Since preparing the exhibition Hors Limites – l’art et la vie in 1994 at the Mnam-Pompidou Center, which was about the origins of happening and performance, I have been interested in the work of Guy de Cointet. His work is important today as its forms investigate language, graphic design, staging and pop culture (for instance through the structure of soap operas). He was a reader of Duchamp, Roussel and Barthes. In the guise of one of his fake magazine critics, de Cointet once described himself as follows:
“If you crossed James Joyce with Marcel Duchamp, added Harold Pinter, Roland Barthes and a dash of Sesame Street, you’d get a lumpy prototype of Guy de Cointet. He’s a mild-mannered Frenchman who braves the outermost wilderness of language, fashioning plays, operas, books and drawings that make alphabet soup of our most cherished linguistic packaging. Orthodox thinkers beware.”
My research on de Cointet now covers a period of over 10 years:
1- In 1994 I curated Hors Limites – l’art et la vie at the Mnam-Pompidou Center: this exhibition questioned what performance is and traced its archeology from happening to Matthew Barney. During the making of this show I first met Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelly and through them discovered the work of Guy de Cointet.
2- In 1996 I curated and Gravity together with Paul McCarthy at the CNAC Magasin. The show was about Guy de Cointet, Wolfgang Stoerchle, and Bas Jan Ader. In parallel I organized Allen Ruppersberg’s first retrospective.
3- In 2004 I curated the first European survey of de Cointet’s work, titled Who’s that Guy? at MAMCO, in Geneva. This exhibition included his props and sets and prompted the question of how to present these in a museum.
4- In 2006 the exhibition Faire des Choses avec des mots/Making Words with Things took place at CRAC in Sète. On the occasion of this show a remake of de Cointet’s play Tell Me was staged, with the original actresses and props.
5- In 2007 a second remake of Tell Me was performed at the Tate Modern in London, co-curated with Catherine Wood. The cast again consisted of the original actresses, but the props were remade for the play. It then traveled to STUK in Leuven and Festival a/d Werf in Utrecht.
6- In 2008 I curated Not to Play With Dead Things at Villa Arson in Nice with Eric Mangion. This exhibition took as its central focus the trace of performance, in a double sense. Firstly we asked, what do we do with objects that were ‘acted’ in a performance and what is their status? Secondly, we questioned, what remains of performance today and what can be a next step?
7- Now I am one of the participating curators in If I Can’t Dance’s Performance in Residence programme. We’re involved in the making of de Cointet’s last work, Five Sisters. Our aim is not to look back, but to take a new step, and to ask ourselves, at the start of the 21st century, how do we play this work?