The young French artist Aurélien Froment (*1976, Angers) is an explorer of the semantic power of images. The question for him is “how do we look at an image?” Interpretation is subjective, meaning is never fixed, what one sees is not what the others see. Thus, in his work, images and gestures and objects are placed in a new perspective. It’s only through a constant interaction, contrast, superposition, mutual influence and reciprocal reference that the relationship between images and words is exposed, and paradoxically, becomes even more elusive.
Aurélien Froment creates an exhibition space in the form of what he calls “a situation” where visitors are invited to participate in the open scenario. A dialogue between objects, places and people is thus triggered and the result is again unpredictable. As the artist points out at the interview, an audience’s expectation from a museum visit can be at the core of a work-process in which the presentation itself takes centre stage.
Paris, May 2011
AF – Aurélien Froment
ST – Selina Ting for initiArt Magazine
On interpretation – the semantics of image
ST: Let’s start with the notion of interpretation which is core to your work. You have been treating the relationship between images and words in the last years. It seems that your previous work takes a more loose approach to connect the image with the words or text, while in your latest video, Le Yoga par l’image (2011) which is on show in Credac, words, which take the form of manual instructions for yoga exercises, are closely link up with the images which shows yoga demonstration. Is this a development from your previous work or a new approach to the problematic of visual interpretation?
AF: Both, I would say. It’s a development from some previous works such as Le Serpent (2009) [English title The Rabbit ], a video that takes instructional films as its format to interrogate the relationship between words and images. You see in the video instructions of making simple nautical knots through memorizing words. A one line story is conjured and told in order to memorize the gestures of knot-making: “Build a well, A rabbit comes out of the hole, Circles around the tree, And jumps back into the hole”, etc. However, the question is: how far are these “images” shared among people?
Another way of examining the notion of interpretation in my work is the attempt to experiment with images instead of words. An example would be the work La projection par l’image (2007 – 2010) which consists of a series of photographs documenting the work of a projectionist in a cinema. So these are some examples to show that there is nothing new in the Yoga film. [Laughs]
ST: It seems to me that the interpretation in the Yoga film is more straightforward than your previous works. You see a man reading the yoga manual book and a woman demonstrating the postures. Sometimes the demonstration is absent, but the viewers are able to form a mental image themselves after experiencing some demonstration scenes. The association between the image and the reading is more direct.
AF: Maybe what is more direct here is the way the viewers are addressed. If you look at other videos, such as Fourdrinier Machine Interlude (2010) or Pulmo Marina (2010) [both on show in Marcelle Alix], there is always someone addressing the audience, talking or reading to them. The Yoga film is mimicking a training situation in which the audience is potentially involved in the physical exercises: “Now stretch your legs, bend your body, etc.” However, you are not in a gymnastic class but a projection room. So something has to be re-adjusted. This creates a dynamic between the audience and the text read by the character on the screen.
ST: It also creates a tension in the sense that the audience is simultaneously the designated addressee and the excluded observer.
AF: Yes, because it’s also about your relationship to the place where you are when you watch the film. Le Credac is an interesting place to show that video because the exhibition space was originally designed as a theatre, that’s why there is a slope in the exhibition room. What are obviously missing in order to make it a cinema are the seats. I think it’s interesting to give a perspective on what an exhibition space is, as well as what it lacks or denies, by acknowledging what the place was supposed to be.
ST: In addition to the yoga exercises, there are scenes of choosing chairs and sitting positions, the video looks like a collage of different shifting situations. Here, are you dealing with our relations to our own body in different space and context?
AF: The video follows a very simply narrative: sitting is a very common thing and we need some specific objects in order to sit comfortably, which means we have certain criteria for chair-making. Meanwhile, some people don’t need this object to feel comfortable, such as the yoga practitioners. Thus, through showing a series of yoga instructions to an audience sitting in an empty room where no chair is provided, the video potentially generates as much comfort as discomfort.
ST: Back to our question of interpretation, the other two films are narrated in a documentary style, combining manuals and historical facts…
AF: … there are different kinds of descriptions, including historical accounts in Pulmo Marina. In Fourdrinier Machine Interlude, you have information on its historical background, but it doesn’t limit itself there. Information on its geographical and economical perspectives is also provided. I would say, in each film, one specific object is taken as the subject-matter and is examined through language.
ST: However, the way you use close-ups at the objects without any montage or attempt to follow the narration makes the images more elusive in relation to words, especially in Pulmo Marina, the images actually distract you from the text.
AF: Yes, the image in Pulmo Marina is more distracting but, in a paradoxical way, the language is actually closer to the image because everything said in the text is represented on the screen. The language in Fourdrinier Machine Interlude, however, functions in a more metonymical way.
ST: I am also interested in the interviews you have conducted with people from different professions which also deal with the problematic of image, such as an architect, a photo-editor (professional photo-retouch), a film makers and a puzzle-cutter. Do you see doing interviews as part of you artistic practice? Would you exhibit them as artworks?
AF: Of course it is part of my practice even though it is more occasional than regular. Doing those interviews is a way of gathering information, while bringing them together in a small publication is a way to distribute them.
ST: Why are you interested in these people’s work? For example, how do you relate puzzle-making to your work?
