Jean-Luc Vilmouth

On the heels of his beautiful intervention at the Lyons Biennale, Jean-Luc Vilmouth once again surprises us, this time with a retrospective in the form of an inventory of his procedures and investigations: “nature,” “habiter” (inhabiting), “interaction,” “outils” (tools), and “histoires” (stories).

When he is asked to define his practice, Vilmouth answers laconically, “I am a friend of objects,” rather than holding forth with respect to his extension of the strategy of the readymade. By passing for a “sculptor,” he enables objects quietly to exact a subtle revenge—a revenge against the order of the everyday (their functionality). but also against that of art, which enjoys perverting their normal functions by turning objects against themselves in a kind of paradoxically liberatory closure. It is a fatal circularity, as Jean Baudrillard would say, although one might prefer to attribute to it a dynamic or intensive quality. A hammer is embedded in the hole that it was used to make in the wall, a pair of wire cutters is enclosed by concentric circles made from pieces of wire that they were used to cut out. A tent inhabits a glass house, in Interaction II, 1988, or a series of classroom chairs stakes out an impenetrable luminous zone. The function of the object. turned against itself, pitches the quotidian world somewhere between disquiet and stupor. How can we know what the little deaf boy, “caught at the exact moment when, for the first time, (he) hears his own voice, thanks to a hearing aid” (Discover V, 1990), feels? This is the enigmatic part of sculpture that, according to Vilmouth, is represented by this photograph. This is sculpture—a gaping look, a groundless perception that turns its nose up at its origin.

This turnabout of function (an operation that Vilmouth also calls “augmentation”) is also a return of the origin, and this is where Vilmouth’s work exceeds genealogy. One now grasps how the object escapes not only its function but the tradition of the readymade. That is to say it escapes art itself, which, however, provides it with a temporal horizon that causes the closed space of Duchampian displacements literally to implode. Vilmouth thus tests the hybrid and unnatural alliances of language and objects, of fiction and the everyday.

The object, according to Vilmouth, acquires not only a life of its own, that is, a time of its own, but also a mythical origin—in other words, a nonhistorical history with a contemporary content. Where words and things find themselves mutually uprooted, torn from their historic enclaves and imbedded in their own histories—in the narration of a supratemporal origin. The works of the “Discover” series tell of the origins of objects and language, always in the form of a story— a kind of nursery rhyme—on a lighted sign. These fictions intersect with the sculptures. For example, in Discover II, 1983–87, the story of the “origin” of pottery is told in an installation original to this retrospective—a primitive hut containing a plate entitled La derrière empreinte (The last imprint, 1991). We learn, through an off-color story lit in neon, that this was the first plate—that it was made naturally by the footprint of an elephant and then simply found by women on a riverbank after the earth dried.

A word about Bar des Acariens (Bar of the Acarians, 1991) a major piece conceived especially for the Galeries Contemporains at Beaubourg. A real bar, consisting of nine tables, is bathed in pink neon. On each table is an enlargement of a microscopic parasite—the acarian spider. Beyond this disquieting fantastic irruption of the infinitely small onto the surface of the everyday, the image of parasitism is an excellent model to describe the way in which the artist proceeds.. As Michel Serres notes, “The parasite intervenes and enters the system as an element of fluctuation.” Vilmouth’s work acts in the same way within the system of art; it introduces variations of intensity into the heart of the present—a tremor that is subsumed by the transformational motion of life itself.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Warren Niesluchowski