Written by Elena Gaudé.
Today’s article is a bit peculiar, indeed we offer you a 2-in-1 interview with the artist Rero, the one behind the exhibition JOSEPH GRAND at Backslash Gallery in Paris. Discover his latest exhibition, and the words we exchanged with him.
VIA NEGATIVA, A COME BACK TO THE ESSENTIAL
We understand the meaning of this concept when we go on the gallery’s website : “We are all currently suffering from a general sense of deprivation, whether from a lack of contact, of work life or of freedom. With this new body of work, Rero suggests that we change our perspective and adapt in a more tangible way to this new and destabilising situation by means of two similar but slightly different concepts: the Via Negativa and antifragility.”
Even though it contains the word “negativa”, Via Negativa teaches us to refocus on what’s essential, for a more minimalistic lifestyle. Antifragility, to simplify it, comes down to transforming negative elements into a positive force.
In order to illustrate these concepts, the artist drew his inspiration from the La Peste’s Albert Camus’ character called Joseph Grand. Camus targeted fascisme spreading like a disease, but we can make a certain parallel with Covid-19, and what these two viruses brought with them. “For Joseph Grand, one of the secondary characters in The Plague, getting rid of or, rather, avoiding what is unnecessary becomes a revelation when he finally writes the first sentence of his novel, ridding it of all superfluous adjectives.” Grand’s ideal is not the one where words have a direct link with whatever they reflect for real, but the one about fair words. It reflects the classic language paradox, the will to describe the more precisely but in vain because the real is inexhaustible.
It all comes from the idea of having trouble to find the right words, and wanting to simplify them. What’s even more powerful with Rero’s exhibition, is the similarité we find with 2nd Try : To admit that the first try can’t be perfect, and to focus on the one or the ones after.
Here, the revolutionary “pas essentiel” (= non essential) flag linked with unfairly closed cultural places. It’s also in collaboration with the CentQuatre façade, also written with these words. Symbolic flag, made by the same manufacturers of the Elysée’s flags. It shows the irony of quarantine : the flag is not in the sky but the sky is in the flag, it’s also a reminder of the artist’s view from his window.
Interactive artwork, the climbing wall is a reference to the climbing violence when we can’t find words. Culture allows us to calm ourselves. Once put together, the words reveal a sentence from Alice in Wonderland : “If there’s no meaning in it, that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any. And yet, I don’t know.”
Finally, Rero will say that, through his exhibition, we “always have to do better, to improve ourselves until the end and realize we have to simplify things because otherwise, we lose their meaning.” Kind of like a second try. You get it, I quite enjoy the connection between the exhibition and 2nd Try.
A WORDS’ PLAYER
Could you introduce yourself ?
I’m Rero, I’d say that I’m a public artist, where I sometimes intervene in nature, I’m not a street artist or urban artist, I don’t rule out any context or space where I can’t intervene. I mostly do it in spaces’ diversion where there’s not supposed to be any art or else if there is, I try to divert in the medium.
Why do you use words?
I use words because I find them accessible to all, we have an opinion, a word and we can change it or not but it doesn’t ask for a certain degree of culture, it doesn’t require to read I don’t know how many art books to have an opinion.
Then I started to write my name, and I thought that, maybe because I didm’t have the right words, I needed to put my name first, which was “AURER” before it became Rero. Right after I started to intervene with words that weren’t mine but that I used, and to put them in a context so I started to work on spaces. At first it was posters in the streets, then in abandoned places and in the middle of nature. Now it dépends on the location.
What’s your artistic course ?
At first I was a graffiti artist, and it’s funny when I think about your magazine’s name “2nd Try” because graffiti was my first try, I followed the 80’s New Yorkers’ graffiti codes and I realized that it wasn’t me. But what I love in graffiti is that it’s totally intrusive so I wanted to keep my art that way, this energy, this spontaneous thing and I wanted to put it in a typo which has no style. Graffiti artists usually have a style’s research in order to find its identity but I said no, I’m gonna pick the more understated, simplest typo and by putting a line through it and placing it in a context, I’m gonna create interactions that will brought a new meaning.
It’s interesting because it’s almost a standardization, and it brings a contradiction : Can simplicity make a mark on our society ? That’s what I was wondering about, and when I saw other typos from different eras I thought that maybe, the Verdana typo is the one that will make a mark on our era. Maybe we’ll think that we needed standardization because our era was too complex. And I’m all about popularization. It’s not about making everything simple, but readable. Maybe we had to fall into the excess to go back and admit we fucked up, so we should give us the chance for a new try. I think that Covid was a good realization of our mortality, and that we have to make some decisions and be responsible.
Do you consider yourself to be an activist ? Is your art a sort of activism ?
I think so. But then I also think that even if you paint flowers in our era, it’s a way of involvement. No matter what you do in your artwork, if you decide to close your eyes and not see that’s happening in the world, you’re, in a way, committed. And to me, since I use words, I don’t know, I can’t really say that I’m an activist but an artist involved in public matters, in our era’s issues.
But I can’t say that I revolutionize anything, on the contrary, in my opinion I feel like you don’t have to be too extreme. Because if you are, people won’t listen to you anymore and the conversation will be closed, and my goal is to keep the dialogue open and try to change some powerful people’s opinion that normally won’t be interested in my work. I feel like if I can get through them I’ll be able to change things and that where I think of myself as an activist. It may be naive but I really think. Art is managing to have a conversation with people that didn’t agree with you and I think that’s amazing.
You have a show coming up at the Aquarium of Paris, could you tell us more about it ?
I thought it could be interesting to intervene in the sharks’ and jellyfishes’ pond in order to question our relationship with the sea even though we’re in the middle of Paris. And there are a lot of polemics around aquariums, it’s a place where we imprison fishes and I think that if they’re here, it’s to raise awareness among us and it maybe allows to save other aquatic creatures. But at the end of the day, it’s always a question of freedom: Shouldn’t we sacrifice a few to make the most happy ? It’s always the same issue.
The exhibition is called “Immensité limitée” (limited immensity), it’s an oxymoron that allows us to question that everything is limited and that our planet is not an exception. I’ll introduce 13 interventions, on the walls, in the sharks’ pond… It’s a bit immersive, when you visit the exhibition you will see different seas and continents and I will interact with the living and the exhibition’s location.