"Making art and being an artist is a philosophical task than merely producing objects."
Guillaume Leblon in his studio. Photo by Selina Ting ©initiArt Magazine. 2011
The French artist Guillaume Leblon (*1971) creates site-specific installations, sculptures, videos and works on paper which transform our perception of the space and its function. Through a sort of staged presentation of his work, he charges his objects with metaphorical meanings, introducing a certain uneasiness that affects and stimulates our perception. Guillaume Leblon belongs to the generation of artists who believe that art is neither a representation of the world nor of one's knowledge, but rather an extension of the real in all its possibilities. As Lucas Cerizza puts it, Leblon’s work “does not come across as direct images, like head-on visions. Rather, it is a subtle interplay of hidden and revealed things, a slow process toward the discovery of an undefined place, the attempt to perceive an atmosphere.”
Guillaume Leblon is nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2011.
The result will be announced on 22 October 2011.
GL – Guillaume Leblon
ST – Selina Ting pour InitiArt Magazine
ST : You started showing your work when you graduated from the Rijksakademie in 2000. Since, you have been very much solicited by the international institutions, first in the Netherlands, then in Germany, Belgium, Spain, and Italy and finally you had your first exhibition in France in 2004. However, it was only until 2005 that you started working with a gallery (Galerie Jocelyn Wolff). Can we say that your work tended to be conceived for institutional context rather than for galleries? In your work, very often, we see an intervention on the architectural space of the museum.
GL : Definitely, what we can present in a museum or a contemporary art centre is very different from an intervention in a gallery, for example. Besides, it’s not a question of space or market constraint, but showing in a museum automatically implies exchanges with a curator. The projects were conceived through these dialogues. Also, for some obvious reasons, the relationship with space has to be reinvented in each exhibition according to the venue. I am not interested in museum architecture in the strictest sense. What interest me are the particular constraints that restrict the architecture. I accept these constraints as the intergratable elements in my work, that they can nourish the work and finally become an intrinsic part of the exhibition.
ST : This precision is very interesting and important because your work reminds one of architecture, particular certain works that employs architectural forms and elements, such as Intérieur-Façade (1999 – 2001).GL : That was the piece I did in Rijksakademie. It uses the codes of an architectural model, in a way it was a “modeling” of the real space in which I worked every day at that time. It’s true that I sometimes borrow titles from architectural catalogue, such as “view from entrance towards the stairs”, etc. These titles speak of images, i.e., what was shown in the image was not necessarily an architectural part or a sculpture but a situation, a point of view in the space.
Guillaume Leblon, installation view at MUDAM, Luxembourg, 2009. Works : Cold water I , II, III, IV, V. 2009, Pastel (gris bleu) sur papier, 200x140cm (avec cadre 216x156 cm) ; Channel. 2009, chêne brut, 575 cm (longueur) x 71cm (hauteur max) et 56cm (hauteur min.) x 102cm ; Site of confluence. 2009, coquillages, sable, matières organiques, fils, feutre et bois, taille variable, 8 feuilles de peuplier 250x125x1,6 cm, différentes formes.
ST : The placement and emplacement of a work inside an exhibition space is essentially the sense-making process of an exhibition. What is the most important element for you in terms of exhibition display?
GL : The circulation is important. Often, I close the doors, confine the spaces, or I simple change the routing. I operate these spatial changes in order to oblige the audience to see the works from a certain way without restricting them. In other words, I want to offer the audience a certain point of view to look at the work so as to create a sense of strolling in the exhibition space, i.e. the exhibition becomes a landscape, a routing, without starting point nor ending point.
ST : Does the exhibition context, the history of the museum or institution, etc. play a role in the consideration of an intervention in the exhibition space?
GL : The quality of the floor, the geology, the climate, the plants, the social condition… all the elements that describe the context and environment of an exhibition venue are the indispensable considerations in the thinking process. But there is no hierarchy between them. Then, of course, there are qualities that are specific to each exhibition space. In relation to these specificities, I have to take my position and elaborate a strategy that can enable the exhibition to exist as a whole, a totality. Such cohesion or coherence might not necessarily be à priori guaranteed in the space.
ST : How to avoid the repetition even if the context and space varied from one exhibition to another ?
GL : I get bored easily. I am impatient person. But I work to transform these defaults into quality. My constant preoccupation is to avoid being confined in the work process. I purposely leave the works open, instable and always standing-by. Such quality allows me to re-evaluate my work according to the exhibitions, either by expanding the pieces or diminishing them.
Left: Four Ladders, 2008, ailes d’un moulin à vent. Exhibition View: Four Ladders, STUK, Leuven, Belgium, 2008. Right: Four Ladders, 2008, Ailes d’un moulin à vent. Exhibition View : Fabricateurs d’espaces, Institut d’art contemporain, Villeurbanne, 2008-09. Copyright image: Blaise Adilon
ST : If the studio is the site of creation and the exhibition is the context of manifestation, at which point is a piece of work judged complete and ready to be shown?
GL : When an object quits my studio, it might not be accomplished. The accomplishment is achieved in its destination. In other words, between the moment it quits the studio and the moment it is positioned in the museum, there is instability. The studio is not the site of completion. It’s the exhibition context which completes the work.
