Christophe Boursault
2016, Elsa Roussel

Elsa Roussel, 2016

A bad reputation

Translated from french by Guillaume Fayard

Dwelling upon the portrait and self-portrait traditions, Christophe Boursault is alternately a painter, a drawing and a performance artist. The scope of practices he resorts to – self-shooting, autobiographical narratives and the representation of a multi-faceted persona – manifest the depth of the identity quest he has been undergoing. Boursault may entitle himself to the gifts of prophesy or even metamorphosis in his drive towards painting, drawing. He may as well become the vessel of the petty neuroses of the Artist and the global art market, as that of the drawbacks of marketing and liberal economy, bringing about the impossible harmony of the sly methodologies of Capital and the sincerity of art in expressive to excess, energetic, dislocated figures (represented or performed), staging mutant, mutilated bodies and languages. However much alterity may result on the side from the outcome, there is no place in his solitary endeavour for well-matched faces and résumés...

Logorrhoeic man

First, causes : there is indeed someone named Christophe Boursault who graduates from a Commerce Degree and then joins the Villa Arson Art School in Nice, as shows the video piece Entretien (2002), filmed while he was a student at the Villa. Entretien (2002) initiates a methodology of self-shooting, opening the exploration of the self and its multiplicities in the studio practice, and the use of the marketing terminology as a countermark for art. In this video work, Boursault impersonates the executive director of a marketing agency leading a job interview, the camera standing for the attendant. The unilateral discourse of the executive director and his bombastic body language are performed fast-forward, so that the phrasing becomes inaudible, except for a few words exemplifying the foul and fickle nature of the character: “you look gloomy”, “what comes out is your blinding light”, “whether you are even hired is not the problem anymore, you ought to start looking deep inside yourself.”

The tone has been set : Christophe Boursault's avatars will arise through mimetic behaviour (impersonating burn-out states resulting from work environment pressure), unending tireless monologues, digressions, unstoppable drives leading close to verbal diarrhoea, but also exploring power relationships and the dialectics of authority and subjection.

Logorrhoeia as a psychic symptom for language pathology seems to manifest itself in the work of the artist as the repetition of a pattern (in the sense of the aesthetic repetition of a similar motif), a transactional pattern circulating in different ways over different surfaces : on his face in video works, on paper in drawings, on canvas in painting. The energy of self-depossession unfolds in a composite and scattered construct whose manifestations remain heteronomous one to the others. They enter in the service of a common cause, grasping the intensity of the coming apart, the parting from oneself – moments which open ground for impulses, delirious outbursts, altered states, which in their turn allow manners of disposing, of pouring out attitudes, gestures and words, evolving in a universe of meaninglessness. As such, Boursault's automaton enterprise and his distribution 1 deal subscribe fully to one of the main traits of Idiocy : “ The parody, through individuation, of the multiple and the reproducible, is organized as a continuous inventory ” 2. And this organized deduction of characters requires the use of a single method : improvization, as an enlightened value for labour.

Cast down the gemonian stairs

The location and status of the painter in society and contemporary art give the main frame of reference for Christophe Boursault's video pieces, Allo mairie ? Allo Twombly ? (2007) being probably one of its first example. Referring to what is outcast and exposed in public space and to Cy Twombly's expressionist painting, he intertwines, through metadiscourse, waste and the masterpiece in an egalitarian perspective. Around the curriculum of the artist, who embodies the polysemy of the term tache (untranslatable, meaning splash, stain, as well as idiot ), formal and colloquial levels of language add up to the wide problematic of bad painting (in french croûte : daub , literally crust) in an analogical succession where the proliferation of paintings crowds and pollutes the painter's studio, himself unable to show them, a proliferation mirroring the shortage in housings for homeless people. Hence, the myth of the creative genius and his so-called whimsical ego are pilloried in their exposure to the logic of the dump - and one cannot but laugh at the dehierarchisation of the stereotypes employed by the artist when they concern as much an art collector (“ I have always considered that pink had a rather flimsy sensitivity”  ) as a public cleaner with a thick local marseillan accent (  “ This piece of rubbish for our society in 2007 is definitely disastrous, this is not producive whatsoever !  ” ).

The question of the defeat of the young expressionist painter in the era of contemporary art is a pretext for the creation of figures of alienation glorifying failure, rather than a way of underlining the pathetic aspect of the situation in a complaining mirror, albeit his ad nauseam attitude of a looser , while the work thrives in its ultimate celibacy contract with the studio.
Even if, on the contrary, his self-shooting video works facetiously use the deadly attributes and stylings of the forlorn painter, they enliven a disillusioned truth which has no other issue but to prove itself in reverse . Isn't irony the locus of a strategy of detour, of travestying?

