FlashbackOctober 20 - December 03, 2022
FlashbackOctober 20 - December 03, 2022
A splinter in the throat
The nocturnal animals among us could hardly contradict Jean Rouzaud’s statement: « clubs are research labs ». In a book published in tribute to his years at the Palace nightclub (1978-1983), the former founding member of Bazooka goes over his memories of a mythical place that continues to haunt Parisian nights. « Parties at the Palace… the magic, the carnival, the excitement, the cult of the night and dancing… In truth, we should say it because it was a determining factor, the frustrations caused by leftism had given rise to a generation that wanted to throw everything down. The era of punk, but also the comeback of glamor, superficiality, image, and fashion… Everything their older brothers wanted to bury. The whole beginning of the 60s, from Mary Quant to Vidal Sassoon, the Mods, Carnaby Street, dandy psychedelia, Pierre Cardin, and Paco Rabanne. A stillborn form of expression and fashion style, smothered by the lead blanket of ideologies. So many desires to make up for. » In this room « designer style, both Star Wars, and disco” with new wave neon lights and techno lasers, stars rubbed shoulders with trendy artists, starlets, punks, travesties, modern people, the golden youth, party and costume lovers. Happy, unhappy, rich, and poor, but always well put on. Parties could become more important than life itself. Nocturnal life took precedence over daytime, over reality. The Palace was neither an illusion nor an escape. Simply a safe haven, a place of shared happiness, joy, and desire to live. (…) The power of the show was greater. It was possible to think a social revolution was in the making, slowly. A non-aggression pact. »
Flash Dance. At the beginning of the 1980s, on Wednesday nights, Tania Mouraud and her lab didn’t sleep. It was the gay parties of the Palace nightclub, where, for six months, the artist conducted her photographic painting experiments - neither painting nor photograph - in a Ghelderode-like theater of the absurd atmosphere. For her exhibition entitled Flash Back at Ceysson & Benetiere in Paris, Tania Mouraud sheds the spotlight on her Made in Palace series, gone almost unnoticed in 1981 at the studio 6 6 6 with Alain Fleischer and Xavier Veilhan. Today, she presents digital prints, with a grittier and dotted texture.
Clear from the start, Tania Mouraud stifles all fantasies: this series is not a reportage on the Palace nightclub; and the artist is not impressed by the name-dropping surrounding this legendary place. Contrary to photographers known for their photographs of famous people of the time, Tania Mouraud worked in slow motion on an Olympus camera with a wide-angle lens and 200 ASA rolls. In the dark light of these electric nights, her lens opened like dilated pupils, and images in motion danced on the negative films. « I don’t know today’s drugs », says Tania Mouraud out of the blue. « My generation was all about acid, mescaline, and LSD. Partying can be beautiful, but it is double-edged, and also very sad. I really don’t want to romanticize the Palace nightclub, but the people were gorgeous. They dressed up. At the Palace, I could work in empathy with models who popped up out of nowhere. I didn’t photograph the gruesome side, I was looking for the dreamlike. I try not to use the term “festive” because people will think I was getting high, whereas my work was closer to Bosch and Egon Schiele. » Rejecting the too often deceptive precision of photography, Tania Mouraud captured a blurry and evanescent reality: the photograph is no longer the snapshot of a moment of life, but a distorted and slender memory fixated in opacity.
Negative. The photographs of the Palace nightclub were the precursors of others: the « shop windows » and the « built images » (1981-1985), objects hanging on inside car mirrors (1986-1988). In these series, the artist found new ways to push back the limits between photography and painting, public and private sphere, in order to reveal what goes on underneath, where nobody ever looks, at the frontiers of reality. The Palace series also announced Tania Mouraud’s work on distortion and stretching, which later unfolded through the words of shape she started creating at city wall scale in 1989. She used language as a plastic form, distorting it to the point of making it unreadable. Typography became a feeling that took precedence over the immediate meaning. In all these series, we can sense the minimalist quest at play in the production of an artist who saw the street as a creative field, a subject matter, and an inspiration. Her invasion of the public space with her City Performance n°1 intervention at the end of the 1970s, which definitely established her « street cred », already formed part of this outdoor research.
