The Process

In Which an Artist Discusses Making a Particular Work

Jimmy Robert, Reprise

Like many contemporary artists, Jimmy Robert moves easily between photography, film, sculpture, collaborative performance, and dance. Where he’s unusual is in his singular fixation on paper. Rarely does paper hang flush and unobtrusive in his works. Instead, Robert exploits paper’s physical qualities: crumpling it, hanging it in unframed images curling off the wall, crushing or folding it into frames or other restraints, casting it in plaster (sometimes painfully affixed to his body). Paper made visible and haptic gives Robert the scope to explore his favorite themes: the chasm between a live act and its documentation, how representation is impossible (but interestingly doomed), how images transmogrify across media, the brinksmanship of words and art both. We spoke via Skype, from my home in Chicago and his home in Berlin.

—Jude Stewart

THE BELIEVER: What was the starting point for this piece?

JIMMY ROBERT: The beginning of Reprise is two images, a print by [painter Katsushika] Hokusai, Travellers Caught in a Sudden Breeze at Ejiri, and an interpretation of that print, called A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai), by Jeff Wall, who used this image as a reference to make a light-box. All of this was activated by a monthlong residency I had in Japan, at Kitakyushu, in 2009. I was intrigued by butoh, this Japanese style of dance that’s very slow, static, and contemplative. I had met [Kitakyushu curator] Akiko Miyake previously at the Yokohama Triennale, in 2008, where I saw Min Tanaka—one of the fathers of butoh—perform. Akiko put me in touch with one of Min Tanaka’s apprentices, Shiho Ishihara. That’s who you see in Reprise.

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Jude Stewart is the author of two books, ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color and the forthcoming Patternalia: An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage and Other Graphic Patterns. She writes about design and culture for Slate and Fast Company, among other publications, and blogs about design as a contributing editor for Print. Follow her tweets @joodstew.

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