Texte published for the catalog on the exhibition "Aux Armes" presented at the ArtCenter Saint James Cavalier of Valetta in Malte
Baptiste Debombourg presents a series of drawings of weapons that have no colour other than a cold and precise border that merges the human with the fragility of a lightly drawn pencil stroke, and with the inhuman that is legible in the destructive “soul” of the object, the object’s thinker, its buyers and dealers, and its users who act either alone or in accordance with the wishes of governments or other groups. Caught in a game ruled by commerce and smuggling, and sharing the pride of the leaders of those countries where it is designed and fabricated, each weapon is linked by the artist to an architectural institution which symbolically illustrates the interior of different guns, triggers and gun sights. Depending on its distinctive form and killing power, each weapon has a specific function: to assassinate in bursts of gunfire, to kill without a sound...This simple act of drawing on a white canvas promptly inverts the childish image of a familiar yet strange ghost: playing soldiers with plastic pistols or on a virtual screen...as well as the impoverishment of filmic vocabulary in settings where “Good” battles “Evil” and where we are made to believe that the ultimate and only goal is the death of the other, the annihilation of otherness or even difference as such...Baptiste makes visible the prison of our reality: humanity is held hostage by the desire for war of a handful of men...Thus it is not difficult to recognise the plans that organise every piece of “merchandise”, whether it is a school with its amphitheatre, a Church in a silencer, offices or dormitories with their Turkish toilets, their bathrooms...These instruments are odd prostheses when compared to the poetic bodily extensions that Rebecca Horn produced in the 1970s, with which sublimated life became the pedestal of metamorphoses: a man became a bird, and a woman-peacock unwound her tunic made of long, white feathers, bringing an illusion into operation, ready to take flight towards other skies. Are these popular or elitist weapons of mass destruction the work of men who think of life? Who love? Who sing? Dance? Are they those men who cry out at child-soldiers: “Have a nice trip, little Minitaire, can you hear me? Don’t forget, war is war”?
Will we persist in dreaming up such a world and men’s lives?
“Do you really believe that I committed genocide?
- Everybody commits genocide. Children killed children, priests killed priests, pregnant women killed pregnant women, beggars killed other beggars, and so on. There are no more innocent people here.”
How many more masks of broken flesh and shattered mirrors are necessary to bring the massacre to an end, to make egos censor their own excesses?
Baptiste Debombourg’s work is characterised by a fluctuating unity whose every detour develops in subtle ways the various aspects of our excesses. To write about his work requires one to convene other authors in order to mould together the most just language, the most innocent possible. Otherwise, the most appropriate action would be to leave this world and the conflicts it imposes on us. And if...
Tomorrow the Sun still rises,
What will our desires be?...
Anaïs Delmas, 13 november 2011
Towards the absurd/ Interview
AD: Does being an artist mean leading a struggle? I feel that your work is like that of a militant journalist who sticks up for humanity, reacting with urgency to an absurd social environment.
BD: It’s a struggle. I would go even further, it’s a war. Naturally, from my perspective being an artist means struggling to make my work exist, which actually means that there is no place for this type of activity or “work”, strictly speaking. So I intervene in places where my work establishes itself naturally. What interests me in art is the strength of the idea…
In this way, people notice your work and accept to give it a place in their lives, and at times, this can have a positive impact and trigger changes.
All my projects are linked in one way or another to human relations: our mistakes, our doubts, our desires, our perceptions of certain realities. I am interested in our ordinary life, the one that we all share in more or less similar ways, our existence within a society characterized by disasters, crises and accomplishments.
Evidently, the absurd is at the heart of our society, where a certain professionalisation and industrialisation of everything leaves nothing to chance. The obsession of human beings to control everything makes me laugh a lot because life is against this idea...
AD: What draws you to the fragments that you use, in the bodies of dead pigeons or in the broken objects or things that you yourself destroy (for instance, the mirrors you use for masks) and reconstruct (the furniture, the cupboard for example)?
BD: I work with puzzles and trash because for me, this represents a mirror-image of ourselves, shows signs of our activity, and bear witness to who we are, our remains or our attitudes.
But apart from the materials, I am especially interested in our gestures or our human attitudes: the reversals of fate, doubts, mistakes, faults and above all, violence and accidents are a priority in my thoughts.
From then on, my approach is not really a recomposition, it’s more like an “attempt” to do something... which opens up to a new imaginary.
An attempt is an action with which one tries to succeed in something which seems difficult or dangerous. I like this tension because it establishes in my eyes the fragile and binding nature of being... capable of the worst as well as the best.
This attempt is designed on the model of the scar, a process by which lesions heal and is brought to a close by a consolidation or reconciliation of parts that were previously united and had been separated...this is my perception or the aim of art for me, a vehicle for encounters, a possibility for bringing together realms which were previously strangers, cultures known as “high” and others known as “popular”...
AD: What should art in our times represent, in your view? A place of urgent denunciation or a place where one draws the new utopia? How would this new utopia present itself in your opinion?
BD: For me, art should be a laboratory of ideas... it’s a place where the dream finds its place. At the same time, it’s also a weapon with which one can denounce or defend one’s ideas. Personally I cannot detach my artistic practice from political engagement, I would add that this is my responsibility as artist and world citizen. In my opinion, utopia is vital for the present and I aspire toward work that balances the sensitive with the intelligible. There is not just the intellect but also being.
AD: To what extent do you believe in the strength of a revolution against the established system?
BD: We all know that the system in which we live is on the verge of crashing into the wall, the cost of living increases every six months and wealth is shared only by a minority. So it is clear that there is no simple solution because it implies a huge change in thought, and above all an evolution in which we accept many viewpoints. As for me, being an artist, I will always fight to inscribe art in the heart of our society, in particular public art, so that it will help us progress...
Paris, november 2010