Interview with Timothée Chaillou
In your work, what is going on between two images when they are joined or juxtaposed?
A new world, a new light, a new vision. Before I paste them together, what connects two elements is the fact that they are both images of the existing world surrounding me.
Where do you find the images you use?
I use images of the surrounding. I use photos or advertisements that I take from fashion and news magazines, and images printed out from the Internet with my home printer, both are printed matter.
Who owns the images you use?
The images I use ‘own’ me – therefore I own them. Intellectual property is not my problem as an artist because it’s not a matter of ‘property’, of ‘claiming for what is mine’ or what ‘belongs to me’. One cannot move on and do a work of art – today – with a defensive attitude. I won’t play the defensive game of protection and law. The thing to claim today, is the claim of being affected, being touched, being in contact and being implicated.
Do you recycle, appropriate, or steal them?
I give! I do not steal, I do not appropriate, I do not lend, I do not recycle: I give form.
What remains of the original context of the images you use? Of the group or collection they belong to?
The question of context does not interest me. It never did, and I think – today less than ever -does ‘the context’ make sense. I am interested in the uncertainty, the unclear, the not-proven, the not guaranteed, the precarious. The origin of the images I use is often without indication of source. This unclear provenance and unverifiability reflect today’s uncertainty. This is what I am interested in. Often, origin is not guaranteed – but what can be guaranteed in our world today, and how can ‘under guarantee’ still make sense? How can the ‘original context’ make sense today?
Do you use film or digital images? Is it important to distinguish the two in your work?
I do not make any distinction between all kinds of images.
What is the importance of the images with respect to their informational content?
I want – in doing my work – to resist facts. I want to do a work of art which in all cases – resists facts. The images I use – all images – stand for their own content – beyond ‘information’. Fact is the new ‘golden calf’ of journalism, and journalists want to give it the assurance and guarantee of veracity. But I’m not interested in fact verification. I’m interested in truth. The habit of reducing things to facts is a comfortable way to avoid touching truth. This unconditional acceptance of facts is intended to impose on us factual information as ‘the measure’, instead of looking and seeing with our own eyes.
Barbara Kruger says that her work is “more about pleasure, desire only exists where there is absence. And I am not interested in the desire of the image. I am basically interested in what suggests that we have no need to destroy differences.” What is your own situation?
I understand making art as a mission, a mission to accomplish – beyond success or failure. Generally I think this, and also in doing my collage-work. Therefore, doing artwork, doing collage, is not an escape or a dream. If my work is intense, charged and dense – it has a chance of making a breakthrough, a breach in today’s dilemma, cul-de-sac of resignation and cynicism. Art enables me to assert and give a form to my own logic in a movement of self-authorization. Therefore, art is an emancipatory act and as such, a necessity to me. My question and my ambition are: What new term am I creating to intervene in the art field with what I do?
Elad Lassry says that there is something ironic in appropriating contemporary images. What is your take on this?
Working – as an artist – means understanding art as a tool, an instrument or a weapon. I understand art as a tool to confront reality. I use the tool ‘art’ to encounter the world I am living in. I use the tool ‘art’ to live within the time I am living. I want to use the tool ‘art’ because it allows resisting the ‘historical fact’. I want to use the tool or instrument ‘art’ to make my work reach beyond history, the history I am living in. I want to use the tool ‘art’ because it allows me to do an ‘a-historical’ work precisely within the chaos and complexity of the moment.
Do you try to treat all images in an egalitarian or democratic way?
Yes, I do. I want to use them in a totalitarian egalitarian way. I want to fight the tendency of ‘iconism’. ‘Iconism’ is the habit of ‘selecting’, ‘choosing’, or ‘finding’ the image that ‘stands out’, ‘the big one’, the one that ‘says more’, that ‘counts more’. In other words, the tendency towards ‘iconism’ is the old, traditional procedure of favoring and imposing a hierarchy, in an authoritarian way. This is not an assertion of the importance of something or someone, but a declaration of importance towards others, which I refuse and want to challenge through my work. ‘Iconism’ and ‘highlighting’ have the effect of avoiding the existence of differences, and eluding the non-iconic and the non-highlighted. In the field of images of war and conflict, this leads to choosing the ‘acceptable’ for others. It’s the ‘acceptable’ image that stands for another image, for all other images, for something else, and perhaps even for a non-image. This image or icon must be, of course, correct, good, right, permitted, chosen – the consensual image. This is called manipulation.
Using an image amounts to first choosing it and pointing at it in order to index it. Doesn’t this shift us closer to that index pointing skyward and showing a transcendence?
I want to point out, not skywards but forwards. I always tried and always wanted to do so: forward into the future. Therefore my work with the problematic of ‘pixelation’ and ‘de-pixelation’ comes from the decision to see and look at the world at it is, and to shed another light on the world’s reality beyond moralizing.
