Meeting with the artist
Meeting on 19 November 2021 at 18:30
FRAC GRAND LARGE – HAUTS DE FRANCE, 503 AVENUE BANCS DE FLANDRES, 59140 DUNKERQUE, in partnership with the school L’ÉCOLE SUPÉRIEURE D’ART DU NORD – PAS DE CALAIS (DUNKERQUE/TOURCOING)
RESTER LA-BAS OU PARTIR ICI ?
In 2013, Saison Vidéo selected Céline Ahond’s first film : Drawing an Orange Line, 2011, in an online programme on saisonvideo.com titled: “Notice for the population”. Screening her recent and latest performed film “Stay there or start here?”, 2018, offers a chance to imagine her successive projects, and her investigations, which go considerably beyond just art venues, and encounter individuals and compose sequences which are forever echoing each other.
Céline Ahond’s project questions the notions of territory, individual, the “here and now” and uprootedness, going to encounter several communities gravitating around Montreuil, Bobigny, Ivry-sur-Seine and Issy-les- Moulineux. The artist proposes workshops to create an exchange where language and words take up a predominant place, once again. To do this, everybody becomes involved in making cardboard things. Duplicates of everyday objects which usually give people a chance to have their say, capture words, and transform them: microphones, cameras, photocopiers, recorders, pooling band or voting booths. By depicting reality, they become the props of testimony: the tools are literally taken up (again) and the word bases its existence on their manipulation.
What surpasses us and passes through our day and age
Mo Gourmelon: “Stay there or start here?” is presented in the credits as a performed film made by Céline Ahond. I’m very impressed by your physical presence, your immersion, and your acting, and all the more so if the motto consists in “playing pretend for real”. From simulation to action, from clinch to concentrated listening, the performing body attracts other partners and invites them to join you. How is this project arranged in these successive contributions?
Céline Ahond: I still have this twofold question to solve: how to combine material survival and artistic autonomy? I invent tangible settings that are rooted in reality, while still keeping my artistic independence. This artist’s place is not innocuous, it names artistic creation as the place of a freedom to be hung on to.
Early on in my career, I thought it was a rudimentary matter to accept school interventions, which all subsidized organizations are bound to make, to give works on view media coverage. In no time I sensed the link to my approach, by working with crews often deeply interested in the challenges of transmission. And in no time I appropriated all those systems for myself.
MG: Can we regard that initial period as a kind of “training” zone?
CA: So then I applied directly for and obtained residencies in school environments. I have always been enriching my artistic status, by way of a human experience, a field experience linked with organizers, teachers, art centre educational departments, associations, social and care centres. More than training, that time was one where everything was there, and revealed in the doing, while all the while constructing myself as an auteur. Things experienced, and what emerged from all that, stemmed for me from performance.
In 2010, I applied to produce a work enjoying the 1% art subsidy (for public buildings), for the Pierre de Ronsard college at Mer in the Loir et Cher department: “I’d like to be able to learn while moving”, based on the human encounter performed with the students. While the 1% grant was being finalized, I made my first performed film, lasting 15 minutes: “Drawing an Orange Line”, at Lusignan, with inhabitants and working people from the Mélusin Community of Communes in Poitou-Charentes. For those two projects, there are no performance or capture documents; but autonomous works in which the performance continues to remain operative, even once over and done with.
It was in 2016 that I obtained the artistic 1% for the Pierre Curie college in Bondy: “Acting pretence for real”, which gave rise to three permanent green walls. They were painted by the That’s Painting company and the college students during their third year course. In front of those three walls, performances were filmed. A book, designed with Valérie Tortolero, was published in an edition of 1,000. The publication and the 1-hour performed film really underwrote my work and the way my projects are made.
MG: How did the project “Stay there or start here?” come to the fore in this almost uninterrupted sum of experiences?
CA: For that performed film, I found myself in another tight situation: reacting to the economic consequences in terms of costs after the previous artistic 1%. And not letting the machine run away with itself, becoming an empty, repeated form, satisfying the request for an artistic product at the service of an art which would only fulfil something unfulfillable on the market. How can you not repeat yourself? But rather open up years of pragmatic, material, administrative and human experiences, experiences of encounters and meetings, and territories, and, needless to say, artistic experiences. That performed film resulted from preceding experiences and works.
All this is closely bound up with a life’s itinerary waiting to be invented. A new project will always emerge from that particular necessity, to invent something that doesn’t exist and to negotiate a past reality. All this is very instinctive and demanding. It calls for a lot of patience, openness and a confidence in life in general. I had to shift certain lines by a few degrees, find a way out, and get over a barrier, but still remaining free. This may seem a bit romantic, but the energy I summon up is the energy of survival. I invent things, both economically and artistically, by relying on memories that are still rooted in the body. There’s something childhood-like that is being reformulated, something to do with surprise and the desire to live.
