REFERENCE PLANES, by Cédric Loire
Semaine n° 362, Analogues, Arles, 2014
Translated by Simon Pleasance & Fronza Woods
Hervé Brehier's sculptures are the product of the combination of two “repertories”: a repertory of materials generally associated with architecture and the interior furbishment of dwelling places and work places (sheets of plywood, wooden doors, copper tubes, concrete, smooth rendering...); and a repertory of actions (tracing, cutting, splitting, coating, rolling, leaning against..) whose simplicity calls to mind that of the Verb List drawn up by the American sculptor Richard Serra in the late 1960s. His videos issue from the same logic: open the shutters of an industrial building one by one, and then close them again; film at arm's length the corner of a wall and ceiling for a given period of time... It is the artist's physical capacity to assume, alone, the transformations and displacements which he subjects these materials and objects to, which helps to determine the scale of his sculptures, invariably closely linked to that of the human body.
Painting, coating, slicing, sawing, splitting, tracing, rolling, placing, aligning, leaning: these simple actions involve the artist in a process of reiteration. One of the artist's recurrent gestures consists in coating part of or the entirety of a surface of the objects and materials he uses, in such a way as to produce an almost monochrome plane; “augmenting” the object by this thin layer which at the same time proceeds to a “reflattening”, eliminating its unevennesses. On large rectangular panels of plywood which have been given this treatment, the application of the coating precedes and paves the way for the drawing of parallel lines, repeated and rhythmic, made freehand with graphite. Subsequently split and broken, the panels are re-arranged and “squared off” during the installation of the piece against a wall. Each work in this series is worked out in an alternation of moments of unification, division and re-arrangement of the surface devised as the visible, surface part of a thickness, as physical as it is temporal.
This temporal dimension, which is important in Hervé Bréhier's oeuvre, is also assumed by the somewhat unusual use the artist makes of “ready-made” elements: crates, furniture structures and wooden doors, whose old, worn look is perceptible in the rounded corners, the scratches and the splinters in the wood, the many layers of paint covering them—and which is here and there revealed by a lack or change of colour beneath a disassembled lock, hinge or handle plate. These objects—because they are, at the outset, objects—become the medium of the artist's interventions and the material of some of his sculptures. Their original function and their age are never hidden and even represent significant motifs in these works. Easily recognizable, they introduce a form of proximity with the onlooker, by sharing his space and stimulating his tactile sensations and vague desires to understand. I wrote earlier that ready-made elements are involved. It should nevertheless be pointed out that they not in reality ever used “as such”: a part is always missing—here the lid of the crate; there the shelves in a set of shelves; there again the structure of a door where only the central panels exist.
These retrenchments made by the artist stem from the same logic as the one that leads him to block with lines; cut with a saw; split with a blade or axe; set things in equilibrium; burst a sack of cement or flour and hang it up so that its contents spread over the floor... All so many actions which attest to a quest for tension—and for a continuous, muffled violence, which is also one of the hallmarks of Hervé Bréhier's work. But also so many actions which issue from an exigence which we might, for want of anything better, describe as “minimalist”: the artist's interventions invariably convey a certain quality of silence and involve his own withdrawal. If he actually has recourse to lots of “gestures”, this does not mean that we should say that Hervé Bréhier's work has to do with performance, and even less so that it stems from a “pathetic” design. Rather, the artist takes on the role of a cameraman: his gestures do not belong to the register of “expression”; they are “affect-less” and the source of their provenance is building construction, carpentry, and plumbing. What I have called “minimalist” tallies less well with an aesthetic design than with the desire to produce, by means just of the gesture of cutting or coating, a “slice”, a “reference plane”, through which is read not only the silent history of the materials and objects used, but where, also, the sculptural challenge of these works is involved.
That these “slices” and these “reference planes” are first and foremost surfaces--and that these surfaces are essentially monochrome—might call for other comments relating to the pictoriality summoned up by these works. But I am out of space here. Suffice it, temporarily, for me to say that during my visit to his studio, Hervé Bréhier talked to me a lot about painting.