In Rebondir (2008), for example, we witness the fictional humiliation of the artist, rejected in his offer for an eponymous exhibition. Before speaking, Boursault screens images of himself as a cop, with a hip-hop background music from french rap group 113 going : “I surrender to the police, no way, you know the song bad boy, quarreling, humiliation, sequestering”. Then a melancholy Bashung song enters in, lowering us emotionally as if we were drown like him in the studio of disasters, prisoners as he is of his psychological cell, taken to task to soothe him in his descent towards acedia. Boursault then tries to come to terms with refusal, to explain himself ( “I have to admit I hadn't understood… The exhibitions we propose… it's not… it flies away… it's wind, I welcome all winds…” ) before eschewing the project of a mass-murder of art market regulation operatives, until he finally resorts to commiting suicide, as anyway he “ would have preferred a body rather dead” .

In continuity with the idea of a final expedition in the realm of the flunk, Boursault's video piece La leçon (2013) joins fiction with the Real. We are offered here to follow the artist in a live phone conversation with a local art institution representative exposing the reasons of his refusal of a personal fund. Obviously bothered, the representative implies Boursault “would benefit from being better known, that the jury did not see how this fund would be valuable for him at this stage of his career, that this fund is dedicated to newer projects.” The ill-ease settles in, as soon as Boursault counter-arguments with the worst possible answer : impersonating the mad artist, stating bereavingly over the phone that he is the newer, that he does not want euros anymore, that he, “body who exists who speaks as do the Great” , will survive against all comers.

The tragi-comical aspect of the exchange leaves the deceptive side to the level of a sheer resistance of the derisory, as when, in a brutal and clueless situation, there is no other choice but to resort to laugh. Hence Boursault digs his own grave with a toy spade of red plastic, the one kids use for their sand castles that the rising tide tirelessly erases.

Pygmalion in a three-piece suit

As Boursault the painter is an under-achieving communicant, unceasingly failing the exams of exposure and, for all that, of any form of artistic regulations, it was a logical step for him to resort to hiring a professional assistant, who would help him broadcast and boost his artistic practice. In the year 2009, an odd-job man whose first name(s) are Tim, Vincent, and Pierre, is recruited, who will later create the Team Lagardere Thug Life franchise (in english in the context). The agent has several first names, being so powerful that, all by himself, he is the merging of a whole team. He is an over-skilled employee who talks over-naturally of the artist's work. He masters the whole process of blockbuster production, having followed a top-level art management school. He makes his debut brilliantly in Par, Parts, Pathos (2009), where he can explain that Christophe Boursault “did make use of all of the colours of the rainbow, in order to achieve this exhibition.” Himself boosted by the sheer talent of his protégé, he runs as soon as 2001 the Team Lagardere Thug life ®, a professional private agency for artist customers, to whom he teaches both the bases of artistic premium, higher levels art performance, culminating in “total extraordinary art ”. One is offered in this school, among other privileges, the advantages of the lifetime value 3 specification , a guideline allowing a quality insurance of the actualization of the customer value over the international art marketplace, which provides a promising step in not ending up registered to the Employment Agency. Nevertheless, Tim the director often quarrels with his outstanding artist when the latter outsteps the rules of good behaviour and accepts exhibiting his work in “Pathosland”, or when “on the verge of signing a deal, he runs amok.” However, the former can't help but maintain Boursault on his team, as he sees in him the grip of the winner. The director delivers talks on Boursault's work ( Leurre Live, 2012 ; Rart Game, 2015) in contemporary art spaces – a commonplace activity for such an expert – in Bourges, Strasbourg, Marseille, and most recently Vaison-la-romaine, acting in place of the artist who obviously and systematically, for personal reasons, could not be there himself. These talks use the format of one-man shows, during which the seasoned agent screens video works and paintings from his prodigious protégé, with a harangue sustained by Slam and Hip-Hop rhythms, karaoke music ; he even resorts to the organization of boxing matches, devices which turn the seriousness of the exposés into anti-heroic events, unable to reach their supposed linear genre conformity.
Tim, acting as impresario, coach and mentor (unless it is the opposite, in this undecidable cross-possession) recalls a reenactment of the Pygmalion myth : the Creator Painter gives life to a creature with whom he becomes at one, but then mixes and confuses with, which the painting Portrait du collectionneur Tim Lagardere tentant d'atteindre son artiste (2014) strongly alludes to.

What matters, through this twin-figure's actions, and the brief mises en abîme of reciprocal presences staged by this demultiplied figure of the painter, of the public, artistic, or marseillan agent, of the commercial one, the political representative, of the Hip-Hop singer, the art collector, Tintin's Castafiore, of the tour guide, etc. – what matters here is the possibility to reinvent a language, from the sum of all these singular discrepancies. The focusing, in the thickness of a unified speech, on the multiplication of inconstant archetypal behaviours, makes room for disruptions of language, and for some form of poetry that builds upon the articulation of word plays, stuttering phonemes, tone breaks, slips of the tongue and other instantaneous findings, developing in the associative process familiar to improvisation.

