Essays

Ludens Wager-Heads or tails?

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Ludens - Anamorphic Works

By Jean Sorrente

It is my honor to introduce Jean Sorrente a.k.a. Jean Claude Asselborn, French professor, novelist, philosopher and back then art critic, a nightmare of many artists, who accompanied my work for 16 years. Generous with  irony, and a brutal honesty. Although our meetings were always under latent tension and often ended in conflict, his profound understanding of art, society and virtuoso eloquence have opened up deeper insights into my work.

When he wrote a letter to me, after our last dispute and termination of our friendship, that he will publish an article about my art, I thought: The hell … shall he, I’m doing anyway what I want.

While reading the article I understood his true magnificence. He understood the red thread of my work and always kept me in mind when I was astray. Thank you Jean, where ever you are, after 13 years of silence I wish to see you again.

Actually, we both knew that the art market is a miserable hypocrisy. Full of slime and ass creeps. The question was just how to handle it. I did not care what the market wants and how to bend over to please it , I just wanted to create and have fun. He was more worried than me, and I made him crazy with my „Up yours attitude,  I live in the present and do not care about my ranking in art history.“ But never before and never after have I met such an art connoisseur and promoter of the arts. An opposite to all the parasites that adorn themselves with foreign feathers.

Ludens Wager-Heads or tails?

Commenting on such a proteiform work as that of Ludens is worthwhile only to multiply the entry points, as with a cubist object of which one could grasp all the perspectives at once. It is the opportunity, not to average out the odd and the dissimilar, but to highlight these as the occurrences of the same principal, one that at times governs the materialisation of a shape, and at others prosecutes a given historical moment.  That is to say that with this artist, plastic invention is bound up with a critical, or even political remelding.  Painting, sculpture, writing, directing performances, organising concerts, decorating interiors: all stem from the same logic. A wonderful allegory resumes this: the building of the ‘arche de la diversité’ for the 1998 carnival of cultures; at the same time charivaresque vessel cutting through history, biblical promise of redemption and rebirth, and both phallic and uterine symbol expressing the human condition and its difference.  This ark resembles the ‘base-note’ dear to Francis Ponge, which by picking up and condensing the multiplicities of meanings, manages to express their deep poetry, a poetry experienced as a resourcing and recreation. What this poetry shows is an involvement in the rhythm of the world, and it is this which best defines the artist’s approach. This is not upfront and obvious.

First there is what Camus calls the moment of revolt, the birth of awareness.  We know what it means in a people’s democracy to be branded a cosmopolitan, a dissident and an unreliable element.  All these names are sentences, if not to incarceration, at least to silence and despair. This is what happened to Ludens in 1986: early adolescence in Germany, returning to Yugoslavia; military service; early experimentation; and the fateful year when, discovering the political police had opened a dossier, he decided to leave Belgrade for long tribulations throughout Europe before establishing himself in Luxembourg.  He is twenty-four years old when the training in experiencing socialist realism ends, and this trial will haunt the artist’s thinking- something which in the context of the art of this end-of century, is not the least of the attractions of this work. This can be characterised by Heidegger’s phrase: the essence of truth is freedom.  To work is thereafter, for Ludens, to probe and test the validity of this.

Bringing up a new perspective, one perhaps recalls Otto Mühl and the Vienna Aktionists of the 1960’s, a deliberately extremist and provocative politico-artistic tendency that specialised in corporal expression, with all that entails in dead –ends and cheap demagogy. Nevertheless, art as a performance has allowed other artists, more consequent ones, to discover a critical and ethical vocation. And it is this questioning, freeing art from aestheticism and eclecticism, that Ludens takes up for his own use, this same questioning that is at work in forms of expression as different as performance, action painting, painting or sculpture.  To create is not to barricade oneself in an ivory tower workshop, it is to directly intervene on reality or at least to situate it.

Aesthetically speaking it is worth meditating on Picasso’s lesson, that he painted, sculpted, modelled and drew the interior, to arrive at the manifest shape. To each figure, to each representation its specific plastic definition.  Roundness to express the character of this specific animal, a square to signify that face, simple verticals for this element of the landscape. The reason being, Leo Steinberg says, that to draw everything in the same style would be to admit that that we are outside. This gives continuity to the formal diversity of Picasso’s work.  Ludens simplifies the discourse. The base note, determining all others, for all subjects comes down to a masculine principal and a feminine principal, a co-incidence of opposite similars like that of Ying and Yang, encompassing the range of dichotomies, antinomies and complementarities (as in sculpture: round and square, soft and hard, smooth and rough; in performances, frameworks and improvisation; in painting or set decoration, the inside and the exterior, etc.), the whole taken up in a dialectical relationship that does not eliminate differences, but expresses these and their tension.

With Ludens it is essential to understand that a representation of the body also displays a historical moment, an event in a society; and we must further accept that the audience is the one that will probe the ever already sexual nature of the representation, and will own and inhabit the experience.  An experience of qualitative difference, not of a concept.  Ludens is not projecting his fantasies into his representations, it is the bodies, time and society that produce their own metaphorical dimension, and they do this to the measure that they are themselves imbued and carried by the same.

This is the link between the painting, the sculpture, the writings, performances and interior decorations; only the rendering changes. Continuity establishes itself, between the questioning of the female body in the sculpture (as in the wonderful copper-sheet sculptures) and its crucifying in the performance ‘Auf’s Kreuz’ (1989, in the pop-tragedy  Ana-Marijuana)- this is worrying, provocative and far from the kitsch of a Bettina Rheims, to give an example. The same continuity shows between the body bathing in the amniotic space of the painting, and that irradiated by a stained-glass door; the same again between the realities of two bodies and the fragmented and highly stylised representation of the female sex.

