This year, Oscar Tuazon is taking over the Place Vendôme as part of the FIAC’s Hors les Murs programme. Using polyethylene pipe segments – usually employed for water-management purposes –, the American artist has come up with a (very) big-format work. Explanations.
By using simple or everyday materials, Oscar Tuazon carries out experiments that are often connected with the environment. A practice which allows him to shine light to the ecological issues that are so dear to him. In this case, the theme of water, in relation with the history of Paris, a city where the artist lived for a few years. Tuazon takes a unique approach to his sculpture practice: he focuses as much on materials as he is nourished by his relationship to text and writing.
Today represented in Paris by the Galerie Chantal Crousel, Oscar Tuazon lived in the French capital in the 2000s, and was cofounder of the gallery Castillo/Corrales in the Belleville district, along with critics Thomas Boutoux, François Piron and Benjamin Thorel. This research space – today closed, after eight years of existence – blended exhibitions and texts, debates and publishing. It was Oscar Tuazon who gave the venue its name, inspired by boxing fights. These days, the artist lives in Los Angeles, and continues to combine profoundly physical work with text, writing, poetry. For the carte blanche accorded to him by the Place Vendôme in Paris, he tells Art Media Agency that he immediately thought about a “horizontal monument. A human-scale monument that you can walk through. Like Gustave Courbet, who supported the demolition of the Vendôme column during Paris’ Commune period, this is the position I prefer for the column. It’s an ad hoc monument for water, in a city which was constructed around fluidity.” For the Place Vendôme, Tuazon has designed a performance practice which invites the spectator to walk through pipeline sections. The pipes are interrupted by tree trunks to encourage the spectator to “touch a tree and spend time in this environment. The sculptures construct a square and a series of spaces for the public.” When the artist – born in Seattle in 1975 and a former student at the Cooper Union in New York – resided in Paris, he found himself in an environment very different from the one he has now created. Along with a desire to nurture dreaming and ideas over the time of a stroll, Tuazon’s work is driven by genuine ecological commitment. In spring 2017, he wrote a long text for the magazine Paris, LA, asserting his involvement in the Quinault Indian Nation reserve to rally support for the protection of Lake Oahe. In this piece, Tuazon declares that water connects us to one another, supporting the ideas of Fawn Sharp, president of this group of tribes.
“The pipe, a hole that you can see through”
Oscar Tuazon’s sculptures and installations are always underlined by fluidity and flexibility, even if they offer rectilinear shapes – bringing to mind the Minimal Art from which he derives. We can identify a formal affinity between his work and that of Britain’s Anthony Caro or the more expressionist Mark di Suvero. Or else a connection with Arte Povera, namely in the attention he pays to going back to materials and their essence, as well as with Constructivism, in the elaboration of his geometric structures, which are sometimes very simple, not forgetting Land Art, present through his preoccupation with nature, and also the habitat.
In response to the question whether he feels influenced by two cultures, both American and European, Oscar Tuazon refers to the period when the gallery Castillo/Corrales was set up and the fact that he is familiar with Paris. Indeed, Tuazon took his first artistic steps in France, namely by writing a text for the young journal Metronome, created in 1996 by Clémentine Deliss. For the evening of the launch, this former assistant of Matthew Barney and Vito Acconci transformed his hotel room into a crude construction in which he installed a bar. It wasn’t the Vito Acconci known for his performances that Tuazon followed at the time, but one who put his mind to theories on construction…
This new invitation to Paris is a prolongation of Tuazon’s initial experience of the city. “I feel at home in Paris,” the artist says. “And what I do today is an extension of what I did when I lived there before. In addition, Xavier Douroux [former director of the Confort Moderne in Dijon, where Oscar Tuazon held his “Studio” exhibition in 2015] helped me to really grasp the possibilities of socially-aware public art dedicated to an ideal – very democratic in a way – of what art can be and how it can be used. There is incidentally an urgent need to create public art now, in New York and everywhere else in the world. Sculpture is made for people.” According to Tuazon, “an artistic creation achieves, at best, an idea. But tackling large-scale works means working outdoors, in contact with the public, with other people. A piece should generate something outside of itself, and Vendôme is a square that can interrupt flows and the way people see things. The pipe is therefore a type of optical system, a hole that you can see through.”
