Thursday, November 20, 2008

Vincent Fortemps' Cimes

I agree with almost everything that Jean-Christophe Menu has to say about comics and the comics milieu (from the top of my head, I just remember not being as enthusiastic as he is about Jean-Claude Forest). I particularly remember a great text signed by him in Oupus 1 (L'Association: January, 1997): "Ouvre-Boîte-Po." In L'association's great magazine L'éprouvette Jean-Christophe Menu tried to revive the concept of the avant-garde because (my translation) "If we embrace the idea that everything was already done in literature and the visual arts the avant-garde is effectively impossible (this seems to be confirmed by the immense vacuity of these fields' production); it's not the same thing for comics yet, maybe. Comics are belated." (L'éprouvette # 1; L'Association, January 2006: 174.) Jean-Christophe Menu is right if we consider the restrict field only. As he puts it (again, my translation): "If we compare comics with other disciplines, they're at a primitive stage. Not only because of their poor criticism, but also because of their practitioners' lack of interest in putting their language in perspective with anything else (even their own history)." That's why those who watch the comics phenomenon from afar (writing books about them even (!): e. g. David Carrier in The Aesthetics of Comics; The Pennsylvania State University Press: 2001) claim that comics don't evolve. In his excellent book Unpopular Culture (University of Toronto Press: 2007; 70) Bart Beaty calls this late avant-garde a "Postmodern modernism." From this point of view few comics publishers were as avant-garde as Belgian publishing house Fréon. After graduating from Sint Lukas (Saint-Luc) school in Brussels, Thierry Van Hasselt, Vincent Fortemps, Olivier Deprez, Jean-Christophe Long, Olivier Poppe, felt that their work didn't fit in any publishing house around. That's when they decided to publish Frigorevue (1992). Joining forces with Alain Corbel they'll publish four issues of the magazine until 1995. Many other artists will see their work published both in Frigorevue and Frigobox (ten issues of the latter were published from 1994 to 1999): Denis Deprez, Dominique Goblet, Eric Lambé, Paz Boïra, Frédéric Coché, etc... (Argentinians, and Uruguayan, Héctor Germán Oesterheld, Alberto and Henrique Breccia included, proving that their work is as avant-garde as the most extreme ones in the restricted field; a special word also for Spaniard Ricard Castells). It was in Frigobox # 5 (December, 1995: 31 - 37) that Jan Baetens published his essay "Autarcic Comix" (an European alternative comics convention: Brussels, October 6 - 8, 1995) where he noted: "Autarcic Comics [...] is not postmodern. Conversely it is - and that alone is an event - an aspiration that's decidedly modern."

Cimes (heights), by Vincent Fortemps, is a wordless book published by Fréon in 1997. Fortemps' technique is quite unusual to begin with: litho crayon on acetate, scratched with an X-Acto knife. One of the most vivid proofs, in my opinion, of most comics artists' conformism is the baffling persistence of old modes of expression and techniques. Why do they continue to work like their grandfathers did without questioning caricature and India ink on white paper?
Anyway, Cimes is also a very somber book, with ominous musicians playing a dark music (one imagines) in most of the pages and vultures circling high above the heights of the title, waiting for those who are pushed from the top of the mountain (I also imagine Cimes as animation: it would be great). Vincent Fortemps' art is highly impressionistic, suggesting a lot more than showing or telling anything. We construct the story on our heads, nothing's pre-digested...
Apart from Cimes Vincent Fortemps also participated in Frigobox with "Par les sillons" (through the tracks), a rural tale. He published also the book La Digue (the sea dike) at Amok (2001; Amok and Fréon merged, forming Frémok - FRMK - on June 22, 2002), among other books, most notably the monumental Chantier Musil (coulisse) - Musil's working site (backstage) -; 2003. Chantier Musil was a dance show by choreographer François Verret. In it Vincent Fortemps drew in loco projecting his drawings behind the performers.

Frémok's site:

An interview (in French):

Chantier Musil:
The first ten pages of Chantier Musil (coulisse):

Pedro Nora's interpretation of Art Spiegelman's Maus. Catalogue of the Self-Service exhibition at Casa Fernando Pessoa (with poems by Jan Baetens; June - September); Bedeteca de Lisboa, Fréon: 2001.

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