Jimmy Robert: Grey Flannel Suits Any Man
Artist Jimmy Robert talks to David Pollock about his fascination with the instability of representation in photography, text, film and performance
In an adaptation of Yoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ for his show Figure de Style at London’s Cubitt Gallery last year, Jimmy Robert bound his torso in strips of tape, which were then ripped off by members of the audience. The performance didn’t stray too far from the original, except in one crucial sense: while it was being done, Robert read out press reviews of Ono’s seminal performance.
Born in Guadeloupe in 1975, educated in Amsterdam and London, and now based in Brussels, Robert’s work goes beyond mere representation to break down the boundaries between audience, art and artist. While there’s a certain flavour of the postmodern to what he does, his work isn’t cloaked in haughty irony so much as it’s opened up and expanded upon by a sense of natural curiosity.
‘The themes, materials and techniques in my work are the same (throughout my shows), in that they probably constitute a language,’ says Robert, in a recent email chat. ‘I am not afraid of sounding vague by saying that the very instability of representation is what motivates me, and still acts as a source for multiple experiments where constant surprise within the self-imposed limits is a must.’
While he’s vague about the precise nature of what will be shown at this, his first solo Scottish show and first exhibition here since 2007’s group show Re-make/Re-model, he does reveal that he’ll be working in a variety of different media, as usual. The gallery promises a series of two- and three-dimensional work incorporating found and personal photographs, sculptural and drawn elements, while Robert himself teasingly describes ‘collages, photographs, sculptural elements and a performance on opening night only.’
He says: ‘The title of the show plays with the notion of displacement and received ideas of masculinity and its representation. Some of the work uses paper as a main surface, just as in writing and photography, a starting point … that is necessarily limited. The transformation of the image into an object [alludes] to another dimension which is not always visible on the surface, reminding us that reading images is a complex activity.’
In past shows, Robert has created complex three-dimensional paper collages and then displayed their scanned, flat images. He’s also shown Super-8 films of mundane, found scenes which loop back over one particular movement, giving them a hyper-intensity of significance, propped a photograph against the wall as if intending to lever the significance out of it, and even projected films against his own back.
‘I don’t always appear,’ concludes Robert, ‘but when I do I believe it’s to underline a sense of urgency – making images is a physical activity, performances are an expansion of this. I guess it’s all about questioning the validity and power of the various elements that come to play within an exhibition and looking for meaning in the dialogue of the pieces rather than individual ones. Using various media implies different interactions and experiences where failure as much as success is the main point.’
Jimmy Robert: Grey Flannel Suits Any Man, Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow, Fri 20 Feb–Sat 28 Mar.