London, Oct. 2013: Although we want more, the estimated hours that we spend in bed during our lives is 227,468. Yet only a handful of artists use this universal and vital forum as inspiration for their art. Lili Reynaud-Dewar is among them, and her installation for the Frieze Projects section of the 2013 fair addresses the manifold ways that beds represent our secret selves.
Reynaud-Dewar’s commissioned installation for Frieze references work by writers who reveal their personal lives through poetic texts. These writers invite readers into their bedrooms, in all senses. The central text inspiring Reynaud-Dewar is Guillaume Dustan’s Dans Ma Chambre. Dustan’s autobiographical novel recounted his sexual adventures in Paris’s hedonistic gay club scene and was compared with Camus, Duras, and Celine's Journey to the End of the Night. However, the text is now nearly forgotten. Reynaud-Dewar revives it in her Frieze installation and, here, in our conversation.
Lili Reynaud-Dewar, I Am Intact and I Don't Care, 2013, Installation view at Lyon Biennial, Fabric, video projections; Courtesy of the artist, Mary Mary Glasgow and Clearing New York.
Ana Finel Honigman: Bedrooms can be extremely banal, as well as exciting, spaces. The bed is where life often begins and ends, but it's also where we spend our most unremarkable hours. Tell me what attracts you to that intimate area of our lives.
Lili Reynaud-Dewar: Well, first of all, I have been feeling a bit tired lately. And I think the overall idea behind (or inside) the bedrooms is to blur the boundaries between public and private space, to make oneself – or one's intimacy – available for public consumption. Of course, I am also questioning whether there is something such as a "private" space today, and whether this public exhibition of intimacy is of any interest in an era saturated with self-narratives and self-mediation. Bedrooms are also – when they become works of art – a way to de-neutralize the institutional spaces where work is shown, to reclaim sensitivity within these spaces. A bedroom inside a museum could function as a Trojan Horse. It is seemingly innocuous but it can make the whole set of institutional rules dysfunction.
AFH: What do you think of the reoccurring scandals about writers embellishing or fabricating their personal pasts?
LRD: Do these scandals really occur often? As a kind of counterpoint to what you are suggesting, I'd like to say that I was very moved by a photograph of Arthur Rimbaud that was authenticated and published by a group of historians a few years ago. It presents him amongst a group of expatriates, probably administrators in the French colonies. Everyone looks a bit dull and polished, including Rimbaud himself. He actually appears like a banal expatriate trying to do some small business in XIXth century Africa. The “normality” of the scene depicted disappointed a lot of his admirers. But it is the only image that shows Rimbaud as an adult.
AFH: What about Guillaume Dustan’s Dans Ma Chambre? What does it mean to you?
LRD: I first read it when it was published in 1996. I was living in the Marais. People were dying then and AIDS was pretty much everywhere in people's lives. A lot of my friends from that time are gone or infected. I read the book that Dustan wrote after Dans Ma Chambre. It was called Je sors ce soir. Then, I moved to Glasgow and forgot about him – as almost everyone else did since Dustan's relation to the media was very complex. Also, Glasgow wasn't such an epicenter of the gay scene and I felt that I was in a very different situation. It was like an escape, although I did not think about it this way at the time. However, I recently read these books again and the other ones that he wrote. They resonate very strongly to me. It might just be a certain nostalgia but also he is simply a fantastic writer. He is engaging and brave but also quite ambiguous and not so easily decipherable. He was a utopian of a strange kind, quite desperate and pragmatic. He was a feminist, too.
Lili Reynaud-Dewar, What a century of hands ! I shall never have my hand. Afterwards, domesticity leads too far, 2012, Wood, laser prints, speakers, sound, plaster; Courtesy of the artist and Mary Mary Glasgow.
AFH: How autobiographical is this project for you?
LRD: For the past year I have been making bedrooms pretty much everywhere where I have been invited to do an exhibition. Through this repetition, I wanted to engage in a sort of journal and understand the changes at stake for me. I also want to understand how circulation and repetition degrade a work of art, exhaust it in a way. I guess it is an account of my life as artist. I am always traveling and adapting to different contexts and situations, but trying to keep myself together somehow. I try to keep intact something quite intrinsic. I usually show videos in these “bedrooms”, where you can see me dancing in the exhibition spaces, working in my studio(s), reading, smoking and such activities. This becomes my video journal. It is quite self-parodist at times. Yet it also depicts a rather normal life of making work or trying to.
AFH: And for Frieze?
LRD: The bedroom for Frieze will feature me “live” during the performance, so there won't be a video. I have always been interested in "appropriating" stories of others that may seem quite distant to myself. Doing so, I want to corrupt the categories of self-definition such as gender, sexuality, race and class. Reading Dustan’s accounts of his sexual life is a way for me to engage further in reflection on these parameters. And also to physically engage since the performance will be nine hours long.
AFH: How do the aesthetics of the project relate to the themes?
LRD: I am trying to precisely avoid an illustration of “themes” of any kind. Therefore, I can't really answer that question. In Dustan's or Duras's writings that I will read during the performance, there are no themes because it is precisely their lives that they discuss. Life can not be thematized, can it?
AFH: It can by others, such as the readers.
LRD: There are connections with what originally inspired me to make these bedrooms. The repetition of the bedroom might nod at the repetition of Dustan's many sexual experiences. The fountain is filled with ink and that somehow relating to literature and to the idea of writing. The fabrics are bleached so that their pattern disappears gradually, which in some way evokes ideas of degradation. And the bed... it is a bed.
AFH: What are your concerns when visually representing or engaging literary works?
LRD: I would like to avoid visually representing literature. Literature – of a certain kind, I guess – is very important to me and therefore to my work. It is a strange material. It is altogether “at hand” yet impossible to capture within a work of visual art.
Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Some Object Blackened, 2011, mens' shirt, make-up; Courtesy of the artist,Mary Mary Glasgow and Clearing New York.
AFH: How does this project tie into your previous work?
LRD: A while ago, I wrote a text in “Petunia,” the feminist art and entertainment publication that I co-founded. In it, I suggest that private property is impossible for women artists. I deliberately chose to exaggerate my statement. In this text, I discussed the distortion produced by the practice of making exhibitions and adapting to spaces where you are invited to occupy only for a short period of time. You are asked to give them back in the same condition they were when you arrived and when your work leaves one space then it gets to another one. Or you move and start the whole process all over again. The artist is therefore a tenant and the curator is a landlord. I also made a show at Magasin (Grenoble) entitled "This Is My Place" where I used the vast art center as a home with many rooms where works were featured and organized. And I made a piece and some performances after Jean Genet's politically engaged writing featured in "The Declared Enemy". Genet, by the way, spent a great deal of his life living in cheap hotel rooms. I have always used “furniture” in my work. Some of it is casual. Other pieces are by radical designers such as Ettore Sottsass or Superstudio. And I have used biographical elements, working with my mother, my grandmother, my friends... and using their personal stories and memories in the work.
AFH: Don't we all, to some degree, make our work from our personal experiences? Even academics are driven by personal motives, usually and secretly.
LRD: I very much hope so. But why secretly?
AFH: There is always a stigma against admitting one’s lack of objectivity in academia. Scholars usually need to pretend they are totally objective. You artists are lucky to welcome us into your intimate spaces and thoughts.
—Ana Finel Honigman
ArtSlant would like to thank Lili Reynaud-Dewar for her assistance in making this interview possible.