SECAC 2009: Encore un effort: Democracy & Struggle in Contemporary French Art

Chair:   Chairs: Beth Hinderliter, SUNY Collegeat Buffalo


En faveur de Sade”: Cruelty and Commitment in Post-War French Art
Seth McCormick, Western Carolina University

In post-war France, recognition of the dialectics of complicity and critique in the relation between art and terror motivated renewed artistic engagement with the legacies of the Marquis de Sade and Georges Bataille, France’s foremost thinkers of the relation between art, liberty, and cruelty. This paper examines three successive stages of this engagement: the treatment of sadism in Jean Fautrier’s “Otages,” 1942-1945, and Jean Dubuffet’s “Corps de Dame,” 1950; the détournement of Sadean themes in Situationism and Nouveau Réalisme in the fifties; and the thematics of torture in three collaborative projects of the sixties: Le Grand Tableau Antifasciste Collectif, 1960 (Enrico Baj, Roberto Crippa, Gianni Dova, Erro, Jean-Jacques Lebel, and Antonio Recalcati), Vivre et laisser mourir ou la fin tragique de Marcel Duchamp, 1965 (Gilles Aillaud, Eduardo Arroyo, and Antonio Recalcati), and the Los Angeles Peace Tower, 1966, an anti-Vietnam War monument inspired by French artistic activism in support of Algerian independence. For the authors of these projects, a Sadean aesthetics continued to offer a potent means for confronting representations of power and violence in a France suspended between the Gaullist “politics of grandeur” and the “permanent coup d’etat,” and in a world divided between media spectacle and biopolitics.


The Rhetoric of “La Prise de Parole” and the Posters of May and June 1968
Victoria H. F. Scott, The College of William & Mary

Until now the French posters of 1968 have been celebrated as an unprecedented example of spontaneous expression–a manifestation of “la prise de parole” (the capture of speech) with which the revolutionary situation is regularly associated. This representation of the events of May and June originates in a popular description of the uprising disseminated first in an article and then a book entitled, La Prise de parole, pour une nouvelle culture (1968), published directly after the events, written by the French philosopher Michel de Certeau (1925-1986). A more historical analysis of this moment, however, contradicts this widely accepted account of the insurrection and the posters. After all, May 1968 was marked by aggressive and effective governmental censorship. Moreover, the collectively created posters, which are still perceived to be completely synonymous with, if not evidence of, unfettered expression, were heavily influenced by a core group of militant Maoists who organized and lead the poster workshops. This suggests that, much like the French government’s call for “participation” in the landslide election that brought the revolt to a close, the notion of “la prise de parole,” as applied to the events and the posters, remains strictly speaking, rhetorical.


Vive l’art Révolution: Gérard Fromanger and the Revolutionary Discourse in Painting
Catherine Dossin, Purdue University

In the 1970s, Parisian artists were divided between those who wanted to paint the revolution and those who wanted to revolutionize painting. Gérard Fromanger, the founder of the Ateliers Populaires and president of the Front des Artistes Plasticiens, wanted to do both. My paper examines how he attempted to reconcile the conflicting demands of political action with avant-garde practice. It shows how his commitment to the revolutionary ideals of May 1968 led him to create works that invoke the costs and limits of the républicaine values of liberty, equality, fraternity, and secularity in contemporary France, thereby drawing an uncomfortable portrait of French democracy. It also considers how the artist successfully avoided the trap of mere political illustration by intertwining social commentary with formal investigation in works that effectively addressed postmodern concerns with representation, originality, and the exhaustion of painting. Drawing from the writings of his friends Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Fromanger realized that revolution does not only
happen on the barricades but also in discourse. I argue that their examples offered him a model for a committed critique of knowledge, and allowed him to see the revolutionary potential of deconstructing the established codes of representation.


Undermining Corpus in Nicolas Klotz’s La Blessure
Beth Hinderliter, SUNY College at Buffalo

This paper examines the problems of transnational identity in France revealed in Nicolas Klotz’s 2004 film La Blessure. Based on interviews conducted with Congolese asylum-seekers in France as well as philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s autobiographical story of his heart transplant, La Blessure attacks the notion of an integral body, individual or collective. The wound that the primary character Blandine acquires upon resisting deportation at Roissy airport becomes a literal reminder of her visibility as a target of police repression. Yet, it enables her to remain in the country and receive medical assistance. La Blessure deploys such strategies of visibility, both thematic and formal, in order to examine formations of power surrounding immigration issues in contemporary France and its participation in what Étienne Balibar has termed “fortress Europe.” I argue that La Blessure combines medicalized metaphors of a foreign object penetrating an organism. It mixes political ideas of the social body with eugenic notions of homogeneity, offering instead a porous notion of the body proper that relies upon contagion as the foundation of its being.


Time: 10/24/2009, 3:30 PM—5:30 PM

Location: City of Mobile (Alabama), Windjammer