“The One I Did Yesterday Was A Failure But the One I Will Do Tomorrow Will Be Good”
at the Impermanent Collection, http://theimpermanentcollection.com/
December 14, 2013 – January 11, 2014
Opening December 14, 2013, 2-5pm
“The One I Did Yesterday Was A Failure But the One I Will Do Tomorrow Will Be Good”
at the Impermanent Collection, http://theimpermanentcollection.com/
December 14, 2013 – January 11, 2014
Opening December 14, 2013, 2-5pm
Drawing from Alexandra Grant’s collaborative project Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, 2013
‘If Freud had been asked to name his secret(ive) book,’ wrote Hélène Cixous, ‘he would not have hesitated: it would have beenThe Jungle Book.’ These words are re-written, crowded by many others from Cixous’s 2009 essay ‘Philippines’, on a tree made from papier-mâché in the exhibition space of a former sports centre in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Ouen. There are nine such trees in the room, made of diverse materials, the work of diverse hands, making the space itself into a kind of jungle.
Amongst essays by Thomas Babington Macauley and the Austrian classicist Theodor Gomperz, Freud selected Rudyard Kipling’s book of stories, The Jungle Book (1894), in a list of ten recommended books upon the request of the publisher Hugo Heller in 1906. It was a book he described as ‘a good friend’. Its theme of the feral child is clearly very close to Freud’s concerns in those texts exploring the cases of the ‘Rat Man’ and the ‘Wolf Man’, which have become so central, particularly to recent (post-Deleuzian) Freud reception.
According to Cixous, we all have such treasured books, which need not be great works of literature but remain very personal to us throughout our lives. They form the kernel of all our subsequent reading. For Cixous herself, that book is George du Maurier’sPeter Ibbetson (1891). But Cixous’s own ‘Philippines’ is the kernel from which Alexandra Grant’s present exhibition, called ‘Forêt Inérieure / Interior Forest’, has sprouted. Having grown from a text concerned deeply with dreams, memories and the unconscious, it is perhaps appropriate that all the trees in Grant’s ‘forest’ seem to have developed not from the ground up, but from the ceiling.
Upon entering the exhibition space there is something almost repulsive about the works therein. There is a sort of unkempt ugliness to it – a frightening profusion of thoughts and ideas. The show repels in the way a dark forest might repel those who have always lived in the clearing. But there is little darkness here. The walls are covered in a kaleidoscopic stream of thoughts-as-images, drawn, painted and collaged from photographs, cigarette packets and wallpaper, in every imaginable colour from great wads of day-glo pink to carefully crosshatched greyscale.
Within this splurge certain images recur: keys, crowns, ghosts, trees, animals, landscapes; sometimes very detailed, otherwise hastily scrawled and then scribbled out or drawn over. Amongst the images, there are words, mostly plucked from Cixous’s text, written in many different hands and several different languages. And there are references to numerous other art works, from the comic phantasmagoric style of Raymond Pettibon, to the brightly coloured geometries of mid-20th-century formalism, and, most explicitly, to Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde (1866), here rendered in the manner of a newspaper cartoon complete with shocked Victorian onlookers.
Exploring this seemingly endless chain of references, I found myself increasingly drawn into the work. It became something very personal, very intimate, full of small revelations and private jokes. In all its disorder, it became an experience of exploring the ‘secret book’ of someone else’s unconscious. But it is an unconscious collectively written, the result in part of several open public drawing sessions held throughout the lifespan of the exhibition, and the intervention of a number of other invited artists, including Constance Ouvrieu, Tina Linville and Annelie McKenzie. This kind of ‘radical collaboration’ has been an aspect of Grant’s work since her first solo show in 2007 (as, indeed, have the ideas of Cixous). It gives her exhibitions something of the quality of telepathy as discussed by Cixous in Philippines, or of philosophy itself as a series of letters between friends, as discussed by Jacques Derrida.
Derrida’s ghost, as delirious and cartoonish as one of Pac Man’s nemeses, is amongst the images on the wall here, and Derrida is one of several theorists discussed in Cixous’s book. But one philosopher Cixous does not mention in ‘Philippines’, but whose ideas seem nonetheless to haunt Grant’s forest, is Avital Ronell. Ronell’s The Telephone Book (1989) sought to replace the notion of an author with the image of an ‘operator’, like a telephone switchboard operator or, as in a line Ronell quotes from a glossary of schizophrenia, ‘A human being with a type of head formation which permits him to explore and influence the mentality of others.’
