Claude Lévêque

Galerie de Paris

In the middle of the gallery stood a kind of shelter or rectangular cell made of unpainted cinderblocks, with a very narrow opening with just enough room for a mattress, lying on the floor and spray-painted in silver. Four radios that didn’t seem to be working right formed a square of broadcast static, and everything was bathed in harsh light.

For a long time, Claude Lévêque’s work was attributed to the French mania for introspection, psychologizing, and nostalgic recollection. This was akin to an attempt to hide his luminous violence, which, to put it succinctly, is closer to the sensibility of Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett, and Heiner Muller than to that of Marcel Proust or Francois Truffaut: closer to Chris Burden, the Clash, and the Bérurier Noir (the French rock group) than to Boltanski and Louise Bourgeois. I don’t see any autobiographic fetishism in Lévêque’s work, either of lost childhood or some paradise lost. It seems less about memory than the future, less about the self than the Other, less about solitude than encounter and points of singularity. The mute violence of his work acts as an antipsychiatry in the field of art. This goes beyond illustration and postindustrial depersonalization. This goes beyond establishing the concentration-camp–like confinement characteristic of urban, civil, and military institutions that straitjacket will, landscapes, and existence in general. His work does not go in the direction of a psychic void; it repopulates it. It manufactures antibodies. It is neither a withdrawal, a defense nor a mental investigation, but rather a front line of resistance and subjective consistency.

In another show in Bourges, Lévêque completely covered the wall of a suburban apartment, including the windows, with mattresses, and dropped the ceiling, creating something that wavered between cell, asylum, and military bunker.

So if there is solitude, violence, abandonment or fear in Lévêque’s work, it is rather on the edges of his work, outside of it: in the fringe area between the real and the work. In fact, this show of cinderblock and scrambled sound has a pacifying effect; it is like a demilitarized interzone which somehow manages to escape, by some “luck” (a word he often puts into his pieces, and which he writes out in a child’s handwriting), from the inhuman breakdown they describe. It’s as if the U.N. had signed a declaration of peace, and immediately followed it by declaring war. Imagine the silence around you, even of the television set. In his simple and stripped-down way, Lévêque stubbornly tries to block the cold waves that come at an increasingly rapid rhythm. I would compare his work to that of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, not only because they work with related means—simple and retiring ones, harsh light or shadow, the presence or absence of the body, and a certain minimalism—but because each body of work is capable of effacing itself for one brief moment of truth, without leaving any traces, but also without losing its power.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Warren Niesluchowski.