Olivier Kosta, Herbier, 2005 Flame of a cigarette lighter on ceiling Galerie Octave Cowbell Metz, France

Olivier Kosta, Herbier, 2005 Flame of a cigarette lighter on ceiling Galerie Octave Cowbell Metz, France

In occasione della VI edizione di Live Art Week, che si terrà a Bologna dal 26 al 29 aprile 2017, ATPdiary ha deciso di fare degli approfondimenti su degli artisti che vi performeranno. Live Arts Week è un programma tutto dedicato alla performance presentato dall’organizzazione culturale bolognese Xing. Quest’anno verranno attivati gli spazi della Ex GAM di Bologna, che nel 1977 ospitò la Settimana Internazionale della Performance.

Segue un’intervista a Olivier Kosta-Thèfaine (vive e lavora tra Roma e Parigi).

Con Squatter, regarder le ciel Olivier Kosta-Thèfaine si insedia per alcuni giorni nello spazio della Ex GAM. Qui svolge una sua attività, seminascosto su un trabattello e visibile solo in uno squarcio di tempo che potrebbe essere indefinitamente lungo. La superficie da affrontare è enorme. Con una tecnica sapientemente maturata nel corso degli anni, usa gli effetti cromatici prodotti dalla combustione della fiamma di un accendino per comporre figure puntillistiche sul soffitto. Questi graffiti possono ricordare una certa tradizione decorativa bizantina o moresca, forse importata dai nuovi immigranti della banlieue, ma non si tratta di questo. La vastità dello spazio da riempire – un intero cielo – corrisponde al tempo dilatato di un lavoro non richiesto. Abitanti annoiati squattano vasti edifici periferici, corridoi e trombe delle scale in cemento. Questi sono i luoghi di un incontro possibile tra vandalismo e poesia.

With Squatter, regarder le ciel Olivier Kosta-Thèfaine installs himself at Ex GAM for some days. Here he carries out his activity, half-hidden on top of some scaffolding, visible only within a shred of time that could be of infinite length. The surface-area that he must contend with is enormous. With a technique that has been expertly honed over the course of years, Kosta-Thèfaine uses the chromatic effects produced by the flames of a cigarette lighter to compose pointillist figures on the ceiling. If we are deprived of this preliminary information, these markings might remind us of a byzantine or Moorish decorative tradition, perhaps imported by new migrants to the banlieue; but this isn’t what the piece is about. The vastness of space to be filled – an entire sky – corresponds to the expansive length of time of an unnecessary labour. Bored inhabitants squat vast peripheral buildings, concrete corridors and stairwells. These are the places of a possible encounter between vandalism and poetry.

ATP: Let’s start from how you describe yourself, a “landscape painter”. Can you explain this? 

Olivier Kosta-Thèfaine : Within the term “landscape painter” there is the most classical idea of painting, that of going outdoor with an easel, some oil painting and some brushes… I like the way that the first perception of my work can be so romantic, a bit naive in a way. People can imagine me going outside in a most classical format to paint a landscape and then realise that my work is not exactly the one they had in mind.
This is the whole story about my work, playing with meaning, a title and an object for example. The first can bring you in one direction, the latter show you a reality, and viceversa.
Of course the term “landscape painter” deals with cliché and I am clearly not a real landscape painter, but I definitely observe my environment and translate it.

ATP: Why and from which point of view do you investigate the urban dimension?

OKT: I spent a big part of my life in the parisians suburbs and I remember that as a kid I was making a lot of effort to go to Paris, but Parisian never did the same to pay a visit to the suburbs. I think this was fundamental for my work: putting periphery at the center of attention.
As a self-taught artist I started observing my environment, the place where I lived for ages, the landscape that I knew perfectly.
My suburb quickly became the subject of my artistic practice, based on its observation: playing with neglected elements or clichés, transforming details, taking the worst from where I come from to transform it or to translate it into something more acceptable for the audience.

ATP: “In his desire to rehabilitate the uninteresting or the connoted, the artist repositions the often-inextricable power relations of the city within the realm of poetry”. What value does poetry assume in your work?