Oscar Tuazon constructs his structures himself. He likes to analyse his materials, which are generally quite simple, such as concrete, steel, wood or glass. Sometimes he adds an object to it, following in the footsteps of the ready-mades, but he tends to use “whatever works best for a particular function. For example, for this project, the thermoplastic pipes produced by Polypipe are a sustainable solution for large-scale water engineering. It’s a relatively sophisticated material, used to manage water flows, and which for me, takes on the qualities of a sculptural procedure, by working with materials and joining one object to another.”
The artist notes that the making of his sculptures led to the production of certain noises, a certain rhythm as well, comparable to a poem or sentence structure. This “click-clack” of materials can be likened to the clicking of tongues. Syntax and structure in this way go hand in hand – a movement of words accompanying that of the sculptural work, and vice versa…
Through his practice, Oscar Tuazon turns the spectator into a protagonist, set in action mode. “For me, the public becomes the actor, an idea that I’ve taken from Vito Acconci. He had great respect for his audience, even if he had strange expectations of them, and his work was a type of architecture-performance, a way to engage others in the creation. Performance falls in an unpredictable category, its result cannot be known in advance. This is why I hope to leave room for this practice.” Yet performance is one aspect of his work that he doesn’t tend to carry out himself: when he doesn’t leave the general public to take over his works, he enlists his poet or writer friends. Among them, Ariana Reines, an American poet with whom Tuazon has already collaborated, namely for the Modern Art Gallery in London in 2016. That particular exhibition, titled “Public Space”, showed sculptures inspired from monuments which, in Ancient Greece, were used for delivering speeches in public spaces. Sculptures with erectile forms whose starting point was the male character from a poem by Ariana Reines, Cœur de lion, published in 2007.
Water, a global preoccupation
Oscar Tuazon’s work highlights his very strong ties with nature. The artist lives in a district of Los Angeles which overlooks the untamed beauty of dense trees. A place where he comes across deer, foxes and other wild animals; indeed, photographs that he has taken of these creatures appear in some of his exhibitions. His taste for collaborative work is perhaps a form of revival of the community spirit of the 1970s when Americans fled their country’s overpopulated cities and coasts and headed inland. Often, Oscar Tuazon’s spaces erect bridges between the notions of exterior and interior. Offering a sense of immediacy, sometimes brutally, his work raises the issue of autonomy, both intellectual and geographic. He meditates on essential notions, questioning – we are reminded by Thomas Boutoux, in conversation with Chantal Crousel, during “Shelters”, Tuazon’s last solo show in Paris – the meaning of words such as “freedom” or “life”. At “Shelters”, the space in the gallery in the Marais held a shelter that gathered these notions, a fully functional shelter. Created to be used… A reminder of another of those words that fall easily from the artist’s mouth: commitment.
So how would the artist sum up his activity? Oscar Tuazon makes the following reply: “It’d be good to be able to sum it up in a single word… I think that a work is a powerful means of resistance at this present time. A sculpture can be like a hole in the world and an opening towards another reality. But it can be many things, too many to name. If I had to say something about the core of my system, it would be: I’m ready! Ready to work, ready to try things, ready to believe that an artwork can change the space around it. Art is created to be used, to be a place of debate and dissidence, a platform.” Yet while words are important for the artist, silence is also vital for him, and he concludes: “Even if I can create spaces that seem silent, I think that one of the most incredible things that can happen in a city is to find a moment of solitary tranquillity by yourself. I like to think that my work allows access to this, sometimes.” Tranquillity, at the FIAC, to reflect on the question of water, flood control, rainwater storage and the sustainability of resources… The future of this resource is a worldwide preoccupation. Water concerns Paris, but also, of course, Los Angeles, where the source is located far away, and rely on a multitude of pipelines. Without water, nothing exists. This is the message, in the form of an alert, which Oscar Tuazon – far removed from spectacular aesthetics – has decided to send at this edition of the FIAC.