Michel Journiac

Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

As the work of Michel Journiac makes evident, it is reductive to view the body art of the ’70s as centered on concepts like resistance, tension, rhythm, and sequence instead of sexuality. In an oeuvre that has explored the body since the ’60s, Journiac questions the divide between masculine and feminine, viewing these categories not as hermetic entities, but as constantly renegotiated notions intimately connected to social conditions. Thus, in a work from 1972, titled Hommage à Freud (Homage to Freud), a postcard made up of four photographs—one of his father, Robert Journiac, another of his mother, Renée Journiac, and two more in which the artist/son crossdresses in the clothes of his progenitors at the same time as he imitates their gestures—we see him breaking open the stereotypes of Oedipal identification. Journiac adopts poses or visages considered feminine or masculine with astonishing ease, as in the series entitled “L’inceste” (Incest, 1975), and most emblematically in Messe pour un corps (Mass for a body, 1969). In the latter work, Journiac administered Holy Communion to the spectators, using blood-sausage hosts made from his own blood.

His more recent work continues to be anchored in corporeal territories and often deals specifically with the AIDS crisis. In Rituel pour Pierre, La mort de l’ami (Ritual for Pierre, the death of a friend, 1986), the artist scattered the ashes of a friend from the stone railing of a bridge. In other pieces, Journiac confronts the equally devastating effect of society’s reactions to AIDS, rawly reflecting on the signs of marginalization in a group of pieces titled “Marquages” (Markings, 1983–93), in which we see the artist’s arm marked by a branding iron—a reference to the pink triangle with which the Nazis stigmatized homosexuals in concentration camps. His first expression of this in 1983 (Marquage: action de corps exclu [Marking: action of the excluded body]), which occurred when the news about AIDS had only begun to break and gay organizations had not yet rallied to grapple with the disease, shows wounded skin. He repeated this gesture ten years later (Action de marquage au present: août 1993 [Marking action in the present: August 1993]); a decade had elapsed and discrimination against the homosexual community was still prevalent. Journiac appropriates external violence in order to exhibit it with pride, although without arrogance, in his own body which he defines, without decoys or lures, in a reclamatory tone, as that of a pédé (queer). There is no masochism in this expression, only the courage of someone who takes violence by the hand in order to confront forms of intolerance.

Other works were planned as stages of a ritual of transmutation in which the body in pain is converted into a transfigured body. But these pieces, such as the works Interrogatoire du jeu d’echec de l’art et de la mort (Interrogation of the chessboard of art and death, 1993), and La monnaie de sang (Blood money, 1993), rely on such obvious symbolism that they end up being more artifice than art. Fortunately, most of his recent work is as compelling as the work he did in the ’60s. Journiac’s work is definitely worth revisiting.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.