Jacques Lizène, No Design (ha ! ha ! ha! ) (En)

NO DESIGN, HA ! HA ! HA !

Whatever we may know of Jacques Lizène, we know how fruitful his first creative years have been. Admittedly, the term seems inappropriate, since the small-time Master decided in 1965 never to procreate, a position he confirmed in 1970 with his «Vasectomie (sculpture interne) » (Vasectomy (internal sculpture)), one of the most fundamental works in his oeuvre of Art with Attitude, but the fact of the matter is that Lizène, in a dozen years, will develop an impressive body of ideas which he will continue to expound through remakes and remakes of remakes. Even the years at the Liege Academy were fertile and inventive, probably more imaginative in the hallways than in the studio, which is of no importance as soon as one deliberately chooses the path of Mediocrity and Art without Talent. Jacques Lizène for a long time visited the plaster casts of antiquity that haunt the halls of the Academy, a large number of which are moulded in two parts. This is the very principle that underlies his Syncretic Art, conceived in 1964: « to cross all sorts of things, animals, faces, architecture, trees, cars, chairs, sculptures. » Or even: « to cut and mix two styles. »

We may remember how Man Ray, in 1924, photographed an African statuette facing a Greek figure; he submits the composition to the Dada periodical and titles it « Black and White. » Two years later, he creates the series « Black and White », famously bringing together the face of Kiki de Montparnasse and an African mask. In 1964, Jacques Lizène makes pathetic little drawings, sometimes treating them as designs for sculptures, tracing crosses between statues from Antiquity and African sculptures. In 1971, at the time when he develops his treatise on Genetic Interrogation and basic acids (A.G.C.T) he hybridizes Kiki and the mask, as a tribute to Man Ray after Man Ray, which he will later refer to as « Post Art ». Since then, he will continue to practice mating, incessantly, but he alters, offends, transgresses, welcomes the disharmony and even takes delight, on occasion, in rendering it imperceptible. He syncretizes the top of a Hindu sculpture using the triple vegetal flexion and the legs of an African statue, crosses a pine tree and a palm tree, hybridizes a camel and a bovine animal, fish, crossbreeds houses, windows, furniture, vases, airplanes or automobiles, he geneticises faces that turn into masks and in this way connects with the grotesque, with abnormality, which incidentally has long been repressed by positivist art history. Syncretic Art will quickly lead him to the genetic interrogation, to the genetic sculpture. Sex, death, genetics have haunted the Lizènean oeuvre since its inception.

Concerning his « Contraindre le corps » (Constraining the body) (1971) and his plan to apply this principle to « all kinds of bodies, naked, dressed, even the bodies of policemen, » Jacques Lizène told me that in fact at the time, he was looking for ideas that he could repeat endlessly, « like Daniel Buren, he said, or Roman Opalka. » Initially his Syncretic Art, and later his Genetic Sculpture, are of that order: a process, making possible a multitude of repetitions. For a long time, these sculpture projects remain lousy drawings or mediocre collages, preferably photocopied. This makes sense when, additionally, one assiduously practices procrastination. It was not until the late 90s that the small-time Master began cutting up small chairs and furniture. In this way, he creates improbable crossings and worthless sculptures (1980): Jacques Lizène composes incongruous meetings, organizes crashes between disparate elements and adjusts their collisions.

In a large pandemonium made up of flea market items, he cuts up chairs, crosses all kinds of styles. Crossed chairs, rickety chairs, these objects are stupid, and thus singular, hybrids, crossbred in pairs like chromosomes. Lizène hangs his chairs against the wall, turns them into tribal totems, creates frames of chairs. In his case, chairs are rarely placed on the floor; instead, they dance, buckle, or stand asleep. Already worked out in 1964, these projects are ramshackle bodies, on the verge of collapse, as gangly as the small-time Master and his « Danse Nulle » (Worthless Dance) (1980). They are absent and dissected bodies, skeletons, frames, reminiscent of the Specific Art of 67-70 in the way they question the specificity of the medium.

