Les Levine, artiste fondateur du concept “media art”, ami proche de Gordon Matta-Clark, nous accorde une interview à la Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume à l’occasion de l’exposition Gordon Matta-Clark : Anarchitecte.
L’entretien filmé, disponible sur You Tube (lien ci-dessous), a été réalisé sous la direction de Danielle C. March, docteur en histoire de l’art (thèse sur Les Levine) et Stéphane Courarie-Delage, architecte co-fondateur de dust-distiller.com, et assistés de Fabrice Bothereau, docteur en philosophie et critique d’art.
Dans le Jardin des Tuileries, quelques instants avant la visite de l’exposition et de l’interview filmée, Les Levine nous parle de Gordon Matta-Clark en présence de son épouse Catherine Levine et de leur fille Nora.
En VO dans le texte.
Danielle C. March (D.C.M.): You have met Gordon Matta-Clark in 1969 at the “Earth Art” exhibition organized by your friend Willoughby Sharp.Today what do you think about Gordon’s work, the cuttings, the photographs and the graffitis ?
Les Levine (L.L.): The main thought I had about Gordon’s work is that it is a form of vandalism also if you think about it, you know, it is interesting graffiti. Grafﬁti is also a form of vandalism, you know, and it’s kind of like a form of “ghetto media” in a sense that it is not sort of like “main stream media” but it is an attempt to sort of represent ideas in a certain kind of way. So it’s a certain kind of “low level media” and the thing about it is that while that’s representing these ideas, I think it’s entirely stupid what people think about graffitiin that day. They view it aesthetically where it has no aesthetic meaning whatever.
Fabrice Bothereau (F.B.): It has become very hype!
L.L.: Yes,because in particularly Europeans have this idea of, you know, the exotic nature of “the other”, the one that is not like them, so to speak. And the exotic nature of the expression of a form of art that is not in the main stream of art. So, you know from that point of view, it seems as though it’s interesting, but in reality its main thrust is aggressiveness, its main thrust is that it wants to destroy the status quo of the normal idea. But it never really makes it as art in my opinion, it never really succeeds as art. If anything, it succeeds as a kind of anarchistic gesture. A gesture against the rules of society. Instead of going through the normal thing that people go through, they go to school, they learn how to developed, they get a job, they become a professional, what have you. They want this (Les Levine finger snapping!) without any effort. They want it immediately with no effort. They don’t feel that it’s reasonable for society to do all the things that society does, but they never stopped to think that people put a lot of effort into all this. They didn’t get it for nothing but graffiti is wanted for nothing. They want to resolved without putting the effort in. And in actual fact, a major part of it is, that it is a form of destruction. It’s a form of damaging the culture that those educated to produce the culture have produced. So it’s like I say, “piss on your culture”, you know, it’s like “I want to say that your culture doesn’t work for me. But I am not willing to put any effort in, to create a real alternative to your culture. I’m just going to try to cover it over with my name”. Most of the graffiti things are what we call tags which means their name and so “I just gonna put my name on the top of your thing and destroy your thing and try to make it my thing”and I don’t know. One time, many years ago in Canada, I went to give a lecture in a school and before I went to give a lecture in the school, they told me, “this is a free school, anybody can do anything they want in the school”. So I went on the elevator and on the elevator it was all this waste out of control expressions. And I went to the sixth floor, I gave my lecture, I came down, and on the elevator, it was completely changed, not the same thing at all. And so that gave me the impression that, ﬁne, if you want that level of freedom, then you know, by nature, there’s going be an enormous amount of fatalities involved, because that degree of freedom doesn’t allow for the normal social control that one has over things, you know, you don’t just walk up to somebody and decide to do something out of place. So in a certain kind of way even though, you know, I think that Gordon was probably fascinated by the idea of people doing things that they weren’t suppose to do. And you know,as much as Stéphane thinks, that it makes some contributions to architecture, I don’t. And the raison I don’t think it makes any contribution to architecture is, you know: the painter Turner, he studied as an architect, but he didn’t become an architect, he became a painter, O.K. Gordon studied as an architect but he never became an architect, O.K. And so these cuts in buildings he did, to me it’s like cutting-up architecture. It’s like saying I couldn’t make it as architect so I’m going to cut-up architecture, you know. It’s kind of like at a certain level a kind of spoilt brat prankism, you know. They wouldn’t let me become an architect, so screw architecture, you know. I’m gonna cut it up. That’s the feeling I have about. I don’t see where there is any contribution to architecture involved. I don’t see it. If there is, I would be happy for you to explain it to me, because I don’t see it.
