Sebastian E.Wanguard interviews Pascal Ancel Bartholdi
My first question was put to you at the opening of your show by a good friend of yours, and I noticed you ducking…so , what do you want people to get when they see your pictures?
It’ s not so much what you can get, what you can take away like people going to the store, picking a product from the shelf. This is not meant as entertainment, or a quick fix to urban ennui. I mentioned la substantifique moëlle coined by Rabelais in the sixteenth century, age of the Renaissance, I.e. the marrow of the substance in reference to the origination of the image, the subterranean membranes of consciousness vibrating between dream and actuality….the core of the image. But if anything, the images I produce are very much a distant response to Rabelais, Francois Villon, maverick writers even if not especially in our time, and an homage to monochrome cinema from Murnau and Eisenstein to Pasolini, Francois Truffaut and Cocteau to name a few. To turn the question around a little, could I ask myself what I got from these artists, from their work. I have to answer everything or nothing. It is absurd to quantify or delineate my experience of their expression of self, humanity, our condition, our history, the legacy of our creative predecessors. But I can say that the experience of the ‘images’ whether generated through literature, painting, cinema etc, has modified the (sub) atomic structure of my vision of the world and that each of the images I create contains the remnants of that experience and stands as a living aftermath of it. They are not exactly ruins, or monuments, or documents…or perhaps they encompass all of these elements. They are present above all, almost as characters in a play, although this play is enacted naturally, among us, off stage.
Who is your audience?
Images are supposed to be a universal language, but we know this to be fallacious. My audience seems attracted to the uncanny, a more tenebrous form of beauty, something deeper than the average shoot, file and frame corpus of our electronic days. My audience, is its own master, not mine or any one else’s. It is not a one headed beast, even as it seeks a feeling , something partly uneasy because it cannot be pin pointed, a bit more risky, as a reminder that what we could comprehend is not only on the surface of things. My audience is one individual at a time. This particular member of the public is off/behind stage and stands in equilibrium with what they are witnessing, the image, the scene therein, the unknown quantity in the image. They are invited in the decent into the singularity of the form and will step in as it were. He/she will let the image come to life, come into itself through their unique vision. So my audience does not exist as a crowd or a multitude but as a separate entity searching for a way into the mystery of their own unconscious, a way to fathom the abyss. If I offer anything, then it may be this, a portal or pointer into the unconscious of each viewer, reflecting my own journey through the making of each image.
Are you influenced by new wave Italian cinema…Pasolini?
There is no doubt I am constantly inspired by the masters of cinema at least from the earliest movies to the 70s, yet it was almost to my astonishment that I heard a member of the audience state how some of the images in Metapocryphal Chimera seemed to rise straight out of a Pasolini movie, a very specific movie, very specific scenes. None before this show however had mentioned it. I myself saw Visconti characters, Antonioni’s lost souls, psychological portraits. I saw Bergman too, the ghostly faces, the forlorn gazes, early Tarkovski, Evan in Evan’s childhood, disappearing in the mist, Jean Renoir, tortured and beautiful faces, dilemma imprinted in their brow, then Eodipus Rex, a destiny, a tragedy,Theorem, a revelation in the midst of the mundane…La beaute du Diable by Rene Clair, L’Atalante by Jean Vigo , Faust by Murnau…all of these wonderful movies were buried deep in me and this viewer saw the resurgence of their roots with complete clarity.
Don’t you think some of the images have too much going on?
I feel more compelled to quote Amadeus Mozart when summoned by the Emperor Joseph II who promptly complained about the extravagant length of an opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio: “There are too many notes”. Mozart’s riposte was unequivocal: “There are just as many notes as there should be”. This showed a confidence some could mistake for temerity. Each piece is as it should be, and changing any of the values would transform it into a distinct work with its inherent meaning thereby also altered and therefore by logical extension, demanding and offering respectively a different vision, a different response.
Is your art political?
All images are in a sense political since their viewing will influence the way people see the world, people in general, others. I do not intend to make any specialized comment or statement however. There is no actual message. In a way, the meaning emanating from the image is the message in so far as the substance, i.e.
The form encapsulates and generates its own essence. The images do not hide a wish to change anything. They are the embodiment of metamorphosis, “outside of time”, as one member of the audience put it, therefore far from politics.
Why do you restrain the size of your work? Why not making larger prints?
