Benjamin Sabatier

Posted: January 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: interviews | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Benjamin Sabatier’s recent show at the Point Ephémère, Paris was titled Manifeste.
You could see the exhibition space from the outside through a large window. White placards with messages were displayed against one of the walls. These messages were collected in various public toilets in the city and the recording was the ceaseless flow of a flush.
The placards are usually used in the public sphere to express demands during protests; for the show they recorded a series of anonymous messages left in an intimate place. Benjamin Sabatier refers to the placards as screens, showing some odd collective word with a sense of humour.

Manifeste, exhibition view at the Point Ephémère, from 13 November to 08 December 2009

Benjamin Sabatier in conversation with Adeline Wessang

I graduated from Rennes 2 University with a postgraduate certificate and an aggregation in Arts, which also allows me to be a teacher. I’m teaching at La Sorbonne and I’m also involved with the CERAP (center of studies and research in Arts).

I want my work to be accessible, it is very important. It is part of what I call the ‘aesthetics of the viewer’. When confronted to my work, the viewer is not in virgin territory: he sees things he knows about because he sees them regularly but this time they are displayed in unusual positions and combinations.
To me, art is a transcription of the real, a way of looking at the world around us. Indeed art allows to access the real in an unusual way. The beginning point does exist concretely: materials, objects or processes that everyone is supposed to know. Then they are used in a different way in order to show some specific aspects and to include the viewer as one of the modalities for the work.
The fact that my work is usually ‘reproducible’ is also a ‘way of doing’, not far from what we call ‘Do It Yourself’.
Besides, a part of my work fully includes reproducibility and is displayed in the form of kits. It seems usually ‘reproducible’ because you can easily imitate the pieces.

7728Rondin Les 3 Suisses II, 2004
mail order catalogue and half log, 25 cm height, 41,7 cm diameter
Courtesy of Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont

The viewer can say ‘I could do it myself’, and he is right.
DIY means ‘Faîtes-le vous-même’ in French and I think that it is not only some activity you do on Sundays. It is a true way of thinking, referring to hippies’ utopiae from the 1960s. All the counter culture from the next decades comes from that. The French translation for DIY Faîtes-le-vous-même is more appropriate than bricolage or système D.
It is also a way of doing hand made things, finding again some autonomy and being more manual. I am referring to the Whole Earth catalog (Access to tools), first released in 1968. It was the first mail-order catalogue, written by Stewart Brand and it has quickly become the counter culture bible in the US.
The book is not only a catalogue of tools, it is also filled with visionary ideas and articles about Earth protection, bio farming, self-sufficiency, self-education, cooperation…
DIY philosophy is in progress. Not only it is a way of reducing costs but it is also an alternative to mass production. It is no accident that it is currently regaining across the Atlantic. It is supposed to be some kind of reaction to consumer society excesses and its dangerous effects on the planet. Moreover, it is a survival strategy when there is an economical crisis.

I was looking for something which could involve the audience in the making. It was also a way of delegating to the audience some part of the work (DIY again). First I created a decorative pictorial pattern with pins stuck into the wall. Then I asked myself how I could distribute this work created onto a specific location. I ended up with a kit. This reproduction system quickly interested me more than the product itself. I was inspired by a firm like IKEA. I produced multilingual guides, I designed tools to make the assembling easier. Each object is edited in three copies. Two copies: the work and its reproduction. From three copies, I would say it is about editing with the concept of a product.
The kit questions about the work status as a merchandise, as well as the current functioning of consumption and the marketing strategies.

Installation de présentation du Kit
pins, cardboard box, instructions book, pattern and tools
Courtesy of Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont

Then I designed a logo: IBK (International Benjamin’s Kit). The name came to me naturally, with reference to IKEA and to Yves Klein’s IKB (International Klein Blue). He is to me one of the first artists who has thought about the market value in a relevant way. Let’s remember his show at the Apollinaire gallery, Milan in 1957. Eleven blue Monochrome were displayed, all the same size but at different selling prices. Klein thought the paintings were not exactly the same because they were perceived in a different way by the audience. The price is part of the work.
Of course IBK is also a reference to Walter Benjamin, whose name is similar to my first name.
IBK is more than a brand, it is a concept, a kind of vision which is related to DIY in my opinion.
IBK has also became a structure which produces things and allows to collaborate with people on different projects.

For the past years I have been called an artiste entrepreneur. It is true that I do have my say on economy and business. But I am not an entrepreneur per say, such as famous artists like Jeff Koons or Takashi Murakami. IBK is not a firm, socially or economically speaking. It is more of a concept, a work of art in itself. But as IBK has some of the characteristics of a firm, I guess it is easier to say I am an entrepreneur.
I do not intend to pretend to be one (it has been done previously a lot by others) and I do not want to mimic current economic structures. I am not interested in mimesis or copy. I would also like to add that I am not attracted to this world, I am rather interested in the fact that it cannot be ignored because it is the main structure for individuals in current society.

The relationship to the body is important in my work. I am also interested in the relationship with materials. This confrontation or association leads to produce shapes. Learning something is what I am looking for and I could say that I am challenging myself each time I am starting a project. I feel like I always gain some knowledge, which can be practical but more often critical. Then again DIY is not far.  Carrying rocks, piling Scotch-tapes, sticking nails, drawing pins, sharpening pencils… All my projects have repetitive gestures and you will not be surprised to learn that performance art is special to me.

