Interview with Jacques Lennep by Lou Jonas, October, 2014
I would like to briefly introduce the context in which you started making videos. You collaborated with the Antwerp ICC’s Continental Studio to make your first works.
Yes, whoever wanted to make video art went to Flor Bex. All this cost nothing.
Were you free to direct your works? I’m referring in particular to the making of Vive la peinture! (1974) or A Speck of Dust in the Eye (1975). Were there any constraints or did you have access to all the equipment?
We never touched the cameras. There was a cameraman. This is completely different from the color videos I made later, from 2003 onwards. Those are homemade videos: filmed, edited, sound, dubbed by me and my wife. This was not the case in the 1970s. At that time, we asked them for help and they provided it.
Could you tell me what technique was used in Vive la peinture! to make the elements of the painting disappear one after the other?
No special effects were used. The sequence of the frame without the canvas was filmed. Then the following sequence was filmed: the easel without the frame, etc. There are breaks between all the shots.
In your art, not only video but also visual, the frame is a motif which you seem to revisit incessantly.
You may be interested in linking the question of the frame with the text-paintings I made in the early 1970s (the first was made in 1974). But I had no intention of making text-paintings at that point. I was making jokes. For example, a painting presenting the word “pipe.” Let’s get rid of the pipe! The word “pipe” is enough, especially since people will immediately connect it to Magritte. This picture has a whole story behind it because it was exhibited in 2004–2005 alongside an association that defends prostitutes near the Gare du Nord station in Brussels. This association had asked artists to create a big event on this subject. I made my video Jesus … Brothel! (2005). I enter a brothel and suggest to a girl there that I take her seat in the window. I also placed this painting in the empty showcase of a prostitute, bearing in mind that the passers-by, seeing a pipe and most of them not being familiar with Magritte, would think of something else (“pipe” in French is a familiar word for “blowjob”). And this meaning never even occurred to Magritte in my opinion. None of the analyses of this painting have ever mentioned it. I thus added an extra commentary to Magritte’s work.
So I made text-paintings in which the frame was very important: an old frame with a short text describing a famous piece. People who have a bit of culture can imagine the picture.
What I find interesting in the sketch Le Tableau (1975) is that you directly address the viewer, in the same way the viewer directly faces the television screen. Initially, it seems your own presence does not concern us. You take on the posture of a critic or art historian describing an invisible object on the screen. You describe its characteristics, its format, etc. Then you describe the subject of the painting, which is actually the viewer on the other side of the screen.
I think there is something here that should be noted and which has nothing to do with the frame: in the multidisciplinary techniques of relational art, some artists (for instance Jacques-Louis Nyst and myself) use conferences and speech. Le Tableau isn’t really a live conference like those I came to do later on. But it embraces the principle of conferences, lectures, dialogues.
Is this related to the fact that you are both an artist and an art historian?
Yes, absolutely. Besides, I emphasize this status.
Among all the references to art history that you make in your work, I can see two approaches. There is the criticism of the artistic tendencies of the time: making fun of conceptual art while making it, etc. Then there are also the tributes you pay to some artists.
Mocking conceptual art, no. I will not go that far because we were heavily influenced by everything we saw at that time. The installations, the performances, had begun in the late 1960s, but in 1972–73 it was still all quite fresh. And so we used the techniques with our ironic, satirical minds, in a self-deprecating manner.
If you look at all the articles that were being published at the time, people did not see what body art, land art, conceptual art, sociological art, and narrative art could all have in common. For me, it was the relational aspect that made all this coherent. I thought that was the idea that we should make evident in the CAP.