Thomas Castéran

I speak of Phantom Memory

Interview with Bricoleur Bernard Pras

At first, an exposition of Bernard Pras only slightly differs from a bric-a-brac store. There are piles of objects and materials that seem to be randomly arranged on the ground such as during a Sunday garage sale. However by looking at each of the parts you realize that they are tied together, ingeniously aligned to draw and replicate a well-known image, but only when seen from a certain perspective. The french artist, fond of Bricolage and Improvisation, uses an anamorphic perspective to turn 3D into 2D. Fascinating!

During our conversation he explains the process that led him from the Beaux-Arts and painting to the mastery of anamorphosis:

“I consider that my painting work became the current form of my work. I see it as a logical development of what I was doing in painting. It is an evolution and not a change. It was a reflection and a process that brought me to it naturally. Around thirty years old, I had an insight of what I wanted to do in regard of what I was painting. I realized that what I was interested in was nearly what I was doing between two paintings. This empty space, this kind of area… This mysterious link that ties together different paintings I painted consecutively. So I looked for a way to express that in a single element. It took me around twenty years to succeed roughly in what I was looking for.”

Pras admitted it: he went through a long path to master this method. Furthermore, he gave us an overview on how he starts to dive into a project and how his experience is a precious asset as he developed over the years a special relationships with the objects:

“Once I found my topic, I can start the project by doing a sketch of it. It helps me to get into the picture, to familiarize myself with the inside of this picture… I outline a really large drawing frame with big brushes and it gives me insight on the objects I should find and use. As I am used to, I see more easily which objects could enable me to draw my project and so on. It is a force of habit, but it is subconscious at the same time! Thanks to the experience, I gained a sense of the objects. I have a sense of the objects I should take, which would have a potential to help me draw in space and conceptualize what I want to do.”

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Video on Deutsche Welle explaining Bernard Pras’ working process.

Once he is into a project, Pras experiences a flow of ideas that lead him to other projects:

‘I am so into it that it is like a world that could multiply… When I do something I have ideas to go further and to do something else when the project is over, either in the same kind or as a variant. That is something that vanishes when the work is done, but it is possible that it comes back later in another form. The creative process is something really mysterious and that I am far from handling. It is something that goes beyond me. I endure it more than I control it. I call this phantom memory. That is the term we use when someone looses a limb for instance. There is a phantom memory of this limb. It is not there anymore, but one can still feel it. There is something like this in my work. I give birth to phantom memory. Through a work there is the birth of a story with the object, by the relationship with the object that can be part of a collective subconsciousness or of a memory. There is a secret world of object that breathes.’

From his point of view, technology is a way to improve performance and to get more details but the savoir-faire remains the same:

‘The method changed with respect to the technical aspect. I always used a camera to realize an installation, but at the beginning I worked with a traditional camera and a film roll in it, and I used as references just a few Polaroïds… Maybe a dozen. Then I upgraded to digital, and it dramatically changed the technical aspect, as I could transfer images on a computer. It enabled me to zoom in and other things we could not do with a traditional camera. So on the technical aspect it evolved and it enabled me to get much more into the detail.’

Finally he gave us an interesting take on the human relations and intuitions:

‘I think that intuition, our subconsciousness, if we arrive to put it out to meet others, can be as efficient or more efficient than traditional survey techniques, or mathematical approaches. I think that mathematics are not the only way to read the world and tie people together. We are in a society that takes too much the zero and one into account. I believe that we have a power in us that does not need to envy mathematical methods. All human activities have lot of connections in commons. It is no coincidence that many CEO’s have an interest in contemporary arts, because there are common values, common anxieties, common hopes. Of course I am convinced of it. In human activities, there is not a specificity through the art activity rather than the industrial activity or whatever. There are always the same resources, the same questions. In fact, the goal is to communicate, to claim your existence, to try to find a way to share it to feel better, to reassure, to be less alone, to be loved… These are the human motives!’

The work of Pras where the alignment of different parts form a whole picture resonates to us as a metaphor that characterises the business world. If the alignment of workforce, strategy and culture is good, tremendous things can happen…

The complete interview with Bernard Pras in French language


Text by Thomas Castéran.
The interview was conducted by Thomas Castéran on 25/06/2015.
Image source: Bernard Pras.

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