My Systèmes à travestir
Unable to sustain an interest in beauty, truth, clamor, or reason, I have resigned myself for several years to simulation, parody, or misrepresentation.
This is normal, I am told, given my era, given my age, even given my social background. From which I conclude that this is normal and that I shall not stop there.
One of my favorite “systems of misrepresentation” consists in distributing simple elements on a surface according to the principles of the board game Battleship, the coordinates being provided by the random digits taken from a telephone directory. The two remaining subjective decisions are, essentially, which element to choose and how many times to repeat it. Thanks to this system, I have already “misrepresented” my little squares into Impressionist paintings, and my thick lines into Abstract Expressionist paintings. Now I have turned my attention to my dear right angles, which will parody the great Baroque (and abstract, evidently) reliefs. It is thus unnecessary to specify that any resemblance, past or future, with Monet, Seurat, Soulages, Kline, Tatlin, Stella, etc., is absolutely not coincidental. The difference between these geniuses and myself is, nonetheless, fundamental. Because they constructed their masterpieces as the result of innumerable subjective decisions. Each gesture made by those artist-artisans seems to respond much more to an immediate interior necessity than to an inexorable pre-established system (albeit a little less so for Seurat). And this phenomenon repeats, evidently, with each new work.
As for me, as my few subjective decisions consist merely in defining my set of rules and in choosing a simple element, I leave the execution of the work (or rather of the infinite number of possible works) to take place without me.
Relâches, the title of my latest works, an homage to Picabia, may also suggest a softening of my Minimalist rigor—but, as will become clear, should not cast any doubt on my systematic rigor.
In this new series, if the elements are less simple than they were in the past, owing to the appearance, among others, of colors and of mixed media, the system by which the elements are positioned and the choice of their colors remain as simple and inexorable as ever.
The random numbers, or more imprecisely whichever numbers I used, come from page 313 of the Maine-et-Loire telephone directory (the page with my phone number on it), after, of course, the exclusion of the overly repetitive local “area code.”
This time, I asked master Nicolas, a notary based in Cannes, to “verify” that there had been no “cheating,” and that the digits that enabled the positioning of the elements in my Relâches, the choice of their colors, and the succession of these works in this catalogue or on the walls of the Galerie Durand-Dessert do indeed come from the very same page 313 of the Maine-et-Loire telephone directory.
THE PAINTING, 180 x 180 cm, is made with acrylic paint on canvas, on wood. A single digit (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9) defines its inclination (0°, 9°, 18°, 27°, 36°, 45°, 54°, 63°, 72°, or 81°).
THE EIGHT RIGHT ANGLES, 180 x 180 cm, are made as follows: two with oil paint (visible only when they cross the painting); two with aluminum and glycerophtalic gloss paint; two with “neon” tubes; two with tape with acrylic paint. Their position, on a grid with one hundred numbers (00 to 99) drawn in advance in pencil on the wall, are given by four digits in the following manner: the first two digits indicate the placement of the point of the angle; the two others indicate the direction that one of their two branches must take. For the second branch, from the two possible positions, the one that brings the angle closest to the center of the painting is chosen.
— The order of superimposition of the angles is always the same: oil, aluminum, neon, tape.
— The positioning system favors—not that I’m complaining— the “horizontal-vertical” situation of the angles that appears in 20 percent of cases. Nonetheless, according to one of my sons, each angle can be positioned in 2,796 different ways.
The colors: a single digit (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9) defines the color of the element (purple, dark blue, light blue, green, lemon-yellow, orange-yellow, orange, light red, dark red, or white).
Note: When one considers the inevitable subjectivity of this choice of colors, and the equally inevitable versatility of each of them as they go from one material to another, one will understand why for so many years I trusted nothing, in my systematic works, but black and white.
The Free-vols obey the same type of system as the Relâches, except that the positioning grid does not appear on the wall, there is only one right angle, and the canvas is always white.
Translated by Daniel Levin Becker. © Dia Art Foundation. English translation originally published in Béatrice Gross with Stephen Hoban, eds., François Morellet (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2019), p. 216. Originally published as “Mes Systèmes à travestir, mes Relâches, mes Free-vol,” in François Morellet, “Relâches” et “Free-vol” (Paris: Galerie Liliane et Michel Durand-Dessert, 1993), n.p.