Seeing Guy Laramée's works, I was at once charmed by them and looking more closely, they bear the weight of further examination. I come from a point of ignorance in terms of this kind of work and it is through this lens that I hope I'll be able to encourage others to join me in my explorations. Mr. Laramée very kindly took time to answer a few of my humble questions and gave kind permission to use the imagery accompanying this post.
This is his artist statement:
The erosion of cultures – and of “culture” as a whole - is the theme that runs through the last 25 years of my artistic practice. Cultures emerge, become obsolete, and are replaced by new ones. With the vanishing of cultures, some people are displaced and destroyed. We are currently told that the paper book is bound to die. The library, as a place, is finished. One might ask so what? Do we really believe that “new technologies” will change anything concerning our existential dilemma, our human condition? And even if we could change the content of all the books on earth, would this change anything in relation to the domination of analytical knowledge over intuitive knowledge? What is it in ourselves that insists on grabbing, on casting the flow of experience into concepts?
When I was younger, I was very upset with the ideologies of progress. I wanted to destroy them by showing that we are still primitives. I had the profound intuition that as a species, we had not evolved that much. Now I see that our belief in progress stems from our fascination with the content of consciousness. Despite appearances, our current obsession for changing the forms in which we access culture is but a manifestation of this fascination.
My work, in 3D as well as in painting, originates from the very idea that ultimate knowledge could very well be an erosion instead of an accumulation. The title of one of my pieces is “ All Ideas Look Alike”. Contemporary art seems to have forgotten that there is an exterior to the intellect. I want to examine thinking, not only “what” we think, but “that” we think.
So I carve landscapes out of books and I paint romantic landscapes. Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS. Fogs and clouds erase everything we know, everything we think we are.
After 30 years of practice, the only thing I still wish my art to do is this: to project us into this thick “cloud of unknowing.”
I wonder when looking at your work if you are either reverting your materials(books) into their previous state or simply altering them into something unexpected? Is your intention to revert the materials or push them toward something new?
That may sound presumptuous but I really feel I’m not doing anything. I’m rather done by a process that I really do not understand. Therefore, “intentions” get into the work through doors that are mostly unexpected and suddenly I notice that a given “idea”, “image” of feeling has been lingering for too long and that thus it is calling for attention.
“Newness” is part of the process, in the sense that there is always a freshness that accompanies the birth of pieces – well… the good pieces, because for the bad pieces, it is rather a feeling of staleness, but the bad pieces have to be done anyway…
This may sound like I don’t want to answer your question, but it is only that I think we really have – as a culture – to get out of the “maker” paradigm, something that might have been useful in the first days of the industrial era – seeing the poet as a worker – but we also have to remind ourselves that humans have always felt that inspiration came from somewhere else.
And really, I don’t feel I’m working with books. I’m working with feelings (not emotions, they are different to me). I’m glad that this limitation, this limit – books – can provide a channel for inspiration (one thing less to think about…) but it could be anything, really. I feel I’ve worked the same Romantic stuff with installations and painting.
But again, “The Mona Lisa is not a turnip” as Gerhard Richter said. I am pretty much aware of the metaphor – mountains of knowledge return to what they are : mountains – and also well aware that my gesture is a denial of content. But when I enter into a book with the chainsaw, all this is forgotten. I contemplate the birth of a mountain and like always in contemplation, I lose myself in the process. What a relief !
I find your work reminiscent of Haruki Murakami or Kafka in their transformative nature. What artists feed your imagination if not inspire?
Maybe Kafka but I would rather say Borges. Both authors share the same connection to the Fantastic, but Borges is more down to earth. More credible in a sense.
Generally speaking it is painting that inspires me. 19th century landscape painting more than anything. And very old Chinese and Japanese paintings too. It is the contemporary painter Gerhard Richter that made all this legitimate. We are not cut from the past, the past is in us.
You've previously described the euphoria you've felt when finding a beautiful book. To you, what makes a beautiful book and why are these attributes important to you?
I wish I could give you the recipe of beauty. I wish I could have it myself, then I would be rich…! Because really, life, beauty, oneness, all these are synonymous, aren’t they?
Some much have been written of the theories of harmony, what makes something harmonious. But really it is the mystery of it that makes it so appealing.
I currently prefer old books because they transpire dedication, care, etc. In the past, people made books as something which would last. The same with furniture. The spirit of someone who does something that should last long is not the same.
Today it is all rat race, carelessness, except for a couple of craftsmen who still understand what they get from work well done : calm, absorption, increased attention, vigilance, etc. All attributes that are not so far from spiritual practice after all…
One of my favourite works of yours is Tectonic which has a path or path-like thread winding its way through the landscape. For me, it pulled me right in and there I was on the path. What techniques do you use to draw the viewer into your works?
What techniques do you use to fall in love? There are no techniques for anything.
Contemplation is the thing. If the artist really entered into contemplation, than there are good chances that the viewer will too. As I see it, contemplation is not even a “state” that you “reach”. It is the original soup in which we all soak. Going back to our contemplative nature – and it is really that ; a coming back to what we are – brings happiness. That’s all.
Would you describe a turning point or moment of revelation in your art and explain its significance and impact on your work?
There is turning point everyday Sir ! Otherwise there would be no art. It would be sheer reproduction. Everyday I feel I was mistaken and blind. Everyday I resent my mistakes and whish I should not fall in traps again. The trap of intellection for example. God, the amount of time I spent in this hell…! Thinking that I could make art with ideas, with my training in anthropology, etc. Gibberish.
“Happiness is when the “I” is not”, someone said. I just realized that this is really what I want : to disappear behind the work. Kabir said “ :If you were to free me, free me from myself”.
Guy Laramée (Pertwee, Anderson & Gold)
Guy Laramée (Jayne H Baum)
Guy Laramée (Cool Hunting)
Guy Laramée (Foster White Gallery)