In commemoration of 130 years of diplomatic relations between France and Korea, the MMCA is hosting a solo exhibition of French contemporary artist Gilles Barbier, originally from the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. Recently having shown at La Friche in Marseille, the exhibition, “Echo system: Gilles Barbier,” brings a variety of drawings, sculptures and paintings never before seen in Seoul—introducing the prolific artist’s unique insights, processes and sense of humor. Colorful, witty and perverse, Barbier’s works often challenge social conventions. The day before the exhibition’s opening, Time Out Seoul sat down with Gilles Barbier and his curator, Gaël Charbau, to talk about the exhibition and try to get inside Barbier’s mind (before we let him into ours).
Q&A: Gilles Barbier
Could you give us a brief introduction to the exhibition and the best way to view it?
Barbier The room called [The Falling of] the Dice Man; the room called The Game of Life, which is a big project of mine; the black drawings that I’ve been working on for almost 15 years; and maybe the treasure room. In terms of how to see them or which order to see them, do what you think.
How did you decide which pieces would part of this exhibition?
Barbier He decided. He threw the dice.
Charbau Gilles gave me the white card. My point of view was to give an overview; to [try to] give the best way to enter the mind of Gilles Barbier and the complexity of his work in general.
What makes these particular pieces representative of his works?
Charbau Gilles is an artist that creates his own universe—that’s why the exhibition is called “Echo system,” because an ecosystem is one where things live without any contact from the outside world. You can be completely alone in that world [creating] many, many echoes also, so it’s a play on that word as well.
Barbier But we agreed that there are many, many things missing.
What would you have liked to bring to the exhibition that you couldn’t?
Barbier We would have liked bigger sculptures. In this kind of museum with a huge rooftop… [I would have liked to bring more pieces from]
“The Game of Life”…“The Drunkard”...
Charbau But, of course, an exhibition is also about budget.
If this exhibition is meant to highlight your world, could you tell us about what it’s like in there?
Barbier I don’t want to be inside my head. I want to be in your head. In his head. In the grass’ head. In the chair’s head. So my inner world has no importance to me. The journey [to go from] my head to the world outside has evolved for years and years, but I don’t like to talk about an inner world.
You’re well known for your interest in science and language, from which genres do you draw inspiration?
Barbier I’m very interested in science, but as far as I know, this is language. When you talk about theory, you use language. I just want to understand what’s going on outside—that’s all. I think, nowadays, science is reading the world today.
You've mentioned language. Do you think that your work might come across differently in a country where the language and symbols are different? For example, here in Korea?
Barbier This is bullshit. Witold Gombrowicz wrote a book called Kosmos. All of the novel is based on this idea that if you articulate a thing, it becomes language. It’s bullshit that we all have a [different] language. We have different gestures, but this itself is not language, this is social design. Language is an invention—a social convention from man.
Charbau There are many layers of understanding the exhibition. One layer is language. There’s a lot of text, there are jokes, but it’s only a layer. Even if you are French, you may just understand one layer.
Other than those superficial layers that we can observe directly, are there any other layers that we should be observing?
Barbier Sometimes, people say “What do you want to say to the public?” Where is the public? I know nobody in the public. The public is a construction, a fiction. When I make art, I just want to quit myself—to be outside. - Hahna Yoon