Re­port on Mi­chel Jour­niac

Art Press - - RÉTROSPECTIVE -

If you had to choose on­ly one ar­tist whose work is sy­no­ny­mous with the ex­hi­bi­tion of his own bo­dy, that ar­tist would be Mi­chel Jour­niac. Whe­ther in his ac­tions and in­ter­ven­tions them­selves, or in the pho­to­graphs that re­cord them, this pre­sence of the bo­dy is the es­sence of what he did. Lo­gi­cal­ly, then, his show at the Mai­son Eu­ro­péenne de la Pho­to­gra­phie this spring (April 19 thru June 18) is lis­ted among the “Bo­dy”– the­med events of the Grand Pa­ris Pho­to­gra­phy Month. But Jour­niac was al­so a poet, pain­ter, tea­cher, cri­tic and theo­re­ti­cian, and it is this set of ac­ti­vi­ties that gives his work its co­he­rence.

——

Al­though one can­not ex­plain a whole bo­dy of work by the context in which it emer­ged, it is ne­ver­the­less en­ligh­te­ning to re­call that Mi­chel Jour­niac (1935–1995) was, in the words of Vincent La­baume, “born in­to the uphea­vals of the an­ti-consu­me­rist and an­ti-state re­volt of the 1960s, and pre­ci­pi­ta­ted its fer­ments with in­com­pa­rable vi­gor in the confor­mist per­iod that fol­lo­wed,” and that his last de­cades were mar­ked by the de­ve­lop­ment and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of AIDS: “For those close to him, for the first and last wit­nesses of his work, it was life it-

