Éric Duyckaerts

Born in 1953, died in 2019

Lives and works in

Outside Close-To

The educational discourse draws a diagonal line between the level of mentions and the level of uses--there is a gentle downward motion from the mention of a term to the level of its use. It is likely that, in reality, the educational discourse is declined in a discontinuous way (for example, the pupil's answer is an interruption that is part and parcel of this discourse), in such a way that it might be maintained that its oblique level does not exist--it is only imagined insomuch as one is teaching or learning in an effective way. E.D. is very fond of the ambiguous slopes of the educational discourse. You get the feeling that he speeds down them himself like some virtuoso skier, all lanky and roguish. Sometimes he poses like a prig, with a cheeky look, at others he plays the emcee, brimming with cultural merriment; or alternatively he's a logical-philosophical smooth-talker, an overly urbane lecturer, an oddball professor, an operetta Lacan, a learned TV host, a gruff Nobel laureate, etc. But E.D.'s art stems less from caricature and parody than from a certain way of insinuating itself between the models and kicking up their dust behind him--an on-going allusion, or snows of yore. And in the guise of setting up the sloping level of education, E.D. above all reinstates what makes it impossible; otherwise put, a transcendence of knowledge in relation to the subject of that knowledge. And in such a way that, far from familiarizing the onlooker with the elements he's dealing with, E.D.'s educational discourse ends up by putting everyone outside, with a smile.

In its natural state, E.D.'s face has something akin to the purity of a mask--the significant factors (like the eyes, the eyebrows, the nostrils and the mouth) stand out against the pallor of the skin as distinctly as puppets against the backcloth of a theatre. The eyes are so large and so readily given to squinting (a divergent rather than a convergent squint) that you sometimes think you're seeing the eyes of an idol or a painted statue. In another way, E.D.'s face can probably be pigeonholed among the most satisfactory, anthropologically speaking, because it lives in the medium of communicative expressiveness (smiles-frowns-winks-mirrors). This is tantamount to a contradiction--or rather I'd say that E.D. finds his resources as an actor-cum-performer in the contradiction he wields between his hieratic systems (mechanical and stylizing) and his inviting expression as anthropos (= as a very representative person). This, then, is what happens: as soon as the anthropomorphic charm dims, he gives a glimpse, thereby, of an absent figure, either faraway or dead (the persona), about which one wonders, furtively and not without uneasiness, whether it is not the petrified and petrifying truth of superficial interplays of sympathy. But the physical and physiognomic theatre of education represents, for E.D., a quite powerful and autonomous style for conjuring up the expressive force of silent film (burlesque, particularly). In contrast, the discourse resembles a more modern sound system, akin to a haphazard doubling, which, following the subliminal logic of a chiasma, ends up by assuming the values of mutism and actually secretly sinks into silence (my God! what did that guy tell us, in the final analysis?). This is E.D.'s artistic medium--a kind of on-going reversal of the expressive track, and its re-editing as a Moebius strip.

E.D. is a man of worlds. It may be that, for a professional anthropologist, anthropology seems like a milieu or environment, a trade, and a natural setting. For those who are involved with anthropology and study it in an amateur capacity, it tends to resemble a world, with its very own language, customs, fauna, climate and legends. Using the knowledge under his belt (and even the knowledge he has brilliant mastery of), E.D. makes worlds, in other words stages (imagined phenomena of science) from which he himself is barred. But here he is, right now, on the screen, entertaining us. And from where is he speaking to us? For us, he turns into the messenger from one of the worlds he knows so well, because he doesn't belong to them; he introduces us to them, he translates their original formulae and concepts in the rough language of our own world, which is a world of non-knowledge. It works: our ignorance is so familiarly haunted by the authority of knowledge that we salivate at its signs like Pavlov's dogs--and, spellbound, we start to learn the rudiments of logic and Roman law, and snippets of mathematics. In no time, however, we suspect a kind of comic adversity behind the educational situation. The translations that E.D. seems to come up with on the spot for our use look exaggeratedly farcical, or, all of a sudden, they cruelly shed light on the very structure that links us to E.D. And this oblique and puzzling knowledge dispels the mists of imaginary apprenticeship. So the truth that these scientific homilies encompass in their flattering seduction is that the formulae and concepts of the other world are ridiculously untranslatable in ours. E.D. is a kind of Kafkaesque angel: like Barnabas in The Castle, he brings messages that are at once authentic, possible to interpret in endless ways, and altogether ridiculous.

