Ida Tursic & Wilfried Mille
English / French
“Painting seemed to be the most powerful weapon available to us,” Ida Tursic & Wilfried Mille explain their subversive choice of a well-traveled medium. “It offers infinite possibilities all while simultaneously being the simplest to implement in the beginning of this new century that is saturated with images and new technologies.” Freely mixing things, Tursic & Mille’s paintings give us pin-ups of both sexes, cute pets, artist heroes, and Cézanne’s favorite landscape, all shook up by colorful abstractions that often invade the other subjects. They sample elements from all reaches of our visual culture today, provoking our good taste, and challenging our sense of beauty. The book focuses on the artists’ work since 2012, including canvases and large-scale wooden cutouts that literally move painting into the exhibition space—a strategy of direct interaction and confrontation with the viewer culminating in their immersive installation for the Prix Marcel Duchamp in 2019.
A FLAT SURFACE COVERED WITH COLOR, ASSEMBLED IN A CERTAIN ORDER
T&M: Painting seems to be the most powerful weapon available to us. It offers infinite possibilities all while simultaneously being the simplest to implement in the beginning of this new century that is saturated with images and new technologies. A few years ago, an art critic friend scolded us: “It’s all well and good, but we must choose!” As if painting as a medium was to be frozen and monomaniacal (or singularly obsessed). We chose not to choose. Or rather, to totally choose this absurd freedom.
AG: Your work is awash with popular or low cultural subjects. Lindsay Lohan, Terry Richardson, The Sex Pistols, softcore porn. Do you think of your work as belonging to the tradition of “Pop”? Or does that category even exist today? Maybe it is just a lost historical construct that we ineptly use in a fit of self-delusion? Your work in some way seems to strive to immortalize this collapse of the formerly “hard” boundary between high and low. If there is an overarching subject, perhaps it is a celebration of cliché?
T&M: In the Middle Ages, painting was used to tell stories to people who could not read, and so it has always been popular. As for Lindsay Lohan, we only stick to “things” that resonate for us. That specific painting is a kind of anti-portrait, far from being Pop or glamour. She is not made up, she prepares noodles at home, as if painting was always a question of cooking, good or bad. It’s just homemade pasta. We have a great affection for Rabelais who has perfectly redefined the limits of the top and bottom.
AG: While you are on one hand aspiring for an algorithmic model of image selection, there seems to be an inherent search for the iconic in your work. It does not seem accidental that you choose some of the most alluring stills for example of Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986) or in the choice of the epoch-defining 19th century photographs of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas as sources for your work. Could we locate your artistic practice in this contradiction? Does contemporary painting in fact operate within these conflicts between the disposable and the iconic? Between the longevity (or aspiration to immortality) of painting as material culture and the ephemerality of media images?
T&M: Many paintings today seem quite disposable. The choice of images is done organically and without rules; without a pre-established method, it can be stupidly emotional . . . You choose something, you know it’s going to give something else in painting, it’s a bit like when you go to the market, you see a nice head of lettuce, a nice tomato. You know this raw ingredient is going to be good once transformed. Tarkovsky was a little different. In the same way that to represent a nude or a portrait we used pornography, his fire gave us a means to represent the landscape. A house that burns . . . the renunciation of material for the spiritual.
AG: I sense another tension in your work—a kind of parodic disdain for abstraction—especially in your series of gestural “palette” paintings. At the same time, there seems to be a reverence for the figurative—evident in the skill and labor required for your representational works. Do you purposefully cultivate this dichotomy, this opposition? Is it even possible to invest in the language of abstraction today as 21st century artists? Again, I am feeling a disillusionment with the ideals of 20th century modernism, especially in its belief in the transcendent possibilities of abstraction.
T&M: This isn’t entirely true—to us, there is no difference between abstraction and figuration and painting is no longer this or that, but both this and that. Abstraction and figuration are tools. Both are part of this language of painting. In any case, this interpretation is very interesting. For us, the irony is perhaps more visible in the figurative paintings but we are delighted that this ironic tone has also been found in the more abstract paintings. The abstract always derives from the very process of painting. Our palettes are really just palettes. After all, the most beautiful thing in a painting is perhaps always this absurd attempt to recreate the process. It’s funny that a waste of paint is reduced to the status of heroic painting, that workshop walls can resonate with someone as a part of “art history.”
The know-how is put to the service of a facial ejaculation or a portrait of Piet Mondrian painted on a cutting board of meat. As Maurice Denis said: “Remember that a painting, before being a workhorse, a naked woman, or any anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.”