Helen Rousseau

Intersections, with Helen Rousseau

Helen Rousseau is not a name I was familiar with. She’s not a photographer, so she is already off my normal “radar” in terms of who I look at (I can be a little too insular some times). The work she does create is perhaps a further step off my radar too, at least that’s the case with the work she showed during the presentation she gave as part of the series of visiting lectures. That’s not to say that Intersections – connecting and disconnecting the dots wasn’t interesting. There were certainly aspects I was drawn to, not least her discussion about language and its connection (whatever that might be) to art.

One of the first mentions of language was that making is her starting point. She begins to work with the material, negotiating with it, rather than from some preconceived idea that has been defined within a coded language. The work takes shape in its own language, unfettered by the limitations of a constraining system of words and meanings. This is something that I’ve adopted when approaching a long term project, such as Le Loup… I find it difficult to pre-visualise what the project might become; I don’t know what I will see in 5 minutes time, never mind what I will see in 12 months. And then there’s the question of what I have seen will mean to me by the time I try and construct the finished article. With shorter conceptual pieces, this is clearly less of an issue though…

Allow the body of work to grow organically and then see what it means.

I think that’s about the crux of it anyway, and it’s certainly what I took from it, and from what others had said previously; Rinko Kawauchi, the Japanese photographer, said it about Illuminance in an Aperture interview (I think) several years ago (she gathered the work, photographing what she saw then had “conversations” with the images), it struck home at the time and completely changed the way I was thinking during the BA in photography I was doing at the time. Having no clear endpoint from the outset offers up a greater range of possibilities for the outcome… or to use a quote from the presentation:

“The decisions about how to start and conclude are choices that shape the very identity of a piece. It is only by concluding in a particular way that the piece establishes its own standards of completion and demonstrates why it had to be the way it is.”

(Jan Verwoert, The Beauty of Latency, Exhaustion and Exuberance, Ways to Defy the Pressure to Perform.)

This idea of coded language perhaps seemed strange though. Rousseau spoke about problems paving the way for the work with words, but then the presentation was peppered with quotes. Art might be considered a language of its own, but we seem to feel the need to wrap it in syntax, to explain it in what might be considered a reductive way with quite limited signs and signifiers, rather than just exist in its more free-wheeling form as art, that can speak on different levels and say something different to us all.

Later, a small group discussion centred around the idea of sculpture, what it is, what it means to us. Things like 3D came up, the physicality of the object, interactions of touch and space. Are Carsten Höller’s slides a sculpture? Are they installation? Is there a difference? Do we become part of the sculpture (assuming they are) when we pass through them? The Marionettes of Nantes – a series of sculptures or merely a form of entertainment?

Monika spoke of some artists from the Biennale in Venice, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot and Pamela Rosenkranz, whose sculpture moved through the audience, or the audience moved through it. Rousseau spoke in turn of ultra high speed photography of balloons bursting and the temporally fixed moment of the water retaining the shape without a bounding surface.

I myself thought about Richard Wentworth, a sculptor in his own right but also someone who photographed things that happened naturally as a form of sculpture – a glove on a fence, tyres leaning on a wall. Mundane items in mundane situations but they become something else by chance, by the act of recording them. Then there’s the likes of Lorenzo Vitturi, a contemporary photographer who has created assembled elements to photograph and juxtapose with the images, as with Dalston’s Anatomy. Still life pieces, props, sculptures? Is there a difference? Does it matter?

It would have been fairly easy to remain closed and detached from the lecture, but no, there was discussion and much procrastination. Will it change things with the way I work? It’s unlikely I will start making Vitturi-esque still life images, but I do relate to the constraints of language, and even the idea of deliberately using the constraints of language to deflect and divert meaning from being too… obvious, I guess.