Beyond Art, the Art of the Afterlife / Au-delà de l’art, art de l’au-delà
Moderator: Emmanuel Dayde
Schedule and panelists to be announced
“We have to take spiritualism seriously,” prophesied Michel Thévoz, and rightfully so, as some form of modern art (automatism, game, abstraction, surrealism, etc.) originates from spiritualism. At a time he pretends that “I is someone else,” Arthur Rimbaud, in a letter to Paul Demeny in 1871, says that “one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.” The mediumistic creation, almost as old as the spiritualistic movement itself, did not wait for Rimbaud to “make itself a seer.” Mediums have always produced writings and drawings in order to transcribe messages from the afterlife. But it was two distinguished literary and artistic personalities, Victor Hugo and Victorien Sardou,that helped the mediums enter the world of art as highlighted in the exhibition “Entrance of the Mediums” at the Maison Victor Hugo in Paris in 2012. “If science does not want these facts, ignorance will take them up,” said the author of the “Contemplations.” Later on 1911, Augustin Lesage, a miner from Pas-de-Calais, was 35 years old when he heard voices from the pit of the mine predicting that he will one day become a painter: “I am not the one who paints, the spirits do,” he said cautiously. His success inspired many in the spiritualistic circles of the North, such as Victor Simon and Fleury Joseph Crépin. The most emblematic mediumistic artist however remains Madge Gill, a British contemporaneous of Lesage who, for thirty years, produced hundreds of drawings in a state of trance.
The paradox today is that the 20th century seems to have been the era of the media as much as of the mediums. The exhibition “Traces du Sacré” at the Pompidou Center in 2008 revealed the work of Hilma af Klint, although it had been exhibited in the United States in 1985 - some 50 years after her death. As she was interested in the paranormal world, Hilma came into contact with a spirit who gave her the mission to make “mediumistic” paintings at the turn of the 1880s. Those paintings, produced in a state of trance, sought to transmit a spiritual message to mankind. They were an integral part of what she called the Temple: Hilma dedicated most of her life to that mission. In 1906, after 20 years of artistic work and at the age of 44, Hilma af Klint painted her first abstract series, which she later bequeathed to her nephew on the condition that he doesn’t display any of them until 20 years after her death. She has become today the favorite artist of the Serpentine Gallery which organized a major exhibition entitled “Painting the Unseen” in the spring of 2016. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Beatnik generation experimented new ways of being for the sake of perceiving an invisible spirituality: meditation exercises and transcendentalism sessions for a better self-awareness and self-fulfillment are the leitmotif of the Beat generation under the literary auspices of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. In this new form of spiritualism, spiritual exercises, Sufism, introspection, psychotropic drugs and narcotics allow people to reach Knowledge.
But what is the relation today in the 21st century between contemporary art and the mediumistic art? While mediumistic art is still immensely popular within the Outsider Art movement and is the subject of some very successful research in psychiatric circles, it has invaded the more cautious world of digital and contemporary arts. For instance, the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art (LaM) has been holding since January 2014 nearly 3,500 documents (paintings, drawings, writings, etc.) collected by the French Psychopathology Society for the Expression and Art Therapy. The multimedia artist Stéphane Blanquet weaves his dreams into large electric tapestries, and Myriam Mihindou highlights the presence of an invisible spirit after solarizing and inverting her photographs. In the 2012 exhibition Les Maîtres du Désordre (The Masters of Chaos) at the Musee du Quai Branly, the mediumistic artists were compared to shamans: “Chosen by the spirits, the outsider, the other, the often uncivilized world, the masters of chaos attest the legitimacy of their inspired vision and the endless game of chaos and order,” wrote Jean de Loisy. Invited this summer to show his video installation, L’intervalle de résonnance, about the Inuits’—scientifically impossible— perception of the sound of the Northern lights at the Palais de Tokyo, filmmaker Clément Cogitore is today producing films in which he explores the rational and the irrational of intangible phenomena. And in a spectacular way last June at the Monnaie de Paris institution, Bertrand Lavier, apostle of the ready‑made, invited spectators to a Spiritism session entitled “Thank you Raymond from Bertrand Lavier,” in order to “grasp the world of the ghost of Raymond Hains.” He wanted to pay tribute to the connections that the artist had weaved between daily life, art, sciences and the world of sub‑consciousness. Spirit, are you there?
