It is a statement I heard in a friend’s car in Singapore in 2011 just before I moved to France. I asked what that meant, but I did not get a satisfactory answer. What is really strange in the French art scene? The Art or the scene? Or is it the French? The artists? Art lovers?
I arrived in France in 2002 and had to start all over again: the language, the culture, the people, the unknown and the surprises. Good and bad surprises. I was a foreigner with no Art network in France. All I had was a great desire to learn all that is strange and a capacity to adapt. It seems to me that people attracted to strange things can adapt quickly without too much suffering. The surprises were chained: my Australian "Master of Fine Art " degree has no legal equivalence here. Suggesting an exhibition of your work at Parisian Art galleries or institutions is not something you should do if you do not know anyone (critics / curators / important people in the Art). I had the chance to get some interviews to present my portfolio to some institutions, but the answer was similar : "Your work is interesting, but you have to be a famous artist to exhibit here" and "Keep me informed of your upcoming exhibitions and Art projects ." Who comes first? The chicken or the egg ?
Time passed and I began to know more people and the language. I exhibited at Galerie du Haut Pavé, a Contemporary Art space run by volunteers of Art lovers, where I met Ph.D for the first time. Ph.D is an avid Art collector and he invited me to participate at a group exhibition he organized at the Ministry of Culture in Paris and Civil Museum of Contemporary Art, Acri, Italy. A few years later, he invited several artists to meet regularly once a month at his place among his great collection of artworks. We were nine artists at the "E42" group he initiated. Each of us presented our work to the group and we discussed our future group projects and Art.
This group, like other Art groups, is important to me. These are independent groups organized by volunteers of Art enthusiasts. I think it is necessary to form unofficial bubbles among the main official bubbles, especially if you do not have a long history in the Art scene in the country and you are not integrated at any Art institutions.
Large bubbles remain unreachable and hard to attain. Because they are kept, protected and reserved for a small number of people who have the right to this privilege. This privilege is something one already has through relationships or gained through hard work. A long hard work on relationship folding specific rules, flexibility and developing artistic work matches with 'the era of time' decided by invisible bodies. In Art, I still believe in the importance of recognizing the diversity of approaches that includes atypical approach. The diversity of approaches that do not fall into the similarity nor in the confusion of identity, the magma of a volcano in which one get lost.
After a few artistic projects together for two and a half years with Ph.D and the E42, the nine artists were reduced to six, for geographical and personal problems. Our latest project was two great exhibitions at two different galleries in Lyon and Paris. Ph.D has published a beautiful catalog independently. Thanks to these exhibitions, one of my artistmate was adopted by the gallery in Lyon, and another in Paris. I'm delighted for them, since unlike my goal this seems to be what they wanted.
Our next project is a group exhibition at a museum outside Paris.
The two artists adopted by galleries decided to leave our group for personal reasons. Despite our collective successes.
"I could not join you for the last meeting of e42. Personal reasons prevented me. As I have written to PHD, I felt a deep sense of the end of the cycle from this summer. We had a rich experience in which I can not imagine to bring myself further. So I decided not to participate in the e42 meetings. I sincerely hope you continue this journey and proceed to new group projects."
"I just called PHD to tell him that I did not want to participate in the exhibition at the museum xxx because I have lack of motivation for this project. We did great things together. The two exhibitions in Lyon and Paris have been successful, PHD has put all his energy and give full scope to this project. A beautiful catalog was published and I want to stay on those moments. We will cross each other over occasionally. I will keep a special attention to your Art projects, because these shared moments leave traces."
Ph.D decided to dissolve the group following the divergence. Are "group projects" and "shared moments" really reasons to be in this group? The fruitful collaboration, as well as the disappointment of failure can lead to the destruction of a group. Do all artists ever have a sense of belonging in the group?
For some, a group of artists only serves as a springboard to jump into a more lucrative plan. It is not the goal itself. Some years before, M, an artist, was able to convince his painter friend from elsewhere to become a member and to exhibit at an Art space run by volunteers of artists in Saint- Denis. I have the opportunity to contribute my energy, my heart and soul with him and others at this alternative space to move forward together in artwork and friendship. We are all different, but we realized that the generosity of the gift was a real system. We, the volunteers in the Art, believe in the power of a collective group to "change the small world." Our painter friend finally agreed without much enthusiasm and against his criteria of artistic quality. The snow ball effect has held and after the exhibition at this alternative space, the painter managed to build his artistic network. He had some exhibitions at prestigious spaces. Unfortunately, he cut the branch of the tree on which he is sitting. He is afraid that his network could benefit other artists and he prefers to hold his exhibitions in "secret." I asked him if he recognized our Art alternative space as an important contribution to his success. He said he is sure that it is only the quality of his paintings that opened the doors.
It's hard to talk about Art in this case. I mean Art with its sincere questions that I want to share with the "marginal" artists. Far from the endless discussions on the strategy to become an Artist in uppercase, to become a mainstream and to shine.
I keep my creative faith to some artists and non-artists who want to create and choose to bring up difficult subjects. Work with discrete beings who have a real collective energy and who live in Art with justice and simplicity. As simple as breathing.
We need a place with a soul to be livable. Around me in Saint-Denis, a town far from being chic, I live with beings of many colors, many cultures, and many stories. We create a rhizome discreetly and I understand it better through Art. There is no single history that interests me, as the History of Art shown in the official books, but many stories. Thanks to a Digital Art space in Saint-Denis, I had a great chance to create with "a group of young people", "a group of parents" and an anthropologist in an artistic residency for 2 years. The result of this collective work, which I could not do alone, is rich and amazing. I borrow the term of Edouard Glissant: "the beauty of chaos world". He used this term to describe a language that reflects the imaginary language and not monolingual.
I still think there are no greatest artists, geniuses or better than others. Art is not a competition. We are simply multiple and different. Each work has its own public. We need to create multiple small bubbles, unofficial Art groups to allow French artistic scene to enrich. I am waiting for a moment when these small bubbles get saturated and we really get used to differences. I imagine an extremely livable place with a soul.