My use of smaller sizes has been part of a deliberate gesture against the monumental trend deploying its vast horizons in equally vast rooms fit for lavish conferences, coronations and imperial pageantry. I felt a need to surpass this ‘void manufacture’ and instil greater intimacy by bringing the viewer physically close to the image in the knowledge that the photograph had to speak with its body, its grain, its chemical arrested fluctuations, its texture, its indexical potential, , not only with its tonal values, its depictions, its subject and its composition. It is also a small window enrapturing you in its world. I do not rule out larger work and have large scale pieces in mind, these are closer to landscapes…filled with objects and faces.
Is the title “Metapocryphal Chimera a reference to the bible and is ‘meta’ intended as a pun or a suggestion of other-worldliness?
First of all, the Apocryphal texts were censored on account of their potential subversion, the stories not really fitting with conventions; the conservative dogma. The message had to be levelled, over simplified and finally falsified. Those heretically charged texts offered a more obvious depth of meaning, a possibility of discovering truth outside of that prescribed by the dominant priesthood. I wished to deliberately add an extra dimension to the original dissension, to stretch the subversion, hence ‘meta’, as in metaphysics, although the letter ‘a’ acts as a link between meta and apocryphal (the two elements merge). I was asked if I meant this in the sense of the theatrical device by which a play begins to evolve as a sub (sequent) layer within the initial play, thus moving the action inward, generating a new strata, reflecting the possibility of a continuous process of mental implosion. I realized this was analogous to the process I was employing; the stripping of skins from the memory of the image, thus entering deeper into the structure of my own psyche.
Is your choice of frames relevant?
One of my favourite haunts is the National Gallery. There not one image is framed identically. Who chose or chooses the frames? When were they acquired? According to which criteria? Did they remove one and replace it with another? Some are so grandiose, so extravagant. If the work is powerful, the frame will act as a reverberator, radiating the quintessential luminosity of the thought encapsulated therein. I tend to push against the institutional grain by displacing the ubiquitous black/white, smooth, clean edge frame with the instinctive custom (found) made frame. This is a frame that is not there to domesticate the image but to enhance its spatial language. In fact, this principle I also apply to the outer margin of the image and to the passe partout.
Why do you see the white edges as problematic?
What is so indispensable about the whiteness of the edge? Why not black, grey, red…why should it be silenced, its chemical life frozen to artificially contain the image? Space for thought also exists there, back stage as it were. It feels like a straight jacket. I want to take it off, turn it into a montgolfière, a field of visions, the expansion of the imaginary beyond the consciousness intrinsic to the image.
Is that aim not over ambitious or presumptuous?
How so? Something amazing happens to me when I look at cave paintings ( and these are only reproductions), Icons, Giotto frescoes in Capella Scrovegni, a rembrandt in the National Gallery, a Titian behind the shadow of an alter, a Masaccio on the decaying walls of a church…and to the same extent when I watch a movie like Battleship Potempkin by Eisenstein, Les Quatre cent coups by Truffaut, Red Desert by Antonioni… I return to them ceaselessly, the scenes, the views, the depths, their identity indelibly interlaced with my own memories bringing forth a fictional biographical diary .New art rises from these living ashes.
What do you say to those who consider your imagery, your technique, your medium as passe, obsolete?
You should ask this question to the members of the audience, one of whom saw the photographs as ‘out of time’. Another felt there was an image behind the photograph, like a double skin, one visible, translucent, the other diaphanous, partially dissimulated. Someone else mentioned the transformation that occurs as you watch from a distance and getting closer, the composition makes an image, a shape only just apparent, which dissolves into the detail as you approach. It was also said the images felt very familiar, that they were not possible to locate (in history), that they afford an inward journey. Something happens and continues to happen. What is obsolete about that?
The obscure theoretical foundation of the artist talk needs to be challenged. Transposing the art talk into a natural comedy on air became thus a feasible alternative.
Pascal Ancel Bartholdi imagined the idea of a trivial interview within a gallery setting and Michele Durante came up with the idea of “Twitterview” live and filmed. 50% of it is planned, the other 50% runs its course organically, ‘en direct’. Therefore half the questions, unrehearsed, are thrown at the interviewee in situ generating a sudden intuitive response.
The banality of the output contradicts the original expectation. The protagonists sit in front of each other, and he who answers has his back to the camera. He who asks carries a lap top logged into the net, receiving and relaying messages from curious random twitters. Nothing is quite as it seems.
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