Bernard Bazile

In “IT’S OK TO SAY NO!” Bernard Bazile’s position was one of negation colored by paranoia, one meant to place the spectator simultaneously in a state of liberation and uneasy withdrawal. The title and imagery in the show were borrowed from an American manual designed to prevent children from being sexually abused (pictures on carpeting represented the perversity of adult stratagems). Bazile made an effort to place the viewer in a similar atmosphere of insecurity, of diffused stress, finally more familiar than disturbing or provocative. The flashing neon signs, placed outside the museum, evoked sensory experience: the carrot-shaped sign of the cigarette shop (smell); the glasses of the optician (sight); the red-and-yellow sign of the arab restaurant (taste); the key of the locksmith (touch), and the green cross of the pharmacy, which, in its “stressed and joyous rhythm,” was meant to infuse the entire show with a sense of emergency and discomfort.

The most successful piece in the show was Boîte ouverte de Piero Manzoni (Opened Piero Manzoni can, 1989), which sat in the middle of a room, the back walls of which were covered with objects from that period. This “negative reiteration of Manzoni’s gesture” aimed to recapture the scent of scandal—was a natural extension of the piece itself. More sensational were the nude models on large podiums, representing Mel Ramos’ paintings, who were required to exhibit themselves everyday between 5:00 and 7:00 PM. The idea was to deprive us of the work-of-art alibi for looking at a nude woman: to confront us with the guilt of our everyday, passive voyeurism. This theme was taken up again in the video, Les Chefs d’État (The heads of state, 1993), a series of images of political figures caught off-guard, zapped incessantly at the viewer.

The last installation in the show, which was visible from the street, sadly emphasized our powerlessness. It reproduced the kiosk in the form of an orange that flourished in Paris at the beginning of the ’80s—an attempt to reinsert young unemployed people in the working world by inviting them to sell orange juice and thereby to engage thirsty, potential employers in a dialogue. Rather than asking himself about new forms of revalorizing work, the artist contented himself with heavily accenting the failure of this formula, its ridiculousness and its ambiguity (squeezing a man as one squeezes a fruit).

In regard to Bazile’s avowed ambition to mount an exhibition directly engaged with the quotidian, to offer a “field of experience, and to render visible, perceptible, and sensible the current state of uneasiness and insecurity,” the show was limited in effect to a heavy semiotic battery reflective of ’80s cynicism. The artist justifies himself by saying he is reritualizing our social relations, searching for a “communitarian cohesiveness and revalorization of exchange.” In reality, he transforms these relations into a sign of display, into a worldly code in which nothing happens except the very special effect of surprise.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Sheila Glaser.