Gaël Charbau: Do you feel that the pieces you are showing in this new exhibition “Counterattack” are the end of a long series, or do they simply mark a stage in your research?
Kevin Rouillard: I think it’s a moment of summary. It’s my first solo exhibition and it is in fact an important step in my work. I’m not sure if it’s a final step, but it’s a real chapter, after months of creation.
G.C.: You were “classified” at the start of your research in quite a conceptual aesthetic, as you though a lot about the museum in itself, about the manner in which aesthetic categories are established, about the way they are presented in an exhibition space. One could then think of Marcel Broodthaers... Today, you have a much more radical gesture, with these hammered sheets of metal, that may seem far from your first artworks. How do you explain this change?
K.R.: I think this series isn’t that far from my previous work, but it is more narrowed down, more focused on a single issue. After my Fine Arts training, I left for a six-month residency in Marseille, then Bordeaux. In my first works, I selected objects that I showed within a system. It was indeed a collecting gesture, followed by classification. The moment when I chose barrels for the first time doesn’t seem that far from the previous gestures. I spend time trying to deconstruct and organise barrels to send things to Cape Verde... In Marseille, there is a whole organisation of the Cape Verdean Diaspora and the expeditions are not calculated based on weight, but based on the barrel, that has become a unit of measure. We therefore looked for these barrels and they remained in the studio for a while. There is an entire recycling chain of these containers, depending on whether they are made up of plastic or metal. The barrel is deconstructed until it enters into the composition of other objects or even architectural elements. The craftsmen cut, hammer, flatten the metal sheets, in a way that is similar to mine. But I do not wish this to be the first way of understanding this work, in the same way when I worked on comic strips, I didn’t want people to rush into the “post-colonial” implications that were present in my research. I do not want labels to be put too quickly onto my practice. Today, I am trying to further an idea and actually, it may be in the style of Broodthaers. I am trying to move forward one step at a time in this apparently very radical gesture. I try not to create a form then an assemblage, but more to develop a gesture by exploring it, exhausting it. Beforehand, I sometimes gave rise to certain things without fully dealing with them. With this new series, I wanted to get to the bottom of things, to the bottom of my practice, crossing issues that I maybe did not want to see. I feel like I have started something like the worker with his work, in a fixed space, with a timetable, an organisational work system. A system that results in artworks.
G.C.: You work with these containers that bring to mind the imaginary around travelling, transport, movement. You use a technique that literally flattens them, by hammering them. You fix in a definitive form an object that bears stories. What meaning does this have?
K.R.: I think that in a way, I am trying to be the last step of these barrels. For most of us, they are objects that have in fact already travelled, that have already been recycled. We can discover inside some of them labels that are proof of the past. It is not something that I really highlight, but it is also not a memory that I am trying to cancel.
G.C.: When discovering this entire series, one can of course think of pop art, but also of the American “color field” painting.
Are these influences that you claim?
K.R. : They are of course what I was able to see a lot of in the United States. Last year, I took a bit of distance to think about this question of influences. When I felt that I was in something repetitive or recurring, I stopped to take some distance and to be sure I should continue down this road. Today, I have created more than a hundred artworks. I felt the need to “verify” these artworks in some way by staying in the United States for three months. I wanted to store a corpus of shapes, of styles, to be fully aware of my practice and to not realise afterwards that something already existed, that I may not have seen.
G.C.: What status would you give to these artworks? Are they ready-made paintings, sculptures, bas-reliefs?
K.R.: It is first and foremost their title that qualifies them: “Extract metal sheet – shock”. It’s a title that I defined in order to avoid classifying them and all the pieces have this name. It is a dynamic object, that touches several areas. I have nothing against the fact that they can be classified, but I refuse to do so, as I consider that it is not up to me to do it. I like to hear comments that come from spectators or the art world, that attempt to circumscribe this object. On my side, I try to free myself from such a personal relationship with these shapes.
G.C.: Whereas the format and the presentation mode could be associated with this, there is no gesture linked to painting...
K.R.: No, if I had to link it to something, it would be more to the research of certain artists of the Support-Surface movement, to Pagès’ artworks. I feel quite close to some of his works. I feel that I am less and less in a dynamic of “pure” creation, but more in a logic of recycling and redistribution of existing forms.
G.C.: If the principle is the same for the whole series, one can still see variations and adaptations on these metal sheets, that make them very different from one another. For example their colours, formats, their monochromatic or polychromatic aspect. How do you choose them?
K.R.: It’s by laying down rules beforehand that I can work. I try not to use superfluous gestures, in a logic close to Adolf Loos’ theories: no ornament, no decoration, each impact is necessary. The pieces that I don’t show are the ones where I feel I have gone beyond the strict framework that I had set for myself. A couple of weeks ago, I entrusted panel beaters with some canvases to see what could come of them if a very shiny lacquer was applied on them. I abandoned this experience because it actually left my framework. The artwork is the result of a cut-out barrel, that has been hammered and fixed like this on a metal frame.
G.C.: These pieces have already been widely shown, at the Fine Arts School in Paris, at the Villa Emerige, the Confort moderne, the galleria Continua, the Abattoirs in Toulouse... Do you have an idea of the way in which this series could come to an end?
K.R.: I have currently produced more than one hundred. My approach is no longer the same than when I only had four or five...
I think I am looking for a form of exhaustion of this shape, for the moment when I could say “this thing has been dealt with, this research is finally completed.”