FOUR QUESTIONS November 2014. We talk to Xavier Veilhan about his art work Julian.

Who is Julian?

Julian Opie is a well know British artist, a bit older than I, that I very much admire. I made his portrait in 2008 while in London working on the portraits of several architects like Tadao Ando, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, for my Versailles exhibition. Even though the scan was made 6 years ago, I never used it. But when looking for a standing figure for Ronneby that would fit in with the environment, Julian turned out to be perfect.

Working with sharp and flat areas you are avoiding details. What do you seek by this reduction?

The triangular facets are to me a reduction of the volume like the pixels or the dots are a reduction of the 2-D image. What interests me is to use this simplification because people already feel confident with it. It is something they understand, like the reduction of an image into pixels. If you had shown this to someone in the fifties, he would simply not have known what it is. It has become quite common now. You could say it’s a style of image, but I prefer to say it is a platform that people can understand. I erase the details is to focus on something more important to me: their posture and how they stand within their environment. I’m interested in the figure as a social character, not as an intimate one, as a silhouette walking down the street rather than somebody very close by. I see the figure isolated from a crowd and not in a one-to-one relation.

You are fascinated by perception, what we actually see and how. Could you elaborate how you think regarding this?

It is actually not really fascination. Perception is my tool, what I am using and what the people looking at my work are using. So I am more dealing with perception. I have to deal with it. It is the central matter of my work. Or rather, the people’s perception is at the center of my work. My aim is to displace the subject. It is not really about the work itself as a physical piece, but more as a device that will allow the public to develop a relationship to it. Without linking it to psychoanalysis, I would say I try to create “transfer objects”.

You have a long experience from installing art works in public space all over the world. What do you think is the difference of installing artwork in public places compared to installing them at art institutions like museums or galleries?

I am keen of the public space because no tricks are possible. There is only the piece within its environment, directly confronted to the real world, the buildings, the dense city and its movements. So you can’t really compete in this kind of atmosphere: there is always a building that is higher, a car that is faster. Most of the things are actually technologically more elaborate than the piece itself. For example the ATM machine next to it will be of no interest to anybody but technically much more developed. The phones that people are using in front of the sculpture are much more elaborate than the sculpture itself, which is just a piece of metal. What I like so much is that art in the public space is not only a representation of something, a metaphor, but also just a physical thing, much more so than in museums or galleries. There you find yourself in more of an in-vitro situation, where the piece of art is fully protected from the environment and the environment itself is made to be as neutral as possible. It is quite a complementary idea: in so called art spaces you can develop things that are more experimental while in a public space you have to go straight to the point and make something immediately understandable. A good example is my sculpture Jean-Marc on 53rd Street in NYC: just like Julian you can look at it while passing by without having to stop. Drive-through Art.

As a teenager I would wait everyday for the bus for 45 minutes to get home from school. The big bus station would be quite cold in the winter so I would go up in the next-door building where it was warmer and sit and wait on a bench. It was a public art center and I was sitting in the middle of all these pieces. Of little interest to me in the beginning, it did end up having a big impact on me, because I spent all that time there. My interest in art started in the public space.

Lotta Mossum in conversation with Xavier Vailhan.