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LIBRE | First solo exhibition at the Thierry Marlat Gallery | Stéphane Trois Carrés©

In this 32nd issue, CULTURAMA continues its investigations off the beaten track, exploring the relation between Art and Mathematics.

For more information on an article, click on the corresponding images

Stéphane Trois Carrés's LIBRE exhibition, held at the Thierry Marlat Gallery, was devoted to free figuration through painting and digital art. On the occasion of this event, CULTURAMA conducted two exclusive interviews.

A beautiful messy studio | Oil on canvas and inkjet | Thierry Marlat Gallery courtesy | Stéphane Trois Carrés©

Eric of MA’A*: Both a videographer and a painter, you develop a "mathematics of intuition". Computer science has revolutionized the art market, starting with virtual and interactive museum visits, finishing with cryptography to secure auctions. What do you think will be the next major metamorphosis?

Stéphane Trois Carrés: In order to answer your question, I would like to question the anthropological function of art. We know that art is the set of forms, gestures and stories that explain humanity to itself. This is how art skims metaphysics to reassure the primate, amazed by his own death and the cosmos. Stunned as well as gnawed by the explanation of its existence, humanity organizes objects and stories to reach eternity and omnipotence. By observing the actors in art society, we see the desire for power and the hermeneutical combustion to circumscribe the permanent threat of disappearance.
N+1 | Performance created with the help of the Civil Society of Multimedia Authors and Toshiba France | Stéphane Trois Carrés & Bernard Maltaverne©

This is how art specialists often behave: as a transcendent class, clergy of immanence. They animate mirror games of reference and analogy. The anthropology of art brushes against the metaphysical concerns of homo sapiens, and no matter if it strips metaphysics, immanence is powerless when it comes to explaining the miracle of existence. Then new actors appear, sketching new anthropological conditions, but still remaining homo sapiens. We can get a glimpse of what's next, we can imagine it, there are even texts for that. Science fiction has tried to explain its forms, but Bruce Sterling (Mozart en verres mirroirs), Serge Brussolo (Évacuation immédiate des Musées Fantômes et plus lourd que le vent) and J.G. Ballard have probably evoked the next stage of art from an economic, procedural and symbolic point of view the best.

Untitled N°D/005AB/2012 | Oil on canvas | Stéphane Trois Carrés©

Eric: The current revolution is particular in the way that it exceeds any measure and proceeds in an accelerated manner. How to place it on the scale of humanity’s history, precisely?

Stéphane: Art is only one of the symptoms of the essential break represented by the transformation of the verb into a procedure. Because software is a description and a recipe that act on finite and defined objects: the binary units. This is what is called a discretization in mathematics. Previously, the world was continuous; concepts, representations and narratives were immersed in human speech, now images are definite amounts of information; the world is described in finite parts. If this matter remains present, a layer of description encompassing it can begin to have an existence as dense as the phenomenal world.

The noumenal world, or the Kant's intelligible world, has become digital. Permanent traffic is maintained between these two modes of description. And that affects all human techniques. The human body is starting to be concerned by this revolution, and digital means now offer interfaces to consciousness. It is an anthropological revolution of which one can not even imagine the aesthetic potentialities: shared dreams, experiences, psychic universes put online, and so many other systems completing traditional forms. But do not be deceived, the technologies for this are very sophisticated and they depend on socio-economic and industrial contexts. The rarefaction of materials or the disruption of a processor factory can throw down these technical means, which have mythological aspects, sending humanity back to the simplest means of the story.

The very broad question from discrete to continuum | Oil on canvas and inkjet | Thierry Marlat Gallery courtesy | Stéphane Trois Carrés©

Eric: Art, just like science, is gaining extraordinary potential. Yet, this dependence on technology also makes it very vulnerable. How do you imagine the artistic practices of tomorrow?

Stéphane: Cinema came to life in the light of caverns, in theaters of light and shadow, in the rapid rotation of a flat bone on which were engraved two poses of a reindeer running. Simple and resilient systems that reflect a humanity of flesh and blood. The prodigious technological adventure makes us paradoxically powerful and fragile. After all, who would know how to make a processor with sand and heat nowadays? 

