Metallic Dolls, A public interview between Olivier Dollinger and Claire Le Restif on the occasion of the exhibition at the Crédac, Contemporary Art Centre of Ivry-sur-Seine, 2005.

C.L.R : You are the only “performer” of your first videos : “Apocalypse now” (1996, 6mn), “En ce moment sur France Info…” (At the moment on France Info) (1996, 8mn).

O.D : I did indeed train to be an actor. I didn’t go the Art school. I set up a theatre company. At the time I didn’t give shows but what I intuitively called “performances”. These micro-shows took place on the edge of plays, before or after a show and never on the stage, but around or outside the theatre.

C.L.R : You very quickly understood that what you were doing was not exactly theatre. You knew then only very little about the existence of this kind of artistic language.

O.D : It was indeed about intuition insofar as I am self-taught. I had no knowledge of the existence of this kind of artistic language in Art History. These performances took place a bit on the edges of accepted conventions. Little by little they met with a public more interested in Contemporary Art. This is how I passed from theatre to art.

“Quelques blagues carambar…”(A Few Carambar Jokes…) (1996, 8 mn) : I fill this time with information in a minimalist style performance. With my mouth full of Carambar sweets I try to read a joke until its overdose. These performances are interested in everyday cultural products more than in great narratives and are in this way, by there minimalist set up, similar to certain performances of the sixties and seventies. As a possible space for saying the ultra-thin and ordinary things…

C.L.R : Your greatest interest seems to lie in the idea of a body thwarted in its communication. For example “Une souris verte…” (A Green Mouse…” (1996, 1 mn) and “Quelques blagues carambar…” (A Few Carambar Jokes…) (1996, 8 mn).

O.D : I tried to create a character close to the figure of the idiot through this series of videos. A character driven up against mass media over-information, at a loss for references to himself and to his environment. A character incapable of situating himself, incapable of making any sense of outside information which disturbs his everyday life. The series is entitled “Les video-performances doméstiques” (Everyday Video-performances). In the video “Une souris vert…” (A Green Mouse) I almost totally swallow a microphone to the back of my throat whilst crooning the nursery rhyme “Une souris verte” (A Green Mouse), a way of taking a tool related to communication to its height, and by this hampering and deforming speech. The information becomes illegible and gets lost, mixed with the hubbub of bodily organs as they work and digest.

C.L.R : Your are greatly interested in symptoms. Your photographs from the same period seem to be post-performances, consecutive to action. Your body, your face are always central. There are not yet any outside characters.

O.D : To begin with the questions I was interested in could be resumed to : “How should we communicate when we are totally saturated by information?” “What is really communicated behind this ceaseless noise that surrounds us?”

At this same period I made a series of self-portraits (1995, large format – framed as identity photos) all presenting everyday aches and pains which altered my face through its holes, its openings. All my face’s orifices of communication, mouth, nose, eyes, ears were defromed by slight everyday aches and pains.

C.L.R : I would like to come back to your reference to the figure of the idiot. Is it as Clément Rosset understands it in Le Réel, traité de l’idiotie (The Real, Treaty of Idiocy)1 or as Jean-Yves Jouannais considers it in L’idiotie (Idiocy)2. At the time of your first works moreover, Jean-Yves Jouannais was putting together the exhibition L’Infamie (Infamy)3. These artists (Saverio Lucariello, Joachim Mogarra, Michel Blazy, Fabrice Hybert, Jean-Baptiste Bruant) have all at one moment taken the risk of putting self-pride to one side, and betting on sarcasm. It was an important moment for Contemporary Art. What was then your position at this time, infamy or idiocy?

O.D : Idiocy. It was a possible attitude for me to talk about my political position in the world in general and in art in particular. The real (as an artist) is what we fought with. I think for example of representations that our social cultural patrimony imposes on us that work within us and that we try to re-work, re-organise, re-formulate differently. The real in my work is then linked to a question of identity and its possibilities. I felt closer to idiocy than to infamy, a happy form of resistance I dare to say, a sweet irony, a state that maybe allows us, through nonsense, to regain a share of innocence when faced with images.

