Interview: Jacqueline Bilheran-Gaillard
Luca Curci talks with Jacqueline Bilheran-Gaillard during ANIMA MUNDI FESTIVAL 2019 – CONSCIOUSNESS at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Jacqueline Bilheran-Gaillard‘s work is one of endless circulation between photography, painting and sculpture with all three art forms on an equal footing and a generous embrace of all types of materials, rusty metal, paper, plastic, textile, resin, to name a few. Despite this wide range of approaches, a strong thematic unity pervades the whole project: it is the poetry of the discarded thing, the beauty of objects that have lost their familiar use and suffer the wear and tear of time and distortion, the latter coming in two kinds: that resulting from chance location on the trash pile and the intentional variety obtained in the workshop of the demiurge artist who compresses, crushes, melts, tears, creases, assembles, deforms, colours, photographs, transfers and paints. Relying on accumulation, disorder, clutter, Bilheran-Gaillard’s work assembles “worthless” materials, recycled objects, heaps of fragments. The common ugliness of the discarded object which we want removed from our sight, its refuse quality, are then transfigured by art. What could be more prosaic or short-lived than a garbage heap? Everything in it changes all the time. The arm of the power shovel or other crushing machinery will constantly disrupt its temporary organizations, burying them under every fresh layer of waste: hardly has the semblance of an order been glimpsed than it is no longer there. And it will be gone forever when the whole heap is gobbled up in the molten metal inside the recycling plant’s oven. But this temporary order existed. It was caught by the artist’s eye in a photograph, then went on to become a canvas; the creative gesture continued as some of the objects “picked from the dump” were turned into a sculpture. In the end, the trivial moment has been elevated through its transformation into an object whose permanence can match the infinity of time. Hegel regarded such a “miracle of ideality” as “a kind of mockery or irony” at the expense of the most prosaic reality. By stamping a long-lasting value upon what was only temporary, art endows appearances with a higher level of reality: it pulls them out of evanescent and barely perceptible existence to idealize them and make them manifestations of the spirit. Metamorphosis as the process that turns the transience of a sensory appearance into eternity is what Jacqueline Bilheran-Gaillard’s work is all about.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Jacqueline Bilheran-Gaillard – I am a philosophy teacher of formation, but passionate about art, especially painting, since adolescence. I did not go to an art school because my parents did not have the opportunity to pay for my studies. Upon entering the Ecole Normale Supérieure and passing the teaching competitions, I could finance my studies. I started painting at age 40 and art took a bigger and bigger place in my life to the point of stopping teaching and dedicating myself to it full time. It was Rauschenberg’s work that most influenced me at the beginning, first of all the photographic-painting mix that still characterizes my paintings today, then the sculptures assembled from broken, abandoned, rusty objects.
LC – Which subject are you working on?
JBG – I first worked a lot on the memory of work and everyday life from old family photos or photographs of my own on abandoned industrial sites. Then came the interest for the garbage photos, in their shapes, their materials, their colors, and the desire to restore them a beauty that I saw in their heaped forms (series of photographs, Papiers, Métal, and paintings, Déchirures, Lambeaux). Finally I decided to move to the third dimension by making series of assemblage sculptures using resin, which I learned to handle, to assemble and shape papers, cardboard, fabrics, plastics etc… Today I work mainly around plastic, Continent plastique series for photographs, Plasticités for paintings, and Chiffonnés sculptures and all the latest sculptures.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
JBG – My works have evolved, even if there are constants in style especially in the accumulation, the role of color and the permanent theme of waste. But the intention of the work has also evolved. The philosophical or political intention is more present and the works are less simply formal, even if I remain very attached to the idea that there can be no work of art without beauty, that is to say without aesthetic emotion. Otherwise it’s just about speech and it’s not the function of art, nor its interest. The theme of migrants appeared in my sculptures, as well as violence against children. The use of plastic and its harmful effects on the environment too, even if for me this theme is always ambivalent because I am from the generation of the advent of plastic and I find this material extraordinary in its colors, transparency and its plastic possibilities.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
JBG – There is something exciting about being an artist today, because artistic creation is globalized as the capitalism in which it is inscribed. Works are no longer simply local and cultures interpenetrate and influence each other. It may be thought that this leads to repetition. On the contrary, I think it is an extraordinary enrichment of our Imaginary Museum and it constantly stimulates my creation.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
JBG – For me, the challenge is to keep producing and moving forward in my work to make up for the time I ‘lost’ before daring to paint, but it was not a waste of time because there is no artistic work without a huge background, the one given to me by my philosophical formation and my artistic culture.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? In which way did it inspire you?
JBG – The concept of the Anima Mundi festival speaks to me immediately for the reasons I explained in response to question 4. Today’s artists must continue to think and create to make possible a world whose beauty would be preserved as well as the conditions of a common world, of a world where the other would not be an obstacle or a danger, but a partner, solidary and worthy of respect.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
JBG – I find that the group Itsliquid represents a chance for artists to show their work in excellent conditions and in prestigious places.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
JBG – I was delighted to work with you and I received from you all the informations and help I needed to participate in this project.
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID GROUP?
JBG – I do not really know the group Itsliquid, but I would be happy to know more about your activities.