Paraponaris, reproduction and metamorphosis

At the beginning of the 1990s, one year after graduating from the School of Fine Arts in Marseilles, Hervé Paraponaris produced a series of drawings using rust, combining his preoccupation with rubbish and recycling, his love of raw materials, his insistence on gratuity, his Mediterranean gene pool, his industrial inheritance and his fascination with the octopus. « The octopus is so well adapted to its environment that it is hard to spot it, it melts into it – especially in the way it moves: it moves while swallowing its environment and spitting it out. » Organism highly integrated in his environment, Paraponaris is also consuming and spitting with a double net result: in the first place, the metamorphosis happens in the process; and then the movement generated by this metamorphosis allows the artist to move forward.
At the end of the 1980s, in his fourth year at the School, Hervé Paraponaris combined the building genius of his father, team manager in naval construction, and the meticulousness of his mother, a seamstress, in the construction with wood matches of a roller-coaster on the horizontal surface of a statue, which had been knocked down. He set fire to the matches, took photos of the event under its only light, and rebuilt the roller-coaster on the remains of the fire. Hervé Paraponaris talks about this work as the portrait of his father, burnt to death accidentally at work. Through the reappropriation, the diversion and the fire of the plaster copy of a statue representing an Old Testament king, the son reproduces the father. Looping.
Paraponaris shares with old art theories, such as Kant's, the idea that creating means taking over a universal process, everywhere at work – creating is not a solitary act transcending the world, but the participation in a constant molt. More precisely, this act is divided into three parts: « appropriation, metamorphosis and redistribution ». Paraponaris breaks down the artistic process, in a way which has a disturbing connection with the very movement of animal life, which actually consists of catching, ingesting and regurgitating. There is a parallel here in how part of the world's material around us has been transformed within ourselves; another part has been rendered to the world.
A skeleton in fetal position, holding a revolver between its teeth, a pearl necklace around its neck and between its legs a faceted ball with a candle on top, his Autoritratto al revolver came much later than the father's portrait. As here everyone is dead – the artist is a skeleton, the father, a recumbent effigy, one should probably see, as in Camus' writing, the reverse side of an inextinguishable and voluptuous desire to live. If, in Hervé Paraponaris' readily conceptual and always meticulous work, one cannot read a powerful sensuality, a young girl sensibility, and a enraged anchoring in the physical world, one may probably have missed the point. His work is fundamentally carnal; let's enter it with the necessary voluptuous delight. He cites Paul Thek: « At this moment, there was such a tendency in favor of the minimal, of the non-emotional, that I wanted to say something about the emotion, about the horrible face of things. I wanted to bring back the crude characteristics of human flesh into art. »
The work does not intend to give meaning to this world – it is the world which irrigates the work. The condition of the individual is fragile, more tenuous and less real maybe than this living power which, from generation to generation, reproduces and metamorphoses. Life itself spends its time collecting, transforming, redistributing. That's why Hervé has been creating through Hugo Paraponaris, reproducing the drawings from dreams and nightmares that he found in his young son's sketchbook. It is because life constantly generates that it can degenerate. In one of his drawings from dreams, Hugo represented his father « as a rider of monsters » and the family home as the Babel Tower. Louise, his daughter, transcribed with metallic ink a city's maps on paper towel for his project Louiseville (Louise City). This city and this project gave way to M.U., Mediterranean Underseas, a project for a sub aquatic subway linking the countries of the Mediterranean.
Dreams, nightmares, reproductions, metamorphosis. We must seriously take this analogy, which does not consist in saying that Paraponaris is an octopus, but that in some respects, his attitude in life, his management of existence, the way he participates in creation which is everywhere at work allow to reconsider the genius of the octopus which is one of the animal life's expressions of genius – of the moving, deep, disturbing, exciting, agonizing beauty of this world which for better or for worse, is alive.