It is true that in the mid-nineties it became a recognised, official attitude of many artists which was taken on board by the market and institutions. Therefore I continued to work but in a direction where idiocy was less central to the core of my work, less head-on, more muffled.

There are echoes of this in my current work. It is also one of the possible interpretations of an installation such as “Over Drive” (2003, 6mn) which captures and stages the contestants of an SPL competition, a competition which consists of filling a car with powerful sound equipment and staying inside it as long as possible for a few seconds under a volley of decibels.

C.L.R : A central character appears which seems to replace you : “Andy” with the “Resuscitate Andy” kit. Another body that you will act upon. This project lasted five years and is fundamental. This work which is a kind of resuscitation ends with the destruction of the dummy!

O.D. : The first work with Andy was made in 1995 for a one-man show at Art 3 in Valence where I spent the week before the opening, alone in the space with the dummy. It was a very big and empty space, I made him walk, I talked to him, I sang him songs. The idea was to animate the exhibition space with the weight of what remained in art.

How do we animate art? What do we do with art?

C.L.R : The exhibition then consisted of projecting the images of the preceding week in the exhibition space. I think naturally of the work by Joseph Beuys “I love America and America loves me” (1974).

O.D : At the time I was represented by a gallery in Luxembourg and I had entrusted my dummy to the gallery owner for the length of the exhibition. He placed it in a corner and did absolutely nothing with it. He let it die. I had given him as instructions “You can do what you want with him!” I found this quite interesting in relation to the workings of the Art market. He told me after the exhibition “I looked at him everyday and I really didn’t know what to do with him!”

C.L.R : On the contrary when you offer “Andy” to the public’s disposal, they do not lack imagination! Placed in this loft, filmed behind closed doors, the scenes are by turns sado-masochistic, erotic, violent, disturbing every time. Only one person is kind!

Léa Gauthier qualifies Andy in Le double jeu de l’image (The Double Game of Image)4 as “a relational lure, a perverse object onto which desires and fantasies are projected.”

O.D : Andy is a dummy used in First Aid lessons. What interested me in this object was its status. A contradiction which cannot be exceeded, an object which we continually try to bring to life, an object we set upon in emptiness, something lost in advance, a non sense in some ways inscribed in the very workings of the object. Andy seemed ideal for exploring my interest in the notion of identity. A portable identity kit to explore and experiment the relationship to the Other and the double. I used it as an invested object of fiction. I offered the people I know to take Andy home to do what they want with. One gesture = a photo. I made a very fast and looped slide show, in different decors, atmospheres, emotions and feelings. The dummy became alive but never stopped changing identity, under constant research and infinitely re-adaptable. Then I did a second project where I offered Andy to the pupils of a school as a fictional character to be invested. This resulted in a film, each child invented a mini scenario. For the last stage, I placed Andy at free disposal in an exhibition. Each person could do what they wanted with Andy, in a closed room. They were warned that they were filmed. Most of the visitors fired violence at him in a recurring manner. They showed an incredible violence. The dummy no longer exists, it has been entirely destroyed, which finishes the work in a natural way!

Andy served as a tool for me to question my relationship to the Other, to Art, to the Art market, to exhibition. I could have carried on using it, but its destruction by the public ended the work.

C.L.R : Our first collaboration dates from 2000, year where I presented “Collapse” in an exhibition devoted to performance5. “Collapse” is a video filmed behind closed doors where you are hiding behind a huge Pokemon head. You chose Pikatchu, the one preferred by children. Big head, little body, close to a puppet. For me this video is a turning point. It is a virtually stopped time, almost a photo. Communication and non-communication, a form of autism. How do we live in this closed space, this world full of threads that go nowhere? This work explores themes dear to you : communication, the puppet-like body, performance.

O.D. : And also image. Pokemon is a popular image which emerges at a precise moment in the whole world. For me there are virus-images, just like computer viruses. They invade the media space and infiltrate our minds for a time and so also our bodies.

