Text by Frank Lamy, curator of the exhibition, head of temporary exhibitions at MAC VAL
“I quite agree with you,” said the Duchess; “and the moral of that is–‘Be what you would seem to be’–or if you’d like it put more simply–‘Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.’”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, chapter 9
We drank to Ulysses. And while Lestrange was reading random passages from the book, slightly woozy, in the cigarette smoke, I said to myself: I too need to tell stories. Live or tell the tale, someone once said. But no, narrating is not the opposite of living. You do not destroy what you are experiencing by recounting it; on the contrary, what you relate only intensifies it. I am quite happy, like Ulysses, to get lost on my way, to stray into the shadows of the borderlands. Telling, I say to myself, is part of the path; telling extends the adventure and opens it to all paths.”
Yannick Haenel, Cercle, Folio, 2009, p. 84
“…I have always considered social identity to be the only real identity; and the other, the so-called personal identity, to be an illusion as absolute as it is persistent…”
Clément Rosset, Loin de moi, Minuit, 1999, p 11
“Lignes de vies – une exposition de légendes” brings together work by several different generations of artists, representing every kind of practice. It continues an approach to programming that, ever since the museum first opened with the exhibitions “Détours” by Jacques Monory (2005) and “Le Grand Sommeil” by Claude Levêque (2006), has sought to question the way identity or, more precisely, identities are constructed. From the cycle “Zones de Productivités Concertées” (2006–7) and again the group show “Emporte-moi/Sweep me off my feet” (2009–10), it then went on to analyse the role of the economy and of emotion in our lives. Next it was on to gender (and, more precisely, masculinity) with “Chercher le garçon” (2015) and even the idea of cultural identity in “Tous, des sang-mêlés” (2017).
For “Lignes de vies - une exposition de légendes,” we are turning towards more intimate and personal territories. Indeed, the works (by both men and women) assembled in the exhibition, take autobiography and biography as a visual raw material, generating a reflection on identities, from the presentation and the construction of the self. The aim is to interrogate the relations between art and life and, eventually, to question the effectiveness of art, its inscription in the real, through various artistic positions that all put into practice (between illustration and activation) the dissolution of this purported frontier.
Considering that identity is a fiction that is performed, a multiple and fragmented narrative, telling one’s story and making one’s life – one’s gesture – a raw material, is therefore an act of deconstruction, of affirmation, of empowerment – a kind of molecular revolution. The political gesture of taking control of the narrative of one’s own legend.
The self is a “political fiction” (Paul B. Preciado and others), a “social puzzle” that “stands in for identity, which is as variegated as the imaginary unity which is supposedly its base is non-existent” (Clément Rosset): a legend. Following the parallel between person and fictive personage (character) established by Clément Rosset, it is possible to state that the self “does not constitute the unity of a personal identity but the aggregate of qualities it is recognised or not as having, depending on the mood of its entourage.” (Loin de moi, Minuit, 1999, p 88). Or, to put it another way: “The ‘I’ takes all its substance from the ‘you’ that grants it to him/her” (ibid, p. 50).
Me, a legend?
The works brought together in this exhibition deconstruct, analyse, critique and call into question the phenomena, processes and instances of construction and legitimation of identity/identities.
There are no narcissistic or self-centred gestures here; rather, these artists and these works reconstruct and propose – not so much as new identities as chosen identities.
The individual subject, capitalism and the self-portrait all developed along parallel historical paths and each constitutes an element within a control system of domination and global. Deconstructing the self-portrait, self-representation, could be part of a general struggle. Essentially, writing one’s autobiography (whatever means of writing one chooses) certainly comes down to writing one’s own life, to inventing it. Self-portraits, private diaries, memoirs, emotional cartographies, bio art and corporeal modifications, attitude art, autofiction, self-staging, and infiltrating systems of representation (TV, cinema, YouTube, Facebook, literature, etc.) and legitimation (author, civil status, etc.) are so many fictions acted out by the artists, so many tools. This reflection partakes of the critical re-examination of contemporary narcissism and exhibitionism, but also the promise of fulfilment through consumption touted by marketing. It is a matter, here, not so much of representing as of constructing, inventing oneself, of choosing and refusing to be assigned.
What place should be left to the family, to history, transmission and heritage? To names? To relations with other life forms, with the cosmos? What is a life? An event? What of destiny? What roles should we play? What masks should we wear? How to negotiate with others, gender, the economy, memory, passing time, fluid, multiple identities, fragmentation, disguise, hybridisation, staging, masks, characters?
Works that are situated, between self and play
A reading space is located at the centre of the exhibition room, offering books of different kinds (novels, catalogues, artists’ books, theoretical works, etc.), whose common feature is that they were all written in the first person singular by an artist. _ This reading area points to the origin and literary dynamic behind this project which offers visitors a suspended time.
Throughout the duration of the exhibition and, in partnership with Synesthésie ¬ MMAINTENANT, the HERstory project initiated by Julie Crenn and Pascal Lièvre will also be activated. A veritable compendium of feminist, activist speech and a mobile archive, this protocol invites various figures to talk about their experience and ideas in front of the camera and the public (6 and 7 April, 4 and 5 May, 1 and 2 June, 7 and 8 July at MAC VAL, from 13 to 17 May at Synesthésie ¬ MMAINTENANT).
To extend this exploration, a publication accompanies the project. With some ten first-person-singular contributions, it opens windows onto research, cinema, post-feminism, pop, literature and art history, with texts by Noémie Aulombard, Érik Bullot, Julie Crenn and Pascal Lièvre, Éric Fassin, Agnès Gayraud, Yannick Haenel, Sophie Orlando, and Philippe Vasset.
“All this must be considered as being said by a character from a novel”
Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, Seuil, 1975