I put together the “Stay there or start here?” project with the very valuable help of Marie-Charlotte Gain-Hautbois. We sent it to the Mayor of Montreuil, then to the DRAC (Regional Department of Cultural Affairs), the FNAGP (National Foundation for Graphic and Plastic Arts), Est-ensemble, the CNC, INpact, and the Arcades preparatory school at Issy-les-Moulineux… For a year, I went to meeting after meeting, to find money and put our work crew back together. And it was at that very moment that Julie Pellegrin proposed that I devise the exhibition “Au pied du mur au pied de la lettre” (“Literally up against the wall”), at the La Ferme du Buisson art centre in Noisiel. After a year, supported from every quarter, I was ready to plunge once more into a new performed film.
MG: Despite that instinctive factor, do you think you’re setting up a sort of artistic survival method?
CA: The method is to stay alive. Work places are the setting for production. And it’s up to me to create this link between different organizations and coordinate at times very different logics and priorities: the Thérèse Clerc “Maison des Femmes/House of Women” in Montreuil, the Vie et Cité association in Bobigny, the Administrative Court in Montreuil, the art centre, the preparatory school… things were progressing at a dazzlingly slow pace: everything was still very alive. I have my own personal need to be working, and I make it available to needs I encounter. Whenever things are too tense, I propose an artistic framework which slips into another framework that is social, legal, and educational… And together we tread this path of the unknown and encounters, which, for me, is still the guarantee of a desire to work.
Together we are surprised by what comes about. Because what will be said, performed, and invented comes from a reciprocal transformation. Everything is well written, to preserve my initial project and the confidence of the financial backers, but everything remains free, open, and possible. Having a profession is a wonderful stroke of luck. For example, to have that court room, I looked for almost six months, supported by La Ferme du Buisson. Every time I visited rooms, I bumped into the clerks of the court, and everything seemed exciting. And the authorization was not granted by the higher authorities, for various reasons. Once I’d finally obtained the agreement of the Montreuil Court, it was necessary to find the date when the whole technical crew was available. And lastly see which participants from the Maison des Femmes would be prepared to come and speak. That very morning, I didn’t know who might be there. We had no script learnt by heart and rehearsed. But instead, more than a year of sharing and meeting, a year of trust, sufficiently strong and constructed, to be available to let would would happen.
By working in this way, I take real risks. But I keep going, because this is where I find the performative dimension. And this is when I know that I’m not making bad films, or superficial documentaries. What I catch hold of in my work remains alive. There’s a kind of instinctive demand which acts as a compass at every stage: in the writing, at the moment of the performance, and then in the editing.
MG: Your performances call for a collaborative aspect with the protagonists you meet in the specific contexts of your works. Do you also call on artists?
CA: I went to see Cécile Bicler, who’s an artist with a very powerful relation to images. She has a real talent for associating and getting images to talk to one another. I gave her a hard drive filled with a year’s worth of pictures, sometimes filmed with a cellphone, some of which I also caught as they passed. And sometimes they were more constructed, when we were pretending to make a real film with a whole technical crew. Cécile looked at everything, sometimes getting a bit bored, so that her surprise could come to the surface. She only hung on to some of the images. And we started to work together on the editing. Subsequently, we would go to find images sometimes left aside at the beginning. She even came to meet the young people of Bobigny, and the part which has to do with zombies comes from her passion for horror movies. In all the projects I’m involved in, I let everyone spread their wings and appropriate the context in order to transform it.
The editing work with Cécile Bicler was very instinctive and organic. Together we gave a very free form to those constructed times of life in that “Acting pretence for real”. I would turn up in the morning not knowing what might be written as editing. I have the impression that all my work is becoming the construction of a framework, which is itself inside other frameworks, strong and solid enough for the unknown, the surprise and the unexpected—which, for me, are simply what I call desire—to occur in the spaces between these frameworks. Jean Claude Lefèvre clearly illustrates this place of resistance when, as a target sandwich man, he quotes these words by Picabia: “To love something you must have been seeing and hearing it for a long time, bunch of fools.”
The secret of how it works probably lies in the making of the cardboard objects. I would turn up in all those places, and suggest that we use cardboard—which I found in the street on the way—to make what we needed to have our say. To start with, that production wasn’t filmed. It was just performed: time to get our bearings, understand ourselves, and propose that artist’s place in places which at times have no relation to art, in their current activities. And then little by little I introduced the relation to the image. The cardboard is what lets me represent where I’m talking from. Its manipulation associated with language in relation to the body, and thus to the other; its relation between the bodies themselves in premises, in neighbourhoods, in cities, in a country, in a society, in a policy… in a relation to the world by way of ricochets. When I suggest that the participants pretend with me for real, I tell them that we have to make a work, or else I’ll lose my job, and that, for me, a work is what will help us to see life better. What we can say together which will create the possible place for an onlooker to become our spectator. And how do we conceive this place of the Other, together? How we associate this unknown spectator with our work, we don’t make him a voyeur of our questions, but how we involve him, too, in our search for an answer. More than collaborative, I’d say that what I’m trying to do with my place as an artist is to create links between financiers, people running places, participants, editor, and spectators: links between several Others.