We're not crafty devils and we're not defeatists either. So we've gone for this direct, carefree address. All our hopes of explaining the work currently reside in the brief, rambling account of our vain attempts, as you can see here.

At a given moment we said to ourselves (because answering an order in a standard way lends assurance and stability) that we might be able to explain the work aptly and precisely, and dispel the two or three misunderstandings it might give rise to. In particular, we wanted to play a trick on those thematic readings which have the unpleasant habit of taking hold of the systematic persistence of the model of the sports ground to read the work like a metaphor of society, man and god knows what other even more general issues. This irksome tendency is forever trying to decipher works (of art) like so many subversive messages or other forms of critical utterance. For all this, an ill-fated basketball hoop, with a series
of rings attached to it which have the same circumference and fall in a heap on to the ground, does not in all honesty say a great deal about the nuisances of the contemporary world. But as we gradually tried to come up with sound arguments, the serious nature of our demonstrations got bogged down in the polite form of chitchat and made the work even more arrogant. That wasn't good.

Art and sport are bottomless reservoirs of comment. With well measured statements, it might be possible to turn these two continents into a compact world, like a book on sociology. But we didn't want to make any over-long journeys; we just wanted to venture into circumscribed areas like sports grounds. Playgrounds are good models, because they combine rule and territory, the beauty of boundary signs and a wealth of patterns of behaviour, expenditure and precision. So maybe we should have taken things from the art-for-art's-sake angle...
On other occasions, then, we plunged into radical exercises involving the historicization of work. Like two little corporals, we surveyed all the issues of contemporary praxis. Formalist terminology and theoretical demonstration went well together... but in vain. It was certainly to escape from a purified conception of art that there was that engagement with sport which was apparently unnatural... Impossible to imagine any such honeymoon in the bedchamber of an ivory tower!

There were also more abstract efforts. For example, we've talked about hybridization, distance, sports accessories with a herbivorous look about them, woodland does roaming around an elephant cemetery, the idiocy of a badly arranged head of hair, ghosts and whirlwinds, the gloomy abode of ridiculous things, the out-of-reach beauty of Daniel Johnston's songs... There was also the period of the handicap. Anthropomorphism exercised us for quite a while. The matter of exaptation was even raised. Good word, that. We got it from Pierre, a friend of Jacques, who wrote: "I'm going to exapt myself: do what I'm made not to do 1". That seemed to us to be a good way of approaching the work. It even seemed like a life work...

On one of those afternoons of feverish activity, when our ideas were popping in all directions, despair caused us to call on one of our friends whom fortune smiles on. A good buddy would definitely be able to rescue us from this pretty pass and give us the secret spring of the interview. Alas. This new three-way attempt raised the tragi-comedy of the situation by a factor of three and bore us towards less and less pardonable excesses...

As one things leads to another, so endless variations of interviews filed past, where the temptation of the hoax jockeyed with that of the profession. By dint of giving way to our circumvolutions, we ended up thinking we were each Bouvard to the other's Pécuchet... The tone of our different sagas, in its inexhaustible variety, merely invited candid laughter, pronounced doubt and other forms of ordinary sadness — in a word, nothing helping toward the establishment of a coherent written form which ordinary language might call an interview.

All these shattered impulses ended up by delighting us. There was nothing for it but to acknowledge that it was in the asides of our talks that the very stuff informing the work was gradually piling up, the way the traces of life as it is lived in a given house are deposited in its nooks and crannies. The exchanges of topics and propositions thus slipped free of the discourse and mingled with the atmosphere. They became caught in the gestures that went with them, bounced off one another with that endless flexibility that language affords when you give it some leeway. Words sprang from each piece, enlivened by the work rather that clamping a vice around it. We cherished those moments when the mind roves inquest of the unknown and takes paths that defy explanation. Transported by our digressions, the works underwent strange and legitimate metamorphoses. They revealed their nature of psychic images. Their dogged desire to keep resolutely the same distance from art categories and sports grounds finally betrayed the network of relations to the life from which they hailed. Those solitary figures wavered forever between confidence and frailty. That lack of determination was turn by turn sad and funny. But the bewitching tone of our asides always put us in a merry mood. And when the pieces conspired to be hard to tell apart from representations of an unhappy consciousness, we said to ourselves that this was precisely because they mimicked a certain conception of existence with the distance required to make it practicable.

The stubborn silence of a desolate sports hall has all the charm of a rush of imagination. Achieving this sensation in stable forms is the type of derisory activity on which we sometimes felt it was a good idea to spend some time. What more is there to say?... Today, now that blank paper has shed its whiteness and the white cube is having a tough time of it too, everything runs the risk of being taken the wrong way. We are getting a bit fed up with everything, and we are currently concocting a good project which will get us out of this sorry plight. This kind of ideal dream, which blurs the figure of the hero with that of ridicule, has still not found its perch, but we're working on it. A new melody swells our respective torsos. We are heading, whistling, towards the inaccessible, the inadequate, the unapproachable, the inaudible, the unbelievable, the uncustomary, the incalculable, the uncertain, the unexpected, and so on and so forth ... Year in year out, we'll surely end up finding something. We'll just have to stick to our guns.

Translated from the French by Simon Pleasance & Fronza Woods

Note : 1. Pierre Alféri in Handicap, Pierre Alféri et Jacques Julien, éditions RRoz, Lyon, 1999.