Les Orchestrations de Xavier
We speak to renowned French-born visual artist Xavier Veilhan days before his recent solo show at Andréhn-Schiptjenko in Stockholm at the end of last year. Monsieur Veilhan, an affable gent charmingly speaking in musical allegories and metaphors, speaks of his love for music and his peers and recent ventures into the medium of film.
C-P: You’ve had a long-standing relationship with Andréhn-Schiptjenko in Stockholm, exhibiting with the gallery already back in the early '90s and now you’re here with your studio crew, presenting a new show.
X.V: I really like it here and as you say, I have a very long relationship with Ciléne (Andréhn) and Marina (Schiptjenko). I met them in 1991 and did my first solo show with the gallery in 1993. Not starting out in France seemed like a good thing to me, especially since the art I’m doing I feel is not particularly bound by language. Here with the gallery I feel very comfortable doing some more experimental work. And they push and encourage me to try my ways doing new things, even such that might not be so easy to sell.
C-P: Your new show, Cedar, revolves around a cedar tree that has been cut into pieces by the trunk that are placed on shelves around the gallery walls. There’s an intrinsic time element borne and manifested by the tree itself and I understand the show is an examination of the relationship between time, distance, space and object.
X.V: Yes, and as well an examination of the ranges of time; the range of time of the tree itself which is fifty years and then there’s the range of time spent at the gallery viewing the show where essentially it doesn’t matter how long you actually stay. You can stay a very short while and still get a good glimpse of the tree and presentation or stay longer time and possibly arrive at a different approach to the show in the end. There’s a linear time aspect where the tree pieces are presented in chronological sequential order beginning with the pieces from the bottom all the way through to highest part.
C-P: While it might not appear obvious at first sight, I gather there is a connection between the presentation of the tree and your past sculptural work in so far time is concerned. That brings me to another memorable show (Music) that you did in 2015 spread across two venues, in NYC and Paris, with Galerie Perrotin, making for a homage to great music producers in modern time.
X.V: Even if my art is very visual and not based on language, rather visual language, it relies much on ideas. I’m very keen on developing ideas and finding the best shape for them to become tangible. The root of the works is always conceptual, be it an allegory of music or a way to represent time.
C-P: Yes, and for instance a number of influential people from Pharrell Williams and the guys from Daft Punk to Giorgio Moroder who recently had a major revival emerging again on people’s lips, were depicted in your sculptures at Perrotin. That was an interesting time stretch between the very current and contemporary and the influence from yesteryear which got got me wondering about your own relationship to music, as a consumer and recipient. Are these people you have had a personal link to or whom possibly have influenced you in one way or another?
X.V: Well the show was very personal and also approaching music through the notion of producers instead of artists was also a statement. One of the ideas was to highlight people in music who do not appear in the front line but are influential in so far they are really the ones creating the songs that we all listen to and are immersed by. Some of the people represented like Pharrell and Neptunes are also musicians but most of them are not visible, and in life art is generally about putting something that isn’t visible into the visible field.
What was interesting with Daft Punk was that I asked them to pose for me without the masks since they were being represented not as artists but as producers. I’m fascinated by music because of its physical quality and the way it moves things in a way I cannot do with my art that is visual. I’ve made collaborations on performances with musicians to combine the visual efficiency of my work with sound matter and sound impact of others.
C-P: On that note, you did a performance, Aerolight, at Centre Pompidou with AIR a few years back. And incidentally you also made the record cover for AIR’s Pocket Symphony. Tell me more about it.
X.V: I was invited by Pompidou to make a performance and asked AIR to do a soundtrack for the performance and asked if they could perform it on stage and be a direct part of the performance. We displayed a movie that was made specifically for the show. The music was beautiful. Half of the music was adapted from the band’s then last record and the other half was produced originally for the show.
C-P: You emerged as a contemporary artist in the 90’s alongside a group of French artists whom like you today are all very well-known and renowned in contemporary art. I’m thinking of among others Pierre Huyghe, Phillippe Parreno and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster who all exhibited in Stockholm in the 90's. Out of curiosity I’m wondering what your relationship to this group is like?
X.V: In the beginning when I was starting out I did group shows with all of them, and there was also Carsten Höller, Douglas Gordon and Angela Bulloch and a bunch of others. I kind of took a different direction however from there venturing into sculpture and installation but I’m still very close to them and are interested in what they are doing and keep myself updated. We live and work in different places so we don’t get to see each other often as I’d like. I try to keep connected with the art community and go out and see new things and artists and I’ll make notes about it my agenda. This social part of making art is important to me.
C-P: At this point of your career, working now in your third decade as an artist, would you say there are any particular moments looking back that stand out as particularly memorable, or as milestones even ?
X.V: I’m not very good at looking back and addressing the past. When I talk about my childhood for instance I can almost get the feeling I’m speaking about someone else. I have very good memories of group shows that I’ve done and I’m a fan of other artists.
C-P: You’re an artist's artist basically, I can tell.
X.V: Yeah. I love people like Julian Opie, Olivier Mosset, Daniel Buren, Angela Bulloch. And Pierre (Huyghe)…did you see his travelling retrospective show?
C-P: At Centre Pompidou? Yes, caught both the retrospective shows of Pierre and Phillippe Parreno in the same day and loved both. Perhaps it was too much (great) art to take in, in just one day.
X.V: I found both shows to be extremely strong. I was amazed with both and even more amazed by the impact they had. Everyone who saw them definitely remembered the shows. I would love to do something like Philippe, working on the entire Palais de Tokyo. But today everything is so extensive in the art world, everything is turning massive and is played super loud. You have the feeling especially at an art fair that things are played on a boombox. And you know I can really enjoy someone singing a capella or just playing on an almost silent delicate instrument.
C-P: Your body of work is so varied, extending to so many things and it’s not really one thing over the other and yet I imagine many people come to think of geometric part-abstract and part-figurative sculptures as your signature mark. Would you agree or would you reject it?
X.V: Yeah sure and there’s not really a point of rejecting it, it’s like when you do a hit and people like it, and that’s great and fine of course. The thing that is more successful right now however are Mobiles. Last year the main thing I was doing were films. I made one for the Opéra de Paris and then I made another film, Vent moderne, that was commissioned work by Parc de la villette for its Cinéma en Plain Air and it was the first time I really worked with a professional actor, a superb stage actor; Micha Lescot whom I’d previously seen doing Chechov at the theatre. We shot it with I-pod Touch and the film is in black and white.
C-P: I love the sound of that. Will you continue to work with medium of film in the near future?
X.V: I will keep on doing that actually and I was asked by a producer to think of feature length film to do but I’m hesitating a little bit.
C-P: Hesitating? No, you really shouldn’t! It would be super exciting to see. I mean you really just have to do it...
C-print would like to thank Andréhn-Schiptjenko. Images courtesy of the gallery. Photo credit portrait of Xavier Veilhan; Diane Arques.