It is to Ronell’s work that my thoughts turned upon seeing the wax-crayon image of a console, labelled ‘Hub 40000’, on one wall of the exhibition. This white box extrudes a tangle of black wires leading variously to a human finger, an eye, a telephone receiver, a pair of ears, a set of Nintendo control pads and a brain whose spinal column sprouts leaves. From the phone’s earpiece spreads a muddle of words: ‘Hello it’s me / Allo! C’est Moi! / Ta voix entre’. It is with this ‘voice between’ that Grant’s work calls to us; between words and images, art and philosophy, dreams and reality, between, finally, two close friends.
14 November 2013
Hélène Cixous, December 2012. Photo: Kevin Kane.
by Hélène Cixous
Introduction and translation by Alexandra Grant
Published in X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, Fall 2013, Volume 16, Number 1
Hélène Cixous’s “Notre Spectacle” (Our Performance) is a short text originally written for the program of Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées) (The Last Caravan Stop [Odysseys]), a play written collectively by the French philosopher Cixous and the Théâtre du Soleil in Paris in 2003. Cixous is a long-term collaborator of the Théâtre du Soleil and its director, Ariane Mnouchkine. Since the early 1980s, she has written works for and with them, including L’Histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk, roi du Cambodge (The Terrible But Unfinished Story of Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia) in 1985 and Tambours sur la digue (Drums on the Dam) in 1999. In these plays, as in Le Dernier Caravansérail, Cixous and the Théâtre du Soleil are committed to political story-telling through episodic, large-scale spectacles with large casts that place the audience member squarely in the middle of the day-to-day experiences of those under the stresses of colonialism, persecution, and/or statelessness. What is impressive about the Théâtre du Soleil is their ability to entertain and marvel their audience while maintaining an empathic, non-exploitative, and non-didactic relation to the subjects of their work. No easy balance.
As a collective, the Théâtre du Soleil has never produced a manifesto. But its egalitarian principles and its radical commitment to collaboration radiate through Cixous’s text. Structured as a series of questions, “Notre Spectacle” demands both ethical reflection and action from artists collaborating with someone other than themselves: across the boundaries of difference, language, and power.
Questions of ethics in practice continue to be vital to artists, as many of us are working in collaborative or collective ways, either openly in the sphere of participatory artwork or “social practice” or privately in the space of our own studios with large-scale production teams whose identities are not disclosed in benefit of a central author. Collaboration itself is not a new phenomenon, but the terms under which collaborative work is accomplished are reframed by every generation in philosophical, legal, and financial terms. What is unusual and relevant about Cixous is that she is the rare theorist who also practices successfully as an artist and these practices are marked both by her ethics and her action-oriented stance.
Théâtre du Soleil, Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées): Origines et destins, “Sur la route de l’Australie,” Duccio Bellugi, Sébastien Brottet-Michel, Sava Lolov, Delphine Cottu, Serge Nicolaï, Vincent Mangado, and Dominique Jambert, 2003. © Michèle Laurent.
Le Dernier Caravansérail gathers the stories of escape and unimaginable danger faced by migrants from the world over—Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Serbia—in search of better lives elsewhere. These “elsewheres,” such as Australia, France, and Great Britain, often materialize as places of great misfortune, as those seeking a better life often end up in political no-man’s lands, such as refugee camps and prisons. The stories presented in Le Dernier Caravansérail are based on interviews conducted by Cixous and other members of the Théâtre du Soleil with refugees across the world. Some are the stories of those living at the theater itself, which serves as a safe-haven and a place of employment and community.
Le Dernier Caravansérail was originally presented as a two-part, six-hour play, with a break halfway through for a meal cooked and served by the actors—including some of the very same migrants whose stories the audience was watching. With forty-two scenes and at least twenty-seven actors, the play drew the audience into experiences that they may have only encountered on the news.
In “Notre Spectacle,” Cixous asks, “How can you get as close as possible to the other without taking their place?” This is not a rhetorical question but one that interrogates the role and responsibilities of a writer representing the stories of powerless and displaced people. For this reason, her phrase “Comment ne pas,” which begins the first three lines, resists easy translation. The phrase can be translated in a multiplicity of ways: How is it possible not to…? How can we not…? How can you not…? How not to…? How to not…?
