"Making art and being an artist is a philosophical task than merely producing objects."
Samuel Rousseau in New York, 2011. ©Samuel Rousseau.
Born in 1971 in Marseille (France), Samuel Rousseau produces art works full of poetry that hijack objects of everyday life and inject them with a healthy dose of aesthetics. Comparing artists to an urban shaman, everything he touches is transformed into the most extraordinary thing in the most ordinary places – cheese becomes the many moons, fish swims inside an egg shell, candle burns in eternality, plastic water bottles build a skyscraper, etc.
Samuel Rousseau’s eclectic work of photography, video, sculptures and installations is also charged with the absurdity of our existence. In Petit Bonhomme and Mountains of Uncertainty, the artist creates his faceless persona who is ever in a frenetic state of moving ignorantly and uselessly with a never-ending energy. Unsure of his destiny, the faceless persona allows us to identify ourselves, to project our “mental image” (in the artist’s words) and to imagine our now destiny among the crowd.
SR – Samuel Rousseau
ST – Selina Ting for initiArt Magazine
ST : The first time I saw your work was in a Parisian gallery where you showed the piece Untitled (The Tree and Its Shadow), later on I saw the pieces A bit of Eternity and Mountains of Uncertainties in the art fairs. What impressed me in your work is the simplicity of images and of presentation, at the same time there is a very strong allegorical dimension in your work. These are the two major elements for me to recognize your and remember the name of the artist.
SR : Thank you ! My work is simple but not simplistic. For me, simplicity is a way to reach universality. A work like Untitled (The Tree and Its Shadow) took me two years to imagine it – between the idea of using shadows, video, and then figuring out a subject that deals with life and death which I wanted to transcribe – and another six months to realize it. All the search and research and work processes are invisible. If you did a good job, if you mentally refined your work, if you tried your very best to make it as just and correct as possible, then all the efforts became invisible. That is how a work took in all its forces. The execution should always give place to the concept of the work.
ST : How do you react when people say that your works are poetic? Do you find the word “poetic” negative or even offensive?
SR : Before, when someone said to me that “you are a poet”, I reacted to it negatively because I had the idea that poetry was something truncate and therefore bad. Now, I feel myself more a poet because I realized the transcending power in poetry. Poetry touches on people’s soul, regardless of their social or cultural origins. To me, this is something extraordinary. I believe that the formal simplicity of a work serves this idea. But my last piece, Brave Old New World is not that simple. There are also tensions and elements that are responding as well as contradicting to each other.
Gauche: Un peu d'éternité, 2009. DVD loop, PAL, 11 : 00, wood, candle, 20 x 10 x 14 cm.
Droite: Plastikcity, 2006, Each is unique, Plastic water bottles assemblage, video projection. Private Collection
ST : There are two paradoxical interpretations of the idea of “poetic”, i.e. poetry as lyrical and sentimental, and poetry in its tension and precision. I think in your case, it’s more about the tension and the precision. The simplicity, the minimalist execution and the play of scale create a sense of tension in your work, I am thinking of pieces such as Mountains of Uncertainty and The Giant.
SR : Yes, it’s a way of bringing things back to the reality. When I use scraps and other found objects in my work, the idea is to get into touch with the real life. I have created works that are allegorical, as you described, that went off to the universe, but at the same time I would like to bring them back to our reality. I am not here to demonstrate certain ideas or to transport people to an elsewhere. There are artists who are bearers of a certain kind of faith or a supreme idea, which is great for them. But I am absolutely not interested in this. I try to live every day in the experience, in the research, in the doubt. For this purpose, I purify things and ideas in order to let the vision reveal itself. Because the more you discard, the more open you become, and so the perspective becomes wider and the field of interpretation multiples.
I respect a lot the opinions of the others. I don’t target at a precise audience or making works particularly for the art world. I work for myself and I know this is very selfish. When I work, nothing counts for me other than my own regard and my adequacy in relation to what I am doing. I don’t aim at any seduction in my work. On the contrary, once the work is done, I want to offer it to the world, to make it travel to meet and to confront people from different cultures.
Samuel Rousseau, Sans titre (l'Arbre et son Ombre), 2008 projection HD et modélisation 3D , 13‘ en boucle, Unique. Courtesy of the artist.
ST : For Untitled (The Tree and Its Shadow), you have presented it on both big and small screens. What kind of impact do they have on the perception of this highly allegorical image of life and death?
