R is for Rose — Émilie Renard — 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.


R is for Rose


THE ROSE IS WITHOUT WHY, IT BLOOMS BECAUSE IT BLOOMS, IT CARES NOT FOR ITSELF, ASKS NOT IF IT IS SEEN (2013). Stretching the length of a wall in illuminated letters formed from standard fluorescent tubes, in a long public square (during Nuit Blanche in Toronto, 2013), this quatrain by Angelus Silesius is as much about the flower as the poem itself; each is posited as a self-evident, already existing creation. For Boris Achour, this poem has become a metaphor and manifesto for the work, which both takes the place of the rose in the poem (like the Yes for the No on the baseball bat) and is utterly and entirely the rose (i.e., the poem, in the form of gigantic illuminated writing). To take the work for both the rose and the poem restates old questions about the work of art, to which this old poem had already affected to supply a simple and definitive answer: it describes the thing (the rose, the poem, the work) as endowed with radical autonomy, sovereignty and assertive power, and with independence in its relationship to the author and the viewer, as something with neither before nor after. Can the artwork, which is like the rose, which is like the poem, be without why and without concern for itself? Does the artwork, too, have no desire to be seen, no reason and no origin, nor author? Is it also for nobody and completely impersonal?

Some works are roses, driven by a rhythm of their own, animated by an inner music like Cosmos (2002), a big, impenetrable, flesh-coloured ball, a kind of head suspended upside down, humming the rousing, internationally popular tune the Lambada, while quietly spinning like an indifferent planet. From Cosmos to Papamoule, there is a collection of works that we might describe as introverted if they could be ascribed psychological qualities. It is as if they were caught up in self-fulfilling fictions that give them a certain self-sufficiency. They all have the same way of turning inwards, into their dreams and, above all, of turning their back on the outside world, on the public, on us, and on you. They are—to use the title of a sculpture series from 2016, which was also the title (taken from a poem by Filliou) of a lecture series at the art school in Cergy where Boris Achour teaches—, Tranquillement assis sans rien faire (“Sitting quietly doing nothing”). Or they are Papamoule (2017): opaque, full, mute, and imperturbable. Or they are Rempli (1997) a still shot on a video loop in which a motionless hand, full of plaster, is held out as if to receive something, although already full. Or they are self-reflecting and self-lighting like The Leftovers (Nora) (2016), a light sculpture, suspended from the ceiling, consisting of an architect’s lamp hanging upside down from a sculptural base. The lampshade is turned upwards towards its stand so that it lights itself in a lonely kind of way. These works demonstrate their self-sufficiency and, like the rose, they exhibit themselves, occupy a place and exist in space, where they proclaim their indifference towards being seen, while still offering the most tenuous of relationships to someone, no matter who, as long as they are seen.

These works can easily be described as “without why”, without reason, without source and even without author, or at least they keep the author at a distance. Boris Achour has often said that his work is heterogeneous and that it involves an almost indiscriminate use of techniques, supports, and materials, and that they can be ordinary, accessible, amateur, manual and improvised, or elaborate, specific, engineered and precious; which is as much as to say that there is an intentional absence of any stylistic signature. If the author does not actually disappear behind the absence of a personal style, what he is engaged in is an artistic practice where it is the logic of the work, his gestures, his materials and even his routine, that guide him and finally make decisions for him. This remoteness on the part of the author in directing the manufacture of his own work is not so much generated by improvised or spontaneous forms, as by a systematic, detached relationship, in which he is able to find a non-personal, self-generative power. This inversion, as it were, of the decision-making power allows the author to become a passive subject, an external observer of his own work, in a happy state of laissez-faire and letting-go. Boris Achour presented this fiction of an independent, already-existing work in a short film called Conatus : Cambrien intérieur nuit (2006). In this six-minute video, shot in infrared mode, we see hands groping, lifting a carpet, opening a hatch or a ventilation grid, lifting a board in a false ceiling, opening a drain cover, exploring from top to bottom all the hiding places in a dark house full of mysterious objects that turn out to be the works in the exhibition. This film reveals one of the secrets of creation, drawing on the ancient, nocturnal sources of works that lurk in the innermost depths of a house. All one had to do was go and find them, and then bring them into the white neon lights of the exhibition. It is the film of an author’s dream, demonstrating in almost pedagogical fashion how they gain access to their works in a state of sleep, by means of a shared imagination that associates creation with discovery—with the artist’s subconscious. It is a film about the dream of easy creation: all the artist had to do was bend down. This film is like an intimate, domestic, nocturnal version of an older and, in many respects, more programmatic work: the Actions-peu (1993-97), which appear in broad daylight, in an urban landscape and in similarly elementary, basic, seemingly already-existing forms. In the 2006 film, the works have to be extracted from their hiding place and arranged under the spotlights, whereas in the series from the 1990s, they are deposited in the street. It is the same hands that moved them around, perhaps those hands even returned in 2006, to look for the sculptures they had abandoned a few years earlier? Serving the ball again after a few bounces? (See “B for Balls”)

