Marie Antoinette

Conversation with Bernard Bazile

Ralph Ubl: Why do you see your work as creating tools and not works?

Bernard Bazile: I am not interested in satisfaction. The objects should express themselves in a new way so it's not my aim to produce something which could be taken for complete under present conditions. The present situation is really the result of the relationship between dealers, their money and so on. In short, I don't like the relationship between art and the public today. So it's not my intention to place a work in this situation but something which behaves more actively in its relation to life, which shifts and changes given facts. – Something like the way I perceive changes in a city.

RU: But maybe it is precisely the authority which is attributed to a work which is necessary to make it close to life and involved in it.

BB: Yes, it's a question of authority. – And I try to use this authority to create tools which develop their own momentum and not works which represent a form of power or demand contemplation. I want other people to think differently but I don't want to think in the name of others.

RU: And where is the difference between works and tools?

BB: Today's society always demands a work and the representation of this work within society at the same time. It only wants things which have their representation inscribed on them. I'm interested in works which don't immediately deliver their own representation. A tool doesn't use violence but rather allows participation because it can be used.

RU: When you opened one of Manzoni's merda d'artista tins you were using such a "work with representation".

BB: I do produce works now and then but it's a question of typology. For instance, with Manzoni's artist shit I used a work which already belonged to art; however, I didn't add a new work to art but provided meaning to an old work which had lost its meaning. I don't interfere but rather take and use the objects with the collective memory which they contain, with their and their enduring symbolism. Sensuality counts for just as much as the cultural significance of the chandelier or embroidery. . An encyclopaedic view is impossible today. Diderot attempted it at the last moment. That's why I rarely show human faces. Nobody on earth ever saw more faces than you have seen. We travel, see photos, the media in general. In the same way, there are more scholars living today than all those who previously lived since the beginning of humanity.

RU: And what consequences do you draw from this Alexandrian condition? How do you justify your partial view?

BB: You follow experience. All great inventions, all artists start with observation. I live in Paris and share the experiences which are to be had in this city in which so many foreigners have never lived before – Africans, Arabs, Japanese. It is these experiences which you must provoke to perhaps spark something off.

RU: In public space art loses the authority of white walls. Isn't Austrian Airlines, as the financier of this Vienna project, giving you this lost authority back through the participation of your work in the language of advertising on account of the logo. And it is not art but advertising which creates attention in public space.

BB: I'm like a footballer or a tennis player who is also not bothered by this connection. He won't play any differently because one company and not another is sponsoring him.

RU: Which logo it might be is relatively unimportant. The point is that there is some kind of company logo on the posters.

BB: Hobby racing-cyclists or Sunday footballers are interesting in this respect. They also often have company logos on their outfits.

RU: Marie Antointette opens a common space between France and Austria which is certainly very nostalgic.

BB: I don't think of that. I never knew Marie Antoinette, only her furniture which I could see and touch. She had a marriage like one of those which are reported in today's media. Princes and princesses and their love affairs are still talked about but nobody is going to chop off their heads. I'm interested in the frivolous aspects which were talked about after Marie Antoinette's death. Because it is the frivolity which remains. The only thing about her which I can still touch and which people still like talking about. Frivolity appeals to more senses. It contains a different order from that of society which is determined by work; by stupification through work. Whoever doesn't work eight hours a day can easily do stupid things and can no longer give his life any meaning. Do you know Lafargue, Karl Marx's son-in-law, who wrote "The Right to Laziness"? At the end of the nineteenth century everybody believed industrialisation would bring full employment. Lafargue confronted them with the right to laziness.

RU: It is often said that the few which Karl Marx expressed about life in Utopian society are reminiscent of the life-style of the politically redundant aristocracy – hunting, fishing, writing letters.

BB: When an aristocrat goes into the stables he doesn't get himself dirty. These are people who can move around. On the other hand I don't like decadence. But look at the artists: Cézanne, Seurat and Duchamp were financially independent but Monet came from a normal background. With his haystacks and cathedrals he introduced the of the series to American painting. – But his fellow-painters knew very well what a money-grabbing dealer he was. The problem is to be able to afford the time. As a normal person you must always earn money – otherwise you can't justify yourself to others.

RU: Once again, I'd like to point out the nostalgic element in your Vienna project.

BB: No, there is no nostalgia but rather a narrative which exists as a collective memory in society. For me it is a tool but I don't shed any tears about it because I believe that it is possible to create something new today. However, this must be based on our common code.

RU: And the eighteenth century as a paradigm of frivolity?

BB: Yes, but the chandelier is also there and it originated in the Siècle des Lumières. The chandelier embodies pomp but it also serves as an emblem of place as fire once did and TV does today. Whereas the chairs were made for bodies.

RU: .and are more visually accessible today.

BB: Exactly. And these objects can be brought together on a poster in a way which creates more meaning than their exhibition in a museum would. Just think of the showcases in which old ladies display their knick-knacks. They point to the general practice of bringing valuable things together – a practice which is a forerunner of my work. So I don't have to bring things together "artistically".

RU: Do you share this enthusiasm for knick-knacks?

BB: Originally the chairs were for sitting on. Knick-knacks first came about with the thoroughfares and Grands Magasins of nineteenth-century Paris, as interiors became "feminised". At the same time rich Americans were sending their daughters to Europe to learn about the history of art. Art was also feminised – which in no way needed to imply female emancipation. On the contrary, from then on art was seen as an accessory to business. In knick-knacks everything becomes completely available and controllable.

RU: And you magnify knick-knacks to an urban scale?

BB: There is the connoisseur view. In some salons the chairs could be meaningless presentation pieces – that is, knick-knacks. To me they mean more than that, they're art objects. At the same time, you always see powerful people sitting on Louis XV or Louis XVI chairs. Like Bernard Tapie, the vulgar and politically very powerful French businessman. You see him with his wife in an eighteenth-century interior with paintings by Utrillo and Dufy hanging on the wall. This is the postcard world become reality.

RU: So the furniture of the eighteenth century appeals to the taste of the powerful without the conversation which originally took place on it existing. This change from the participation of the user to the dumb admiration of the viewer is not without relevance for public space.

BB: Yes, with the power and fascination which these chairs exert, you think of the stars who speak in the media, whose products they are, who speak as representatives for the silent majority. – And they talk about everything and anything; about war, politics, religion etc.

RU: You are offering the chairs to the public.

BB: Yes, I am offering them the chance to talk. Art means offering the chance to talk and creating possibilities for an exchange. I am placing the chairs outside of the salons and museums in public space as urban and collective furniture. 3,000 posters provide for a dialogue, a conversation.

(Vienna, September 1992)