H is for Hero — Bernard Marcadé — 2018
This text was written for the book ABC B.A. published in 2018 by Dent-de-Leone and distributed by Les presses du réel. This monograph is composed of a collection of texts and critical essays in the form of a abc-book. Based on key words, twelve art critics, curators or writers wrote a text commenting on Boris Achour’s work. The book also includes an iconographic collection offering an overview of the artist’s work.
H is for Hero
The question of heroism seems a far cry from the world of Boris Achour. In fact, it is a question that just does not come up with him. At the same time, it is equally impossible to describe Achour as an anti-hero, since anti-heroism is really a knowing antithesis to heroism. And yet, B. A.’s artistic world did not come from nowhere. His works teem with figures of artists, who are points of reference for him, heroes of a sort, as long as we divest the word hero of its legendary and mythological connotations and understand it in the sense of an exemplar. The heroes who count for Boris Achour play a decisive role in the development of his own work. In this respect, his first hero was Richard Baquié; he saw an exhibition of his work at the ARCA in Marseille in the 1980s. The Marseille artist’s works acted as a veritable trigger for Achour’s vocation and were an influence on him while he was studying art at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Cergy, particularly on his relationship to bricolage and words.
The objects of Boris Achour’s admiration who have shaped his artistic life have been tributary to the vagaries of his own questionings; some remain, others vanish, though they might reappear. Bertrand Lavier is an artist who once meant a lot to him; he is no longer a reference point but Achour feels that, at any moment, he is likely to interest him again. With Marcel Broodthaers it was a completely different matter. B.A. ignored him for a long time because he did not understand the intricacies of the Belgian artist’s approach. Over the years, M. B. gradually acted on him, to the point of becoming an essential figure in his pantheon. Similarly, the first time he came across Mike Kelley’s work at the Jeu de Paume in 1992, he thought the pieces on display were kitsch, not to say tacky. But little by little, after Achour had read catalogues and taken a trip to Los Angeles in 1999, M. K. ended up occupying a central place in his artistic genealogy.
From the outset, B. A. acknowledged his debt to the artists he admired. In 1998, at his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Chez Valentin, he paid a playful “inverted homage” to Bruce Nauman’s Self-Portrait as a Fountain. In the video, the artist has his head underwater and spouts air. Already in 1997, the ceramic posts of Contrôle implicitly referred to Duchamp’s Fontaine – implicitly, rather than explicitly; Boris Achour is not an artist who goes in for quotation. Using the symbolic potential of another artist, he feels, exploits a kind of collusion and authority which is alien tot him.
His method is discreet; it verges on mockery. Simple postcards, signed by Mike Kelley, Marcel Broodthaers and André Cadere and sent to Boris Achour for the opening of his exhibitions in Paris (Galerie Allen, 2017) and Mexico City (Museo Experimental El Eco, 2016), were sellotaped onto windows in the galleries so that the back and front were both visible. The messages, though different and personalized, each indicated that the artists were unable to attend the opening of the events in question. News from friends played on the absurdity of their failure to be there. The three artists, all dead, could obviously not attend the opening nights, but their ghostly presence, in the form of those old-fashioned postcards, manifested a kind of truth, because those artists’ fictional relationship with Boris Achour, accompanied by the fear that the cards might not reach the addressee – i.e., himself – produced a very real circularity. (One is inevitably reminded here of those beautiful pages by Jacques Derrida devoted to both the postcard and the ghost). In this work, it is a kind of asking for love, which, beyond death, comes to fill in or compensate for a loss, an absence, a regret. This is the polar opposite of Thomas Hirschhorn (a significant artist for B. A.) in his Monuments, which pay tribute to Gramsci, Bataille, Deleuze, and Spinoza; as contributions they offer an excessively virile and dithyrambic kind of heroism. B. A.’s postcards are not tributes to tutelary figures, but rather, in the strictest sense, tokens of love addressed to himself, which, precisely because of their fictitious and simulated quality, end up doing the job.
As for the people he admires, Achour likes to describe himself as a “fan”. This is true in both art and literature. When he discovers an author, he buys and reads everything they have written. As soon as he discovers an artist, he buys all their catalogues, collects everything to do with them, like a teenager, infatuated by his idols. It is an unconditional love, which legitimates all indulgences, going so far as to understand and even excuse aspects of their work that some might describe as facile or weak. Boris Achour nurtures a love affair with Filliou, Broodthaers, Baldessari, Kelley, Duchamp, and Nauman. And, as in any love story, he accepts the frailties, the uncertainties and the doubts of these tutelary figures.
What characterizes these artists, for Boris Achour, is the inexhaustible quality of their practice, their openness to renewal, their complexity. They are all artists who have broken with the idea of a system. Their works are on a wavelength that never ceases to have an effect on his own art. Receiving messages, even fictitious ones, from these artists puts a seal on something that is more than just admiration; it is a kind of friendship and a complicity. These artists continue to sustain him intellectually and perceptibly. The correspondence, for all its fictitiousness, is a humble and discreet testimony of that.
In the trilogy (News from friends), André Cadere seems to be an exception, because, unlike Mike Kelley and Marcel Broodthaers, he was an artist with a single gesture. But his “Christ-like” quality (carrying his baton as if it were his cross), and his marginality, had always intrigued B.A.. Cadere was undoubtedly a heroic figure in 1970s art, but his repeated gesture (carrying a baton composed of multi-coloured segments) had nothing heroic about it.
It is not surprising that Boris Achour was intrigued by this paradox, because his own approach is both shy and, at the same time, ostentatious, often discreet and sometimes spectacular, but always impertinent. Classically speaking, at least since Jorge Luis Borges, the traitor figure is integral with the hero. B. A. does not belong in that postmodern perspective. His approach is simpler, more sentimental you could even say. Such reversals are part of a rhetoric of perversion that is foreign to him.
Boris Achour’s position, though resolutely simple, is not naive. Like Marcel Broodthaers, he is well aware that the practice of art is not pure, that it has a lot to do with commerce, power, and narcissism. When he acknowledged that he was “selling something and succeeding in life”, Broodthaers abandoned the heroic territory of poetic romanticism and thrust himself into the more pragmatic sphere of the art-world and its compromises. If there was anything heroic about Broodthaers, it was the heroism of facing up to economic issues with lucidity and humour, without being misled into tasteful cynicism. Marcel Broodthaers was a tragic figure. As was Mike Kelley. Tragic in Nietzsche’s sense of being outside all dramatic pathos.
The heroic genealogy that Boris Achour has constructed for himself could be described as anti-authoritarian. His heroes never abused their power. Their power made itself felt in and through their works.
Translation: Jeremy Harrison