Alain Jouffroy

I do not know who was the first one to say that women have a secret, some secrets. probably a man. As for me, if women hold secrets, it is because they cannot reveal them without danger. In reality, women, no more than men, have any secret. Men taught them to lie, and they sometimes prove to be more artful at it. But, in so called developed countries, and they are developed compared to those in which people die in misery and ignorance without concerning anyone, women begin to speak, forgetting they are women, as men, stimulated or not by their example, end up forgetting they are men. Unexpected as if it was extraordinary, a thought belonging to noone goes through their mind, along with desire. Personally, I only see there a natural, and to say it all, rather human evolution: After the one’s superiority has been abolished, the other’s still remains to be proved, but at least we might be able to start creating among each other a new kind of interaction. in our lives we have done away with the need, the necessity of superiority, except for those things from which we need to detach, starting with unspoken religious beliefs that strengthen taboos which are loudly denounced while their real purpose remains a sort of magical, impenetrable opacity. This is why, hereby writing about Nicola, I once again find myself being led into the maze of the ancient enigma: who am I, to dare skewer her, to perform this public dissection? I have indeed no taste for intentional mystification and deliberate occultism. It is rather clarity and frankness that I admire. The obscurantism of a certain form of criticism seems to me to contain (to contradict) all that art has violently opened since Picabia and Duchamp. We have to dare show reality, whichever this reality is: mental, dream, sexual, social, formal, material, whatever. No single experience will do this, not even the somehow disturbing one of a Gunter Saree facing death directly, publicly, and in a manner which could be called comportment. What would it have been like, for instance, that gigantic rain of ping-pong balls thrown from a hundred planes on all Paris as Daniel Pomméreulle dreamt it? in this field, I go for unexpected, disconcerting, spectacular initiatives. We will never try hard enough to awaken those who can be awakened. My amazement is rather that of a man trying to see what remains hidden behind mystifying, deluding forms of the avant-garde; and, to be more accurate, behind these very formal trends which, everywhere, create confusion between simplicity and debility, between authenticity and inauthenticity, and between politics and demagogy…I say confusion because I do not believe that we still have an interest in that confusion, used by dadaists as a means of propaganda and scandal, and which only serves, today, those who have an interest in its perpetuation: namely certain art dealers.

Is Nicola following a trend? This is the first question one should ask oneself in front of any new artistic expression. imitation, mimicry are never admirable for themselves, but trends and fashion always make apes, imitators and simpletons sing along.

When we take a close look at what she does, when she started, under what conditions she worked and how she has evolved. we very quickly discover the mark systematization. In her “folding screens”, her “fur bedrooms”, her “individual penetrable”, there is a constant will to introduce the human body into the material structure and space of painting. Coming from painting herself, she denounces its dullness and inertia. But instead of making it turn, transforming it into a revolving or formal mechanism, and giving it “kinetic” qualities, she chose to break the ice by reintroducing into it living human bodies. In 1965, this was akin both to the recent tradition of happenings and to a certain avant-garde theatrical research: I mean that she has applied to, painting and plastic objects a certain number of ideas which were, as one says, in the air, but to which she has been dedicating herself in such an exclusive manner, and with such a passion, that she has discovered her own path. This is how things work, and it is not surprising that they disconcert those who cannot guess or feel before the others what is going to transform abruptly an unknown artist into the creator of a means of communication.

Only following her instinct (as you may have noticed, I like to use words today boycotted), Nicola has created rather provocative objects where the invitation to play a collective game with cards conceived by herself means, most of the time, making individuals aware of the barriers, inhibitions, and prohibitions separating them. She had certainly perceived painting itself as one of these hindrances: the ten years which she dedicated to, it, however, helped her destroy what held her at a certain distance from others. And in order to throw herself into the improvisation of this collective game, to break her own constraints, her own prejudices, she invented this amazing “coat for 11 persons” which she opens up once in Amsterdam, and other times in New York; Central Park, or in Spain, each time inviting street passers-by to go under it. I do not believe that there is in her a desire to ensnare others into her own fantasies: the feast (the sexual orgy) where the individual communicating, taking pleasure with strangers, dissolves himself like sugar in the water of “collectivity”. In these cases, she would rather be of the kind to make herself forgotten, to let things happen without her participation. But by creating objects which others are going to animate she provokes situations, and makes history. In one word, she acts. And she acts in the street, a fact which implies, from her own viewpoint as an individual, a certain understanding of the rules of the city, and a certain will to infringe, to, violate them. In her “fur bedroom for 15 persons”, on the opposite, it is rather the closed space of the bedroom, the walls and the prohibitions that they imply, which she tries to violate, and to make others violate. Men and women who penetrate from the outside world into these furry muffs are going to play, under their blind mask, the game of the collective rape of the person who remains locked up, imprisoned in the bedroom.

But it is obvious to me that the person living in this bedroom is no other than Nicola herself. She also makes me think of this carpenter -or this clockmaker- who had built his own device to commit suicide: except that Nicola is inventing devices to live, and help others live more freely. But she remains alone to imagine these improvisers whom she has dressed up, masked and put in space according to rules discovered for her own pleasure, and it might be to change the spectacle of the world into a world for herself, personal and singular- a micro-society transformed by the individual- that she will certainly continue to amaze us: “uncertainty and the surprise of the metamorphosis” remain her only rule.

“Nicola” by Alain Jouffroy, January 1975
translated from French