ST : Do the videos count as part of the totality of the work? How many videos have you made so far? What place do they occupy in your work?
GL : I have made 5 or 6 videos. They are just a sort of notes, drafts, or drawings that accompany my work. Sometimes, they are projected on a sculpture. In any case, they are not that kind of cinematographic films, but they work with the environment of the exhibition. So they are an indispensable part of my work. Generally speaking, I try not to take my works in any form of hierarchical order.
Guillaume Leblon, Notes, 2007.Vidéo couleur sonore. 7’22". Courtesy Frac Bourgogne, © Guillaume Leblon.
ST : There is always a performative dimension in your videos, such as Notes (2007) which you are showing right now in the Lyon Biennale 2001.
GL : There is certain implementation in my video work that highlights a more spontaneous and visually more performative dimension in the videos. At the same time, the notion of time which is specific to video has always been there in my work. I am always interested by the cinema except that I don’t have the patience to make long movies. I need spontaneity and rapidity. [Laughs] But I conscious that video allows a different way of narration, of saying things. Beside, an exhibition also has a performative quality in it.
Exhibition view : Guillaume Leblon, Kunstverein Düsseldorf, 2006. Works from left: Raum, 2006, plâtre, 230 x 500 x 600 cm (2006); Sans Titre, 2006. Bois de bouleau, vêtements, humidificateur / Birch wood, clothes, atomizer, 115 x 160 x 15 cm. Olives (2006) or Chrysocale (Lampe) (2005).
ST : A work that functions on the borderline between the interior and the exterior is the ubu Roi (2004). I have read some commentaries on this piece but still haven’t got a chance to see it in real. I don’t really understand the story of the dog…
GL : [Laughs] It was a piece for my first solo exhibition in France [AZIMUT, FRAC Bourgogne, Dijon, France]. There were a private garden and guarding dog next to the art centre in Bourgogne. I drilled a hole on the wall separating the art centre and the garden. What interests me was the bouleversement in which the domestic space entered into the exhibition space, except that there is a piece of Plexiglas attached to the hole. Whenever a visitor entered the art centre, the dog would run towards the hole and bark at the person – as a way to defend its own territory! Thus, it was us who were inside a dog-house and the dog outside in territory. It was very beautiful.
ST : Something banal, normal, easily ignored, suddenly become metaphorical, such as the phantomlike presence of the dog in the work that evoke the ideas and the paradoxes of the situation: the reverse of the roles, of the space, of a hierarchical system, etc. As you have mentioned several times that you don’t like give priority to things. But the choices of certain elements are not innocent either.
GL : It’s true that there is a profanatory aspect in my work. Usually, they are the elements that appeared to be natural in where they were. For example, at the exhibition in Porto, Portugal, a street musician arrived at the exhibition and started playing as if he was a homeless playing in the street. Of course, he was part of the show. For me, it was a gentle way of bringing the exterior into the interior and at the same time, it was very violent because the exhibition space was supposed to be a venue with its proper function, i.e., dedicated to art: a bit like a church with a sacred status.
Exhibition view : Guillaume Leblon, Augmentation and dispersion, 2008. Centre d’art contemporain Culturgest, Porto, Portugal. Courtesy of the artist and Centre d’art contemporain Culturgest, Porto, Portugal.
ST : So, it’s intrusive…
GL: Yes, it’s intrusive ; it’s rather a kind of poetic profanation than provocative.
ST : Does the image of a spectator exist inside your imagination at the moment when a piece of work is conceived?
GL : At the moment when one considers the space as the departure point of an exhibition, the spectator’s point of view is implied. There is also the ambiance, the body, etc., that affect the space.
ST : Thank you!
Guillaume Leblon, exhibition view : Après la pluie, Musée départemental d’art contemporain, Rochechouart, 2007. Liste des oeuvres: L’arbre, 2005, 600 cm long, bois, plastique. Structures, 2006-2007, dim. variable. bois, carton. April street, 2001-2005, 16 mm, couleur, 8 mn.
Born in 1971 in Lille (France). Lives and works in Paris.
Personal exhibitions (selective since 2008): 2011 - Facing the dry dirt, The Suburban & The Poor farm experiment, Little Wolf, Wisconsin, USA; - Fondation Paul Ricard, Paris, France, curator : Alessandro Rabotini. 2010 - L’Entretien, theatre piece written by Thomas Boutoux & Guillaume Leblon, le Temple, Paris, France; - Strange form of Life, Projecte SD, Barcelona, Spain; - Monumento Nazionale, Centre Culturel français, Milan, Italy, curator : Alessandro Rabotini ; - Someone Knows Better Than Me, Le grand café, Centre d’art contemporain, Saint-Nazaire. 2009 - Réplique de la chose absente, Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris, France ; Site of confluence, MUDAM, Luxembourg. 2008 - Augmentation and dispersion, Centre d’art contemporain Culturgest, Porto, Portugal ; - Parallel walk, Centro Gallego de Arte Contemporaneo, CGAC, Santiago de Compostela, Spain; - The Extra Ordinary, galerie Projecte SD, Barcelona, Spain; - Four ladders, STUK, Kunstencentrum, Leuven, Belgium ; - Maisons sommaires, Centre d’art contemporain, Domaine de Kerguéhennec, France.
Guillaume Leblon is represented by the Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris.