Report on Michel Journiac
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)