Graphein mania 4

Through painting, a similarly paroxystic interiority conjoins with an exterior side saturated with logorrhoeic speech and gesturality. On one side, the caricatures of attitudes and behaviours belonging in the studio allude to transient rituals ; on the other side, painting is a permanent activity – painting is the regular canvas, the immutable essence of Christophe Boursault's art. Contrary to what the tortured painter states in his video performances, his painting is indeed well recognized, exhibited in galleries, visible in private and public art circles. It clearly belongs to the lyrical, neo-expressionist, spontaneous, kinetic tradition of painting, locating itself at the boundaries of Bad Painting, Art Brut, Cobra, in a close parentage to Dubuffet, Werner Büttner, André Butzer. This painting arises, counter-productive to any programmed intent, towards the archaic and the primitive : the primacy of energy and the psychical drive sustaining it seem to go together with an attempt to abandon meaning altogether, in a somewhat epilectic dynamics.

As much as his avatars embody versatile and effusive fluxes, the surface of the canvas registers without any mediation the speed and rhythm of deregulated phenomenons and the sweep of intensities they contain, transcribing their energetic polymorphy. The frame of the canvas hence sets up another dialogic space for spillage. The frame confines and circumscribes the openness of alterity in another mimical component, that of a pantomime and, shall we say, of a pictorial mimodrama, where each of the puppets impersonated by the artist on video is inventoried and reenacted paintbrush in hand, along a dual formula : the figure, its nature.

In Cheptel (2009), the personnel subjected to the ordeal of portrayal all have inflated characters : they appear bloated, mutilated, disarticulated, monstruous in their over-human way. Some manifest animalized dissent ( RAS , 2015) ; others are fraudulent, as show the pervading presence of proeminent noses, such as in La traque ; Le souffle ; La pause (2015) . Is the Bank Manager a would-be metonymy for Pinocchio, as a dwindled Lagardere Group reduced to the size of a figurine, a crippled attribute of the Capital apparatus?
The rise of these numerous figures appear in storms of colours, traits and overflowing drippings, often accompanied with apparent mottoes, or, on the contrary, in half-hidden spellings, reminiscent of the phonology of sound transcriptions. It is a loudmouth painting, extending the broken moutainline of disrupted speech to the Gestural, incessantly failing in making its point to others, a testimony to the untamed nature of the infra-human.

As for the drawing series, they similarly exhibit the inner speed of flowing outbursts, showing ballpoint signs of the immediacy of their fulgencies, without even leaving the surface. They appear to be a circus for the Other , in the form of pagings witholding the physicality of the body in order to let happen sheer graphic textures, some of them taking the shape of graphic poems, of lyrical calligrams and expressive typography, as would Mallarmé's or Apollinaire's. The terms sometimes expand to the extent that they become the architectures of bodies, and make the figurality of the drawn bodies look like their witty traits. As a synoptic view, the array of Boursault's avatars now displays the break-up of the mechanics of an automaton (First, 2014), now that of a disfiguration of the heroic-commercial type (among other works : Be first ; C’est très décevant, 2008 ; Be yourself ; Pro 2015), now embodies manifestly the reality of the artist's existential doubts ( Sale temps pour un égo, 2007 ; Le réveil du peintre, 2008 ; Les fausses idées ; Artiste happy gros chèque, 2009). But they all result from a lacerated orality, hence witnessing an opening to the common impossible to achieve, letting be heard all that which exceeds speech.

“There's a bunch of words, a bunch of bodies, and there's fear as well”, as the artist would confide to us in his studio. We were tempted to answer this with the words of the famous belgian singer, Jacques Brel : “Shy people do wriggle, do twine, do saunter, do cringe, do spin, they do dream of being rabbits”. … » 5

1. An expression that a glossary of marketing would define as : “a contract involving a producer-supplier or service provider and a commercial distributor or a brand.”
2. Jean-Yves Jouannais : L’idiotie, art, vie, politique – méthode, Éditions Beaux-Arts Magazine, 2003.
3. Glossary of marketing : “Lifetime value is the sum of actualized profits expected over the whole life of a customer”.
4. « Quand il veut désigner à la fois le dessin et l'écriture, Jacques Derrida parle de graphein. Ce mot grec, qui signifie “écrire” mais aussi “peindre”, désigne l'archi-écriture, cet effacement du propre qui ouvre la possibilité du langage. » (“When Jacques Derrida seeks to imply drawing and writing in a single acception, he refers to graphein. This word, which in Greek means writing but also painting, points to the archi-writing, the erasing of the proper which opens to any possibility of language.”) Pierre Delain : Les mots de Jacques Derrida, Éditions Galga, 2004.
5. « Les timides, ça se tortille, ça s’entortille, ça sautille, ça se recroqueville, ça se met en vrille, ça rêve d’être un lapin », Jacques Brel : Les timides, 1964.