Lizène cuts up furniture. Happily, the furniture collapses and wobbles. The disaster is exhilarating. Dressers and buffets are hybridized in the very same way, in the incompleteness of a submersion, an engulfment; it is an everlasting Shipwreck of glances (2003). The small-time Master (Petit maître) (1969) of Worthless Art (Art nul) (1966), discomposes  furnishings, places still lifes dedicated to clumsiness on the furniture (1974), matches them with cracked (1964) and overturned marines (1970), places them in neo-Deco settings (1987), covers the mirrors with new worthless abstractions (1987), with neo-floral style patterns (1991), and syncretic masks (1964). Operating within a startlingly self-referential system, Lizène turns projects, proposals, and worthless ideas – each and every single one always clearly connected to its date of conception – into unbridled devices. « The principle of tinkering, remarks anthropologist Bertrand Hell, is ontologically related to the function of the master of disorder. But this principle does not only govern the form and sequence of rites. It also serves to keep open the system of the representation of the invisible. This can be thought of as a frozen, immutable, world. » And Bertrand Hell adds: « In their makeshift art, the masters of disorder know how to pull several strings. There is one that particularly stands out with regard to our Western concept of religion, and that is humour « 1. The Lizènean humour as it takes shape in his «Tentatives de Sourire » (Attempts at Smiling) (1973) is the formidable engine of his oeuvre.

His « archéologies contemporaines » (contemporary archeologies) (1966), « traces de maisons démolies » (traces of demolished houses) and other « buildings gondolants » (warped buildings) (1964-66), his interest in the crack and the fissure (1964) which will lead to the « morcellement de cimaise » (fragmentation of the picture rail) (1970) make it very clear, as does his submersion of cut-up furniture: Jacques Lizène resuscitates Ruinism but jumbles its established concepts. This reminds me of what Sophie Lacroix has written on the critical function of ruins2: « The ruin, then, is that great body which has lost its founding principle, and which has become nothing more than a multitude of fleeting, accidental connections. The ruin is not a residue left by an action that has already taken place; it is the representation of an actual action, because what distinguishes it is the conjunction of a deconstructive action and the energy at work in this very deconstruction, which prevents us from seeing this deconstructive tendency as an abstraction or derealisation. » There exists in the Lizènean chaos an unpredictability that is as surprising as it is stimulating.

In a deliberate chaos, disorder becomes, in fact, systematic. Lizène reverses furniture, just as he reverses all values and established systems. When, on the occasion of the Biennial of Design, he is offered to exhibit his productions, he immediately replies: « Yes, but it will be No-Design, » which he punctuates with a great « Ha! Ha! Ha! « defusing, with his laughter, any possible discourse on this unique approach of two different but not unrelated domains. If we mention the hybridity of some pieces of furniture created by artists, architects or designers of today, he responds stating the principle of the « culture of coincidence » or his Theory of apples: « Everyone has painted apples, but the apples of Cézanne are not those of Matisse, nor those of Picasso. » Facetiously, he adds: « I may have had some of my own Jean Gris sometimes. » By entitling the exhibition « No Design, » Jacques Lizène once again disqualifies his own works, and incidentally sets out, in contrast, to magnify the style furniture bought by collectors. « Worthless design, he says, sometimes writing ‘disign’ the way he pronounces it in his nasal voice, is a way to exist facing the multitude. » The dictum of his declaration of 1975 is indeed unambiguous: « Informed collectors, you must acquire a piece of Mediocre Art by Lizène to highlight your style furniture and your master paintings! » The small-time Master would even be willing, as evidenced by his first draft of his 1975 advertisement-style catalogue, to make « cuts » in his own paintings in order to highlight a « design chair » here, an « antique piece of furniture » there. His creations are « but a pittance for the wealthy », he announces on « Peinture Marchandise – Peinture Prestige » (Merchandise Painting – Prestige Painting) (1976), a « poor joke » that functions as an emblem. Its slogan? « This art object is a model that makes its buyer look good. To purchase it, is to create « . Jacques Lizène will constantly delay this advertisement-style catalogue project. He will have it produced in 2004 as a video clip. Lizène has his own works included, like « graphic palettes », in the decor of an antiques gallery and a showroom of contemporary furniture, both considered « high-quality ». We can see the small-time Master wandering around, contemplating some of his works in these stylish environments. The soundtrack is a sequence of discrete exclamations of admiration with music in the background, here, quite exceptionally, intended to seduce. Meanwhile, for an exhibition in Paris, Lizène realised, « a worthless exhibition/video installation, from to a draft of 1971, for a “fly” collector (1992), a jumble of video monitors installed in armchairs in the lounge of the collector , together with « a high-speed centrifuge with a distorted sound cassette player. » He also designs « picture rails for trendy collectors », and installs among his works a chair, a TV, a small table and a green plant (2006), a set-up designed primarily for contemporary art fairs, these places where ‘trendy’ collectors meet (2009, various remakes). Push him out the door, and the small-time Master will come back through the window, which, in passing, he will have made sure to bend out of shape (undulating frames, 1966): Jacques Lizène also designs “floor plans for apartments of eccentric VIP collectors « (2012), presenting a precise arrangement of his works in order to highlight, in contrast … we know the rest. He even offers to cover an outside brick wall of this residence with a faecal matter painting (1977).