The reproduction must be considered in this context. The question of the reproduction has then been animating the dramatic effects of biological life for a longer period than the debates in art history. Reproduction, copy, double, duplicate, forgery, replacement, theft, disappearance, metamorphosis: this is where we find Paraponaris' stolen objects and where they take up their meaning. For us, mankind, creating always means doing over again, there exists a thousand ways to appropriate the starting material; a thousand ways to transform it; a thousand ways to distribute it again. Quietly remaining in the legal commercial line, regulated by the purchase and the sale, is unusual for a child who was born in the poor areas of Marseilles – and completely absurd for an octopus. The sentences by the police which replace the stolen objects when they are seized at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseilles demonstrate the net difference existing between the natural space and the legal space.
It is not only as an artist or a builder that Paraponaris has to this extent invested the public space – inventorying by reflex the objects that have been left, using them if necessary, buying the copyright of the shopping-cart-house of a homeless from downtown Marseilles, building roller skateparks that are also squares, setting up scaffoldings. It is essentially like a primitive: because the public space is for Paraponaris what water is for the octopus. The environment he uses to create and move forward. Public space must then be understood in the most literal sense, and the most universal; space = public.
The key to reading Hervé Paraponaris’ work lies in the art – in the most prosaic sense of the word – of using constraint, and as Plato said, of showing that « the lack of means is resource ». That constraint is an opportunity. As soon as his liberty to act is limited, Paraponaris has a gesture which decouples it. If his budget is limited to 240 sterling pounds, he converts them into yellow coins and makes a city out of them. Nonchalant enthusiasm of the one who wants to live and enjoy himself with the same ardor as he wants to pace himself. It becomes a permanent game with life: setting functions which open up the widest possible amplitude between lack of the means and richness of the effect. The value of the result does not consist in the quantity of the effort but in the accuracy of the gesture, the pertinence of the system, with the most exemplary one in this regard being in the series God in my studio; here the endless abundance of forms created by the reflection of pure light reaches ecstasy.
Artists are not here to give lessons; but this does not prevent them to remind us, if we are willing to accept, of essential truths. One of the first ones of these truths, is that truth is act and not words; that this world is physical before being representation; and that the object is always denser than the spoken word. For this reason, the status of theory according to Paraponaris is remarkable. His work and his speech are devoted to theory and concept because for him, theory is ingenuity, savoir faire, active function, operational condition. Theory is one of the most powerful tools to open doors, pass through walls, enlarge space, modify one's destiny. At least as much as the function of dreaming, theory is one of the places where the world transforms, duplicates and reproduces.
Hervé Paraponaris's work is the expression, every time under totally different forms, of the constant appropriation-metamorphosis-redistribution process that the living world is about. Paraponaris' work tells us about nature – not about its representation reduced to nothing as given by scientists, but the one that gets born, dies, suffers, eats, is eaten, reproduces, copies, transforms. I wish this short essay could be to Paraponaris' acts what the surrounding scaffoldings are to the Blue House, what carbon papers are to counterfeit Rolexes. I wish that while redoubling these acts, this essay could provide them with a new temporary skin which could be the opportunity for a coming moulting; transform them while extending Paraponaris' constancy: reproduce, in all of the term's meanings, that is to say carry on a permanent act which at the intersection point of enjoyment and truth, is the life of life.
Baptiste Lanaspeze

Poulpes, Le poulpe et sa maison (1990-1992) (Octopuses, The octopus and its house)
Translation note: in English in the original text
Looping (1988)
Translation note: in English in the original text
The Rider (2003), and Tower & Buildings (2003-2004)
Plateforme (2006-2008) (Platform)
Tout ce que je vous ai volé (1993-1996) (Everything that I stole from you)
Further Replica (1996)
Une maison pour ma tête (1993) (A home for my head), USSR (2003-2007) and Pump up the blue, Blue House (2007)
Ruins of Mercy (2007-2008)
Pump up the blue, Blue House (2007) and Controfacto (2005)

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