Infra-visuel – La vie-matériel

Conversation avec Ben Kinmont

Ce texte reporte le premier échange que j'ai eu avec Ben Kinmont par email puis la discussion que nous avons eu le 23 septembre 2017 à Paris. La conversation a duré une heure pile mais ne fut enregistré que durant 8 minutes, par intervalles irréguliers, suite à une défection technique. La majeure partie de l’échange ne sera donc malheureusement pas retranscrit ici.

- Emails -

Marc Buchy : I'll start talking about one of your earlier work : "For you for me for painting". If I trust your website, you already did "street actions projects" earlier and raised the question of "social-sculpture" before this precise work.

Ben Kinmont : Yes.

MB : But this project seems to be the only one where you involved more classical art-objects (paintings) and reflections about the idea of the exhibition context and found a way to trick the art market. Here you seem to intermingle part of your "past" (the paintings) and what is/will become more and more important (the flyers, putting the artist out of the art world etc).

BK : True, to some extent. I still have watercolors and drawings in my projects as part of the archives, however.

MB : So my question is did you start your carrer with a more classical art practice and then took the direction that lead you to the point you are at today ? What made you shift from one to the other ? Was this project an important step for you and how did you decide to make this move ?

BK : The paintings were occurring at the same time as the street projects and conceptual work. The project-based work just became more urgent for me.

MB : Did this work allowed you to get rid of your past (doing more traditional art) and at the same time to lay the foundations of your further developments ?

BK : What you are referring to as "more traditional art" I would simply think of as work which was more made with my hands. At the time, I was interested in the space between the two discourses, the one you call "traditional" and that of the projects. But, in fact, both practices and types of making and doing things were (and are) equally valid for me. I realize that once the work is circulating in the art world the one type of making is seen as "traditional" but I never really understood this approach. Project art can also become traditional and simply reflective of what we already know an expect, and thus quite uninteresting. Equally, painting can create an experience that is radical and one of freedom, of meaning being made anew. It's just that one type of making, i.e. painting, can circulate more easily in the art system and therefore is often experienced as decorative and an expression of economic and cultural power.

- Conversation -

MB : So the first thing I contacted you about was my infravisual project, a theoretical text where I try to define what could be art without exhibitions, without visual goals. I wanted to include a discussion with you on the website. So I first heard about you when I was living in New-York, doing a post-master there. I came accross a text about what the autor called « occupational realism ». Which happen to be a weird word and concept. What do you feel about it ?

BK : To be honnest I don’t have too much of an opinion about it. The autor is the only person I have ever heard use it. But she is smart. She came and talk to me when she was working on the article. I was familiar with her, as she wrote a book about this group called the Art Workers' Coalition, in which Carl Andre and a couple of other people were part of in the 60s. It was a kind of artists get together group, organizing agains the Vietnam War. But it was also about to get rights for artists. A little bit like unions. So I knew her from that writing. I don’t know exactly but I think this occupational realism is an interesting idea.

MB But do you relate to it in a way ? I guess your project like “Becoming something else” could…

BK : Yes or “Sometimes a nicer sculpture…”, I guess that’s what she was especially interested in. The thing that I find interesting about it is that it is about –if I understood it correctly- it is that I think it is true that there are…


BK : (talking about “Sometimes a nicer sculpture is being able to provide a living for your family)… one other thing, they don’t understand contemporary art and I think, for me…

MB : So you deal with very different minds and spirit

BK : Yes totally. Different mind and spirit and… In fact if I talk about contemporary art with the rare book world people it usually goes very badly for me. They would rather that I didn’t talk about it.

MB : Oh, ok. So they would be like “please shut up about it” ?

BK : Well… they won’t be that upfront ! But for exemple they will say “Oh that’s interesting, you’re here for an art exhibition”


BK : … there are practical thing you have to know to be a bookseller. And do. Otherwise it doesn’t work. It’s like having a car : if you don’t know how to drive, it’s not gonna happen ! So for book selling I have to know how to catalogue the books, I have to know difference between 15th century binding or 17th century binding… You have to know your chops !

MB : But you are happy to know all these things ?

BK : Yeah yeah, very much so ! But I also do find it very interesting like…


BK : it’s fun to know like… I print things and distribute them on the street sometimes. And people were doing that in the 17th century also. And it’s interesting to know what they look like, why they did it, to whom they were distributing it…

MB : So this work is also you doing researches for yourself

BK : Yes, absolutely. And I always used to feel like artists are idiots. They are just looking at their work in the post-war year, or since 1960. I think they do that because it’s easier and it also give a bigger ego.

MB : Like…it’s fresh ?

BK : It’s fresh but it’s also like… if you look at your action as a human in a 500 hundred years period, it’s very much smaller than if you look at it in a 10 years period, right ? And it just changes the nature of it. For exemple, let’s think about printed texts. So texts are printed in the West since 1453. So it’s more than 500 years ago. If you look at printed material in just the last 10 years…


BK :….. it’s a matter of freedom and empowerment, as I was saying

MB : Yes I agree, with this role. […] and hoping maybe something will change.

BK : Yeah. Something will stick and be usefull


BK : …. I don’t think that making objects with your hands is better or worse than anything you would do with your mind.