ALWAYS TOO MUCH, NEVER ENOUGH
For the pleasure principle
In ‘Claude Closky – Manège’, Editions Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2006. Translated from French by Charles Penwarden
The simple act of leafing through a catalogue of works by Claude Closky is enough to make the head spin. Such is the quantity of his output, including thousands of draw-ings, photographs and multiples, and hundreds of web-sites, of editions and videos, that the viewer simply feels overwhelmed by the indefatigable productivity of it all. Never mind forming a judgement.
This feeling is the result of Closky’s own deliberate policy, based on a very literal, logical and pragmatic interpretation of the good old Modernist slogan, “Less is more”—which means making something out of nothing and, what’s more, spinning out its logic to the point of exhaustion.
In his books Les Monnayeurs du langage and Frivolité de la valeur, the philosopher Jean-Joseph Goux describes the way in which the transition to a stock exchange-based economy in the middle of the 19th century generated a new “aesthetics of capitalism”, one that infused literary and artistic modernity. With stock market ratings supreme over all other measures, value, now totally dependent on the “frivolous” fluctuations of desire and fashion, drifted apart from the object and its tangible reality. This decisive sepa-ration coincided with the modern crisis of the separation of signifier and signified, with Mallarmé, and with the era of the “drift of signifiers” to constitute an autonomous sphere.
Using the material he finds around him—adverts, logos, TV, Internet, video games, etc.—Closky has explored and analysed the sphere of the signifier for the past fifteen years, observing its growth, which is independent of all real ity outside its own particular logic, and the way in which the signified—the “message”—becomes pure entertainment in this context, becoming a motif and decorative element. One of the key decisions taken by Closky is to work on the same level as his materials, in terms of proliferation and speed. His strategy is one of acceleration and expansion, repetition and declension.
It is nevertheless noteworthy that, unlike many other con-temporary artists, Closky does not yield to the temptation of volumetric augmentation, of spectacular enlargement. The format of his works, in space and also in time (think of his slide shows and videos) is of course variable and sometimes imposing, but it is always based on the multi-plication and variation of a segment that itself remains on the same scale as the media source, be it an image gleaned on the Internet, a photo cut out of a magazine or an excerpt from a TV commercial.
“I do not enlarge,” says Closky, “I dilute.”* Hence his taste for wallpaper, which multiplies and transfigures every sign into a backdrop, for alphabetically or numerically ordered lists, for infinite accumulations of data whose limit seems to be fixed by an arbitrary and unjustifiable but numerically seductive constraint: “1,000 things to do; 300 budget prices; 200 mouths to feed; 100 photo-graphs that are not photographs of horses.”
“I always either overdo it or underdo it”, adds Closky. He is too modest, for his dilution is always carried out in anticipation of the beholder’s behaviour in front of each of his pieces, with an awareness of the average time people spend in front of an exhibit in a show. Thus his videos and time-based works are unfailingly based on a precisely cal-culated rhythm, determined in accordance with the view-er’s capacities of assimilation and memorisation. Rule number one: speed up this rhythm slightly in order to heighten the impression of “bombardment”; number two: increase the number of segments beyond what the viewer can be expected to take in, depriving him of the satisfac-tion of catching the moment of the visible repetition of the same. Unless, of course, this deceptive repetition is actu-ally what is at stake in the work, in which case, on the con-trary, the number of segments will be whittled down to the minimum, most often two elements flashing in an alternating pairing.
The relation of the segment to the whole in Closky’s work is, of course, about managing repetition and difference. Lynne Cooke offers this synthetic definition of these ele-ments: “We know that the feeling of sameness or repeti-tion that we have is due to the fact that the standardisation and transformation of everything into commodities inevitably reduces their apparent diversity into a few stereotypes and canonical models, from which are drawn seemingly endless but in reality insignificant variations.” With Closky, endlessness and insignificance are two parameters that are in operation from the outset, given that his work resolutely affirms his anti-hermeticism and his anti-esotericism. The process of the spectator’s “understanding” a work by Closky takes a matter of only seconds, and what interests the artist more is the moment after understanding. What happens after that first moment of reassuring resolution that, sometimes, in museums, involves reading the explanatory plaque, but that, with Closky, generally does without commentary? The flow chart of the viewer’s reactions might be as fol-lows:
Expectation > Excitement > Disappointment > Disgus > Exhaustion.
In accordance with this trajectory, which is effected within a period that is obviously variable but can nevertheless be parametered, Closky determines the duration, the num-ber and the combinatory variability of the segments that he will use, also taking into account their capacity for attraction and seduction.
This curve is generally at one with Closky’s intentions, with his desire to reproduce ad absurdum a procedure of consumption that wears itself out until it reaches the point of abandonment against the imperturbable mechanical unfolding of the work’s logic but, nevertheless, it does not take into account the pleasure principle, which usually resolves the vision of these works. In addition to the jubi-lation generally provided by the smooth power of the imperturbable logical unfolding (once it is clear that noth-ing can upset its execution), and the satisfaction of under-standing its guiding laws, there is another, more ecstatic pleasure, provided by Closky’s work. One could call this the pleasure of accomplishment. Roundabout, a piece pre-sented at the Centre Pompidou, whose iconography is echoed in this book, is a perfect example of this. This pleasure, which goes back to that childhood satisfaction of neatly colouring in within the lines, or putting in the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, is no simple normative drive, nor is it educationally conditioned. It is, also a pleasure of appropriateness, of completion, of self-fulfilment in one-ness with the surrounding world. As absurd and insignifi-cant as they may be, the innumerable sequences of Closky’s Roundabout offer this kind of accomplishment, that of work done, an action carried out, each leading towards the next in an infinite repetition of the confirma-tion that the world is formed to meet our desires.
* The quotations by Claude Closky are from an interview with the author.