Between December 29, 1977, and January 14, 1978, Tania Mouraud took hold of the urban landscape in East Paris by putting up 54 posters reading the French word “NI” in block letters over 54 4x3m ad boards. Violent visual manifesto, this silent scream in black and white was made possible by the complicity of the advertiser Dauphin (who landed her the ad spaces) and the publicist Philippe Calleux (who printed the posters). What was in Tania Mouraud’s sights? The phallic blathering of advertising discourse, the unarmed wing of a consumption society that causes discrimination. In 1978, Tania Mouraud wrote: « to go out of galleries, museums, and official spaces. To accept the rules of the street: readability=redundancy. (…) NEITHER (ni) inconsequential action, NOR (ni) teasing, nor covert advertisement from the Ministry of Culture. Simply an anonymous statement. Ultimate negation, absolute truth, universal circuit breaker used by Western logicians and Eastern sages. » And while ad people deemed any advertising message under 400 posters invisible to the audience, Tania Mouraud’s textual interventions rose to the second position in memorization tests conducted on test audiences.
The experiments she conducted over the photographs taken to archive these installations in situ (as in situationism) then sparked what could be called the artist’s « negative thinking » or « thinking in negative ». With her Words, Black Power and Black Continent series, Tania Mouraud prolonged her past research on the limits of language and the poetical and political potentials of walls. The words laid out by the artist in the manner of bas-reliefs take on volume (5-20cm), and could not be deciphered without effort. The wall was no longer a background. It became a word (as a continuation of her research for the Art Spaces series between 1972 and 1974, in which she explored the wall as artwork through a process of word superposition on a transparent tarp). This body of work also questioned the prevalence of black in typography, as a testament to the anti-racist stance of Tania Mouraud, who was very sensitive to the civil rights movement. Over time, her art became a secret harder and harder to read, a pictorial and sculptural sign, a textual simulacrum. « It is not about repeating the monochrome, or even, the death of painting, neither is it about acting as if this death didn’t happen. (With the invention of pictorial reliefs), I finally understood that I could ask the questions of painting, the beginning, the end of the plane of the painting, without perjuring the historical figures I loved, like Malevich and Lissitzky». Using roughcast rollers to paint her flat tints, Tania Mouraud forged the expression « pizzeria esthetic » to describe her style. This research converged with some of her reflections on an era marked by the generalization of IKEA and decorative art. Thus, Tania Mouraud was looking to thwart the fetichism that presides over the consumption of art objects ». A.R.T, these three letters are at the center of her exhibition at Ceysson & Bénétière, which Tania Mouraud purposely defines as a grain of sand jamming up the system. Like a splinter in the throat.
Parasite. Tania Mouraud is neither a photographer, nor a painter, nor a sculptor, nor a filmmaker, nor a musician… She plays with media. She could define herself as a « writer », a city writer, to use an expression used by graffiti pioneers, who, after her, also warped and distorted the parasitic forms of language on the walls and subways of New York and elsewhere. Tania Mouraud makes references to many authors in her work (among which Wang Wei, Charles Reznifoff, Avrom Sutzkever), but reading Monique Wittig, another writer who crushed the patriarchal society, sheds another light on her work: « For a writer, language is a very special material (compared to that of painters or musicians) because it is first used for something else entirely than making art and finding forms. It is used by everybody all the time to talk and communicate. It is a very special material because it is the place, the means, the medium where meaning happens and plays out. But the meaning conceals the language. And language is constantly like the purloined letter in Poe’s short story, here, in plain sight, yet totally invisible. Because we see and hear only the meaning. Isn’t meaning language? Yes, it is language, but under its visible and material form. Language is form. Language is letter. The meaning is not visible, and, as such, appears under the guise of language (…) In reality, the meaning is the language, but we don’t see it because it is its abstraction. » Like Wittig, Tania Mouraud confronted language to probe its (visual, sonorous, and spatial) limitations. Always in black and white. Always looking to create space and disrupt the conventional order of speech. To put down walls.