This work, shifting from representation to presentation, modifying our perception of the body over time and distance, is the most remarkable output of Ludens’ work. In doing this, this art avoids the shoals of bathos, melancholic nihilism or missionary ideology. There is an indelible optimism that drives the work, a will to belong to the world, a joyful affirmation of being and existing. The whole is resumed in the artist’s name, Ludens: he who is playful, who thus plays, who pushes contradictions, overcomes them and who thus frees himself from their constraint.

This play of art, and this art of play, that from the interior express the bodies and the world in their factuality, have therefore an ethical meaning, so much so that the disciplines addressed by the artist appear as so many facets or mirrors of the same prismatic reality: the individual in his humanity, appetite for happiness and fulfilment, and will for emancipation and freedom; and in that same moment of joyful self-exultation; that ‘concern’, in the sense given by Lévinas, of the other.

Here, to crystallise a contrario this same ‘concern’: Helden, a monumental complex installation presenting eight variations on the theme of the heroic illusion. In the center, a concrete cube, all around worms in plaster, dice, cobblestones, and camouflaging the whole, a cam-net canopy. The cube is alternately white, grey, with dressed edges, chipped, blank or covered with symbols and names.  Variation n°6 presents a montage of cut out canvasses that the viewer can recompose.  Each variation invents its own heroism, which depends on its understanding of the story.  Heroism thus appears as the last extremity of ideological waywardness, the apex of servitude. How many innocents sacrificed, how many despots ‘sanctified’ by the mantel of heroism; how better to show up the aberrations of history and sensitise the onlooker to its logic, which is that of aberration? This is the wager of such an installation. Thus, a proteiform, multifaceted oeuvre, understood as a whole, playing on the chain of contiguity and association, ethical and political questioning- this is the exception incarnated by Ludens. All the more interesting in that art offers few examples of such consequent and elaborate research- to be convinced one only has to look at the invariable solipsisms, the recurring artistic aphasias of today. This is where Pascal’s wager- heads or tails -takes new meaning: to wager, push contradictions, remind all that art is first contestation by deed.

Published in  Nos Cachiers, pg. 65-69
Translated from the French by Mark Cunningham

The well-known under the pseudonym Jean Sorrente, Belgian / Luxembourg writer, art and literary critic Jean-Claude Asselborn is the author of several novels, reviews and art books. At first he also worked under the pseudonyms Alphonse Maintes, C. Malans or Claude Méréan. He writes his works in French and teaches French at the Athénée de Luxembourg.

He received in 1993 for 'Nuits' the' Prix Tony Bourg ', 1998' Le Vol de l'Aube 'and for his oeuvre the' Prix de la Libre Académie de Belgique 'and the 2003' Servais Prize 'for' Et donc tout un roman '. In addition Asselborn is since 1998 member of the "Académie Libre de Belgique".


 

A power plant. In the background, the UN building. Pictured against the light the factory reminds one of a mosque, Aya Sophia with its characteristic minarets for instance.  Echoes of ‘A season in hell’ where Rimbaud grows used to ‘ordinary hallucination’ and sees ‘plainly a mosque in the place of a factory’. And indeed one reads on it the graffiti Power Station followed by The mosque of Sheik Sam. 

 

The second photo shows water closets, with the caption A.K.A. Diplomatic Shit Eater. There is also UNOWC.  No doubt the occasion for a detour past Marcel Duchamp and, to stigmatise the horrors of technology, his urinal of 1917.  Further on – in God we trust-The Watch Tower, world HQ of the Jehovah’s witnesses.  Read God’s word / the Holy Bible daily, revamped in Just doolittle it with its Central Parking System.  From animal training to the fiduciary value of the dollar is but a step.  Which is why one could smile at the juxtaposed photograph that advises in Greek to Give me all your money. These days, its true, pardons are priceless.  Finally You can go your way, the middle way, not that of Lao Tze, late at night in the subway propped up on crutches.
        
This gives you a tale, a narrative canvas.  Of course the images, photographic as it happens, are representative. But the accompanying titles focus the meaning as legenda- passages to be read- what one should read into them, if not see. The photographic record is not immune to qualifying happenstance. Rimbaud again: ‘I explained my magical sophisms with the hallucination of words’. Which is the meaning one has to give to these distortions, anamorphoses, depraved images.  One thinks of the aberrations of perspective explained by Jurgis Baltrusaitis: decoys, trompe-l’oeil, exchanges between object and subject, meaning and image that never swap over, unless by misunderstanding. And if the image represents, it problematises the depiction in the same way that the legenda challenges the receiver to read it as cliché, proverb, or maxim.  This is to show up the relationship, always symbiotic, between meaning and image.  It is also to cultivate equivocacy, to highlight the dethroning of the symbol by a new rhetorical invention.  This proceeds by Freudian steps of displacement and condensation, or if you wish, by metaphor and metonymy.
        
The visible image becomes coded, and the interpretation points out the disconnection, the space between the atoms of an apparently solid and dependable representation. The equivocacy accelerates the slide from metaphor to metonymy, object of desire that as photographed, reveals the repression of this desire.  And repression is always sexual. But here, everything takes place in a parodic mode, and this is the breaking of taboos, not their reaction. They are put into play, made play of in the game made between what is seen and what is said.  And if one remembers that the artist-photographer is called Ludens, one understands the playful dimension of these esthetical, political and ideological paradoxes.
        
As Baltrusaitis wrote: ‘Anamorphosis is not an aberration where the reality is subjugated by the mind’s eye.  It is an optical trick where the apparent eclipses the real.’  With Ludens, this eclipse is instead an unveiling, a revealing.  The ideology elicited by every image does not stop reality intruding, as an ironical mirror image.
        
Translated from the French by Mark Cunningham.


 

Ludens - Anamorphic Works
By Jean Sorrente