Théâtre du Soleil, Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées): Origines et destins, “Dernier assaut (Les voies),” Delphine Cottu and Sarkaw Gorany, 2003. © Michèle Laurent.
“Comment ne pas” combines a moment of hesitation with a call to more considered speech or action. In a lecture delivered in 1986 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, called “Comment ne pas parler,” Jacques Derrida asked: “Comment ne pas parler de soi? Mais aussi bien: comment le faire sans se laisser inventer par l’autre? Ou sans inventer l’autre?”* (“How not to talk about oneself? And also, how to do it without letting oneself to be invented by the other? Or without inventing the other?”) An aspect of both Cixous’s and Derrida’s philosophical project is to question the invisible authority of language and in so doing show how differences in power are subtly enacted through dialog and creative collaboration. When someone says “Let’s” they’re not asking permission; they’re giving an imperative veiled under the guise of “we.” In contrast, “Comment ne pas…” invites us to question the we-ness (or nous-ness) of collaboration, of “our performance,” to be empathic with the refugee figures without taking their place. The difficulties of translating Cixous speak to the very difficulties that she is addressing in her work. Cixous asks, “How to not translate? That is to say: how to avoid translating? We must translate.”
Comment ne pas…
Comment ne pas remplacer la parole de ta bouche par ma parole même de bonne volonté?
Comment ne pas remplacer ta langue étrangère par notre langue française?
Comment garder ta langue étrangère sans manquer de politesse et d’hospitalité à l’égard du public, notre hôte dans le théâtre?
Comment, sans se comprendre en mots, se comprendre quand même en cœur?
Comment ne pas s’approprier l’angoisse des autres en faisant du théâtre?
Comment ne pas pécher par illusion de compréhension et par crainte d’incompréhension?
Comment se mettre aussi près que possible de la place de l’autre sans la prendre?
Comment ne pas traduire? C’est-à-dire: comment ne pas traduire? Il faut bien traduire.
Comment ne pas se laisser séduire par la meute des bons sentiments?
Comment ne pas en rajouter? Ni d’un côté ni de l’autre.
Comment se glisser entre la bonne conscience et la mauvaise conscience, les siamoises?
Comment tout dire sans un mot?
Comment devenir humain c’est-à-dire jamais assez ni trop?
Comment ne jamais renoncer à l’absolu que l’on n’atteindra jamais?
Comment être l’acteur d’un personnage et non son maître?
Comment se laisser être un refuge pour l’étranger?
Comment ne jouer aucun rôle?
Et si on n’y arrive pas? C’est la question du réfugié en son voyage.
How not to…
How not to replace the words from your lips by my words spoken in good will?
How not to replace your foreign language by our French language?
How do we keep your foreign language foreign without neglecting the politeness and hospitality due our audience, our host in the theater?
How, without understanding each other in words, do we still understand each others’ hearts?
How not to appropriate the anguish of others in order to create theater?
How not to sin by illusion of understanding or fear of misunderstanding?
How can you place your self as close as possible to the other without taking their space?
How not to translate? That is to say: how to avoid translating? We must translate.
How not to be seduced by good intentions?
How to not lay it on thick? Not on one side or the other.
How to slip between good conscience and guilty conscience, those Siamese twins?
How to say everything without uttering a single word?
How to become human, that is, never enough or not too much?
How not to give up on reaching for the ideal that we may never attain?
How to be the actor of a person and not her master?
How to be a refuge for a stranger?
How not to play a role?
And what if we never arrive? That is the question of the refugee on her journey.
Hélène Cixous is an Algerian-born French writer whose work spans many disciplines from poetry to playwriting, literary criticism to philosophy. Charged with founding Paris VIII University in 1968 (with a faculty that included her peers Michel Foucault, Felix Guattari, and Gilles Deleuze), she also established the first women’s studies program in Europe. She is the author of more than 40 books, over 100 essays and 15 plays, and, in the United States, is perhaps best known for works that analyze and take issue with traditional Western notions of femininity and gender.
Alexandra Grant is a text-based artist who uses language and networks of words as the basis for her work in painting, drawing, and sculpture. She has explored ideas of translation, identity, and dis/location not only in drawings, painting, and sculpture, but also in conversation with other artists and writers, such as her long-term collaborator, hypertext author Michael Joyce, and the philosopher Hélène Cixous. Her recent project with Cixous, Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, was a participatory exhibition at 18th Street Arts Center, in Santa Monica, California, and Mains d’Oeuvres, in Saint Ouen, France, in response to Cixous’s book Philippines.