Today, the Actions-peu series seems to have been at the origin of a regular ambivalence between a stated autonomy and the immediate contradiction of it. Because, although the Actions peu emphasize the independence of a work which exists in spite of everything—outside established frameworks, in the open air, outside the economy, improvised—, the fact that they are recorded (in photos and videos) makes them reproducible and ensures that they will be exhibited somewhere. If the Actions-peu works could be identified with what they represent—i.e., povera sculptures—, the fact that they were recorded (in a photo or a video) immediately contradicts the romantic vision of an improvised work given-away and lost. The archival nature of the Actions-peu works gives predominance to the document over these delicate, unstable forms. The document shows one of the many possible uses for these inessential forms, the gesture that accompanies the work, the use that persists in it. It is an alternative to their reification, even temporary, whether they end up in the street or in an exhibition. The dual composition of the Actions-peu works, as archive of a gesture and documentation of a sculpture, subsequently initiated a whole series of relations between delicate, low-quality sculptural forms, of uncertain, perhaps even disposable status on the one hand, and, on the other, films of these sculptural forms showing how they can be used or manipulated, as well as other possible combinations. They demonstrate an inverted relationship between the « original » or « unique » artwork and the documentation or mediation of it, or indeed its title. Models, display objects, pieces in a game, sculptures, none of these ever stand alone: they are accompanied by films which document the gestures, the ways they are used, and other possible lives for them, as in Les jeux dont j’ignore les règles, display (“Games whose rules are unknown to us, display”) (2014-2015).

Papamoule is also a dual figure, although more concentrated: the work consists of the bronze sculpture and the case; it is the shape of a pipe moulded from a single black block and an old pipe case, which the sculpture fits snugly into. Closed, the case protects it and locks it away. Open, it separates and reveals it. They are complementary: the case is like an old mussel shell.[1] The  case is in two symmetrical parts, a soft, welcoming shape for a solid, inscrutable, shiny, new object. In its worn, black leather case, this smooth, solid shape that fits neatly into the hand is a slightly complacent object that plays on the quaint charm of this typically masculine sign. But what exactly is a papamoule?  A papa who is moulding? Papa’s mould? Or papa’s mussel? A papa who is a mould, or perhaps a mussel? A papa who has a mould/mussel? Who here has taken the form of whom or what? Who is snugly fitting into whom?

It is no doubt this ambivalence, this contradiction, which can be seen as a recognition of unbalanced relationships, that becomes the driving force and the trigger for a work. The work then takes the form of a series of disproportionate relationships, whereby a document survives the ephemeral sculpture, where the title hides the work, where the light overpowers the message, where the announcement is the work, where the work documents itself, is its own mediation, and relates where it comes from. It becomes not so much a matter of choosing between two positions, as of setting off conflicting and precariously balanced dynamics: there is modesty and the will to power, frustration and joy, and the urge to play another game, just for fun.

[1] Translator’s note: In the French text, the author plays on the multiple senses of the French word “moule”, which can mean “mould” (as used by sculptors) both noun and verb, and “mussel” (the mollusc), as well as being a slang word for the “vulva ».

Translation: Jeremy Harrison