Olivier Dollinger


In the collective imagination lipstick represents romanticism and sensuality, and it should come as no surprise that various artists have used its image in their work to subvert those very notions. Claes Oldenburg’s postcard Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, 1966, and his Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, 1969, installed at Yale University Art Gallery, or Andy Warhol’s silk screen Marilyn Monroe’s Lips, 1962, come immediately to mind. Of the latter, Kynaston McShine wrote, “Reducing Marilyn to an anatomical fragment, to a kind of repeating osculation machine, it dispels any romantic illusions about the idea of the kiss.”

The description of this “osculation machine” might just as easily be applied to Olivier Dollinger’s new work, Lipstick Wall Drawings, 1999. For several days preceding the opening, Dollinger kissed the walls of the gallery thousands and thousands of times in order to cover them more or less evenly with his lip prints, in four different colors. During the exhibition, video documentation of this procedure was presented on a large screen in the middle of the space. The camera, sole witness to Dollinger’s performance, showed him frenetically reapplying his lipstick in between each kiss. A gesture that is normally performed with great care, and often a touch of sensuality and narcissism, became rapid, vulgar, and mechanical, annihilating all eroticism. Through its repetition, the kiss became a true test of endurance, made with growing urgency and breathlessness.

This is not the first time that Dollinger has imposed a sort of “oral constraint” on himself. In his video Une souris verte (A green mouse), 1996, he tries to sing this famous French children’s tune while inserting the big round head of a microphone into his mouth. In Quelques blagues Carambar (Some Carambar jokes), 1996, he faces the camera straight on as he reads the jokes inscribed on paper wrappers one after another, while filling his entire mouth with the caramels that were in them. Like the video works of Bruce Nauman or Vito Acconci, most of Dollinger’s pieces repeat a single familiar action to the point of absurdity, saturation, or exhaustion, while the artist imposes constraints on himself that from the start cancel out the normality of the act. He has frequently presented himself as afflicted with an obsessional neurosis, and his relentlessness in articulating a consistent language seems to be a remedy for the information overload typically associated with the media he uses.

Pain is not the central subject of Dollinger’s work, but rather a way of underlining the failure of his attempts at action. But the way he seems to push his body too hard in the video portion of this installation brings to mind the masochism of the Viennese Actionists or Marina Abramovic. The same was true of his video Apocalypse Now, 1996, in which he was seen spinning around and flailing his arms above his head to the point of exhaustion in order to reproduce the visual dynamic of helicopters in a famous scene from Francis Ford Coppola’s film. For Dollinger this experience of distress seems inseparable from its medical and clinical implications. His photographic series of self-portraits (in which the artist is shown taking aspirin and cold medicine and applying topical solutions), not to mention various works made using a first aid mannequin (“Andy”), are so many proposals for the treatment and maintenance of the physical body—proposals that might metaphorically be applied to the social body as well.

Valérie Breuvart

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.