Within the framework of its new programme, the Salle de bains in Lyon invited Fabienne Audéoud for an exhibition in three successive rooms, from December 2016 to March 2017, under the title Le bien [The Good].1 Georgia René-Worms spoke with the artist about the project.
Georgia René-Worms: Fabienne, I’d like us to reflect on this exhibition that you presented at La Salle de bains, a foray into what these three rooms represented: Le bien [Good], Le bien… ou pas [Good... or Not], Le bien, voir(e) le très bien… [Good, or even (see) very good...]. Starting with a semantic line of thought, you considered the word a virus that is both moral and visual, a positivist social injunction that even slips into our wardrobes. It seems to me that you position yourself more within a liminal space to explore a certain pleasure relating to taste and objects, in an attempt to hold yourself as far as possible away from a position of judgement. In your most recent works, we encounter a community of ghostly women who inhabit the exhibition, where fashionable clothing and accessories become a statement, a kind of embodied expression. Can you tell me about this idea of embodiment?
Fabienne Audéoud: Considering the word as a virus implies the idea that it “colonises” everything. From tins of food to bottles of wine, from sweaters to handbags: everything “speaks”. “It” is addressed to those who read, who consume, and those who carry these words, these phrases. The Good operates as a kind of condensed version of this kind of statement (about clothes, food, advertising, etc.) whereas the “No To Crucifixions”, which is embroidered on certain pieces, reverses the moral of pendants bearing a cross, an instrument of torture. In this, we can read a reference to both biblical notions of “the Word made flesh” in Genesis and the “sign of the beast” from the Apocalypse expressed through wearable items, as is the case for many contemporary clothing brands or objects.
As with all of my art, what I’m trying to do is interpret a “possibility”, kind of in the way that a musician interprets a piece of music that is sometimes written, sometimes improvised. So it is not a matter of questioning or showing (what I know)...
GR-W: How does The Good smell?
FA: It should smell good... Very good...The collection of Parfums de pauvres [Perfumes of the Poor] presented in the first room brings together around eighty budget perfume flasks bought for under five euros in shops in the working-class neighbourhood of the 18th arrondissement in Paris where I live, or on trips abroad. I chose them for their names and price. Although perfume has had different religious and cultural connotations historically, it is their contemporary role in particular that is highlighted here. The so-called “major brands” of perfume (often by fashion designers but also specialised perfumers) symbolise a form of luxury, pleasure, and well-being. Through the names that they display, they function as social markers and express, in the recent creations, either a certain air du temps or sociological notions that marketing considers to be powerful, significant, or promising. Within this collection, the names are sometimes sad, ridiculous, pretentious, ill adapted, or violent. There again, it’s the word as virus that comes to the fore, the word chosen by the marketing world. Although it is difficult not to read this as a sad interpretation of the luxury market designed for the poor, we can also see in it a kind of contemporary poetry, in relief, on the wall. I don’t think a single one of these perfumes smells good... Unfortunately. They are the poor man’s perfumes.
GR-W: How is it worn?
FA: The way we bear a load (to carry2), an item of clothing or a perfume (to wear), a message (to convey), or a character on stage or on screen (to perform). For the first room, I presented twelve outfits, as a triptych that changed four times during the exhibition, with a series of reworked garments, consisting of performance costumes, suits made to measure in Dakar, and very specific vintage pieces that I had kept aside for a long time, onto which words or statements were embroidered: “Good”, “No To Crucifixions”.
GR-W: The videos, sculptures, and paintings that you produce all convey this notion of performativity, which is recurrent in your work. Can you tell us a bit about that?
FA: Yes, I prefer to think in terms of the situation playing out (what is performed) rather than in terms of criticism, didacticism, or illustration, and my research revolves around the notion of the “performative” (and not performance). I interpret something; I do not question notions. I do not denounce but suggest an interpretation of certain stands that are taken (feminist, political, sociological, or other positions). It’s always more clown-like than denunciatory. It’s a very Anglo-Saxon approach: I am more interested in what an artwork does (as much to the spectator as within a broader context) than in what the artist wants to say. In the context of the project with La Salle de bains, I also took great pleasure in developing my taste. I chose the garments for their styles, cuts, the quality of their fabric, and not to symbolise classes or trends, even for the handmade Chanel ensemble that I found at the flea market for a few euros. I love my taste... and I really like perceiving in other people that they also love theirs.
GR-W: In the conference-performance that you gave for Le bien... ou pas, you explored the betrayal of language, when it seems to address us openly, although it is more a matter of directing the subject towards a closed, moralistic discourse. In this respect, religion is one of the recurrent themes of your work. Can you tell me about this uncompromising relationship to faith?
FA: I hope that it isn’t uncompromising. I was born into a Protestant sect and I had to say “no”... No to the way in which they explained to me how men had been created. No, as a woman, I was not inferior to men because a god – who had written a book in which everything was said, for everyone, and forever, “the book”, “the text” – a god, then, had made me out of the rib of a man so as to keep him company. Well, it’s more complicated than that, but my “no” must have been uncompromising, because on the one hand, I couldn’t believe in it but without great conviction, and on the other hand, I did manage not to totally hate my family. It’s a matter of saying no to ideas and not to people. Later on, I became very interested in Islam, in the text of the Koran, and the way in which it is “worn”, and, more recently, to theories of “care”.
GR-W: We keep coming back to thinking about the way of wearing/carrying/conveying, and therefore, of presenting. In Le bien, voir(e) le très bien, you presented two works, one of which was a series of scarves that partially reworked your paintings and archive images by André Morain, scenes from exhibition openings in the 1970s; and further along there was the slideshow The Biggest Painting Show Ever, one thousand paintings since 1900... Plus one of your own. Can you tell me about your connection to the exhibition?
FA: My position as an artist is often that of a musician: I play something, a gesture, an action. I take responsibility for what I’m “playing”. Wearing, carrying, conveying is not presenting, it’s taking responsibility for your discourse. La Salle de bains and I didn’t always agree on that score... I don’t know what there is to see, so I can only offer my chosen position (like in a religion). Above all, I don’t want to show what “I know”. The idea is more to create an effect, an effect of visual pleasure that corresponds to vulnerability, to an attempt (which for me often ends in failure), to understand, speak, paint, dance, or cry.
- Translator’s Note: The title of the exhibition features a play on words with the meaning “goods” in English, in the sense of material commodities. This works in the singular in French (“le bien” > the commodity) but clearly not in English. A solution was tested for a direct translation (“The Good(s)”) but rejected due to its clunkiness.
- Translator’s note: when italics are used, the term is in English in the original French text.