– Summer 2013

Xavier Le Roy: La Règle du jeu

Chris Sharp

Installation view, ‘Retrospective by Xavier Le Roy’, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, 2012. Photograph: Lluís Bover. All images courtesy the artist and Fundació Antoni Tàpies

The word ‘bewildered’ might begin to describe how I felt upon first entering ‘Retrospective by Xavier Le Roy’ at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, in the spring of 2012.1 It is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but it nevertheless retains a certain level of experiential accuracy. Why bewildered? Because I had no idea what I was looking at, no clear idea how to see what I was seeing, for, significantly, the ‘exhibition’ had not yet taught me how to see it, how to experience it. After buying my ticket, I was ushered into the ground floor of the Fundació Tàpies, a vast, open basement approached from above, like an arena one looks down into. In the large space below I saw nothing but a few scattered groups of people, seemingly chatting, as if at an opening. Nothing else. Nothing to indicate or demarcate the fact that art, or, more pointedly, dance, was taking place. (Had I paid closer attention, I might have seen a performer holding a pose in the far left of the space, or yet another compulsively gesticulating in a loop-like fashion.) I walked down the stairs, and at the moment I landed on the exhibition floor three of the eight-odd people there stopped whatever they were doing, made a buzzing sound with their mouths while turning their heads and bolted out of sight. A moment later, they came lumbering back in, shoulders raised, arms swinging like chimpanzees;2 and announced a year, before resuming whatever they were doing.

Installation view, ‘Retrospective by

  1. Retrospective by Xavier Le Roy’, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, 24 February—22 April 2012. The exhibition was accompanied by an exhibition booklet: Bojana Cvejić, Xavier Le Roy and Laurence Rassel, “Retrospective” by Xavier Le Roy (trans. Paul Hammond), Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 2012.

  2. I later learned that this was a quote from the solo Giszelle (2001), a collaboration between Le Roy and dancer and choreographer Eszter Salamon.

  3. For instance, in Tino Sehgal’s This Situation (2007), shown at Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris (31 January—7 March 2009), a group of performers sat or stood around in the gallery, quite literally philosophising. Each time a new visitor arrived, the performers would acknowledge the new arrival by getting up, shifting positions and, before resuming their discussion, asking if he or she spoke French or English, then continuing on in the language of the last visitor’s answer. Before embarking on his career in art, Sehgal was a professional dancer and one of the choreographers with whom he trained and worked was Xavier Le Roy.

  4. I would like to thank the performer Mariona Naudin for sharing her performance notes, which I quote here. This autobiographical approach was not adopted by all the performers.

  5. Narcisse Flip is a triptych composed of Things I Hate To Admit (1994), Zonder Fact (1995) and Burke (1997). The three works were developed in collaboration with musician A. Birntraum and lighting designer Sylvie Garot, with whom Le Roy formed the group Le Kwatt in 1994.

  6. This is a significant point of contrast with Tino Sehgal, who is known to forbid discussion between his performers and the public at the time of performance, as in These Associations (2012), recently shown at Tate Modern, London.

  7. Notable exceptions include Le Roy’s presentation of Product of Circumstances at Tate Modern, London (2009), and of Self Unfinished at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011). He also contributed to the exhibition ‘Move: Choreographing You’ at the Hayward Gallery, London (13 October 2010—9 January 2011), with a work made in collaboration with Mårten Spångberg,

  8. Parallel to and throughout the course of the exhibition at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, four of Le Roy’s works (Self Unfinished, Le Sacre du printemps, Product of Circumstances and Low Pieces (2011)) were presented in their entirety at the Mercat de les Flors theatre in Barcelona.

  9. For more on these issues, see Bojana Cvejić's interview in B. Cvejić, X. Le Roy and L. Rassel, “Retrospective” by Xavier Le Roy, op. cit., p.16.

  10. To be clear, the few exceptions happen to be collaborations. The first is Giszelle, with Eszter Salamon — a highly citational work which consequently encourages decoding as a primary mode of engagement. The second, more egregious example is Jérôme Bel’s Xavier Le Roy (2000), a piece originally commissioned by Bel that Le Roy conceived in the spirit of Bel (i.e. as if he were choreographing in the style of Bel — a style characterised by an apparent simplicity and a total lack of virtuosity) and which Bel titled after Le Roy’s name. Scrambling issues of authorship aside, it is perhaps no coincidence that this is the one piece I have seen by Le Roy where I felt expected to passively receive and obediently decode what took place before me. Incidentally, I would say that despite a kindred, post-Judson Dance Theater preoccupation with deconstructing dance and the conditions of its presentation, this is the main difference between the work of Le Roy and Bel: a propensity to pose real questions as opposed to rhetorical ones.

  11. Le Roy begins almost every answer in Self Interview (2001) — a work that originally accompanied the research project E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S. (1999—2001) — with ‘I don’t know’. In fact, he states it so many times throughout the interview that it becomes a motif, even a theoretical position.

  12. A distinction that could be said to separate scientific research from so-called ‘artistic research'. Where the former is validated by qualifiable and quantifiable results as well as practical application, the latter is ultimately devoid of such results and practical application.

  13. I use the more nuanced French to avoid the exclusively criminal signification of its English counterpart.

  14. See Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1981, trans. Kristin Ross), Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991.

  15. In certain cases, strategy comes to eclipse content altogether, becoming the content of the work itself. Think for instance of Andy Warhol, who can be considered the progenitor of strategy, even if he deployed it through a faux naïveté, while somebody like Michael Krebber has not only fully collapsed the distinction between the two, but has engendered a veritable school of strategy-as-art.