self that, in an in­con­cei­va­bly mas­sive way, sud­den­ly went mis­sing, pul­led out from un­der the feet of an en­tire ge­ne­ra­tion, blind­ly kno­cking down their bo­dies in the dead­ly free-for-all of a me­die­val epi­de­mic.”(1) From May 68 to the scan­dal of the conta­mi­na­ted blood: the el­lipse is much too re­duc­tive, of course, to de­fine an oeuvre that is emi­nent­ly plas­tic, but it does at least pro­vide it with, let’s say, a his­to­ri­cal echo cham­ber, while poin­ting to one of its key in­gre­dients: en­ga­ge­ment. Jour­niac’s ma­ny crea­tive fa­cets, from the pain­ting of his ear­ly days to his ac­tions, pho­to­gra­phic nar­ra­tives and sculp­tures, but al­so his ac­ti­vi­ties as a cri­tic, tea­cher and theo­re­ti­cian (in 1971 he foun­ded the journal ArTi­tudes with Fran­çois Plu­chart, and he cham­pio­ned so­cio­lo­gi­cal art), were en­ga­ged in a constant dia­logue with the ideas and de­bates of his day, whe­ther on the le­vel of so­cie­tal change, po­li­tics, psy­cho­ana­ly­sis, his­to­ry or phi­lo­so­phy. Fol­lo­wing the pho­to­gra­phic traces of his va­rious in­ter­ven­tions and ac­tions, we may be struck by the re­cur­ring pre­sence of the sur­name Jour­niac, usual­ly wi­thout the gi­ven name: it is writ­ten on the back of the white jump­suit on which the young man sits in the lu­mi­nous cage of his Piège pour un voyeur (Trap for a Voyeur, 1969); it ap­pears on the top of his Dis­tri­bu­teur au­to­ma­tique d’oeuvres (Au­to­ma­tic Art­work Dis­tri­bu­tor, 1970), and was bla­zo­ned across the cour­tyard wall at J& J Don­guy, when that gal­le­ry hos­ted his Ac­tion-Meurtre (Mur­der Ac­tion 1985); it ap­pears in lu­mi­nous shop-si­gn let­ters on the wall of the Stand Jour­niac (1969) and badges the fu­ne­ral wreath in his En­quête sur un corps (In­quest in­to a Bo­dy, 1970). It is trum­pe­ted from the pos­ters and on the vo­ting slips, vo­ting cards and even the re­port drawn up af­ter the count in the Ré­fé­ren­dum Jour­niac (1970), as if the name it­self was in fact the on­ly ques­tion being as­ked of re­spon­dents. In­deed, if this name ap­pears so fre­quent­ly, it is al­ways in the form of a ques­tion, and al­ways as so­me­thing dis­se­mi­na­ted, ne­ver in the form of a sa­tis­fied cer­tain­ty. That the ar­tist had scant re­gard for ce­le­bri­ty is shown, in­deed, in his Les­sive, 1969, in which clothes la­be­led with the names of fa­mous ar­tists are trea­ted with no more res­pect than the wa­shing of any or­di­na­ry Joe. In this show we play the game of spot­ting the ar­tist in his va­rious dis­guises—Jour­niac as corpse, as God, as thug, as tor­ture vic­tim, as wo­man, and even as Jour­niac him­self ( Contrat de Pros­ti­tu­tion [Pros­ti­tu­tion Con­tract], 1973), or Jour­niac as his own tar­get, in Ac­tionMeurtre (Mur­der Ac­tion), in which he fires a re­vol­ver at a dum­my in his own li­ke­ness. From one ins­tance to the next, here is a ge- ne­ric, al­most ran­dom Jour­niac ( Ri­tuel d’iden­ti­té aléa­toire [Ran­dom Iden­ti­ty Ri­tual], 1976), and one that is cer­tain­ly uns­table or open to doubt. We may al­so note a de­tail in In­ceste, a pho­to-ac­tion from 1975 in which, be­fore ac­ting out va­rious per­mu­ta­tions of the lo­vers-voyeur trio, the cha­rac­ters are pre­sen­ted and na­med: fa­ther, mo­ther and son, that is, three “jour­niacs” (lo­wer­case j), two of them with the ini­tial “r.” What’s more, the mo­ther’s first name, Re­née, which is writ­ten in full in the cap­tions to Hom­mage à Freud (1972), sounds to the ear iden­ti­cal to the male Re­né. The name is thus as much a part of the in­di­vi­dual as the role, no more and no less. Iden­ti­ty, whe­ther due to fi­lia­tion or the work of so­cie­ty, is al­ways the re­sult of a kind of mar­king, and if Jour­niac re­peats his fa­mi­ly name from one ac­tion to ano­ther, he does so in or­der to reinvent out­side any kind of res­tric­tions or de­ter­mi­na­tions, wha­te­ver these may be. “If there is a his­to­ry of ho­mo­sexua­li­ty,” he sta­ted, “that is be­cause at some point it was na­med, it be­came an iden­ti­ty, and that iden­ti­ty was as­ser­ted. But I as­sert it as a ques­tion to­wards ano­ther way of mee­ting the other, one that has still to be in­ven­ted.” BLOOD, EX­CHANGE Through all these count­less per­mu­ta­tions and trans­for­ma­tions, the bo­dy is a constant. On the most su­per­fi­cial le­vel, we ea­si­ly iden­ti­fy its bulk, its pre­sence, its pos­tures, not to men­tion the ar­tist’s face, in the pho­to­graphs of the ac­tions, and this still holds when he melts in­to the crowd. Like other pro­po­nents of bo­dy art, Jour­niac made his phy­si­cal self the main ter­rain of his in­ves­ti­ga­tions, ex­plo­ring his sub­ject not on­ly as a ma­te­rial en­ti­ty, as “meat and blood” and right down to the ske­le­ton left af­ter the per­ishing of the flesh. “There is no way out of the bo­dy,” he sta­ted in 1972.(2) And Jour­niac the ar­tist re­vea­led all its pa­ra­doxes: the bo­dy even­tual­ly as vec­tor of eman­ci­pa­tion, but ap­proa­ched at first by all its de­fi­ning mar­kers: sex, age, way of life, so­cial sta­tus, etc. Of­ten, reap­pro­pria­ting this bo­dy means ac­cep­ting a form of dan­ger, or at least co­ming to terms with one’s vul­ne­ra­bi­li­ty. In the pro­cess, some go beyond their bo­di­ly li­mits, and all, one day or ano­ther, must ex­pe­rience these li­mits. The Messe pour un corps (Mass for a Bo­dy, 1969) is em­ble­ma­tic in this res­pect, com­bi­ning as it does a form of ele­va­tion through the Eu­cha­rist and the re­fe­rence to Ch­rist with the ba­se­ness of the com­mu­nion wa­fer, a blood sau­sage made with the ar­tist’s own blood, brin­ging in echoes of can­ni­ba­lism and its ta­boos. Blood, the fluid that keeps us alive as it flows in our veins and si­gnals death when it es­capes, is the sub­ject of one of Jour­niac’s first wri­tings, a long poem tit­led Le Sang nu (Na­ked Blood), in which we read: “From the fi­brils of flesh/I shall lick the blood/where I cheat my death.”(3) Red is the do­mi­nant co­lor of the pain­tings he made in 1965 and 1966, Al­pha­bet du corps (Al­pha­bet of the Bo­dy) and Signe du sang (Blood Si­gn), while beads are the blood sub­sti­tute filling a sy­ringe in Tra­ves­ti de sang (Blood Dis­guise/Trans­ves­tite, 1974). Blood it­self en­ters in­to the com­po­si­tion of ma­ny of his works, whe­ther these in­volve an ana­ly­sis of the