© 2013 X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly
LA><ART is pleased to announce a public art initiative with Los Angeles-based artist Alexandra Grant. Her public billboard, I love myself, 2013, is currently up on view facing north on La Cienega Boulevard between Venice and Washington Boulevards.
I love myself, 2013 is part of Grant’s series Century of the Self that examines the philosophical concept of the Self as the basis for works in painting, drawing and sculpture. Grant’s installation of works from Century of the Self is currently installed at USC’s Fisher Museum as part of the exhibition Drawn to Language. Fisher Museum curator Ariadni Liokatis writes, “Inspired by Adam Curtis’ documentary of the same name, Grant’s Century of the Self is drawn from many sources including Sophocles’ Antigone, the writer Audre Lorde, seminal psychological texts by Freud and his followers, and cultural movements that probed the unconscious mind, from Surrealism to Feminism. In Century of the Self Grant does not claim to have found the Self, but maps—through collage, Rorschach patterns and textual quotation—what is a constant search.”
Founded in 2005, LA><ART is a leading independent nonprofit contemporary art space in Los Angeles, committed to the production of experimental exhibitions and public art initiatives. Responding to Los Angeles’ cultural climate, LA><ART produces and presents new work for all audiences and offers the public access to the next generation of artists and curators. LA><ART supports challenging work, reflecting the diversity of the city and stimulates conversations on contemporary art in Los Angeles, fostering dynamic relationships between art, artists and their audiences. Since 2005, LA><ART has produced and commissioned over 200 exhibitions, public initiatives, and projects.
Photo credit: Tony Manzella
Century of the Self at USC’s Fisher Museum
September 3 – December 7, 2013
Opening: September 26, 6-8pm (please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 213-740-4561, parking at Gate 1 at Exposition Blvd. and Watt Way)
Gallery hours: Tuesday through Friday, 12 noon to 5 PM and Saturday, 12 noon to 4 PM. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Los Angeles based artist Alexandra Grant explores philosophical concepts of identity in her new text-based body of work titled Century of the Self. Century of the Self includes vibrantly colored paintings, works on paper and a floor installation made from recycled waste. Grant’s heroic-scale artworks combined with a taste for poignant textual detail allows her to delve into questions of how we define who we are, who the Other is, and what the voices are that come to populate our unconscious while most profoundly shaping us. Inspired by Adam Curtis’s documentary of the same name, Grant’s Century of the Self is drawn from many sources including Sophocles’ Antigone, the writer Audre Lorde, seminal psychological texts by Freud and his followers, and cultural movements that probed the unconscious mind, from Surrealism to Feminism. In Century of the Self Grant does not claim to have found the Self, but maps—through collage, Rorschach patterns and textual quotation—what is a constant search.
Century of the Self is presented at USC’s Fisher Museum as part of “Drawn to Language”, from September 3 through December 7, 2013. For more information, please see:
Installation view, Century of the Self, Fisher Museum, USC. Photo credit: Brian Forrest.
General Projects: A Show for You – August 3, 9 & 17 – Insert Blanc HQ / Chris Niemi Studio
24 août – 27 octobre/August 24 – October 27, 2013/Mains d’Oeuvres, Saint Ouen
Vernissage/Opening: 13 septembre/September 13, 2013
Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest est un projet multifacettes créé par l’artiste angeline Alexandra Grant. Ce projet englobe des sessions publiques de dessin, un groupe de lecture, des collaborations avec différents artistes et deux expositions jumelles à Los Angeles et Paris. Co-organisé par Pilar Tompkins Rivas, Isabelle Le Normand, et Ann Stouvenel ce projet était ouvert au public à Santa Monica et le sera prochainement à Mains d’Oeuvres à Saint-Ouen, en France.
Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest is a multi-faceted project by Los Angeles-based artist Alexandra Grant encompassing a series of public drawing sessions, reading groups, artist collaborations and two twin exhibitions in Los Angeles and Paris. Co-curated by Pilar Tompkins Rivas, Isabelle Le Normand, and Ann Stouvenel this work premieres in Santa Monica and is presented at Mains d’Oeuvres in Saint-Ouen, France this fall.