Sthéphane Courarie-Delage (S.C.D.): I think some architects have been influenced by Gordon Matta-Clark in the way that… you will see for instance, it’s not a real reproduction of Gordon Matta-Clark’s ideas, but in the renovation of the building of the Jeu de Paume there is a kind of cut in the floor. It used to be the Jeu de Paume, it’s the ancestor of tennis playing. So it was a hole, and the architects filled up the hole with a floor. There were also politics that came there. So architects interpreted those cuts not as a revolution but as a way not to be in the convention of the architecture. So they broke their buildings like we spoke about Arquitectonica.
L.L.: No, it’s not the same. Actually, that’s a terrible reading of Arquitectonica. I’m now going to have to put my “architecture head” on, which is that Arquitectonica is more inﬂuenced by Renaissance, roman architecture, than they are by Gordon Matta-Clark. Look at Arquitectonica where they have these kinds of spaces, they go through from one side of the building to the other. This is like roman architecture, this is like Renaissance architecture.
S.C.D.: Such people like Daniel Liebeskind or Peter Eisenman or all the deconstructivists have been inﬂuenced by the cuttings. Also the way buildings propose an other architecture like Coop Himmelb(l)au, they have a lot of light coming in, they reproduce the cuttings in a new architecture.
L.L.: I don’t think so.The fact that somebody has cut between one floorand another… Actually in the building which I live in, in New York, there is a cut between one floor and the other. But I would guarantee you that the person who did it never heard of Gordon Matta-Clark.
S.C.D.: There are some floorcuttings not the same as Gordon has done, but for instance the house of Frank Gehry in Los Angeles. He has split different spaces, after having the knowledge of Gordon Matta-Clark. This is what is commonly said.
L.L.: I prefer to see these works not in terms of some kind of concept of architecture history or art history in which the proponents of that kind of activity always try to make connections between one thing and an other, even if there is no connection. They always try to do that because that validates their position in life. However, from my point of view, I only want to see what’s there. I don’t want to impose anything. What is there, is a dark room, in which a hole has been cut, in which light comes in, O.K. This is to me is like a camera. I already told you that. This is what a camera does, you open the aperture a little bit and light comes in. And if you look at Gordon’s photographs, they are for more sophisticated than any architecture idea that he has. The photographs are the art, in my opinion. The activity that a person may do,to make a photograph, in other words, he may put two oranges and an apple on a table and then take a photograph. I mean being childish here at a certain level,but whatever, the person may do to make the photograph is not the art. It’s the photograph, O.K. Or he may say to a man standing next to this building here and I take the photograph with a certain light that is now hiding you because you’re next to the building. And in the case of Gordon, those photographs,those cuts all turn these buildings into pinhole cameras, O.K. I’m not imagining this, this is what you can see. If as example, you will look at those photographs where he has cut these holes in them and there would be no light there, there would be no such thing as light coming in.
S.C.D.: You mean if it’s night for instance.
L.L.: Yes, if it’s night. Or, I didn’t exactly mean that but (laugh) if it would not been letting light in, the entire meaning of the thing would be changed. So the meaning of the thing is “letting light in”.
S.C.D.: I know a photographer who used the pavilion of Mies van der Rohe in Barcelona as a camera obscura. So he closed all the building and made a little hole like this and put a real paper like you make a photo from a slide. So he made real paper photographs and opened it and printed it. So he used the building as a real camera obscura and the result was quite interesting and it worked also. When you spoke about the pinhole camera, the way of making this art, it reminds me this example.
L.L.: Every thing reminds you of something else. Why not just stay on the thing that we are dealing with,why be reminded of something else?
S.C.D.: The question that I am asking is, how Gordon Matta-Clark is influencing so much the architects, can you have an answer?
L.L.: I don’t agree with that.
S.: No, not influence, sorry, it’s not the word. They are fascinated by his art.
L.L.: Oh, they’re fascinated, sure. The reason they’re fascinated from my point of view is, because he’s very critical of architecture, that’s the main thrust of his work. Not that’s a contribution to architecture, but it’s a serious criticism of architecture. And if you know architects, you know they love to be criticized. I mean, do you remember ANALYZE LOVERS!
(Les Levine, Analyze Lovers : The Story of Vincent, 1990, installation, 20 interviews filmées, 13 billboards, musique Michael Galasso. Cette œuvre , Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1990.)
S.C.D.: I think the idea of CONICAL INTERSECTION, next to Beaubourg in 1975, was to bring an other view on the city and to treat light in a different way than the architect has done it. So, I think it is very critical about architecture in this way, it breaks the conventional rules of the architecture with openings, square openings and slab and the walls and little cubes where you live, so, it was really against this way of doing, especially in this period that it was critical.
L.L.: The main thrust of it is, and we can know that, not by our sort of like “dream like fantasies of connecting” one thing with the other, the shoelace with the hair or whatever, you know. We can know that by the fact that he is interested in grafﬁti.
S.C.D.: You are making a relation with grafﬁti?