What if the instauration of a reasoned consumerism leads to the revival and blossoming of insanity?
Self-Portrait With My Neuroses / Autoportrait avec mes névroses
As the curator of the Maisons Victor Hugo, I was not predisposed to work on Outsider Art, but passion overtook me! The exhibition Entrance of Mediums in 2012 also helped me to establish a first contact.
Taking up the invitation to participate in the Outsider Art Fair, I would like to offer a personal journey, as a kind of domino game connecting the neurotic self-portraits of two artists associated with Victor Hugo: his nephew Leopold (1828–1895), a dilettante artist and delusional scientist, and François Chifflart (1825–1901), a recipient of the Prix de Rome in France but a temperamental loser—Leopold, posing as a Pharaoh on a pedestal like a chess piece, presents the theme of a portrait-object, while Chifflart offers the theme of a collective self-portrait, surrounded by his neuroses as many nightmarish forms.
They are two “borderline” self-portrait artists who allow us precociously to cross the border between official art and Outsider Art. Going from one self‑portrait to the next, a series of hallucinated group portraits, others of object forms, “patented” works of Outsider artists such as Fernand Desmoulin, F. Sedlàk, Helen Buttler Wells, Josepha Tolra, Edmund Monsiel, Hugo d’Alesi, Emile Hodinos, Camille Renault, Hans Hoffer. A way of crossing the border, in an ambiguous way, with multiple intersections: from academic to self-taught artists, from bourgeois to modest means artists, from apprentice to mediums. Under the common denominator of disorder or neurosis, perhaps will emerge the contours of what I have previously called “the democracy of the marvelous.” But such an alignment of double-sixes is better played with someone, by borrowing pieces from an accomplice. Beyond any discourse and justification, this journey is an amicable tribute to Bruno Decharme whose generosity for sharing his collection la collection Abcd Art Brut is undeniable. It is also a way to convey my best wishes of success to him after he announced the deposit of his collection in Hauterives, at Postman Cheval’s museum.
Franz Huemer (1924 - 2012)
Huemer’s art is best known to aficionados in Austria and Switzerland. The son of railway workers, Franz Huemer was brought up in a medieval town in western Austria, near the border with Liechtenstein and Switzerland. As a child, he was fascinated by nature and enjoyed watching animals. Huemer did not complete his basic education and terminated several apprenticeships, for social interaction did not come easily to him. During World War II, he served as a street‑and bridge-builder on the German side, but eventually was taken prisoner by French forces and later tortured. Despite a couple of escapes, he was routinely captured and later experienced hallucinations. Sent to a psychiatric hospital, Huemer, a deeply religious Roman Catholic, developed a method of placing himself into an ecstatic trance.
Following his recovery, Huemer began making his first carvings, filling his parents’ home with his creations, including his first work, a Madonna. After taking wood-carving lessons near his hometown, Huemer began seeing what he believed were faces on sheets of paper, in twisted tree roots and elsewhere in nature. It was such signs of another reality hidden in or behind the familiar, visible world that became the subject matter of Huemer’s art.
Over the years, Huemer produced a broad body of sculptures and works on paper (drawings on photocopies of nature photos, in which he highlighted and elaborated hidden forms). In his carved-wood pieces, heads, faces and hands emerge out of the twists and protrusions of tree roots in surprisingly expressive poses, their “arms,” “shoulders,” “legs” and other body parts finding unexpected form in nature’s hauntingly human-like growths.
During his lifetime, Huemer’s work was championed by the esteemed Swiss curator Harald Szeeman (1933–2005), who included it in the traveling museum exhibition “Visionary Switzerland,” which included Klee, Wölfli, Giacometti and Tinguely among others. Szeeman urged Huemer to sell his work, but with rare exceptions, the artist refused to do so. Still, Huemer’s art has been shown at major institutions including the Kunsthaus Zurich (1991,1997), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (1992), the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1997) and the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1992). In Switzerland, it has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Aargauer Kunsthaus in Aarau (1983) and at the Kunstmuseum Thurgau at Kartause Ittigen (2010). The Austrian artist Ernst Fuchs (1930–2015), who was associated with the so-called Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, was also a major admirer and supporter of Huemer’s work.