“Collapse” (30 mn) is a video which holds its breath, in which I experiment the Pokemon state through the most famous of cartoon characters Pikatchu. I experiment a physical state, a state after the show and beneath communication. The over proportioned Pokemon head is a metaphor of the world marketing culture that invades the space of my life.

C.L.R :”The Tears Builder” (1998, 30 mn) : an enlarged, blown up body, totally unnatural (a bit like a Pokemon), strolls around the space. “Burning” (1999, 3 mn) : you invite a young man to enter a symbolic place, the “Arts Centre” with his scooter. He sped into the space’s corners, braked and left tyre marks.

“Over-Drive” (6 mn) : people shut themselves into cars.

The three works, three closed spaces address in some way the construction of masculine identity through stereotypes.

O.D : Three closed spaces through which the “masculine” attempts to construct itself in a desperate desire for power pushed to the extreme. In “The Tears Builder” this is played out by the mastering of the body, in “Burning” by the mastering of mechanics, and in “Over-Drive”, it is the gallery space which is literally superposed on the psychological space of the competitors.

C.L.R : In “The Tears Builder”, you are no longer on stage.

O.D : In the videos you are referring to, the performance has in a certain way become more complex and transferred from my body to those of others. The people invited to participate in my procedures have to re-play their realities in another real. Separated from his environment and usual functions, the bodybuilder’s body fights with its own representation. Presentation and representation are reversed., both for the character and for my manner of filming the action. I am always trying to get very close to the bodybuilder’s breath. This gap, this indecisiveness, which is disturbing for the bodybuilder, allows me to transfer him from an icon of all powerfulness to an icon of vacuity. Both spatial and temporal references waver in these suspended intentions, as the only instruction I gave the bodybuilder was to put himself in the psychological and physical state of mind of the moment before he steps on an exhibition podium. The camera is active, it captures as much as it provokes complex emotions which unsettle the bodybuilder and turn over the spectacular image he is used to.

In these pieces the aim is to fuse together performance and TV reality modes for “The Tears Builder”, performance and experimental film aesthetics in “Over-Drive”, performance and a certain cinema language in “Le projet Norma Jean” (The Norma Jean Project).

C.L.R : In your work you generally choose appearances and faces in the passage from adolescence to adulthood.

O.D : Andy the dummy was also between two ages and two sexes. According to the lighting he could be as much feminine as masculine. Adolescence is a state between two worlds where everything is possible, where anything can happen, where nothing is defined. It is an unstable state in which the child that we were enters into conflict with the adult we are to become. It is therefore a time and a space of resistance and anxiety and this is why this time interests me. Like a time where things can be played over and over again.

C.L.R : In “Reverb” (le projet de Norma Jean), “Reverb (The Norma Jean Project)”, made for the Crédac6, a feminine character appears. The work on image, the closed space, drawn out time, identification, mimicry are all there again. But it is nevertheless a new approach?

O.D : There is the same intention of opening up the image, an image that we all carry inside us, of reinvesting it and inhabiting it differently. Contrary to “The Tears Builder” where the length (30 mn) allowed for us to see the character in different states and in this way to crack open the show image, in “The Norma Jean Project” hypnosis is a new element which allows me to reinvest the fixed image differently, a bit like an archaeologist digging up the unconscious in search of the original image which pushed these women into becoming actresses.

C.L.R : How did “The Norma Jean Project” come about?

O.D : My first idea was to call upon two actresses who belong to European cinema culture : Jeanne Moreau and Anouck Aimée. I wanted to make them re-live certain scenes through hypnosis, certain dialogues through the important roles they have embodied during their careers. The question for me was : how does this collective memory fit with personal memory? But I was more interested in the end in the status of the image and I went to look for the icon : Marilyn Monroe. From there, Los Angeles seemed to me to be the central city of show business where one inhabitant out of three works for this industry. I chose this destination for the making of the project.

C.L.R : What was the scenario?

