From Nouvelle Art Zine’s
“Interview with an Enigma”
De Parnier On...
Herself as a painter
“When I got out of school, I had all these so-called reactionary fantasies about working in the Great Tradition of Art, and connecting to everybody from Chardin to Matisse, so I rented this little hole in the wall just off rue de Belleville and began to play with the idea of icons.
My third was supposed to be a painting of the Madonna and child. But besides questions of compositional elements, I was struggling with exactly what I wanted, or who I wanted, the face of the infant to be. I left it blank the first few sketches, then in a more complete one using markers and white-out, I dropped in a photo of this famous politician as a young man, but that didn’t quite work for me. Somebody suggested I put in myself, and I thought about that for a while but it seemed ridiculous. In the next study, I just left both faces blank, and I quite liked that because they looked a little like holes a planet could disappear into, or maybe vaginas, though in the final version that I was preparing for, I was quite sure of what the Madonna should look like.
One thing led to another and in the last version instead of a face for the baby I actually sketched in a pig. You know, crumpled ears, wide snout. Something about my own irreverence shocked me, not that I was a believer, I wasn’t, not at all. The idea that there are spirits out there watching over us seems as delusional as my belief Ingres was going to drop over for lunch someday and teach me how to draw properly. I was a terrible draftsman. Still, as a painter there seemed something sacred to me about the process of representation, and there it was. I’d destroyed the magic myself. I took the pig child out and burnt it. But it didn’t help. It was over, the idea that images evolve with a kind of inevitability that endows this thing we create, in representational art, anyway, via color and shading and volume, into things themselves.”
“I gave up painting entirely. Real painting, anyway. I got a job painting ceramics for a shop around the corner. It wasn’t a real factory. It was this little workshop for people that wanted to pretend they’d taken a class, and learned to painted on plates or vases, but mostly they were too lazy to turn up. They’d contact me and I’d paint whatever tickled their fancies.
In my studio I was doing collages because at least the objects I stuck together had their independent reality whether it was old newspapers or string, but that wasn’t quite satisfying either. And I started incorporating whole objects in the work, like plastic drinking glasses, until the canvas was really more like a sculpture. But I felt like I was interfering too much with the objects, and that they themselves had some secret life I wasn’t capturing. It was about that time that I read a second-hand copy of, whatsisname, you know, that physicist, about how we affect the thing we’re studying just because we’re there studying it. And I started thinking about how I could take myself out of the equation as much as possible, without, you know, actually not doing anything.
I decided to start setting up a video camera and catching things by chance. Not a new idea, I know, but it interested me.
The problem with video is that the camera itself becomes an actor. People see it and begin to do things because they are aware of being seen. I started to believe it also had an effect on so-called inanimate objects. Even trees seemed to move more. So I had to put myself back in the process.
Hence still video.
“I think critics like “Les oeufs” because the composition is so traditional, even beautiful. And it should be. It was largely ripped off from a detail of “Le menu de maigre.” And eggs themselves are the perfect form. There’s just a slight wabi thrown in from time to time, a shift of lighting, or ambient noise which would become more important as my style developed.
I worked with composer Ali Khali at the time who was developing his own theories of music and silence. Nothing particularly ground-breaking until he branched off on his own, but he was a perfect match for my needs.”
“The portraits were obviously more challenging, but I really like watching humans with their beating hearts and breaths and scratchy noses trying to be motionless in front of a video camera for a certain length of time. The tension of that effort I think comes across in their faces.
Beginning with “l’Ange” I attempted the reverse, attempting to film a perfectly still subject with a handheld camera. It was a challenge, let me tell you. That was the only project in which I broke my own rules. After watching the video for a minute or two, the slight motion of my own body had such an extraordinary nauseating effect on me as a viewer I decided to slow down the frames. The only alternative was to ditch the project altogether, and I couldn’t make myself do it.”
“I’m not entirely sure we were ever a group, though we did share many of the same preoccupations of reduction and refusal. It would be just as accurate to describe us as neo-minimalists. I think we got stuck with the label because we all lived more or less in the same neighborhood.”
“The Manifesto was really a kind of joke, as they so often are, conceived in a bar over a bottle of vodka. Q. had no business taking notes, though granted, we were all happy enough to sign it, even Pierre, no matter what he says now. It was only on a napkin for heaven’s sake. No one would have taken it seriously if she hadn’t typed it up, and added a few flourishes.
Q. just couldn’t help herself. Never could. She had one side that was perfectly minimalist, the other, well, you could only describe it as baroque. She envied the writers of excess like Celine, or Thomas Woolf, but it fell flat when she tried herself. An interesting, conflicted character. Caught between countries, I think, as much as styles. And genres. Though I think that had a lot to do with trying to find some way to earn a living with her writing.”
“If I had it to do all over again would I have saved her diary? I don’t think I can answer that question. No one could. We act in ignorance. Like choosing from a menu without prices. The bill comes and it’s a complete surprise. At the time, it was just the gesture from one artist neighbor to another. Her family hadn’t claimed her things, and the landlord was dumping it all in the trash. I didn’t like seeing her work destroyed.
It was Q., you know, who put it online. Afterwards, she felt terribly guilty. When I finally got out, she couldn’t face me, and fled back to the States. I was always a little sorry about that. Besides our personal relationship, she was one of the few who really got my work. The perfect audience.”