Interview with Gérard Berréby, founder and director of the éditions Allia
Natalie Seroussi. How did you conceive the idea for “Voir de mémoire”?
Gérard Berréby. Wolman asked me to accompany him to the Schwitters exhibition at Beaubourg in 1995 along with his wife Charlotte and friend Dominque Thomas. We were completely alone in the gallery, which doesn’t happen everyday! Schwitters’ Ursonate was playing on loop. We were entranced by the voice of the sound poetry that followed us throughout the exhibition. Wolman was very sensitive to Schwitters’ work with transformation and collage. And that’s where he first told me of his idea to stage an exhibition that consisted of all the cartels describing Schwitters’ works hung at Beaubourg. It started with a note from 1973: “The creation is also what is left once the removalists have gone.” He wanted to call the exhibition “Voir de mémoire”. His work is full of word plays loaded with meaning, and sometimes tragic. Wolman was at once dramatic and joyful.
“Voir de mémoire” was the last idea for an exhibition that Wolman would realise – though without realising it. Not much later he made his last work, Les Inhumations, which I published. He died shortly after.
N. S. This exhibition is also a work of memory and narrative – the narrative of a work of art and of transmission…
G. B. Gil was preoccupied with transmission, but also with disappearance. And therefore, also with paradox. He gives, and at the same time he removes. Sometimes he gave me memories, but these were only ever fragments. Everyone had to complete them to interpret them in their own way. We can make endless commentary about Les Inhumations. There is not only one definitive interpretation, and, in this sense, his text is like the sacred texts that we never cease to read and comment on and interpret over the centuries.
N. S. Moreover, in Wolman’s texts, there is never punctuation, just like in the Bible. It takes the spoken word to understand what is written…
G. B. If you read his texts with your own breath, you place your own punctuation. And this personal punctuation is what gives the text a different meaning that it potentially already contains. It is never simple with Wolman, but it is also easy. And that’s the catch.
N. S. It’s incredible that Gil J Wolman was modern in his time and that contemporary artists of today refer to his work…
G. B. His work was both directed at the past and, at the same time, highly rooted in the present. His thinking about the word, the reproduction, the footprint, the portrait, the current affairs, the separation, the waste or the emptiness hoists his as the precursor to much current researches. There, when everyone takes a part, he finds himself at the centre and the others on the periphery. He loved to explore new tools, a problem which itself can be found integrated in his work. He was one of the first to have a computer, a fax, and he was also very quick to use video. He made what you could call “cut video”, by recording different TV programs – a political interview, a telemovie, etc. – as he flicked through the channels. Without warning he explored almost all of the trends that later developed in contemporary art.