L.L. : No, I am telling you that the main point is to be anarchistic. The main point is to be against the system, the main point is to associate yourself with those things that are in some way against the norm of society.
F.B.: You said, may be it was you, about the fact that you thought that Gordon Matta-Clark was an abandoned child, yeah, and since yesterday I have seen a lot of documents about Gordon Matta-Clark and books at the Jeu de Paume, and so, may be I am confused about who says what now today, but is it you who said, you can see the house with the cuts in like the figure of the mother ?
L.L: No, I didn’t say that. I did say however in the catalog where the show was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago which was done shortly after his death, I did say that he was an abandoned child and that he was interested in those things which where abandoned. And I didn’t say it was about the mother. I did mentioned that the cuts etc and so far are metaphoric for a female sex organs.
F.B.: Female sex organs.
L.L: Yes, I did say that.
F.B.: So, it’s like the same thing of it ?
L.L: No, it’s not the same thing. One doesn’t always associate the female sex organs with the mother.
F.B.: Right, right, sure. But in this case I see it.
L.L: I don’t see that other people see it that way. I am saying I see it that way.
L.L: In the same way as you can see, I forget the Italian artist, who cuts the canvas.
L.L.: Fontana. I mean, you, it’s not sort of like a realistic sort of representation, it’s more sort of psychological metaphor, you know, as to why somebody does that, you know. It’s not that it gives you any sort of exact explanation of what it is. It’s more that it brings you into a realm of kind of thoughtfulness in that area. That’s all, you know. You can’t sort of look at it and say that’s that.
F.B.: Sure, right.
L.L.: So, but, the thing is that if you think about where this exhibition came from, The Bronx Museum. Now, The Bronx Museum, you know, unless you are prepared to believe that museums have disintegrated into community center activities, The Bronx Museum is not a real museum, O.K. because what The Bronx Museum is, is a really a center that deals with various activities what in the community that it becomes a way of, in a sense, sort of trying to vandalize some kind of culture activities within, in some kind of semi depressed sort of area. So the issues that are existed, let’s say, in art history, in modernism, postmodernism, or anything like that don’t exist. The issues that do exist in that situation are issues of what kind of things can we do to, in some way, vandalize the community. So in a sense, The Bronx Museum per se is a sort of a conceptual museum and that it’s not a real museum in the sense of what we normally would think like the Louvre which houses great works of art from any period in time, what have you, it’s not a museum of that nature. And the word museum is a misnomer because it’s really an extended community center and,you know,a lot of Gordon’s work is involved with that kind of concept.
S.C.D.: When you say it’s not a real museum, is it a critic of this museum or is it a way of saying it’s a new way of making a museum? What do you mean by, it’s not a real museum?
L.L.: I mean it’s, maybe “real” is a bad word. It’s not a museum in the conventional sense of a museum, O.K. It’s not like The Museum of Modern Art, it’s not like The New Museum, it’s not like The Whitney Museum, it’s not like those museums which essentially are an extension of the development ofart history in terms of here,in The Bronx Museum art history doesn’t count for nothing.
S.C.D.: I hear a kind of a critic.
L.L.: Oh, oh, you hear a critic? You’re asking an artist a question, didn’t you expect a critical answer? No, the point I am trying to make to you is, that there are areas now which are post-postmodernism, in other words postmodernism open up the doors for what I call “Community Center Museums” and so the normal criteria that exist in, let’s call it an “average museum” because its normal seems like lower word for you, an “average museum” don’t exist there, O.K. I went to Gordon Matta-Clark’s exhibition at The Bronx Museum,and there where several people who get up and spoke, not one of them spoke about Gordon’s work, not one of them! Every one of them, most of them were politicians, spoke about how they’re supporting the community etc and so far. I don’t know if that gives you a better idea of what I think about this museum or this place.
S.C.D.: Yes, it’s clear to me.
L.L.: But I am sure that other people think that I am critical and I am sure that people would say “this person would never be allowed to show in this museum” and I will say, “thanks God”.
F.B.: Maybe it doesn’t matter the name of it?
L.L.: It does matter, it’s the dissipation of art.
F.B.: Oh yeah, you think?
L.L.: Yes, because what it is in the long run is, the Government taking over art and deciding that it has a use for them, O.K. That’s the part of it, I don’t like.
F.B.: Oh, yes.
L.L.: I don’t mind what ever else they’re doing there, or some if these artists are unknown and will become known or whatever. I don’t care about all that. What I care about, is the fact that the politicians now feel that they can use these kinds of institutions as an attachment to their own development in some way. And I don’t think, in a certain kind of way, that if really permits the possibility of what art is supposed to do. There have always been community centers and they attempt to be in places which are underprivileged at some level, you know. You don’t find community centers on Park Avenue as example, you know.
Relecture de l’Anglais : Hélène Dufour-O’Sullivan