SR : I think it’s less about the scale or the fact that it’s more impressive to see it on big screen. I think the effect of projecting the work on big screen is the change of status of a spectator’s body. A person who passes in front of the screen would find himself in the virtual world because through his own shadow, his body becomes part of the work. For example, children like to play with the leaves. They see their own shadows and the leaves and they try to catch the falling leaves. The interesting thing is to ask where one stands as a spectator looking at this piece. Such reflection poses question on one’s own life, on the virtual world and the reality. I am here right now and what kind of relationship I have with the proposition that is offered, for example.
ST : How do you understand the relationship between video and art?
SR : I am an artist who uses video, but I am not video-artist. Video is a trap! It’s easy to make beautiful and pleasant images with video, but these images are not mental images. I want my video to function as a static work, like a sculpture or a painting. For me, what one sees is no more than the tip of an iceberg. What’s interesting is the mental projection that one has when facing a work of art. As an artist, it’s obligatory to ask oneself this question: what doesn’t it mean to produce images today? We are drowned by images – TV, films, advertisements, art. I am not interested in adding one more image to the world that’s already saturated with images. But, what interests me is to reach the brain of people, to inscribe myself to the cortex. I don’t retain any truth. I am not here to judge, I am just here to make suggestions and I don’t have any answer to give. This might sound pretentious, but I like very much to compare the work of artists to that of a shaman, who addresses to the soul of people. Maybe there is magic in it, but it’s more about the spirituality rather than the prestidigitation.
Samuel Rousseau, Montagnes d'Incertitudes, 2008, Bâche, Résine, Projection vidéo, lecteur DVD. Courtesy of the artist and Aeroplastics contemporary, Bruxelles.
ST : I doubt the neutrality of an artist…
SR : To make art is in any sense something very egoist. I don’t make art to seduce people. I make things for myself and they have to please me first! It’s me who decide. When I made Mountains of Uncertainty and Plasticity, I was playing God – I control the life of my characters. I decided which was going to live, which was going to die, which was going to do what. There was no one but me who decided on its start and its end. Once it was done, it didn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to the world. I respect a lot the opinions of all the others. It’s equally important for me that someone who doesn’t like art, who doesn’t know art, would be touched by my work as much as the art experts would. It doesn’t bother me or scare me if my work becomes popular. For example, The Giant, in just a few hours at a Nuit Blanche (White Night in Paris), has touched a huge public.
ST : Because there is something somber, dark, serious and conflicting, almost like the human condition in this work…
SR : Yes, it’s life ! But it’s not conditioned. What I say in my work is “free yourself, face your life, and be happy!” One has to find one’s happiness! It’s somber, but it’s luminous!
ST : It’s gay because it’s humorous as well !
SR : Because I am the white clown who traps Auguste! There is always a double reading. It’s amusing at the first look. But the closer you look at my work, the less funny it becomes. Then the seriousness becomes almost oppressing.
Samuel Rousseau, Le Géant, 2003 Video installation Gaîté Lyrique, Paris, France
On becoming artist
ST : At which point in your life that you decided to become artist?
SR : Since always ! I always wanted to become artist. I was a terrible student at school. I couldn’t find my place. I was bored. Then I started making drawings in the borders of my exercise books. I later attended the Fine Art School but I never felt right in my place. I’ve never corresponded to any place attributed to me. I am unclassifiable! People don’t know where to put me or my work!
After leaving the art school, it took me six years to sell my first piece. I always say that my collectors are my producers because after selling one piece, I can finance the production of the next piece! Life of an artist is never easy, but it’s important for me to have my freedom rather than to work for the market or for the public. A piece of artwork is good because it’s free from all kinds of constraints. I want to free myself from constraints as well. To free myself from constraints also means to impose constraints on myself – to learn English, to master all the software, to know how to cut a piece of wood or to screw a nail, etc… all these set me free, free from depending on nobody but myself. That’s why I don’t take assistant or technician. I do everything myself. If one day nobody wants to buy my work, it’s not the end of the world. I still have my computer, my ideas, my know-hows; I can always continue to work no matter what happens. This is where my freedom lies and this is the most precious thing for me! I understand that knowledge and culture are the treasures that nobody can take them away from me!
Samuel Rousseau, Chemical House n° 39, blisters de médicaments évidés, cadre numérique, cadre inox. Courtesy of the artist and Aeroplastics contemporary, Bruxelles.
ST : How do you define yourself ?
SR : To define myself, I would say that I am naive and curious towards things and people. However, politically speaking, I am someone very conscious. I don’t want to go after trends. I want my work to survive in the posterity. When I showed Little Fellow for the first time 15 years ago, the impact it had on the public 15 years ago is the same as it has today. Wrinkle doesn’t appear on his face! Another example is The Tree and Its Shadow, the emotion would be intact if we watch it in a thousand years!
ST : How do you define « Success » ?