Daughter of a resistance hero born in Moldavia and who died for France in Vercors when Tania was three, and of an equally hard-headed and adventurous mother, Tania Mouraud is a warrior with a « vendetta spirit », which makes her smile when she says those words. At the beginning of her career, she used to simply sign « Mouraud », explaining: « before, feeling like a creator equaled feeling like a man, acting out masculinity. Now, we no longer try to convince guys. In the beginning, I hid, I didn’t sign with my name. why? I didn’t want my painting to be labeled « female »(which was synonymous with bad painting back then). When I started, I could never really talk art with artists. People even say an « artist » and a « female artist ». We were not « artists » but female artists. We had very few interlocutors. Luckily, I was an art school teacher and I could talk about art with my students, who had to listen to me! » Later, and for other reasons, in 1991, under the pseudonym Evelyne Durand, Tania Mouraud conducted a clandestine urban intervention, which consisted in illegally pasting small posters with the first names of victims of racist aggressions in several French cities. Those were clandestine « anti-monuments » that questioned the official history, on the other side of power.
Bling Bling. Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, Officier de l’ordre national du Mérite, Officier des Arts et des Lettres. If Tania Mouraud accepted to receive these « Christmas tree decorations », it is in memory of her parents. Tania is not the type of woman to stand to attention, as shown in her bas-relief series reproducing civil and military decorations, signs of social excellence. « I had worked around writing a lot. I grew up with the black and white picture of my dad hung above a drawer full of his decorations. Like every militarist boy, my 8-year-old son drew these decorations once, and I felt this « little sensation » as Cezanne would say. At the same time, I was invited to a Dutch museum full of those paintings I hated, which I call « tableware » paintings, high-value objects. Back then, art had become merely decorative. There were connections between politicians, with the ministry of foreign affairs… « Like decorative boxes playing with the legacy of geometric abstraction, the surface of the works was painted with some textural effects (to evoke the effect of light on fabric). These works were put up on plain anthracite, ultramarine, or khaki walls. « In an elliptical way, they evoke social organization, power moves, acts of war, changes of borders, territory size, wedding celebrations, sports feats, university distinctions, etc. They evoke faraway lands, beautiful landscapes, and dubious measures for peace. » The artist adds: « they conjure up historical painting, a real panorama of our society’s official and furious activity. It sets the scene. It captures desire, the pursuit of happiness, of honors at any cost. It talks about suffering, hopeless quests, recognition, and social status. It tells individual and collective stories. »This series was also exhibited on the floor, adapted to apartments’ architecture: « I really loved playing with plinths, and around the word “complaint”. But I also wanted to present works that would make people lower their eyes and feel ashamed. For me, these decorations really became interior decorative objects. I also consider my work like a new form of decorative art that merges the decorative with the pictorial. »
Huts. Tania Mouraud’s first hut was her room, which walls she used to draw on as a child. Her second hut could be the Louvre, where her mom brought her every week from the age of 7. Tania Mouraud speaks of it as her « grandmother’s attic ». A very erotic attic filled with often broken (the issue of gender and transitioning) male and female marble genitals, torsos, and backs colliding in a movie shot by Tania Mouraud in 2008 for an aborted exhibition project at the Palais de Tokyo inspired by the artist’s fascination for the erotic sculptures that crowd some Indian temple façades. Fascinated by mathematics, Tania Mouraud also studied Eastern philosophy in depth and traveled a lot, from Sahara to Kerala. In 1970, her One More Night project presented at Galerie Rive Droite inaugurated a series of audio-perceptual environments. In this project, she revived the White Cube (in a Formica version) and its unique architecture, proposing a safe shelter where one could see infinity. Art critic Pierre Restany described it as: « a little more room for a little extra soul ».
In her ecopolitical manifesto, Marielle Macé invites us to build huts in order to inhabit a world potentially broadened. She writes: « To imagine ways of living in a damaged world, we first have to create the conditions of a broader perception. It is the broadened world we have to inhabit, it is in the broadened world we have to build, on this map not only expanded but dilated through the attention paid to everybody, to pollinators, roots, floods, dead people watching us and metamorphoses… To broaden the world is not only to widen but to connect, and reconnect. (…) To broaden is to free. It frees because it resists shrinking. » Inside outside, Tania Mouraud makes visible what remains of the world. She strikes like a flash, a light that blinds as much as it enlightens.
Hugo Vitrani, September 2022.
Artist : Tania Mouraud
Ceysson & Bénétière
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