Nicolas Jasmin: A Track, a List, a Vanishing Point
Nicolas Jasmin was born in 1967 in Toulouse, France. In the late 1980s he moved to Vienna to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. Our paths first crossed around 2000 – I remember his video works exhibited at Secession and Kunsthalle Wien, and his alter ego N.I.C.J.O.B. DJ’ing at many parties. After seeing his exhibition at Croy Nielsen last year and his current show at Belvedere 21, I came to understand that over the last nineteen years his artistic approach has remained stringently the same, only the medium has changed.
Barbara Rüdiger: Using your current show as a point of entry for our conversation, “Nicolas Jasmin and Other Works” at Belvedere 21 refers to your work of thirty years ago, both in terms of its form and content. Could you give a short introduction to this loop of production?
Nicolas Jasmin: Sometimes you produce a work, but it only becomes relevant to reveal it much later. My way of working is creating parallel groups of works, sometimes hiding them for a while, sometimes showing them immediately. In 1989, I worked on my first monochrome paintings that became the “Painting Dogma” series [“1. Never paint a surface all over. / 2. Put a vanishing point with the help of a coin / 3. Use a burlap as basis. / 4. Break this dogma within 25 years.” – Vienna, September 1989], but did not integrate them into my first institutional solo exhibition at the Institut für Gegenwartskunst at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in March 1990. At that time, I also experimented with found objects that I artificially oxidised with sulphuric acid and I produced steel boxes in which to hide my paintings like an iconoclastic gesture. It was possible to open the box to see the painting – some were installed open and some were closed with a painting inside, which you never saw if you did not decide to open the box. The title of this show was “Nicolas Jasmin Arbeiten” and now, for my second exhibition in an institutional context, nearly thirty years later, I gave it the title “Nicolas Jasmin und Andere Arbeiten” (“Nicolas Jasmin and Other Works”).
So we can’t talk about a closed-loop process?
There is no closed process for me; there is ongoing repetition, seriality, and variation. When I decided to paint again in 2011, I reconnected with the dogma paintings and produced the missing link to this group of works. The issue of time is important, especially in my “T painting” series, the group “VTTZ, (Von Time to Zeit)”, I began to work on in 2014. In my process, I work for days and weeks on putting layers of paint, mainly primer, on top of each other and then finalise it with a laser beam that erases a part of the upper layer in a few minutes. Consequently, what I construct in a painting ends up being ephemeral as it will be lost, versus a part that stays in time as a permanent result.
Proceeding from Karl Kraus’s dictum “Ursprung ist das Ziel” (origin is the goal), Walter Benjamin introduced the dialectical image “den Tigersprung ins Vergangene” (a tiger's leap into the past), as if an evaluation of the past could only happen by activating the present. Do you agree?
Yes, definitely, and in many ways it has a special relevance in my project for the Belvedere show. Luisa Ziaja, the curator of my exhibition, proposed the Wotruba Raum (Wotruba room, named after the Austrian sculptor Fritz Wotruba, 1907-1975) in its 2011 version after a so-called “overturn” by the artist Werner Feiersinger, who had put it back into its original shape. This kind of tabula rasa suited me perfectly and the wheels of this project started turning. I asked myself how to use such a space, which is usually dedicated for installation and sculpture, for my paintings. And because my working method as a painter is subtraction it was clear to me that the architectural setting had to be based on the idea of the “additive”.
You mean the display adds a vertical dimension to the horizontal hanging of your paintings, weaving your work together with the space?
I calculated the gaps generated by the huge windows. The addition of the windows’ negative space formed a long wall that was then fragmented into double and single walls that I displayed, and some existing columns were masked, some multiplied and added as “cloned” columns: I created fake walls and columns to hang my paintings, a functional setting but also a kind of disrespectful idea, irritating the viewer in fragmenting the centre of the space with columns. When you look from outside you have a panoramic window separation towards my space and you get what I call the “Tati Blick”, the Jacques Tati gaze through a bay window that creates a distance like an additional layer.
I would like to focus on a specific group of works, your “Track List Paintings”. These small works create their own universe, layer by layer, in a minimalistic visual language. Your source material for these are Robert Smithson's record collection index as well as the songs that the protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis’s book American Psycho is listening to.
While rereading American Psycho one day I was fascinated by the fact that the book is entirely structured by the rhythm of the musical pieces that the protagonist is listening to while preparing himself for the murders he will commit. From murdering to sports and daily routines, everything is accompanied by mainly soppy music. In the narration, the murderer describes the musical pieces like a fetishist and expert on the subject as if he would be a brilliant music journalist. Parallel to that I found a list of all the records owned by the artist Robert Smithson. These two discoveries generated the “Track List Painting” project. The paintings always show two tracks on the left and right, the authors, the titles, and the lengths of the songs. They can be seen as fusions of each time, two songs, or two pieces of music. One is also challenged to read them straight across, from left to right and right to left, which forms a lapidary abstract poetry created by the subjectivity of the spectator. They can also be seen as haikus.
Music means the expression of feelings for many – memories of moments that are charged with strong and intimate emotions. Musical taste can also define generations. It generates much more on a meta-level than in the physical hearing.
Recently, during the opening speech at the Mark Rothko exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Christopher Rothko talked about his father who would listen to Haydn and Schubert while working on his paintings in contrast to Jackson Pollock, who would paint with John Coltrane’s or Charlie Parker’s music playing. He describes Mark Rothko’s paintings as silent music. Does this mean that Pollock’s paintings are loud? There is a lot of noise on the surfaces of my paintings; I wonder if one could see them as neither loud nor silent but rather as a continuous note of low pitch, a drone.
“Nicolas Jasmin and Other Works”
18 January – 22 April 2019
BARBARA RÜDIGER is a curator based in Vienna.