SR : Success in the sense of notoriety doesn’t interest me. I don’t need people to remember my name. It’s more important that, like you, people manage to recognize the link between the pieces that they saw here and there. After all, it’s the work that holds the eyes of the spectators. I am known or not, that doesn’t really matter. I try to make things that are interesting and important, but I am not imprisoned by my own work, or by my galleries, or the public, or my collectors. Living far from Paris actually reinforces me because it’s there where business and network accentuate. The media that I work with is easily transportable. My work travels easily around the globe. Paris is just one of the many places in the world.
But sometimes I do need success to produce my works. Success brings you people’s confidence and suddenly, people take you seriously and entrust you with the more important means to realize your ambitious projects.
ST : You don’t feel isolated in Grenoble ?
SR : No. I travel a lot and I am showing my work in France as well as abroad, in the States, Asia, South America, etc. I am very interested in cultural encounters and there is always a different approach and new interpretations in each culture. My work is easily accessible to all cultures and I nourish my work with all the cultural exchanges.
Samuel Rousseau, Trou Cathodique, 1996. Ed. of 3, video installation for gardens, LCD screen & dvd player. Various dimensions. Courtesy of the artist and aeroplastics Gallery, Brussels
ST : It’s true that there are less cultural codes in your work compared to the other French artists…
SR : In my work, there is no precise cultural code that are easily identifiable. I don’t produce works that can easily be inscribed in the expectations that one might have for French art. My work oscillates between several practices and is unclassifiable. I try to produce work that modifies the perception and disturbs the conventions. The art world is a funny world. When you integrate references of art history in your production, be it art of the 18th Century, the neo-classicism, or the postmodernism, arte povera, etc… Everything goes well! We are ensured that this is art! On the contrary, when you bring in references from sciences, etc., you disrupt the system. Can it still be art if there is ambiguity? For me, the research is permanent, like in science. One piece always leads to another piece… I keep searching until I achieve the expected results. What counts for me is the bigger culture and not just art. Culture means literature, architecture, nature, art, cinema, gastronomy, comics, science, etc. Culture is what makes you uniquely you.
ST : Does the choice of working with new media allow you to get rid of certain historical baggage?
SR : No ! Like what I just said before, there are a lot of traps in the new media. One falls easily into the kitsch and the mediocrity. Technology is not important in my work; instead it’s just the slave of my ideas. I admire craftsmanship – the mastery of the techniques, the perfection in the work, contacts with the materials. But in art, one needs more than that! There must be a secret mental image, a force that comes from within the work itself. Inspiration is human; it has nothing to do with technology.
ST : Thank you very much !
Gauche: Casei, 2007. Ed. of 3, C-print sur aluminium. Droite: Materna Prima, 2006, Ed. of 5, 3D Model, Projection vidéo, lecteur DVD. Courtesy of the artist Samuel Rousseau, Galerie Claire Gastaud, Clermont Ferrand (France) and aeroplastics Gallery, Brussels.
Born in 1971 in Marseille. Lives and works in Grenoble.
His most recent personal exhibitions include : 2010 - Fondation Claudine et Jean Marc Salomon , Arenthon Castle, Alex, France ; - « Volta New York » stand de la galerie Aeroplastics contemporary, New York U.S.A ; - Slick, Paris, Galerie Claire Gastaud. 2009 - Maison du livre, de l'image et du son Villeurbanne ; - Galerie 1 000 enventi Milan Italie ; - Galerie Guy Bärtschi Genève Suisse ; - Loops stand Galerie Guy Bartschi Barcelone Espagne ; - «Maternaprima » planétarium de Vaulx en Velin. 2008 : - Galerie Quynh dans le cadre du mois de l'image Saigon Vietnam ; Galerie Aéroplastics contemporary Bruxelles ; Galerie Polaris Paris ; Intervention nuit des musées Fondation Salomon Alex ; Vitrine Hermes Mexico City Mexique. 2007 : - « Jardins nomades » Rotonde 1 Luxembourg capitale européenne de la culture 2007 ; - Espace d'art contemporain André Malraux Colmar . 2006 Projection vidéo musée de Grenoble Grenoble ; - Galerie Parker’s box New York USA; - Galerie Claire Gastaud Clermont Ferrant ; - Galerie Benoot Knokke-Zoute Belgique ; - « Music Box » Zénith Clermont Ferrand.
Samuel Rousseau is represented by the following galleries : Aeroplastics contemporary, Bruxelles; Parker’s Box, New York; Guy Bärtschi, Genève; 1000 Eventi, Milano; Claire Gastaud, Clermont Ferrand, France.
Samuel Rousseau is nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2011.