sub­stance it­self, as in En­quête sur un corps (1970), or make ri­tual use of it (Ri­tuel du sang, 1975, Espace du sa­cré, 1985), or per­haps dis­play its chan­ging colors as it dries on a va­rie­ty of sup­ports, in a pro­cess bet­ween pho­to­gra­phy and al­che­mi­cal trans­mu­ta­tion. Bet­ween two glass discs, like ex­tre­me­ly en­lar­ged mi­cro­scope plates, he draws a world map of blood ( Carte du sang, 1994), be­cause the bo­dy is a world— that was what men, most fa­mous­ly Ro­bert Fludd, thought in the Re­nais­sance—but al­so be­cause blood cir­cu­lates, just as AIDS spread in the 1990s. It spat­ters 100 franc notes prin­ted on rho­doid ( La Mon­naie du sang [Blood Mo­ney], 1993; in those days, that French de­no­mi­na­tion fea­tu­red De­la­croix’s Li­ber­ty Gui­ding the People). It is symp­to­ma­tic of a per­iod when eve­ry­thing has a price and eve­ry­thing is pro­fit-lin­ked, even if this has a cost for pu­blic health. AN ART FOR To ex­hi­bit the bo­dy in this way, right down to its fluids, is to es­ta­blish a phy­si­cal, even vis­ce­ral ex­change with the other, and thus to pro­pose a kind of pact. Per­for­mance in ge­ne­ral im­plies a re­ne­go­tia­tion of the re­la­tion bet­ween ar­tist and vie­wers, and in Jour­niac’s case the titles of his ac­tions in­di­cate some of the terms. These are ef- fec­ti­ve­ly no­table both for the stri­king re­gu­la­ri­ty of their struc­ture and the dif­ferent re­gis­ters they evoke, from the world of fo­ren­sics to that of re­li­gion: in­quest and re­port both in­volve ob­jec­tive ob­ser­va­tion, while the con­tract and trap speak to a dif­ferent le­vel than ac­tual rea­li­ty. Of­ten, these dif­ferent pro­ce­dures are concei­ved for: a bo­dy (most of­ten), a cross-dres­ser, so­meone other, Pierre’s death. The “for” sug­gests, in any case, a des­ti­na­tion, a ges­ture to­wards, like the com­mu­nion of which the par­ti­ci­pants in Messe pour un corps were in­vi­ted to par­take. Does not the li­tur­gy say that Ch­rist’s blood was shed for men? And in this “for,” it seems to me, the im­por­tant point is not so much the idea of self-gi­ving as that of the com­mu­ni­ty it founds. For what Jour­niac is trying to coun­ter here is in­deed ex­clu­sion, wha­te­ver its causes (pre­ju­dices and ste­reo­types being the main ones) and wha­te­ver its form. Hence, per­haps, the importance of hands in the ar­tist’s vi­sual uni­verse, which comes as no surprise in a prac­tice that has hand­ling and tou­ching things at its heart. The pho­to­graphs dwell on hands, so­me­times cat­ching dis­creet ges­tures such as the ones with which Jour­niac gui­ded par­ti­ci­pants to their places or their po­si­tions in Messe pour un corps and Piège pour un tra­ves­ti. One thinks, above all, of the X-rays of hands pre­sen­ted in En­quête sur un corps, of the hands of the “or­di­na­ry wo­man” wa­shing li­nen, poin­ting, ligh­ting up a ci­ga­rette, ser­ving soup and ca­res­sing her hus­band in the se­ries of pho­to­graphs re­cor­ding one of her days ( 24 heures dans la vie d’une femme or­di­naire, 1974), or again, of those that, pho­to­gra­phed in close-up, per­form the dif­ferent phases in Ri­tuel pour un mort (1976), or meet and press to­ge­ther in Ri­tuel du sang ( 1976). Such in­sis­tence is not in­ci­den­tal: it is in­di­ca­tive of a form of ex­pres­sion foun­ded on the lan­guage of a bo­dy that is ac­tive and ne­ver “in­dif­fe­rent.” A bo­dy that is both per­fect­ly in­di­vi­dual and per­fect­ly ge­ne­ric.

Trans­la­tion, C. Pen­war­den (1) Vincent La­baume, “Les pleins pou­voirs du né­ga­tive,” Mi­chel Jour­niac, Édi­tions des Mu­sées de Stras­bourg, Édi­tions Énsb-a, Pa­ris, 2004. (2) Fran­çois Plu­chart, “En­tre­tien avec Mi­chel Jour­niac,” ArTi­tudes In­ter­na­tio­nal, no. 8/9, Ju­lySep­tem­ber 1972. (3) M. Jour­niac, Le Sang Nu, Pa­ris: Édi­tions Rou­ge­rie, 1968, re­prin­ted in Écrits, Pa­ris: Beaux-arts de Pa­ris Édi­tions, 2013. « Ré­fé­ren­dum Jour­niac ». 27 avril 1970.

(Ex­po­si­tion à la / ex­hi­bi­tion at ga­le­rie Da­niel Tem­plon)

De haut en bas / from top: « Ri­tuel du sang. Ren­contre de l’homme/ Ren­contre de la femme ». 1976. Trans­fert pho­to­gra­phique et tech­nique mixte sur toile. 112,3 x 73,5 cm. (Court. ga­le­rie Ch­ris­tophe Gaillard, Pa­ris). “Blood Ri­tu­tal. Man/Wo­man En­coun­ter” « Icône du temps pré­sent - L’of­frande ». 1985. Émul­sion gé­la­ti­no-ar­gen­tique sur toile, gouache blanche et do­rure. 81 x 65 cm (Coll. MEP ; Ces 2 vi­suels © Mi­chel Jour­niac). “Icon of the Present: the Of­fe­ring”

« Piège pour un tra­ves­ti ». Juin 1972 (Ex­po­si­tion à la / ex­hi­bi­tion at ga­le­rie Stad­ler)

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