AF: I am interested in the manipulation of an image and to look at its trajectory from one state to another. The process of puzzle-making is interesting because you see how an image is printed, then cut into pieces, and eventually rebuilt from memory. Actually, in the process of interviewing these people, I realize that the common thing between them is the notion of contour, i.e. the lines that describe the shape and mark the inside from the outside, etc. They are addressing the same question in different ways, and one of these ways is to reconstruct the image from many different parts, another way is to deconstruct the image in order to see how it works and what the components are.
On games and exhibition experience
ST: You have already done several works with game objects, such as the card matching game Who here listen to BBC News on Friday night (2008), the video Second Gift (2010), the installation Un paysage de dominos (2011) and the ten gift boxes that you are showing in Credac. Why are you fascinated with games, in particular the educational Fröbel games?
AF: It’s because they have an incredible potential. In Credac, even if the exhibition involves objects that look like toys, the presentation involves other problematics. One way to approach these objects is to relate them to their forms; another way would be to approach them through their original history, or through their educational purposes. Credac is an interesting place to present these objects because one of the missions of the organization is education. Usually what happens in an art centre is a separation between education and display, i.e. first comes the exhibition, then related educational or mediation programs are derived from it. However the experience of an art work is rarely separated from the various strata of mediation or education which come along with it. So why not making a work within the educational framework of the art centre? I am not trying to say how art or education should be, but simply to look at it as one thing.
ST: The context is very different. Here we are dealing with adult visitors, whom I imagined to have more constraints and self-consciousness when confronted with such proposition to manipulate the toy-like objects. So, when contexts changed, perceptions shift as well.
AF: Of course. We are not in the kindergarten and I am not trying to teach the audience. There is no instruction from me. But it implies relationships between objects, language and us as audience. The objects are the vehicles to give attention to the situation, so we are not talking in the void about ideas but now we can talk while practicing. The work is its own presentation, and for this, it involves at least two persons, the host and the visitor. Then, anything can happen from that situation.
ST: Are you also challenging the audience’s expectations from a museum visit?
AF: I’d like to reflect on that situation. These objects might seem very familiar to the audience, but how the interaction goes depends also on the host, because there is no score, no instruction previously given to them. There is a discussion. Before the show opens, we are trying to exchange our knowledge on that situation and on our relative positions. So, in a way, you can also say it’s a “game of society”.
ST: Do you have any feedbacks so far?
AF: I have some feedbacks… but I need to have an updated conversation with the hosts and some visitors so we can reflect back on it.
On Historical Objects
ST: If we take a brief look at the subjects that you used in your work, we find a common characteristic in them, that they are forgotten historical objects or event, such as the Fröbel games, the Fourdrinier Machine, or the Arcosanti project. Do you see them as historical objects from the past or objects with a second life in the present?
AF: I am interested in them as I think they witnessed a shift of perspectives which affected something bigger than themselves. For example, the paper making first came as craft, then became industrialized and is now — at least in the film — on display in a museum; the Arcosanti project comes after all sorts of rise and fall of community ideals in time of cultural crisis; Fröbel had his own glorious days at a certain period, but quickly his idea or theory has been turned into something else. I am interested in that something else… how these ideas, ideals or models become something else in its practical use and in posterity, it assumes a purpose different from that of its designer.
ST: How do you relate to these historical objects personally?
AF: Through those specific objects or places [Laughs]. For example, in the case of Arcosanti, we can’t access the time when they started the planning of a mega-structure in the desert in the 1970s. So I am looking at it from the present, taking it as a vehicle to create a situation which is shared, as an experience in a projection room rather than examining archives, or trying to be in contact with the dead. [Laughs]. Arcosanti is a place that exhibits itself; it records and displays its own history, which makes it in return an interesting place to contemplate.
ST: As an artist, you don’t feel obliged to create new objects in the traditional sense?
AF: Each video or each work is a new object, isn’t it? If I am mentioning existing situations in a work, it is a pretext to activate ourselves. I am interested in how we look at them.
ST: I am interested in the idea that how freely artists today are allowed to employ and incorporate pre-existing ideas and materials in their art-making process. Do you think there is a limit?
AF: Doing is a way of learning, so it’s important to re-do things if you need to learn anything from them. If this is what you mean by “incorporating”, there is no limit to that.
Une exposition comme les autres
8 April – 12 June 2011
Les articles indéfinis
Marcelle Alix, Paris
24 March – 21 May 2011
About the artist
Aurélien Froment, born in 1976 in Angers, France, lives in Dublin, Ireland.
Graduated from DNSEP, École Régionale des Beaux Arts, Nantes in 2000.
His recent solo exhibitions include 2011: Marcelle Alix, Paris, Les articles indéfinis ; Le CREDAC, Ivry-sur-Seine, F, Une exposition comme les autres
Musée départemental de Rochechouart , Centre culturel français, Milan, I, Forme della natura, Forme della conoscenza, Forme della bellezza. 2010: Khastoo Gallery, Los Angeles, USA, Dark After After Dark, i.c.w. Ryan Gander ; Motive Gallery, Amsterdam, NL, Langue étrangère, Langue maternelle, Seconde langue. 2009: Wattis Institute, San Francisco, USA, The Exhibition Formerly Known as Passengers; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Process Room, IEF or Immediate Release; Montehermoso, Vitoria, SP The Fourth Wall (with catalogue); Gasworks, London, UK, Froebel Suite; Bonniers Konsthalle, Stockholm, SW Théâtre de poche; etc.