Hans Ulrich Obrist : a conversation with Jean-Luc Moerman
HUO : The first time we met we were in your workshop in Brussels. Would like to know your method of working in this studio. You sometimes get together with other artits here. And sometimes, you also leave the studio altogether to go and work somewhere else, such as when you work in situ, for example, or when you infiltrate other spaces through the use of graffiti, mural paintings or stickers. How do you organise the studio and these movements oustide the studio?
JLM : The main idea is that the studio is like the nucleus of an explosion and what we do outside the studio is the impact. Whenever I go out, I always have stickers with me, wich I put in different places. These stickers are like urban tattoos. Sometimes people unstick them and put them up somewhere else, so they have as sort of autonomy of their own. Just like the idea of sameness in biology (a unit of cultural transmission or a unity of imitation), a sort of infectious image which, invented by one person, is spread by others, and gets stronger and stronger. When I work outside in the street, the confrontation is fairly direct : images are imposed on people and the redaction is immediate (by contrast to art galleries, museums, etc.) Like these logos whcih I sometimes put on signposts. This enables an infectious image to be created which car propagate almost anywhere. When I come back to the studio, I have the impression that I'm bringing back items which have acquired a life of their own.
HUO : Do the two mutually feed each other ?
JLM : Yes, permanently, the studio and the work in the street constantlly feed each other. Where collaboration is concerned, I would like to go further into the idea of working together under a single logo, so that people no longer know how many we are : sometimes we work together as two, sometimes as three. The idea would be to have this logo, and to vall upon different people according to the context I'm working in at the time. The logo has to be understandable in a primitive sense, which means as a human activity which has been going on cince the start of time and which consists of marking our a territory. And in the wame way, there's a political aspect to the logo which forces people to see humanity in all its global aspects, forming part of a same space, without there being any personal names any more.
HUO : The logo comes from your name: is it already defined as a logo ?
JLM : Yes, it's been used in my work for the past five or six projects or exhibitions, as a sticker, or painted on the wall, or on windows, on all sorts of supports. Each time I pu this logo in context, I would also like to have it tattooed on me.
HUO : It isn't a particularly simple logo. Usually a logo is a basic shape.
JLM : Yes, this is true, it is fairly complex. The idea is of three arms which move in a circular manner towards the interior. The more this logo comes back, the more impact it will have according to the context and the elements of life.
HUO : Does it change or is it always the same logo ?
JLM : It has been evolving for a year, but there is a central form which always remains I'm always drawing in sketch books, and I use these drawings later by reworking them on the computer.
HUO : This logo is therefore the result of design activity. Could you tell me more about this design activity? Is all the rest - stickers, graffiti - also the result of this? You work on design every day, but do you have archive work?
JLM : I am not a graffiti artist. I've got quite a lot of friends in this domain, with whom I even work closely. I am from the same social background and I share the same musical tastes, but I don't go on the railway to spray trains. As far as design is concerned they are classified in files by year. I design on A5 format sheets, it's the first thing I do every morning when I get up.
HUO : There is a very stong link between the emergence of graffiti in New York and Hip Hop. You yourself rarely work without music, there's always a link. What role does music play for you?
JLM : I spend a lot of time looking for music, it's a real source of nourishment for my work. I found a sort of basic energy in the musicl universe of Hip Hop just recently : an authenticity, a cry of revolrt, a survival energy. This energy has helped me a great deal mysefl. Music has the capacity to breathe immediate strength into you. you only have to see certain concerts, see what certain groups can make pass through the public instantaneously. This is the most human thing, the most direct thing, that exists in art. I need to go and find thigs from Afro-American music; my father used to listen to everything to do with soul music (Tamla Mowtown)
HUO : Your father was a musician ?
JLM : No, but he listened to a lot of music, and that got into me. I find that the energy of rap is now starting to build up bit by bit. You can sens that the peple who needed to get a messagr over at the beginning displayed a certain sort of rage which was linked to ther whay of life, but for a lot of rappers now it"s just business and style. I am now looking more towards hardcore Amercian music. Certain groups were inspired and the skate-board culture. Groups like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Deftones, Rage Against the Machine, etc.
HUO : Have you turned towards this music because of the commercialisation of Hip Hop ?
JLM : What is powerful in the Hip Hop movement is that by contrast to the punk groups, despite their refusal of the system, they have used capitalism to their own ends. The punk movement split up of its own accord, whereas certain rappers now represent veritable empires (SnoopDogg, Dr. Dre, etc.) whilst still being able to connect with the world of crime etc. But the groups I admire the most are groups like NWA or Wu-Tang which really had a message.