Marc Rossignol: The Singular and The Various.
Viewed in its totality, the work of Marc Rossignol can be quite bewildering. It assumes so many different forms and deploys so many different material techniques and conceptual methods; from traditional painting, sculpted objects, and assemblage work to actions and performance pieces. Despite these manifest differences, at a deeper level it operates according to precise and thoroughly consistent criteria. Most crucial of these is the axis he strikes between difference and singularity as philosophical concepts, which leads to a rejection of individualism, on the one hand, and of the collective subject with pretensions towards universalization on the other. For Rossignol, the work of art is produced socially. It is made out of the complex stuff of social exchange. Art is a material practice that figures in the domain of Language and languages in its absolute diversity. In this respect, the artist is just one category of social being amongst many: one who happens to adhere to the value system that we call art as a matter of choice. He is first and foremost a ‘risk-taker’ and an ‘experimenter’ who is always pushing towards the limits of his own knowledge and experience out of social engagement and a sense of shared responsibility. In Rossignol’s case this shows itself as endless playfulness and this is the point at which the unifying force of ‘singularity’ comes to the surface despite its material diversity.
The term singularity has been borrowed by contemporary post-critical philosophy from ‘Astrophysics’ where it is used to refer to the ‘BIg Bang’, the founding moment of the physical universe. And it is the twin concepts of ‘origin’ and ‘event’ which have been carried over into post-modern critical theory, most particularly in the post -structuralist writings of Lyotard and Derrida. To describe a work of art as a singularity, then, is to deny the notion of a metaphysical oneness or a pre-eminent totality and instead to signal it as an occurrence. The work is something that happens, not spontaneously, but out of the conditions prevailing in contemporary art as well as in the socio-cultural domain in general. There are, of course, real consequences arising from defining the work of art in this way. and they are everywhere apparent in Rossignol’s work. For him, process or, more precisely, ‘method’ is clearly as important to the work as having a notional end product. And this insistence on method tends to complicate the normally straight forward relationship between knowing and doing.
Though the image remains paramount and might very well be ‘known’ in its specificity in advance of the work starting, it must be remade, brought within the scope of discursive ‘action’, made real by means of an ‘event structure’ of some kind. The dominance of method means that its imaginal wholeness can never be taken for granted, but must all the time be put at risk. Rossignol’s strategies for doing this are numerous: cropping, fragmentation, tessellation, displacement, defacement, eradication, obliteration and so on. And sometimes several of these strategies are deployed within the same work. Always in a spirit of experimentation. The effect is to heighten the sense of the hand-made but not as the reification of craftsmanship.
We can gather from this that Rossignol’s method allows the work to circulate along different paths of thought and carry with it many different layers of meaning. The model is one of visual threads and tectonic plates which intersect, collide and overlap in a variety of different ways. As an oeuvre its surface seems to have been assembled piece-meal - it resembles the cut and paste of collage - and yet its conceptual depth is ubiquitous; a piling up of heterogeneous elements which in the end come together to define a distinctive symbology. An important touch-stone for Rossignol is Abby Warburg’s great unfinished project, “Atlas” in which he attempted to make a trans-historical, cross-cultural map, laying bare the roots of the global symbolic order. Typically, Rossignol’s interest lies just as much with Warburg’s mark-making - the hand-written signs that give shape, system and legibility to Warburg’s approach - as with the symbolic material itself. For him, even when scientistic or mechanistic values are in play, it is the evidence of the hand which retains the ultimate power to humanize. Evidence of ‘handling’ is the sure sign that something has been performed, has been rethought and remade - reinvented - rather than simply utilized. There are shades here of Felix Guattari’s call to perform life like an artist, to “construct it and singularize it” in its absolute specificity. “Poetic utterance”... Guattari writes... “can precede scientific advances by decades”... precisely because the poet, the artist... “lives life
as a work in progress... is always open to the chance event, is always susceptible to the singular point”.
It follows that Rossignol’s approach has implications for a view of history too. Under its sway, our routine apprehension and reading of visual codes is no longer simply a matter of prescient interpretation. Visual codes are mnemonically charged. Through usage they have come to possess a powerful collective dimension; carry with them something of the force of human history. To use them, then, as far as Rossignol is concerned, is to knowingly reflect upon that history. Geometric forms and configurations, calligraphic and typographic letter-shapes, the repetition of drawn marks, common systems of signage, though they all have utilitarian significance in our present lives, beyond that, speak of lucid moments of ‘invention’ which have prior existence in past cultures. The History of Art is particularly rich in this regard and although Rossignol insists upon the absolute contemporaneity of his practice, he also speaks of its ‘embededness’: the way in which it is sited and partakes of this history as a mythological inheritance.
There is much in Rossignol’s working method which is unexpected and, at first sight, quite disconcerting. For example, he will sometimes painstakingly make an image only - it seems - in order to mutilate, work over, or partially obliterate it. Radically different forms of language are brought together and made to coexist formally within the same work, but without him providing a clear-cut conceptual link. There are no easy explanations. Mostly these points of disruption are used to create temporal breaks; delays in the process of comprehension. It is as though Rossignol wants to slow down the action of the work so as to extend its presence in the eye and in the mind long enough to place a question mark against the notion of interpretation itself. It is by no means fanciful to suggest that these ‘breaks’ and ‘delays’ provide a glimpse of the chimerical nature of works of art in general - the work of art as a reiteration of the real or simulacrum - as well as a disquieting glimpse of the void from which they spring.
The common view is that works of art are made and given meaning by artists thinking meanings through their engagement with them. They are said to give meaning to the world, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. Works of art say nothing. As the romantic poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal famously remarked... “It is not the poet who thinks of things in the world, but things in the world that think of him”. By the same token, it is not the artist or even the viewer who gives meaning to the work of art, but the world in its infinite variety.
Taken at the most simple level, Rossignol’s method does nothing more than reflect upon this truth. He is the diligent observer, acutely aware of the world’s infinite capacity for textualization. But as a visual artist he can see the manifest force of what is there. He sees and knows it for what it is; a signifying network which, paradoxically, is without centre or limit. He knows too, that for the work that he makes to accrue meaning from this shifting and shapeless world, he must cut and paste in order to discover his own limits. The fact that he has succeeded in producing a thoroughly rewarding body of work in the process is a tribute to his intelligence and his sensibility.