A partir d’un échange avec l’auteur, poète, et philosophe Hélène Cixous, Alexandra Grant se concentre sur son livre Philippines, source d’imagerie centrée sur le thème répétitif de la forêt comme lieu de partage profond. Dérive entre un lieu réel et imaginé, la forêt devient un site de partage avec “L’Autre parfait”.
Based on an ongoing exchange with the iconic French author, poet, playwright and philosopher Hélène Cixous, Grant focuses on Cixous’ book Philippines as a source for imagery, centering on the repeating thematic of the forest as a profound shared space. Drifting between a real and an imagined place, the forest becomes a site for communion with what Cixous terms “the perfect Other.”
Dans Philippines, Hélène Cixous explore les constructions philosophiques et sociologiques de “L’Autre” à partir des textes de Sigmund Freud sur les rêves partagés, de Jacques Derrida sur la télépathie, et du roman de Georges du Maurier Peter Ibbetson, où deux amis d’enfance, séparés par leur classe sociale et leur pays, se rejoignent adultes dans leur vie rêvée. Avec Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, Alexandra Grant examine les idées “jumelles” de Philippines, comme rêve et réalité, télépathie et empathie, et la relation hommes et femmes, adulte et enfant, colon et colonisé. Le projet prend vie à travers une illustration du texte, une installation de forêt comme image et mise en scène, et des collaborations avec d’autres artistes et le public.
In Philippines, Cixous explores the philosophical and sociological constructs of the “Other,” linking texts from Sigmund Freud on the shared dream, Jacques Derrida on telepathy, and the story of Peter Ibbetson, a novel by Georges du Maurier, where two childhood friends separated by class and country are reunited as adults in their joined dream-life. Within Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, Grant examines the “twinned” ideas of Philippines, such as dreaming and reality, telepathy and empathy, and relationships between man and woman, adult and child, and colony and colonizer, through illustration of the text, an installation of the forest as image and stage-set, and through collaborations with other artists and the public.
Forêt intérieure/Interior Forest permet à la pratique d’atelier d’Alexandra Grant de s’étendre à l’arène de l’engagement public. Du 24 août au 12 septembre prochain, elle organisera des sessions de dessin, invitant le public à participer à la construction de ce projet à grande échelle. Afin d’explorer l’espace entre une esthétique spécifique et un processus de partage, Alexandra Grant a demandé aux artistes de produire les sculptures “Arbres d’ailleurs” pour son installation.
Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest extends Grant’s studio practice into the arena of public engagement. From August 24th through September 12th, she will organize participatory drawing sessions, inviting the public to join in the creation of this large-scale project. Exploring the space between a specified aesthetic and shared process, Grant has also invited artists to produce sculptural, “Visiting Trees” for the installation.
Partie intégrante de son projet à Mains d’Oeuvres, Alexandra Grant invitera le public et d’autres artistes à illustrer avec elle le livre “Philippines” d’Hélène Cixous. (Alexandra sera présente à Mains d’Oeuvres du 24 août au 12 septembre 2013). Plusieurs soirées/évènements seront orgarnisées/organisés tout au long de la session de dessin:
As an integral part of her project at Mains d’Oeuvres, Alexandra Grant invites the public and other artists to come and illustrate Hélène Cixous’s book “Philippines.” (Alexandra will be present at Mains d’Oeuvres from August 24th until September 12th, 2013). Several events and parties will be organized during the installation, and the public is welcome to join:
Photo credit: Meital Yaniv.
A multi-faceted project by artist Alexandra Grant, based on French author, and philosopher Hélène Cixous’ book “Philippines,” the work encompasses a series of public drawing sessions, reading groups, and artist collaborations centering on the theme of the forest as a shared space.
For more information on the project, please visit:
Pilar Tompkins Rivas introduces the Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, a multi-faceted project by Los Angeles-based artist Alexandra Grant encompassing a series of public drawing sessions, reading groups, artist collaborations and an installation at 18th Street Arts Center.
For more information about the project and 18th Street Arts Center:
Photo credit: Brian Forrest.
Hot off the presses: Afterall Journal 33, Summer 2013. “Rupture and Continuity in Feminist Re-performance” – a dialogue between Audrey Chan, Alexandra Grant and Elana Mann.
Artists Audrey Chan, Alexandra Grant and Elana Mann look back at their re-creation of 1960s and ’70s feminist works for the festival Pacific Standard Time (2011–12) in Los Angeles, and discuss the value of re-performance as a means to create an embodied relationship with the past.
Photo credit: Audrey Chan.