Always reactive, he designs this exhibition as a furniture showroom, crosses one of his chairs with half a prototype of the F02-09 chair by the young Liège-based designer Frederic Richard and finally has an advertisement-style publication (1975) to accompany the exhibition, to which he adds, in passing, some unrealized projects. His « AhAhAarchitectures! » for example, sculptures on large aircraft wheels that can be entered, with folding stairs, with solar panels, Priapus-shaped chimneys, hanging gardens, smoke fountains and ultra-flat screens which he obviously likes to be hung at an angle. Or these shelters inhabited by primitive and rudimentary arrangements of small couples that run to catch their bus, ithyphallic little men and big bottomed neo-rupestral little women (1966). Or the misaligned bicycles and gusseted mopeds, devices invented to be stored in corners. Or, finally, this inflatable museum floating in the Tokyo sky, accessible by vacuum elevator; a museum that hosts a permanent virtual exhibition (1983-1993) of works by the small-time Master of Liège.

With an obstinacy that is quite uncommon to the closed circuit that is his Art with Attitude, this continual fascination for idiotic reversals of perspective (stupid Art, 1971) which may even bring him to reverse the actual course of an exhibition (1998), this continual burlesque unfinishedness, this ability to break with all academic conventions, rehashing, then, everything that seems established, Jacques Lizène, artist of the unimportant, occupies the position of a ritual clown or a ceremonial buffoon, an institutionalized transgressive figure of chaos and turbulence. In the « mad houses » of certain native American societies, where the madmen are sometimes also called « Contrarians », everything is arranged in reverse: the roof is upside down, posts are set up outside, the fireplace is reversed3; like « Ahaharchitectures » of sorts, they are meant to draw laughter from the community. The « Contrarians » express the censored, the repressed, every single one of their actions is meant to reverse the custom and the rule, flaunting, to the point of impropriety, what today would be called the politically incorrect. Without a doubt, this is the role assumed by Lizène Jacques, this transgressive figure « which, in the words of Jean de Loisy, constantly revives the endless game of chaos and order, thus foiling the coercive attempts of consensus « 4. I don’t know if Jacques Lizène goes down the escalator backwards. I know, however, that one of his first behavioural pieces from 1964 consisted of « going up and down two adjoining escalators for an hour. » A foolish act, if anything. Circuit closed. The laughter aroused by Lizène has a tragic side; the « Shipwreck of glances » is a consciousness to the world.

Jean-Michel Botquin
Liège, June 2012


1 Bertrand Hell, Les Maîtres du Désordre, Quai Branly, Paris, 2012.

2 Sophie Lacroix, Ce que nous disent les ruines, la fonction critique des ruines, L’Harmattan, 2007.

3 Laura Makarius,  mélanges et nouvelles,  Journal de la Société des Africanistes, vol. 39, 1969, p.241.

4 Jean de Loisy, Les Maîtres du Désordre, Quai Branly, 2012.