Ten Questions: Jean-Michel Wicker

– I use lower case letters because they are beautiful and anti-hierarchic, says Jean-Michel Wicker, who opens the solo exhibition futurbella in Bergen Kunsthall tomorrow.

Jean-Michel Wicker, pasta painting (ee's & b), 2014.
Jean-Michel Wicker, #pastapainting (ee’s & b), 2014. Courtesy: Sandy Brown, Berlin.

Berlin-based artist Jean-Michel Wicker (b. 1970) opens his exhibition futurbella in Bergen Kunsthall tomorrow, October 30th.  The show is one half of a solo presentation that also includes an exhibition in Künstlerhaus Stuttgart.

The exhibition title refers to the Italian futurist Giacomo Balla, who signed his paintings «Futurballa», and who co-authored Direzione del Movimento Futurista in 1915, a manifesto not to be confused with Manifesto del futurismo written some years before. Here, Balla impels the reconstruction of the universe through «integrated re-creation». Wicker’s multifarious aesthetic universe touches on similar strategies, involving books, fanzines, perfume, smoke, and an alphabet he has reduced to consist solely of the letters «b» and «e». In futurbella, these elements will be organized and re-organized to create potential meanings. Wicker has previously used fanzines, flyers and posters in his practice; printed media associated with counter-culture. Aspects of resistance can also be glimpsed in futurbella: The edited alphabet can be read as the verb «be», but evades being read as a complete phrase. Wicker himself describes printed media as something helpful and dangerous, a form that allows direct communication of ideas and wishes.

In this exhibition, Wicker will present kinetic sculptures, papier-maché figures, his own «barbecue manifesto» and so-called expanded books; the latter being objects that are unfolded in the exhibition space, inviting closer reading of the book page. Kunstkritikk got ahold of Wicker per e-mail as he was travelling to Bergen. The interview is presented in the original language, and, in accordance with the artist’s wishes, unedited.

Jean-Michel Wicker, kit casa jungle de jardinage, Sandy Brown, Berlin, 2014, installation view.
Jean-Michel Wicker, kit casa jungle de jardinage, Sandy Brown, Berlin, 2014, installation view. Courtesy: Sandy Brown, Berlin.

Kunstkritikk: The relationship between the reader and the book is often presented as something highly intimate. What lies behind your interest in changing the status of the book from an item one holds in one’s hand or in one’s lap to becoming one of your spatial book objects?

Jean-Michel Wicker: New ways or manners to see/do/read/experience or think about ‘things’ by questioning any sort of pre-conceived or established form or status. It’s dangerous.

I noted that you state an interest in printed media’s ability to express sexuality, independence, resistance and identity: Do you consider printed media an «extension of man», rather than an autonomous unit?

Printed media is a very powerful tool which allows you to play easily from one surface to another – for better or worse. And it’s again dangerous. Very. I am a homosexual, printed medias help. Printed media is a way to express in a simple and direct way ideas, desires.. be it image- or text based.

You are currently showing in Künstlerhaus Stuttgart as well as your exhibition at Bergen Kunsthall, which opens on Friday. You describe these exhibitions as one project. Can you expand on this?

I’m born with a ‘multiple personality disorder’ which in this case gives me the possibility to be 10 different persons / characters at the same time. It’s a plus, I enjoy it a lot. This was dangerous once, not anymore – its pleasure maximum. Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, or Catherine Deneuve helped me a lot here. As my skin doctor says : ‘Do not worry, we always quit one addiction for another’. And he’s right. On that topic, I’m a survivor – a living example of what people can go through and survive.

Do you find that the frameworks set by the two institutions influence your exhibition in different ways?

Completely. Space as people (be it curators, collaborators, technicians, gallerists, friends, amants etc) define the development of exhibitions. Everyone plays a role in the evolution and the changes. Time as well. So many parameters to deal with – you have to be flexible and/or to accept change as inevitable – as you want to keep your creative energy and desires alive. I must say, in this case, everyone in the chain was / is really great. I’m probably the worst, ‘a monster’ ! as often called by my boyfriend.

Jean-Michel Wicker, anti-xerox 1-2, 2013.
Jean-Michel Wicker, anti-xerox 1-2, 2013. Courtesy: Sandy Brown, Berlin.

Speaking of different parameters: Could you say something about the kinetic sculptures? And how movement plays a part in futurbella?

Kinetic works are books in motion.

At one point, the Italian futurist Giacomo Balla took the pseudonym Futurballa when signing his paintings. Could you elaborate on the underlying reference to Futurism in your exhibition? Does the idea of speed and force/violence play in here?

Definitely. And I play – again – with that, except that Balla became Bella, and futurballa is futurbella. With exactly 100 years of differences in between.

Fog and fog machines have been incorporated in your shows more than once. Do they hold a certain meaning in the scenography of the show, or are there perhaps more sensual reasons for their presence?

Many sensual reasons actually at the same time; fog-juice as ‘filter’ (for protection), ‘screen’ (for projection), ‘curtain’ (layers), for blurring boundaries of perceptions, for ‘removing’ information from the surfaces, for performative reasons (you as a spectator have to activate the machine), for giving a sense of space and time and to feel aware of where you are exactly at that moment at that place doing this and that, for playful purposes, the list goes on. I even actually reached this point now : The state of ‘after the smoke-machine’. I do / see things differently today. It’s not the same.

The book and the alphabet are central in your practice. The reduced alphabet appears not only to create meaning, but to bear meaning in itself. I’ve noticed that both in the exhibition title «futurbella» and in other written material, you use lower case letters. I’m curious as to why, if there is any particular reason?

For esthetic reasons : it is very beautiful. And anti-hierarchical. It’s horizontal thinking.

Jean-Michel Wicker, deeeeeee-zip zip-zip, 2015.
Jean-Michel Wicker, deeeeeee-zip zip-zip, 2015. Photo: Bergen Kunsthall.