The first time that I became aware of the work of Josselin Vidalenc, I didn’t know anything about him. Without daring to enter the “Ateliers” space1 that was reserved for him, I was nonetheless attracted by the presence of a shell on a table where plates were also standing upright. This shell was no longer there the day of my meeting with the artist... I was immediately curious to understand why so many sculptures were garnishing his studio but I discovered in the interim that Josselin’s sole medium was performance. He was, during his studies, motivated by a compulsive need to move his body to interact with objects that he considered just as alive as he was. These strange performances were respectful of objects, which were not reduced to the status of accessories – since animism is the main question his practice is concerned with.
Josselin confided in me his desire to stop his performance practice and devote himself to “sculpture”. Performance was apparently for him a means more than an ends, a necessary phase for feeling that the objects were not in need of an external organism to animate them. In his opinion, that external force would be pointless once the sculpture finds itself already permeated by an action or actions, with a temporality that is already contained within the artwork. Through his works and installations, Josselin now lets the objects follow their own course.
Our conversation touched for a moment on colour, something that was already very present in his performances. The question first arose in a series of paintings done in spray paint, evoking a cluster of clouds for me. Small cardboard boxes, of the supermarket variety, unfolded and flattened, were thus painted, presenting a strange texture. Curiously, Josselin introduced me to them as “skins”: of packaging and paint, segwaying in this way towards the epidermis and organic tissue, in a return to the body. This constant to-and-fro between the body and its surroundings acts like a guiding theme within his approach. The body is not necessarily that of the artist but also that of the visitor, as in his installation La Chambre d’amis (2015) [The Guest Room] recently presented at the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Saint-Etienne2. This environment of metal bars, joined by way of moulds of glasses made from colourful plastic, can therefore be infinitely modulated, although it does not constitute a strictly minimalist modulation. Adopting the spiral as opposed to the grid, Josselin situates his practice in the wake of dissident artists against orthodox minimalism, such as Paul Teck or Eva Esse, and his seriality is strongly marked by an organic presence, affirming its absence of original purity, as well as its relationship with banal and disposable objects.
I questioned him on the concept of the “guest room”: did this correspond to an intimate, private space bearing the trace of the masters of the house (and hence the antithesis of an exhibition space) or was it a space that remained deliberately neutral, so that the people passing through could feel at ease, if only for a moment? Just as the beholder can create the artwork, can the visitor appropriate the exhibition space during their visit? Can they stroll serenely through an intimidating white cube thanks to the effect produced by objects assembled in a certain order? Josselin’s approach highlights the idea that there shouldn’t be any distance between the body in flesh and blood and the object – that a kind of fusion inevitably takes place. He would like to cause a phenomenology of the imagination to be generated, allowing the objects to orchestrate the visitor, just as the artist or performer could have orchestrated the objects. In his opinion, you have to allow things the time to be something, without going so far as to enact this change.
We then turned to a series of white dinner plates pierced through with orifices, entitled Yyeeuuxx (2016), hung on the walls like amulets. These gaping black holes with cores of immaculate white are not there, however, to signify eyes. They are not a pastiche of African masks either. We then talked about the pillage of certain modern artists in extra-European cultures. Josselin didn’t deny it, even recognising this within his own practice. But animism inspires him more than any formalist aspects and it is precisely in this way that he enters into symbiosis with these cultures, just as he does through the writing of Michel Leiris or Italo Calvino. Our discussions have very often been interspersed with literary references and citations, which are well recorded in his notebooks.
At the end of our interview, the shell reappears, not physically (at least, not yet), but via a short story by Italo Calvino entitled “The Spiral”3, which Josselin briefly summarises for me as the autobiographical tale of a mollusc, developing out of the sensations produced by the marine environment, the effect of the waves on this organism that forms over the course of time, allowing the colourful spiral of its limestone envelope to show through... It finally re-emerges in the hands of the artist. This shell circulates in such a way that nothing seems to predict whether its resin replica or the shell itself will contribute to the work. His aptitude for self-production sums up what Josselin expects from his works nicely: that they reveal their autonomy while surpassing the inertia that our perception wants to enclose them in.
Benoît Lamy de La Chapelle
- Note 1 : Artists’ collective in Clermont-Ferrand: http://www.lesateliers.cc
- Note 2 : Local Line 18, Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Saint-Etienne, 5 September - 15 November 2015.
- Note 3 : CALVINO, I. and WEAVER, W. (trans.) The Complete Cosmicomics. Geneva: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015 (first published in 1965).