N is for Normal — Nathalie Quintane — 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.


N is for Normal
How does one maintain a form of indecisiveness while remaining decisive in one’s work? And what should one do when the general indecisiveness one had previously adopted and that had given us protection is changed into a mild injunction to start showing decisiveness, to be firm? That established, though undefined group, to which we would like to belong – something along the lines of a family with nothing family-like about it, a barely sketched-in father, a mother who would only survive as a smile; a Cheshire-cat of a mother – and sisters, and brothers who would goad one another into irritation simply for the sake of another good pillow fight, the kind where the pillows split open in a cloud of soft, downy feathers. That group (established but undefined) never eventually materialised. It has stayed in the bedroom I had when I was eight years old, when I used to invent conversations with imaginary sisters and imaginary brothers before going to sleep. But, hey, memory has a duty to be productive here.

“Do it”: that’s how we urge on our spectators or our readers, “Please, do it. Take the sticks, the pencil, the colours, that I’ve abandoned, because I really can’t go on, basically, and the theoretical justifications, you see, they’re just quotations culled from here and there, links for people who believe that there’s intelligence to be found in a proper name. You needn’t worry about it, it’s nothing to get anxious about. Grab hold of the sticks, the pencil, the colours, waft around with them, wave them gently about, on staircases that go down by themselves, and stop minding that it’s an imitation. Or let the beauty of your imitation redeem the guilt you feel from imitating. And don’t explain, don’t use fine words in suits and ties, in evening gowns, or Bermuda shorts. Maybe if you all get involved, one day, before I die, the particular combinatorics of groups – which is really undecidable, I’ve been a schoolteacher long enough to know that – will of itself create an established population, though one sufficiently vague for it to have abandoned any idea of war, and even to have forgotten the proper use of a Kalashnikov, using the stock just for things like planting a fig tree.”

It had hardly got going when everything was brought to the ground, remember? Circa 2000. Probably a bit later.

By what?

By its weight.

Because a work is not built in stages or periods (that’s the way historians work) but in the continuity of a shaken dream; there was an attempt to persevere with weightlessness in two films in particular, my favourites: Brume (from 2003), a ghostly premonition of Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama/Paris est une fête (2016), in which a few youths, terrorists on their last legs, shelter for the night in a deserted shopping mall and, in a state of semi-consciousness, act out the poses and figures from advertisements and video clips, all the solemn ghastliness of our lives, one last time, before being shot by the counter-terrorism task force – like the zombies in Brume; and then La nuit du danseur (2009), night-time again, and once again in a place deserted by humanity, another ghost in a suit, an impeccable comrade moon who dances in front of artworks obscured by darkness. The artist is not the last dancer, but the last person to film the dancer, to bring us the sound of tap dancing, and to exhibit it in 2009 – but till when? The relative lightness of the 1990s Actions-peu and the quiet irony of Les Femmes riches sont belles, gave way to the ghostly atmosphere; moderation, you might say, in asserting the conatus, our modest conatus of the 2000’s and the 2010’s.

So, how would you work (in the sense that you work, or knead, dough) something as subtle as an atmosphere, even a heavy atmosphere, for that matter, when they bring out the bombers? The afore-mentioned weightiness meant (the past tense is relevant here) that we only had the choice of being in tune or out of tune, first, that is to say, at the time when we still hoped we could form an autonomous group, established but undefined, and then, that is to say, in the sights of the bombers and in that scenario or that thought experiment (which just shows there was still hope) of a third tuning fork, a metal mini-harp pointing up to a heaven with no god but with a moral law, or a tap dancer in total darkness.

The artist is the woodcutter of norms or their nurseryman. Everybody else can pretty well just go to the garden centre and pick up pots with blooms that have been worked out beforehand, as the artist has pointed out. Having been the stupefied victim of it himself in his childhood, he knows what he is talking about, and in his little corner he tries to reconnect with ancient and modern seeds, to make a small hole with his finger and feel the heat of the indifferent soil working away; in short, to address his own contradictions.

But you have to go through the checkout. No surprises of course at the garden centre checkout. What was a surprise was what happened to Tartarin de Tarascon in the Alps. Allow me to give you the plot of the second volume of the adventures of Tartarin (in the third and last volume he gets swindled by a dishonest businessman – a pleonasm perhaps –, who sells him an island that doesn’t exist and that he goes off in search of). So, Tartarin goes to Switzerland to climb the Jungfrau and to cement his status as president of the Club des Alpilles (high hills). Having reached the summit, he finds himself queuing up behind some tourists: the Swiss have installed a pay turnstile! Trust the Swiss! Isn’t that what people used to say in those days? Trust Daflon, trust Decrozat. Trust the Swiss, with their coin-in-the-slot turnstile. And when I say nurseryman, I mean, for example, Waiting for Alice (En attendant Alice), a cruel and beautiful concentration of school memories and a time that never disappears.

Translation: Jeremy Harrison