OKT: In fact, in general, the elements I am interested in are not the ones that the public is interested by, or more precisely that they don’t notice.
In my practice there is this idea of being amazed by the commonness of everyday life.
The city mustn’t be lived passively… an anti-intrusion metal grid can become a painting, a piece of adhesive tape, a flower. The asphalt of a cracked pavement can become, once re-installed, a small mountain range. There is what we see, and what we can perceive. The city is not necessary that place which we just live, streets which allow to go of a point A to a point B, the city can be also the cymbalaria muralis, this small purple flower which grows on old walls.

Olivier Kosta - Théfaine at work

Olivier Kosta – Théfaine at work

ATP: Anti-classicism, vandalism, twisting of cliché and common references…are some aspects of your research. Can you explain their meaning in your work?

OKT: Most of my research is based on the perception of an audience. I play with words, meaning, history and story, where I find what people are interested in and what I am looking at. Is vandalism only vandalism or could vandalism be a masterpiece? As an artist in residence at Villa Medici, I spend most of my time outside, taking advantage of the city to create new pieces in my studio. Of course Roma is crazy and the heritage is amazing. Sometimes I follow the tourists, but most of the time I go against the flow.

ATP: For Live Arts Week VI you are going to do the activity “Squatter, regarder le ciel” at Ex GAM. Can you tell us in what does it consist?

OKT: ”Squatter, regarded le ciel” (“Squatting, looking at the sky”) is directly linked to my first ever piece done with flame of the lighter, “Herbier”.
“Herbier” (“Herbarium”) deals with Parisian ghettos and it talks about the roughness of living in the suburbs, kids chilling in the halls of concrete blocks, smoking weed and making graffiti with flame of the lighter on ceiling. “Squatter, regarder le ciel” was the most sensible description of these daily activity in the suburbs. Graffiti with a lighter can be done only on a ceiling, and for that you definitely need to look towards the sky if you want to succeed. The title is also a reference to my last burned piece visible at Palais de Tokyo, called “Soffitto”, a mix between flame of the lighter cheap suburbs vandalism and the sky painting from Italian Renaissance. As a non performer, my activity for Live Arts Week VI will consist of the creation of burned sky painting on the ceiling of EX-GAM…

ATP: Why have you decided to use a cigarette lighter to create the chromatic effects you are interested in?

OKT: Since I was a kid, I lived in the Parisian suburbs. Coming from a concrete block, my main inspiration for my art was my environment.
My environment was full of graffiti, especially made with the flame of a lighter in the entrance hall of every housing block.
Young cats would just hang out all day and make this kind of “lighter graffiti”.
The first time I used this cheap act of vandalism was in 2005, after I found on the Internet a list of the “172 most dangerous concrete blocks in France”, edited by the French Ministry of Interior. In this list most of those concrete blocks had poetic names, which is common in France, mostly names of plants and flowers: poetics names for rough places to live.
After picking the plant names from this list, my idea was to then use them to create an ‘herbarium’ by writing those names with the flame of a lighter on the gallery ceiling. This provoked a strange feeling in the viewers: the poetic names of flowers written in a rough and dirty way, full of unexpected connotations.
The term ‘herbarium’ gives also a poetic feeling to the spectator: automatically you have in mind the idea of people going to the countryside, collecting flowers and plants in order to put them in a book for their own beautiful collection. My herbarium had strong political connotations: by writing with a lighter the names of the plants that coincide with the names of rough ghettos, people can directly understand that those ghettos are tough and that living there is not easy even if they are named after flowers. This piece was the first of a lighter flame series.

Olivier Kosta, Fiori, 2017, Brown tape on wall GNAM - Galleria Nazionale D'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea Roma, Italy  - Pic : Simon Brodbeck

Olivier Kosta, Fiori, 2017, Brown tape on wall GNAM – Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea Roma, Italy – Pic : Simon Brodbeck

Soffitto - 2016. Flame of a cigarette lighter on ceiling, detail. Palais de Tokyo Paris - FR. pic : Aurelien Mole

Soffitto – 2016. Flame of a cigarette lighter on ceiling, detail. Palais de Tokyo, Paris – FR. pic : Aurelien Mole