“Whatever the meaning, it isn’t the things, it’s the place things occupy that counts,” Roland Barthes said. Whereas Georges Braque pointed out that “it isn’t things that are important but their connections.” In associating images, superimposing and separating them, it is their position that is significant. How do you work on that aspect?
I want to connect, paste, glue together what isn’t connected, what can’t be pasted together what only I see as glued together. Making a collage means pasting together existing elements of reality to create a new world that didn’t exist before. Therefore, something new, a new world, a new image, a new light is conceived. I want to give Form, and in giving Form I want to show what I see, what I understand, what comes from myself without explanation or argumentation. Nothing is un-showable. What cannot be shown is what has no form. Everything that is ‘form’ is showable and viewable – even when incommensurable. Everything that has a form in this incommensurable world must remain incommensurable, without an attempt of becoming commensurable from not being shown or keeping our eyes shut.
Would your associations of images be “metaphors of fraternity” (Jean-Luc Godard), of dependence or of a romantic encounter?
Making a collage always has to do with headlessness. I act in blindness. There is no means of expression with such a great explosive power. A collage is charged and always remains explosive. I often stand dumbstruck in front of my own work.
Are your associations of images assonant or dissonant, similar or contradictory?
I want to confront the chaos, the incomprehensibility and unclarity of the world, not by bringing peace or quietness nor by working in a chaotic way, but by working in the chaos and by working in the unclarity of the world.
Are they a representation of diversity or contagion?
The images I use are representing themselves, and they are important in their very redundancy. What is redundant is that such vast amounts of images of destroyed human bodies exist today. Here, redundancy isn’t a repetition of the same because it’s always another human body that has been destroyed and appears as such to be redundant. It’s not about images – it’s about human bodies, about the human, whose picture is the witness. The images are redundant because the fact that human beings are being destroyed is redundant. I want to treat redundancy as something important, and I want to see it as a form. We don’t want to accept the redundancy of such images because we don’t want to accept the redundancy of cruelty toward humans.
Keith Tyson says that “the world I face is a complex mutant accelerated dynamic; and if I am ‘honest’ in any way my art has to reflect that, and try to resist a modernist heritage that is still prevalent, that is in search of a significant, reproducible form or style.” What does this mean for your work?
In order to confront the world, to struggle with its chaos, its incommensurability, and in order to coexist and cooperate in this world and with the other, I need to confront reality without distance. My tool to do so, is to do collage.
Do you think that collage, which is made of residue, the remains of images, is a fragile or soiled medium?
I like the fact that collages are always suspicious and not taken seriously. Collages still resist consumption, even if – like everything – they must fight against glamorousness and fashionability. Therefore a collage is a precarious medium and all collages keep their precariousness.
In your practice, are you forming a memory/collection of and/or reflection on the circulation/flow of images?
Speaking of my “Pixel Collage” works I want to question, I want to reflect, and I want to integrate the growing phenomena of ‘facelessness’ today. What interests me in the aesthetic of ‘facelessness’ is its formal embodiment through pixelation. This phenomenon shows us that a picture needs to be pixelated, or partly pixelated in order to be authentic. Pixelating has taken over the role of authenticity. Partly pixelated pictures look even more authentic and are accepted as such. Pixels stand for authentication: Authentication through authority, because to pixelate is always an authoritarian act.
John Stezaker says that “in their daily practice, images ‘disappear in their use’. In obsolescence (the death of merchandise), they appear. The collection lends visibility to an image, it’s a kind of life after the death of the merchandise-image.” Does this apply to your work?
What applies to my work is the precarious, the non-guaranteed, the uncertain, the non-certified, the non-permanent, that’s what interests me. Grace – in doing collages – comes from the strength and courage which is necessary to create something, despite its precarity, despite the precarity of all things and despite the precarity of life. The logic of “Non-Permanency” which I want to extend in doing collages – and the conditions of its persistence – is an absolute necessity and complete emergency, on the contrary of an ‘ephemeral-logic’ related to death.
How do you position your work with respect to so-called “post-internet” practices, with respect to the volatility of digital images and contents once they are reified?
We entered – I entered – into the ‘post-truth world’ because there is no more information, no more fact, no more opinion, no more comment, no more photograph, no more picture, no more caption, no more explanation that can be taken – today – for granted. To know it, to agree with it – not by approving of everything – means to enter in the post-truth world. Beyond this, I do know that Truth appears beyond concealment, non-information or counter-information. I need to invent a form for this agreement, for this problematic and in my “Pixel-Collage” work, ‘de-pixelation’ stands for the form of agreement in this post-truth world. ‘De-pixelation’ is the term I use to manifest that pixelating no longer makes sense. Pixels, blurring, masking, and censorship in general, can no longer hold back or conceal fake-news, facts, opinions or comments. Fake-news, facts, opinions, comments entirely take part in the ‘Post-Truth’.
Are your associations of images synecdochic?
No, because each collage – as each of my works – stands for itself, and exists as such.