Fine Arts: Artist of the Week: Julien Bouillon

Oh, Duchamp has really been a prophet! Objects (money, bodies, and man-produced goods) and images are traversing their meanings and becoming incontrollable. Or, do they? Really, nowadays, they have been inverted upside down with all the digital technologies swallowing them up in the vortex of a black hole, where they become primarily signs and only then physical items. Moreover, objects become primarily virtual entities, pixels and megapixels, supernova digital galaxy crumbled with avatars, at your fingertips.

But, The French contemporary and interdisciplinary artist-erudite Julien Bouillon (1971) feels very much at ease playing with and exposing this ludicrous state of affairs. Such a fine irony he possesses, one could not help but smile, even with grave cases he touches as polluted “Earthly noosphere”, computer generated frauds, or buggy human minds.

Art and civilization are the orbits Julien Bouillon is questioning by means of all mediums he makes use of – sculpture, video, sound, installation, photography, painting, and even poetry. He embraces such wide territories of interests and expression, that critics describe him as an art anthropologist.  At the beginning of his art career, he formed part of the group “La Station” (2005 – 2009) with sound and video projects, only to continue expanding his sphere of experimenting back and forth to painting and objects.

I began with reference to Duchamp and his revision of the object and the art as a whole, as one can detect such reference in Bouillon artworks as Pistol (female), sculpture, 2013 and Pistols (glazed earthenware 2002), Free, blind, discrete (Black Tennis balls, 1998), and Collection 2006-2007, (bone).

Indeed, Monsieur Bouillon does not limit himself and his refined art game to just one or two directions. In his turn, Bouillon comments on art and technology, keystone art figures and famous art movements as Futurism, and philosophers as Lacan, thus setting his artworks in constant interrogation of concepts as reproduction and copy, sign and signifier, falseness and authenticity, meanwhile transgressing them in the virtual and digital reality and its impact on people’s social mind.

The artworks, mentioned above, have been part of a much illustrious “golden” group exhibition ‘Bla bla and Chichi on a Boat’ at Hussenot in Paris (2012). Looking at the documentary photos of the exhibition one can really feel sorry not to have visited it in person. At least I feel sorry about it.

Vestured cap-a-pie in golden sheets, the gallery space goes out of time and all art specimens in it become timeless, as kept a lid on and preserved in vacuum. Loyal to his playful nature Bouillon scatters the black tennis balls all over the golden floor – as some kind of stop-dots or obstacle-dots, distracting the viewer from the seriousness of the showcase art setting. “Free, blind, discrete” – one could forget oneself and all the pragmatic of time spent there, initiating pointless no-rules game just for the fun of it. Somewhere Bouillon states the conviction nothing happens by chance. Everything is well calculated as the body movements for a tennis ball hit; chance is just something one fails to capture in pragmatic terms. All these ideas (and given the sound work of Julien Bouillon “Lost songs”, where he presents a music universe of cell phone sounds) somehow remind to me the complex philosophic concepts of the artist and musician John Cage, affected so many artists through serialism.

In his Music of Chances Cage uses I Ching to compose. I Ching is an ancient far eastern method for divination, where one drops special sticks on a question one has, and then “reads” them. The scattered Black Tennis Balls could be an illustration of such a delight of using chances, which are just deceptively by chance. At any rate, someone has put the balls there beforehand (artist, computers, God?), thus forming a given situation, a configuration, a starting point, deliberate or not.

The pioneer Duchampian inversion of common objects into art objects, the attaching of alien significance to them is a very long-term and resistant, perplexing and enigmatic artistic act with unexhausted potential. Because, in addition to questioning the narrower problem of art itself in an ever-changing technological environment, such artistic acts of inversion also question social issues as consumerism and product-oriented civilization. Bouillon adds to this line with works as Collection, Has been devices, Corporate Suite, Universal Representation. His clocks of bone and wood sculptures of out-of-use antennas and radio receivers, decorated in acrylic – the synthetic, plastic looking substitute paints for oils and tempera – are turned in anachronistic icons, in casts more akin to nature (by their making) or archeology troves than to the outlook of technology products.

Monsieur Julien has several projects dedicated to photography and “photography”. “Venus transformed into a document”, his series of “Photography” (2006, 2007, 2008) and DSCN (Catalogue of instant digital photos).

Art is taken over by traditional photography, which is taken over by digital photography and especially by its obsession of the masses. This is too easy to say. The digital photo world with its artificial depth, petty informativeness and photoshop montage, plus the invasion of so-called selfies,  indeed, replace the very perspective of social sharing and personal sensory training. But painting and photography are not simply juxtaposed in the work of Julien Bouillon. What concerns the artist more is the interaction of the two artistic mediums – the give-and-take process flowing between them, and the alterations of the images’ issuing and life.

DSCN contains of absurd photography images, most of all emptied of whatever coherent content, that could itself be an aesthetic satisfaction or meaningful to the mind. Well, that is why they are so vast open for one to fill them up with some. However, this intellectual exercise could be rather frustrating with its purposelessness.

“Nearly 200 instant digital photographs, as a magazine for retail, delivering a look at the crumbling world of the digital people. The magazine examines, for example, new relationships emerged between individuals who are now producing their own unique content and broadcast on the web, and producer and professional publishers rolled by these upheavals”, comments the artist on his project. The quantity does not necessarily lead to quality communication and freedom of expression does not necessarily mean one has something articulate to say. Digital photography and especially selfie – photography turn into double-edged sword with the help of contemporary product-mania and so called social sharing-mania.

The world of the “selfie” social-sharing photography seems exposed to all extent and true to real life, as it gives such glimpses of the other and his surroundings as we are all common with in our own daily life. Pics are so naturalistic in literal and figurative sense, that they finally corrupt the perception for reality and refuse to deliver a deeper satisfaction from the act of viewing. As Julien Bouillon explains his point of view for his particular course of photography exploration (in a statement to his corresponding work):

“As I am a genre photographer, here I intend to tackle that aspect of photography where it attempts to dissimulate itself as much as possible behind its objective: performance. The life, which it must reveal, renders it either neutral or banal, but above all clear of all suspicion of falseness. Despite this, it fails to render life more interesting than art, that is to say, “Venus transformed into a document”.

The tendrils of artistic inversion permeate the “Photography” series, too. The series consists of paintings – in naïve or abstract pursuance – some of which are dialogical to other historic artists’ works, for instance the painting “Chess and Matisse”. But they are photographed and displayed as photography. Making the original artwork a photocopy of itself (reproducing) and presenting it as an original of other media, is an ironic wink not only to art values generally, but also to the very processes of art-making.

“I am not interested in making art that will be unique or repetitive. This is certainly harmful for my career, as the clients and the art world personas need to identify. One is somehow subjected to the dictatorship of the logo: to make art that is recognizable at first glance. That does not attract me.…I have always been sporadic. In my opinion, art exists to make you think. However, it is also possible to situate oneself in the domain of decoration, of the pure presence, insofar as the decorative itself is a question of art, too.”  (Julien Bouillon, Interview of Marie-Émilie Fourneaux, for HIC Villa Arson 2011 exhibition, fragment)

An artist of similar broad, heterogeneous scope like Julien Bouillon makes certainly a tough nut for critics to crack, but for the less intellectually cumbered his art is undoubtedly a refreshing aesthetic and simply worthy experience.

Fine Arts: Artist of the Week: Julien Bouillon – Article By Venelina Petkova, A Verified Pangaea Galleria Curator, Published March 19th, 2014