PLEASE EVERYBODY WELCOME ME IN JOINING BORIS ACHOUR : LOOSELY CONNECTED THOUGHTS ON THE ARTIST’S WORK — CHRIS GILBERT — 2005
Published in the monographic catalogue Unité, 2005.
1. Achour’s work is somehow literary in a way that sets it apart from most of the work that circulates in the contemporary sphere now. Of course, in that regard one could say that his work hooks up with the anti-retinal legacy of Marcel Duchamp. Yet, for the most part, this anti-retinality has been understood as a kind of gamesmanship with ready-mades and focuses on acts of nomination while excluding those literary qualities normally grouped under the rubric of “sensibility.” Marcel Broodthaers comes to mind as the sign under which those other literary attributes might be recovered today.
2. It is important that Achour, like Duchamp, like Broodthaers, trades in humor – this being an important part of what we call sensibility, literary or otherwise. Yet Achour is in a world apart from these two, separated by an abyss called pop culture, and for the most part American pop culture: the world of Tex Avery, Hollywood, Tweety Bird, Wil E. Coyote, luxury cars, and iconic Lady Dis, most of it mashed together on the same level field. Homme de lettres meets pop culture would seem to be an improbable combination, and it is. In fact, it exists only as a set of the most minor and transient adjustments, the lines – such as the Actions-peu – that Achour traces out in his work.
3. Of course, one nexus of these two strands – pop culture and letters – is to be found in conceptual art, especially in American conceptualism. The latter is rarely considered for its humorous qualities; yet a significant vein of dry comedy runs through the practices of Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, Art & Language, erupting to the surface occasionally in the contemporary work of Richard Prince, Maurizio Cattelan, and David Robbins. Achour mines this vein considerably: it is a matter of reading conceptualism against the grain, for its flavor as much as its ideas.
4. Today it is common to put forth the screenplay as a model for artists’ work: one scripts or rescripts an alternative world. Yet the most radically “other” screenplay still operates in the same world – and is homologous with it – the technocratic rationality of the culture industry that commissions and trades in them. To get something truly different, to change the rules of the game, one must turn to subordinate genres, such as the novel is today. Even by the early to mid twentieth century, it seems that the novel was a practice with strong ties to a non-geographic periphery, the most important work coming from figures off-center such as Franz Kafka, Witold Gombrowicz, and Robert Musil. It’s this novelistic operation that seems to define Achour’s most robust and most calculating work.
5. I do not think it is possible to imagine Boris Achour’s work in a world without boredom. Boredom, of course, exists in a structural opposition to enthusiasm, the normative response to hype. Fortunately, there is something resistant about boredom: when consumer culture says buy-eat-pay attention! a few pathetic souls (and parts of every pathetic soul) reply I don’t care and I can’t be made to care. Boredom is a positive part of modern experience – as Joseph Brodsky argued and Andy Warhol lived. It is also the affective site of and impetus to a certain kind of creative labor, since so many things can occupy the enormous grey region of what need not be made and seen, but still can be made and seen.
6. One of the first bored literary protagonists – of course, there are earlier ones – is Madame Bovary. Emma is a suburban avant la lettre, which is telling, since boredom is quintessentially suburban, just as suburbs are most definitively boring. (In fact, most suburbs aim to be boring, while calling it safety, security, and peace.) Perhaps because Achour’s work operates from the position of boredom, from the sense of the vast arbitrariness of most things in the world, his pieces often contain a significant subtext of the suburban. The suburban is the link between his Sommes (photos of Achour catnapping in Hollywood hedges), the video store of Cosmos, and the Stoppeur (who should be on a highway exit on the threshold of the city and country).
7. Many of the above distinctions – between the sober and humorous, between the technocratic rationality of the screenplay and its literary others, between normative hype and playful boredom – could be recast as the distinction between the grown-up and the immature. (Or is it immature to think so?) Faced with this opposition, Achour definitely sides with the immature. Here it is Witold Gombrowicz again, especially the Gombrowicz of Ferdydurke, with its 30-year old “schoolboy” as narrator, that is his ally. For both Achour and Gombrowicz, the immature is permission, the immature is the improbable, the immature is that which cannot be done (or conceived) just prior to and just after its being done.
8. Recently, Achour took part in a series of shows I co-organized on the subject of lines of flight, the poetics and politics of escape. I wanted to show his work Autoportrait en Coyote, in which the artist’s spread-eagle silhouette (a direct reference to Wile E. Coyote) is subtracted from the wall as if he has just passed through. This proved impracticable. Next we considered showing Stoppeur, his immobilized hitchiker. In the end, however, Achour did a surprising, unpredictable thing, gathering posters from the city and – adolescent and cave-man style – imprinting his left hand on them for a piece called Ici et autrefois et ailleurs et maintenant. As it turned out, Achour’s work performed a very radical escape – an escape in which, as it turned out, I was eager to take part – from the exhibition’s theme itself.