The End, DIY 1388, 2008
hammer, nails, pattern, instructions book and cardboard box, 88 x 162 cm
Courtesy of Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont

In 2008 I performed at the MAK, Vienna. It was called SUPERPARTYCYCLES and I had a free hand. I wanted to turn this several-stages old bunker into some place for partying. On the last floor in an empty room I put 80kg of pallet (my own weight) covered with sheets of coloured paper. I was continually tearing up the sheets to make confetti. After a while, a few people in the audience imitated me by tearing up the paper sheets. The performance was working as long as more and more people were participating. The destructive gesture towards some manufactured material changed the performance into a party.
Long before the performance 35 Heures de travail (2002) at the Palais de Tokyo (I was entirely sharpening pencils manually during 35 hours), I produced some works involving sharpened pencils. Each one was then stored into a plastic bag mentioning the brand of the pencil. I put the bags at the supermarket so the consumer could buy his pencil already sharpened! That was the whole idea. The product was somehow already a waste in that context. The consumer became a viewer and gained some critical opinion towards mass consumption.
I dropped about fifty of these bags in various supermarkets.
I never saw someone actually staring at my bags, I never waited to see people’s reactions… But it does not matter. This project was indeed my first real performance…
I am interested in putting objects or products back in some different kind of consumption cycle or giving these things a second life. I’m thinking of Paul Auster’s In The Country of Last Things (1989) which French title is Le Voyage d’Anna Blume. Main characters are scavengers who survive by collecting garbage in a city that has collapsed into chaos and disorder. I was more interested in the title, referring to Kurt Schwitters’ An Anna Blume (1919), his book of poems and collages. This was the starting point for my thoughts on merchandise and packaging, further extended with kits.

I collected squashed things in the street (Etalage, 2004). These flattened objects seemed to be images of merchandise to me.
They were not objects per say anymore, as they had lost their shape and their use at the same time. They had become two dimensional pictures, colored spots on the ground. I placed them into plaster blocks to make them look ‘marketable’ like bricks or boxes. Then I displayed them stacked on pallets as if they were average goods.
Later I purchased a large amount of objects in blister packaging. Blister is a rounded, bulging, usually transparent structure for display and protection of packaged products. I use blisters as molds and I pour cement inside. I did an Action Man series. It is all about packaging, box, carriage and merchandising the world and Art in general.

7691Action man I, 2007
Blisters series, cement, 30 x 22,5 x 10 cm
Courtesy of Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont

Recycling materials is interesting. A few years ago I used to keep mail order catalogues such as La Redoute or 3 Suisses for recycling. The reason I was collecting them was mainly because they don’t last. Plus I like when the materials are available in a large amount easily.
Sheets of the catalogues were stored in ice cubes boxes, each sheet in one single compartment. I was trying to focus on short-term preservation by reproducing seasonal advertising commonly used for these mail order catalogues: Fall/Winter, Spring/Summer. In the end, I think that the whole idea was also referring to the Whole Earth Catalog.

Bacs 019, 2005
Bacs series, ice cubes boxes, paper and wood, 95 x 95 cm
Courtesy of Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont

Yes indeed packaging is recurring in my work: bags, blisters, kits…
In contemporary art history the box cannot be ignored. I am thinking of Duchamp’s Boîte en Valise, Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, Manzoni’s used cans, Judd, Arman, Raynaud… It would be good to write a book on the subject.
I am still working on packaging. The box which protects and informs on its content at the same time, must be practical and a promotional material.
Right now I am more interested in its usage, that is to say carriage and stocking.
I fixed climbing grips to rocks (Prises, 2008). These colored grips usually allow the body to climb on the wall. The relationship to the body is somehow perverted since in that case, the grips allow to carry the object. I wanted to add some sort of ergonomics to it.
In a way, this project extends a part of work of art history which is said to have influenced the shape of the work of art. Take donkey painting for instance, it allowed paintings to be spread widely. It also demonstrated the connections between work of art and merchandise.

Typical day?
I spend some time on my computer, mainly sending emails, getting informed. The network matters. I have been in touch with artists from abroad. I can also work on projects from a distance, sending patterns by email allowing the work to be done without me. I like this circulation linked with ubiquity.
I do a lot of sketches. I put up them on a notice board in my studio, along with notes. Sometimes I can give up on some ideas then I will go back and make them happen. I do not work on a project if its achievement is not possible.
In the end I would say that I always focus on gathering and stocking.

Tableau n.3, 2008
felt-tip, pencil, pinned paper and wood, 150 x 150 cm
Courtesy of Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont

I am currently working on a performance which will take place at Centre George Pompidou in February 2010.
I am also supposed to exhibit at Delicatessy gallery in Cracovia, Poland. Delicatessy refers to food shops, such as butcher shops. So the name has to do with merchandise and it is really interesting to me.
Moreover, I am currently focusing on projects involving brick as main material. Brick  does have attractive features: it is a module, made to fit in man’s hand, you can handle it easily for carrying. So we go back on the carriage thing, and the relationship with the body (previously discussed) and more specifically with the hand. In conclusion I would like to quote the essay written by art historian Henri Focillon L’Eloge de la Main (1934).

This interview has taken place in Benjamin’s studio on November 2009.

Benjamin Sabatier, born 1977.
Lives and works in Paris.


Jérôme de Noirmont art gallery, Paris:

FRAGILE, Ville d’Issoire edition, 2008
S.A.V., Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont edition, 2005 (sold out)
Peinture en Kit, Noirmont Prospect edition, 2003 (sold out)

IBK’s Scotch Tower V, 2007
Scotch-tape rolls, concrete and PVC, 241.5 x 17 cm
Courtesy of Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont

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