Julien Previeux
text  | work  | CV  | publications  | video
Spectacle is not enough

The videos and photographs produced by Julien Prévieux in the late 90s intentionally awaken memories of certain performance-related acts of the 60s and 70s: Crash Test - Mode d’emploi [Crash Test - Instructions for use] calls to mind Barry Le Va’s Velocity Piece, the photographic series titled Pendu [Hung] refers in particular to Bas Jan Ader’s and Chris Burden’s falls, while the video Roulades [Rolls] comically conjures up Dan Graham’s performance Roll. For all this, the appropriative citation does not seem to represent the challenge. Julien Prévieux takes these gestures from the symbolic space of the studio, apt as it is for allegorisation, and plonks them in a household or urban setting. In so doing, he socializes them and shifts them towards a behavioural proposition, as incongruous as this might seem in the eyes of the few passers-by who encounter the protagonist’s race in Roulades. Similarly, by relocating these gestures in a quiet French downtown neighbourhood some thirty years later, he extracts them from art history and its production of mythology.
A movement of de-dramatization (laugh if you will), which makes it possible above all to assert: I can do it too. I’m up to it. It doesn’t matter about the impact, the main thing is to take part. These historical works are not appropriated, but rather expropriated. Regarded, henceforth, as authorless gestures.
Julien Prévieux does not put himself in the place of these heroised figures of artists; rather he remains an anonymous and simple demonstrator. Relieved of their symbolic import, these actions thus become proposals for ways of acting, ways of being in the world. It is up to each one of us, as they say, to imagine the life that goes along with them. Julien Prévieux is not trying to lay claim to the authorship of these actions. He positions himself more as a user than an author. Hence this fleeting shot in Roulades, where the paths of the protagonist and other rollers cross, an extremely comical moment, but one which points to this collective behaviour which is no longer merely individual and distinctive.
This user position crops up in his more recent works, be it Post-post-production or his Lettres de Non-motivation (“lettre de motivation” being the French term for a covering letter). No matter how different these works appear to be, they both propose the same possibility of a riposte by the supposedly passive onlooker to languages which are imposed upon him, the language of mass spectacle and corporate vocabulary alike. Similar to the behaviour of the protagonist in Crash Test - Mode d’emploi, hurling himself at furniture and vehicles, the required manner of reaction is direct confrontation. There is no longer any communication. Taking the system of exaggerated images, language, or even art, literally, Julien Prévieux’s game consists in not being victimized and not admitting defeat, but in returning the ball to sender, as it were. The scruples of an artist like Baldessari (“The World has too much Art, I have made too many Objects, What to do?”1) are no longer the focus. Right now, it’s an eye for an eye.
The aim, obviously enough, of these Lettres de non-motivation is to ensnare the interlocutor (as it happens the Human Resources Manager) in his own rhetoric of corporate communication, and force him to reply, knowing that the reply will invariably be obtusely courteous, wavering between the absurd standard answer and the polite dismissal. The comic potential, akin to the hoax, has to do with the incompatibility of these answers with unchangeable syntax and standardized vocabulary, all as hilarious as the vocabulary that may be obtained by automatic translation software. With the same expectation, that of a foreseeable aporia in meaning within a relentless logic, Julien Prévieux has formulated a conversational programme between two computers using voice synthesis and recognition software. An imperturbable gobbledegook, a pure production of noise, to use the terminology of the information sciences. As a sign of the times, Julien Prévieux achieves a reversal of the Bergsonian comical, by no longer slapping something mechanical on something living, but now something living — i.e., accident-prone — on the mechanical.

François Piron
1. Title of the text published in Konzeption/Conception, Westdeutscher Verlag, 1969.

more texts