BP, The new Nice generation, junction point between humour and technology

The term «BP» involves a group of three young artists who emerge as the new generation of the mythical Ecole de Nice. The generation of the 60’s, with Yves Klein, Arman and Martial Raysse, were part of the Nouveau Realisme and claimed the industrially made object in an attempt towards a critical apology of our civilisation on the one hand and, on the other hand, to transcend the question of art by suppressing the gap between art and Our modern world. The trend of the 70’s tended to have the methodology of Supports/Surfaces, which called for disruption of established rules in painting – those of its painted materiality and of its working process -, live together with the activity of artists, such as Ben, who chose to stick to words and played with the language in order to dismantle the mechanisms of art. From the Nou- veau Realisme to Supports/Surfaces without forgetting Fluxus, Nice has always favoured both group activities and some kind of a fun-related and stimulating art releasing an irony deprived of morbidity.

BP is both the heir of this typical Nice spirit and one of the evolving elements of a post-modern situation. These young artists, having professionally dominated the techniques and approaches of the very contemporaneousness, use them as their basic vocabulary to delineate a territory filled with references – nevertheless highly personal – through which they move about with subtle discrepancies leaving openings to poetry.

BP is furthermost a set of initials emphasizing a blurring of the various personalities involved, but it doesn’t have the controversial – even less political – violence that B.M.P.T.* could have, nor the pretention of stating a programme, as the I|.F.P. group has («lnformation, Fiction, Publicity»). No traces of a manifesto or prejudice are to be found. These two initials which, for everyone, refer to one of the seven big sisters of the oil industry – that is to say the British Petroleum -, along with connotations of world-wide circulation and financial intricacies, represent the semantic and formal field – deliberately limited – within the BP’s scope of action.

Their vocabulary is strictly a composite of reprocessed objects, such as oil barrels, pipelines, derricks, oil lamps, gas pumps or crash-barriers, which belong to the Petroleum world. According to these arrangements, used oil products or solvents are often called upon to create a mirror illusion either static or under unmeasurably slow motion. These signs have first been used as the basis of a questionning on the very initials: by taking into account its identity through quotations or tautology, they came to appropriate its mysterious reality.

Thence, the vocabulary was questionned in turn and the formal work has become more metaphorical.

As an example, the BP Fountains («Fontaines») concelved to function on various levels, are enriched by the fact that the viewer is grasped by an unprivileged overall perception. In this fashion, the word Fountain unmista- kably calls to mind Duchamp. But BP’s ready-mades are, for their part, slightly adjusted. They’re not mere gestures, but they are mostly metaphores. Metaphore of Oil, through conspicuous pointing out of gushing vectors or ways of conveying the precious liquid, thus implying its intrinsic money speculation. A perpetual and anonymous fluid motion.

Through these arrangements, an analysis of painting, by metonymy, is also carried out. The oil is granted a factor of nobleness. This velvet, shimmering, dense and translucent, attractive but unpregnable matter acts as a dark veil conveying obvious sensual beauty. Its intrisic filthy and repulsive reality is obliterated by the notion of «black gold», a magic and even poetic fluid.

As for the barrels, they are scrubbed, therefore relinquishing their status as residual objects to gain one of a more timeless and aesthetic nature in this way, BP clings closer to the heritage of Martial Raysse than to that of other Nouveaux Realistes who claimed transitory notions including those which allude to death and finality. They can be considered as totems honouring Painting in so far as painting (symbolised by oil) incaptures them. What was meant to be the contents in fact covers and conceals the containers. Through this subtle inver- sing process, BP deliberately conveys ambiguity. The mirror effects intervene at all levels and are a matter of multiple illusions and allusions: from Morris Louis in Oil Painting («Peinture à I’huile») to Christo or J.P. Raynaud, etc… in many others works.

They act a dual role (as publicity does): speech on the object and objects themselves, at the junction of painting, sculpture and architecture.

The mastering of technology and the use of objects entail a hesitation mark concerning the significance of these works. But taking it for granted that these objects are mere critical forms of consumption or technology would lead to a great misunderstanding; they are meant to create through subtle shifting, discreet subversion, a territory where imagination and poetry are condensed through a slackening of time (Such as the perpetual motion in the Fountains) and a statuary effect of space in the brown-oil mirrors.

Can’t one possibly decipher through these humourous, purely artificial and ambiguous devices a link between the Nice specific school of thought and the new form of Post-Modernism in Art?

Laurence DEBECQUE-MICHEL Summer 1988

* initials for the group including BUREN, MOSSET, PARMENTIER and TORONI.

OPUS INTERNATIONAL, N° 109, Juil.-August 1988