If we try to precisely work out how the educational discourse manages to convey the feeling of a slope, we'll probably find that it does so as the result of a certain type of ambiguous utterances which apply just as much in the tables of mentions and uses alike. A sentence may for example use (overuse) a term, mention of which it formally safeguards; a sentence may also propose a use as if it were just mentioning it. This wavering removes much meaning from the educational discourse and thereby likens it to poetry: all examples of grammar are rough poems. E.D.'s wit is a detachment (or take-off) into the downward course. He and his wit use the educational like a wing: where the listener, trained in a Pavlovian way to understand, expects examples, consequences and applications to illuminate such and such a difference of principle, and fill it with meaning (right to the bottom), E.D. suggests something sufficiently extrapolated, incongruous, idiotic or trivial for the distance between principles and their use to remain, conversely, wide open, leaving us in mid-air. It's as if we were forced to have an understanding of a thing just when our grasp of it is stolen from us. It's as if we were only understanding what is vanishing. E.D.'s wit is a sort of active scepticism which uses the formal precision of meaning versus realizations and contents. E.D. translates sentences. For exemple, he translates a sentence into the world of another sentence. But he never lets himself go so far as to suggest the existence of a mother tongue. Like a white clown of performance, he stays in the impossible gap between all manner of sentences--he's an orphan of their coitions and a bastard of their debaucheries. In an almost motherly way, he steers us as far as his very own interval of errancy: yes, the duke errs.

Knowledge has its liturgies of conservation, exhibition and communion. E.D. reinstates them with a quite outward fidelity. He excerpts pious sentences, he mimics petty rhetorical prostrations, he wonderfully reproduces the lofty pouts of the popularizer, he replaces bits of bravery on the transfinite numbers of Cantor, Tarskian truth, Gaussian curves, strange attractors and Borromean knots; but he doesn't know anything about it. When, for example, E.D. translates a mathematical statement into the utterances of the art world, the contemporary art clan may well think that the artist is carrying out a nice repatriation of meaning (laughter in the audience); and yet, towards this clan, E.D. retains the same position of exteriority that he has with the other worlds he passes through. E.D. is stateless, heimatlos. This is why none of his mises-en-scène abandon the figure of Mr. Duyckaerts--paradoxically, this figure alone attests to the splendid and fearsome exteriority of worlds. Put another way, there would be no translation without an unwitting agent of translation (a subject), and it's Mr. Duyckaerts who represents this contract worker of knowledge. I don't think, so there is knowledge. This is the suicidal cogito embodied by this speaker character, this poor lonesome ego. E.D.'s laughter is a Lacanian tragicness theatricalized with the most sparing of means: a man, a piece of paper board, a camera. The character of Mr. Duyckaerts settles into this minimal theatre box not by way of the virtue of any positive mimesis, but, conversely, through the impossibility of taking up his place. As a subject of science who knows nothing about it, he roams around an absent centre of gravity and he turns his fluctuations into a meta-heroic system, a bit like Don Quixote and K--like one presented as supernumerary by the structure.

Whereas, absolute knowledge-wise, Mr. Duyckaerts manages to deal with the figure of the absent master, either deceased or faraway art-wise Eric (let's call him thus to tell apart from his double) tries to get adopted by his new clan (= his family to which he doesn't belong). So Eric is a pupil or novice. Eric learns with touching good will. We see him rehearsing elementary dance exercises. We listen to him imagining his apprenticeship in drawing with a six-fingered hand. We see him arduously drawing a circle or a face... Although these recurrent situations in E.D.'s work operate like more or less coarse and parody-like metaphors of the desire for inclusion, they also point to something of a real process. Alongside videos, there is now an acquired post-conceptual nomadism. But, as it happens, all the products resulting from this transaction with the institutional forms of contemporary art (= family customs) retain a character that is at once applied and scathing, and which sets them apart from the actual play in which everything is tied up--as if they were of the school of E.D. and not from his hand. Eric learns in a scholastic way. But just as, beneath his professorial disguise, Mr. Duyckaerts harbours a robot, so there is an elderly wild child who goes on living in the shadow of Eric-can-do-better. For if we put to one side the make-believe of art (which tallies with the trickery of knowledge the way the imaginary tallies with the symbolic), we are left with an anodyne and impossible sentence as the real: it is I who am an artist. Otherwise put, without the authority of any handed-on knowledge, without the fable of any objectivizable relationship, I (whatever this personal residue we call I may be) must be the subject of the artistic predicate. This is probably why the essence of E.D.'s work consists in filming Eric in the throes of doing what he can all alone--talking in an eloquent way, improvising, turning on the charm, lightening up the atmosphere, and keeping his cool until he's on the verge of toppling over: nothing terribly substantial, in a nutshell. This is why Josephine the singer has, in Kafka, a less than averagely insignificant voice--because it is she who sings, perhaps.