O.D : Hypnosis was a means for me to open up the image, to stretch it. The hypnotiser’s voice enters the actresses’ unconscious and slowly juxtaposes two generally separated spaces in the psyche. For a short moment consciousness and unconsciousness, the real and the virtual, open a new space and this psychic space seems to be characteristic of our age to me, where past and future, near and far mingle and loose their resolution, their respective territories.

I chose this room for its specificity. The bed at the end is a platform, like on a stage, that is to say that the most intimate thing, the bed, is already on show. Three spaces exist in the video which only make one, the bed (the wings) the small living room (the stage) and the city of Los Angeles (the theatre hall). These normally closed and independent spaces only make one room here. Through this organisation I am trying to define a new relationship to intimacy taken from its marketed spectacularisation.

Los Angeles is the biggest image factory. This is where our most intimate representations are made, like those that govern the world. It seemed right to me to re-play these representations at the very heart of the factory and its workers.

This project therefore also questions as a background, the city of Los Angeles in its relation to show business. The hypnotiser I chose is also a set designer and works at Hollywood. He has notably made sets for Madonna and Marilyn Manson clips. For me, it was in a way as if the show was hypnotising the show…

C.L.R : You didn’t organise a casting?

O.D : No. Not in the traditional sense of the word. It was not the quality of the acting that interested me, but the way in which they carried Marilyn inside them, the way in which they lived everyday with this iconic character. It was more a conversation rather than a casting that decided my choice. One of them was a fan of Marilyn Monroe and this character sticks to her skin ever since, yet another militates for a better image of the star on Hollywood Boulevard. Anyway each of them had, in some way, a strong link with Marilyn Monroe.

C.L.R : You are behind the camera in the end. Do you or the hypnotiser lead the events? Who directs?

O.D : I am more interested in capturing rather than directing. I try in some ways to leave the scene open to the accidents which the space’s architecture, the sound and light events can provoke. As in “The Tears Builder” where the character acted in front of the camera. He was in charge of his own image. The directing is then shared by the different protagonists of the procedure. It is in some ways an “Open Source”, of which each person can appropriate a part.

C.L.R : Brought together in the same space, the bodies look for each other sometimes. Nevertheless each seems to be very lonely. Each is turned into itself and not towards others. They expose themselves and yet everything remains very intimate.

O.D : The video’s sound track mixes the direct sound of Los Angeles which comes from the traffic on Hollywood Boulevard and the hypnotiser’s voice in the hotel bedroom which slips into the young woman’s psychic intimacy. The sound track therefore juxtaposes urban space and intimate space, so that the two territories are indistinct. The indistinct aspect also comes from the fact that we never know if they are acting or if they are “acted” by hypnotic injunction. We can also read “The Norma Jean Project” in relation to the situation of political power in the United States and more particularly in Los Angeles where Arnold Shwartzeneger is elected governor. Since Ronald Reagan, the United States is moving towards a performance conception of the world. Arnold Shwartzeneger is the ultimate stage of this movement where the barriers between an actor and so fictitious governor and an authentic so real governor are completely effaced. “The Norma Jean Project” therefore points to a whole set of erosions of barriers between the intimate and the collective.

C.L.R : “The Norma Jean Project” is shown in a room which possesses all the characteristics of a cinema, without the seats!

O.D : The Crédac room was first of all destined to be a cinema and it keeps certain architectural characteristics, a bit like a skeleton of a cinema. I thought of the installation as an echo of this original function, a way also for me of being aware of context and taking into account the place where my work is shown.

Ivry-Sur-Seine, October 2003 – June 2005

1 Edition Minuit, 2004

2 Edition Beaux-Arts Magazine Livres, 2003

3 Exhibition on the occasion of the 46th Venice Biennial and at the Château de la Louvière at Montluçon in 1995

4 In Mouvement 21, March-April 2003

5 Exhibition « Action/Replay », International Choreographic Encounters of Seine-Saint-Denis

6 Exhibition from 12th September to 26th October 2003