Saturday, April 28, 2012
Point D'Ironie #50: Christian Boltanski
An interview with Christian Boltanski (who co-conceived the project, and is one of only two artists from the series who has contributed more than a single issue), with curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist:
HUO: Do you remember the first conversation we had about point d’ironie?
CB: I believe at first it was linked to the idea of the artists’ book, because artists’ books have undergone changes over time. There was a time when these were extremely precious; you had to wear white gloves to handle them, they were very expensive. That was the first stage. The second stage was born with Ed Ruscha or Hans-Peter Feldmann, when artists’ books became cheap and infinitely reproductible, but were in fact printed in 200 to 800 copies. I’ve worked a lot within these books. Point d’ironie could have been, in practice, a series of artists’ books in 100 or 300 copies. But there came a time when we wanted to go beyond that to reach a greater number. It’s simply a question of economy of distribution. Today I think the Internet might replace point d’ironie, because with the Internet one can reach an even greater number of people. But point d’ironie achieved something important at a specific time, which was to go from 800 to 100,000 copies.
HUO: There was also the idea of reaching other contexts and other geographies where there weren’t any art bookshops. You wanted us to be able to send the paper free of charge to art schools, to everyone… you thought we should invent our own circuit.
CB: Because the number is so great, it is no longer aimed at specialized bookshops only, or at art lovers, but becomes like a message in a bottle that anyone might find in a café or receive through the post. I will always remember when I arrived at the airport in Bogota: rather than greeting me with my name, they greeted me with my point d’ironie. That was because the point d’ironie was in Bogota. That’s what point d’ironie is about: it travels the world and no one knows where it’s going to end up. Most of the time, it ends up in the bin, but one never knows who has hung it up on the wall. Near my home, there is a psychiatric clinic. One day I went past it and saw a whole wall of my point d’ironie. In other words, a psychiatrist thought it might be a good idea to cover a wall of his office with my point d’ironie. I have never met this man, and I don’t think he is particularly interested in art. He must have found it one day in a café and took thirty copies of it, and it looks good on a wall, that’s it.
HUO: Let’s talk about the two issues you made, which are similar but also different at the same time. The first one forms like a serial image, we could indeed hang it like wallpaper, whereas the second one is almost abstract until we form the one unique image.
CB : In both, because I like to complicate things, in order to have the full image, you have to take two copies of point d’ironie. If you take only one, you have only half of the image. In the first issue, a part of the image is visible even with one copy. In the second issue however, with one copy, not only do you have only half of the image, but the image isn’t visible. In both cases there was the desire to complicate the system a little – the paper could be read as a unit, but at the same time one copy is not sufficient. If I remember correctly, the idea was that, to produce in 2000 copies or in 100,000 copies, there wasn’t a big difference in price. So in that case, we could produce in large quantities. This is a general rule in publishing today -- the problem is not to produce a book, but to distribute it. To produce a book of poetry in 100 copies or in 20,000 copies is the same price, but how do you distribute a poetry book in 20,000 copies? What we brought about with point d’ironie is an advance in distribution. As far as the fabrication is concerned, other projects with a similar spirit had been done before, the conception is not an extraordinary thing. The extraordinary conception is the enormous number of copies and, thanks to agnès b.’s network, the possibility to send them to countries all over the world.
HUO: A bit like with DO IT actually. Through the DO IT book, the exhibition goes out into the world, it’s a mobile exhibition like point d’ironie.
CB: Yes, because the idea was to do something visual (even if they were not all like that) with which anyone could make his or her own exhibition. It destroyed the idea of original. Classically, if you have a photograph or a print, it’s in fifty copies; you are proud of it, you can sell it. The large number abolished that, and enabled each student or employee to hang it up at home. The material no longer has any value. The more you have, the less value an object has, as we all know. I think it was quite a rare idea in art, because art always functions in small circles. When you say “I produced this video in an edition of ten”, it seems huge. Art is always about small numbers, even when dealing with lithography and engraving. We tried to work in almost industrial quantities; when you go beyond 100,000, you reach industrial numbers. It’s a little evolution in the art world. It was not only about form, because the rule of form is rather simple: to make a paper like those that already exist in several countries, with as little text as possible, rather more with images…
HUO: … which could be a newspaper and-or folded posters simultaneously.
CB: That was the rule of the game at first, then to print off large numbers, and then to scatter it around the world. On day it would be amusing to research all the places where people decided to put it up on the wall. There have been exhibitions of point d’ironie that we know of, but I am convinced there have been lots of private exhibitions. There may have been hundreds of exhibitions in unlikely places.
HUO: In a restaurant in Tokyo, there was a whole wall covered in the issue by Louise Bourgeois. It goes to the extent where, for example, the point d’ironie by Gabriel Orozco was used as wrapping paper.
CB: Yes, I remember one Christmas when everyone took it to wrap presents! These utilizations are something that seemed interesting and innovative to me; the object no longer has value as such, it only has an emotional value. With few exceptions, no one ever took that point d’ironie thinking it would be of saleable value one day. It is a disposiblething: you hang it up, it gets damaged, you throw it away and put another one up. That is why it is something new in the art world.
HUO: We now have a list of approximately forty issues, most of them created by great artists. There was a mass distribution of a million copies over the summer at Documenta11. At the moment we are preparing the retrospective in Ljubljana. Where do we go from here? Wouldn’t it be necessary to go elsewhere after a certain point -- for it to become a real paper, or a different kind of tool… to change our strategy ?
CB: I think point d’ironie should evolve. It’s a good club, and I think that today there might be other things to find. It could be good to play around with DVDs and CDs, which have become cheap. Indeed, when the Inrockuptibles [French weekly mag on culture] put a CD in their magazine, it’s a bit like a point d’ironie if you will. What is also wonderful, is that the name of the artist is written in very small letters, and that the majority of the artists are known within a rather small circle. Most of the people who took the issue by Orozco had no idea that it was by Orozco, they took it because they liked it. They picked it up like one picks up an advert that one likes.
HUO: Is it important for you that the pieces assert themselves independently, rather than through the name of the artists ?
CB: Yes. For both issues that I made, I thought it was important that they be visual.
HUO: I would like to talk about your first issue, which seems a little more abstract at first glance.
CB: The second one comes from an image I saw in a documentary on television, that moved me. Two young people dancing. But outside of that, what interested me was that the image is like a key to a secret message. You have to discover the message. When you look at the cover of the paper, what you see is rather pretty, but it’s like a Chinese painting or an abstract painting, sort of refined. When you put two copies together, and look at them from a certain distance, you see an image. It’s the coded message, the secret, that was important to me.
HUO: Thank you ever so much.
Obrist and Boltanski have a friendship that dates back many years, and the artist was the first ever to sit for an interview with the then-aspiring curator. The story of how they met can be read here.