One night, to get me to, in a way, share his modesty, E.D. said to me: “We should acknowledge that you and I are riquiqui-- ridiculously small”. And I replied that in this declaration I heard his first name (= his name of the son), above all else. On reflection, I could have read in it more precisely a double dose of anxiety over the name of the father (Eric qui? qui?), just as much as a prompting to mirth against a backdrop of castration (which would quite nicely define the comic character). From the artistic viewpoint, though, I think that the riquiqui consists in a programme of substraction that is nothing less than anecdotal. Involved is a reduction of the work to its subjective conditions of production by having it, on the one hand, come up against the subject of modern science (with the signifier it relies upon) and, on the other, by dropping it with the ego, that unspeakable remainder, that ghost of habits, that fading old man. But in the bed of the work dessicated by this disbelief (by this decomposition), as in the cramped prison of the auto-video, we then see the emergence of amazing hybridizations (for example, when Eric plays Mr. Duyckaerts in front of E.D.'s camera), we are witnessing an infra-subjective drama, an interplay of subatomic misunderstandings where the distress (of separation) and the laughter (of confusion) are forever spilling over into one another. On the dismantled stage of the artist subject, scenes of dismantling still float; a second theatre looms: subliminal, wild, childlike, fearsome, quasi-posthumous. We recall that in order to promote their schizo-analysis, Deleuze and Guattari unhesitatingly declared: “There's nothing great, there's nothing revolutionary except minor literature.” I'd regret here likening the riquiqui--the ridiculously small--to the minor. Yet the choice of video (worked by E.D. like a non-medium, or a pre-modern medium, which comes to one and the same thing), the choice of self-filming, the choice of the discourse (or of a minimal theatre in general), all this points to a withdrawal from the legitimate, substantial and claimed forms of art. As if any certainty about what should be artistic or about what can't be artistic led perforce to an unbearable imposture. It's better to work outside, this is what E.D.'s very unauthoritarian work tells us.

These days, anti-authoritarianism is something so well conveyed in contemporary art that it can serve as a collective ideology, as a ministerial culture, or even as mere politeness, which, needless to say, doesn't hamper either symbolic assumptions of power or the consecration of predominant models. To grasp how the forms put forward by E.D. are anti-authoritarian in their actual making rather than in their ideological appearance, I think we should show how they articulate exteriority with familiarity. For example, the formal basis of most of the works on screen is a sort of video-conference, i.e. a communications switchboard, with which the public is quite well acquainted, that has no particular artistic aura (we are well removed from Joseph Beuys' charismatic classes), and which leaves the onlooker sitting in the distracted comfort of habit. So E.D. works this form in the direction of flexibility, he takes it just when it is becoming deformalized in the TV medium, there to degenerate into a clip, a flash, a popularization session, a simple televised address or an evening class, all parodies. And in such a way that the form becomes both more accommodating and less definable. There's no authority without distance. The types of knowledge summoned by E.D. retain enough logical precision to contrast sharply with the artistic context. Yet, as they are taken in the loose form of the conference, they lose the authority associated with their removal and become like discourses where we can visit their exteriority at leisure and touch the faraway even with our still intimidated tourist's fingers. Similarly, E.D. brilliantly tones down the instrument of his eloquence in such a way as to lend it an amateur or weary character (chit chat, spiel, speech) which disguises its excellence. And at the same time, he accuses the artificiality of certain factors (crazy digressions, excessively beautiful transitions); and this slight redistribution of the natural and the artificial makes us feel in the age of oratorical art both the wear and tear of the over-familiar and the uncanniness of the superannuated. Dead life, cold kindness, pedantic frivolity, absurd ingeniousness, good-natured worry, internalization without innerness. The anti-authoritarian form is constructed by way of a sort of neutralization, or, better put, a sort of cancellation of aesthetic forces. Nothing must have taken place--all grasp must be defused and all salience warded off. I suppose that this undertaking of balancing or equilibrism has the task of fighting off the humiliation and terror of a sadistic scene, of which the educational and psychoanalytical scripts bear the half-erased sign.

Here is a work that is too amusing, too narrow, too specialized, too nonchalant and too gifted to be pigeonholed anywhere other than on the outskirts or among the curiosities. It is perhaps this that spreads the average intelligence of the mediocrity of the age--and it's the opposite that is true. Artistically speaking, the position of exteriority probably represents the keenest awareness of what is at stake in the game. Now, I don't know any artist who articulates this position with greater precision than E.D. Starting from the form of the commentary, his earliest videos escape from the territory and settle in a no man's land. The detachment of the tone sounds like a promise of withdrawal, and the determination to get this detached tone to vary ends up by keeping this promise--we proceed to the nowhere tape. Then the very special articulation of the components establishes an exteriority within each work, for every analogy and homology seems to carry with it the reason for its abolition. In the same vein, the medium stops offering the image of traditional innerness and memory-material in which modernity has wanted to find the last bastion of artistic autonomy. On the contrary, it is reduced to the sum of analogies and homologies between theatre, eloquence, video, logic, editing, dance and all the arts and techniques, minor and major alike, which may tie in with those I've just mentioned. It invariably retains the spareness of a demonstration. Collages with mainstream culture and scholarly culture bring in a more real distance than the usual transfers of mass-media and minority collections--because these particular cultures turn out, once and for all, to be more external to art than hip-hop. But the crucial invention is, in my look, that of the dual character--Mr. Duyckaerts/Eric--who improbably embodies being outside oneself, being outside the world and being outside the work itself. Without this dual character, none of the forms of exteriority I have expressed would find their common point of abyss.

Joseph Mouton
Translation : Simon Pleasance

Biographical notes translated with the support of the Centre national des arts plastiques - Cnap.