Dalkey Archive, 2014
Edouard Levé should be remembered not for his emotional instability or his suicide but for his unconventional manipulation of the memoir form. Works, Levé's first book, (And third translated into English) shows that Levé was not consumed entirely by sadness: in a similarly twisted style as Autoportrait and Suicide, Levé creates a work that is not only contemplative and progressive but actually full of life and hope for the future.
Composed as a numbered list, Works is comprised of 533 conceptual art projects to be executed in a range of artistic techniques. These works are intricate and exhausting to read, but, in contrast to the moribund qualities of the author's later works, can be construed as a kind of limitless bucket list of things Levé would like to create or see at some point in his life.
Or, maybe not. The central question at the core of Works is whether Levé is serious. He was an artist himself, but a seemingly straightforward photographer without an apparent conceptual agenda. Levé's interest in performative art and manipulating media and form is staggeringly erudite and some pieces in Works would fit snugly in the oeuvre of the Dada and Oulipo movements or exhibited alongside performances by an artist like James Lee Byars. But, 533 art projects suggests a cheapness to this sort of form, as if Levé is proving some kind of point about the abundance of art ideas and their lack of singular meaning.
As in Suicide and Autoportrait, where perhaps-unintentional motifs repeat and provide an underlying layer of meta-memoir, one will find thematic repetitions in these artworks that will inform readers of the author's/artist's agenda.
Broadly, Levé is fascinated by the concept of artistic authorship and how that is maintained (or dispelled) through reproduction and repetition. Paintings are photographed and audiences are filmed. A chrome mirror is placed over a television or pointing outward from the windows of a house. In one artwork (#324), "all the pieces in a museum are taken down. Around the sites where they used to hang, the walls are papered with copies of the works. All that remains are the empty spaces where the works used to be, surrounded but their reproductions." Does any artistry remain if the artwork is inverted and the viewers' experience is so drastically skewed?
Levé includes a short, incomplete index with Works that showcases some of the book's central ideas. "Reconstitution," "Reflection," "Author/Maker" and "Interpretation" all appear here as separate entries (as do "Lorraine, Claude" and "hamster"). "Superimposition" also appears (after "Suicide" and "Sunday") with a few connected artworks, but, like the transubstantiation prevalent in most of the pieces in Works, superimposition is a much more potent theme than the author might let on.
"269. The life-size outlines of fifty-two dogs, taken in left or right profile, are drawn, superimposed, on a large sheet of paper. The resulting form recalls Ana Nina's gone mad, endlessly turning about. The dogs are of different sizes. Their silhouettes only overlap at certain nodal points: the base of their necks, their tails, their genitals, their paws."
"441. Average France. A hundred maps of France, taken from geography books, newspapers, dictionaries, and encyclopedias are copied and scaled to the same size. When superimposed, their contours don't match up."
While in these instances specific to dogs and maps, Levé's superimposition invites readers to consider another example of things layered on top of things. Take Works as a whole, and imagine it as a physical stack of artworks, each written out. Does a singular artwork emerge?
Tangential to superimposition is the effect of viewing things in quick succession. Instead of overlapping visual, imagine them like in sequence like a film:
"260. The archives of a caricaturist area filmed at a rate of one drawing per frame. In thirty-five minutes, fifty thousand caricatures representing forty years of works fly by."
How are the 533 pieces in Works any different than the series of caricatures, maps of Paris, or even outlines of dogs in the above examples? The act of reading the works in quick succession and superimposing them in one's memory results in a kinetic, human creation. The results, like in artwork 269, look mad, "endlessly turning about," but somewhere beneath those outlines a silhouette of the author can be seen.