Jean-Luc Verna



The Interprète[1]


The first problem has to do with putting a finger on the actual nature of Jean-Luc Verna’s activities, which  are expressed turn by turn in drawing, film, music, photography and on his own skin, all media which are not necessarily equivalent, but which for a whole whose coherence is in no doubt. People are conveniently wont to say that his life overlaps and merges with his work, which has the twofold advantage of: a. defining him as an “artist” based on the idea that we may make for ourselves of this profession in accordance with a romantic 19th century tradition that is at once anachronistic and illusionary; and b. of claiming to settle the matter with a dash of theatricality. Thus pigeonholed, he would probably take up less room and pose no further problems -- and without raising further questions, we could savour the in the end quite immediate pleasure of his drawings, for example, of his “revivals” of one or two old rock and disco favourites.[…]

The real situation, thank heavens, is probably a bit more complex, both when examined and in the mind of its author -- an author whom it seems to me important to describe most properly as an “interprète”, without minimising the labour and the rigour implicit in this function, which, it just so happens, clashes with the “naturalness” which might crown an “artistic” activity seen as the commonplace extension of a way of being in the world.[…]


Verna is above all the person who tried to shift the activity of interpretation/performance away from the areas traditionally earmarked for it (classical music, theatre, film) and towards various visual art media. In so doing, he nags at the issue of royalties, so laughably central to contemporary society in general and to the art industry in particular, and refers us to the pithy statement made by Proudhon in 1863: “Property is theft.”[…]


And so to drawing, because this is Verna’s if not principal then at least quintessential activity. The process in itself more or less says it all: the drawings produced are traced, photocopied, transferred by trichloroethylene to surfaces often old and passé, then highlighted with make-up foundation, kohl and powder. In this exercise, Verna at the same time provides the original work (the first drawing) which, using every possible trick (including the one prompting him to use discoloured paper that is partly yellowed by time), he strives to return to the illusion of a faraway time so that he can in fina come up with a new interpretation thereof. Drawing is an exercise where he creates both the model and its interpretation; the final recourse to various cosmetic processes is a direct reference to theatre, cabaret, film and, in a word, all forms of expression where performance -- and interpretation -- are natural.


[…] So it is the stylistic intimacy of the œuvre that Jean-Luc Verna displays in as literal a way as possible in the extended titles, where he turn by turn summons up all the heroes in his personal Pantheon: yes, there is Siouxsie Sioux, Degas and Les Cramps, arrayed on the pediment of the same edifice, but it is less a matter of announcing a wider world of references whose juxtaposition, once again, is folkloric, than one of describing, in a restrained way and with infinite precision, a specific tone -- so as to avoid errors of interpretation, by specifying to the utmost the chord in which he is performing.


The exhibition of his work, to sum up, leaves us in no doubt whatsoever about its spectacular nature (in the sense of spectacle rather than theatricality), and the titles of his shows since 1995 oddly reduced to the same snippet of dialogue (“haven’t you got just a tad too much make-up on?” -- “No”) leave us in no doubt about the way in which Verna has shifted the challenges of artistic praxis from the pedestal of novelty and newness to the stage of a performance the is forever starting all over again. As far as make-up is concerned, it is less necessary for Jean-Luc Verna’s face -- whose malleability and expressiveness mean he can do without blusher -- than it is for the crime of the game of pretence and sham in art, in which he really does take on the role of a serial killer.


Eric Troncy


Translated from French by Simon Pleasance

[1] Translators’ note: French interprète means far too many things, all of which have their own term in English – interpreter (in all senses), exponent, performer, player, actor -- to be able to settle for just one…