More and more sophisticated forms are being organized, they can disappear due to a simple electromagnetic effect caused by solar eructation. Thus, art-to-come will become hazier and hazier, but also more and more complex in its economy and its forms. I evoke this without speculating about the languages to come! So I keep drawing.
A new mess | Bomb on canvas and inkjet | Thierry Marlat Gallery courtesy | Stéphane Trois Carrés©

Eric: Let's focus on the concept of mathematical discretization that you describe as a way to extract the unit of information to rationalize it. What is its importance in plastic conception?

Stéphane: Discretization is the only way to calculate continuous phenomena. By integrating small parts, we obtain continuity, a finite sum of calculable values. That's what we do with our scanners, our cameras, and our telephone networks. In the past, shapes were analogue prints: on a frequency scale, acoustic and chemical pressure values were played with and it left traces on material media. When the need to transmit these media remotely has become apparent, the only way was to convert them into electricity. And for that, we had to choose a sampling with frequencies sufficiently abundant and precise to translate the physical phenomenon observed. The next step was digitalization. This is how the relationship between the continuous and the discrete impacts our technical history. And this has consequences on the ontology of our forms, whatever they are.

Eric: It is said that difficulties forge character. In your artistic journey, what challenge forged you the most?

Stéphane: I do not think in terms of challenge. There are things that I have to do and redo in some contexts, and it is nice to manage to do them, but it can also be interesting to fail or end up in an unexpected place.

Creative existence is not a still river, that's what makes this activity interesting. The challenge is daily. One must exist with oneself before being with others. Existing is, therefore, a challenge; it is so obvious that we do not even see it anymore.

"While the history of ideas in the West is marked by an ongoing debate between the use of images and the refusal of this practice (iconoclasm), digital imaging tools make an amazing loop where the most refined concepts of mathematics produce extremely effective visual mimic phenomena."

Stéphane Trois Carrés, Les Boucles de l’acheiropoièse

Stéphane Trois Carrés's© studio

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Thierry Marlat
North Pacific Ocean Stinson Beach, 1994 | Thierry Marlat Gallery, 2003 | Hiroshi Sugimoto©

Eric of MA’A*: A photograph, an image, can it come close to perfection, in your opinion?

Thierry Marlat: That’s a philosophical question. My view should stay platonic, steer away from the ego. What truly matters, is the state that follows the work. Does it encourage or does it wither? What is perfect continues, acquires a certain form of eternity. Perfect photography is eternal. It channels the universe, the cosmos, mankind, nature, beings in the most universal sense. There is no perfect photograph, but there are photos which gather so much, so much of everything we are capable of, that it is impossible to escape.

Your question also tests the one looking at the photo as much as it tests the photographer taking it. The perfect work of art not only summons contemplative eyes, as if for an adjustment but also encourages one’s gaze. It creates movement, a shift in one’s mind and posture. It generates something.

Chance Meeting, 1972 | Thierry Marlat Gallery, 2007 | Duane Michals©

Eric: What is an artist’s responsibility regarding creation?

TM: The artist is half-way between man and God, or all that ineffable we name God; why not name it that way? The artist attempts to raise man closer to God. In a certain way, the artist is an aspiring machine, from the bottom — man nailed to the ground — toward God — the supreme elevation. As far as I know, the perfect work, the perfect photograph, reunites the earth and the sky, man and God. The perfect work simply raises man toward the ineffable while pushing the latter further: it doesn’t erase it, it moves it away. The perfect work creates and describes the ineffable. Photography is nothing but a particular medium, like charcoal or blood with which we draw. The techniques in themselves are means, not ends. Artists have the choice. There is a multitude of techniques, media, it’s a universe of possibility. And their way of life in this universe consists in making choices which define them as artists.

An artist’s first duty is to be free. The second is to be at the very heart of the cosmos. The game’s rules are not to escape but rather to integrate. Marcel Duchamp said the same, so did Jeff Koons, Irving Penn, Stéphane Trois Carrés, Corinne Lagorre and myself. Only the artists who are fully aware of being at the heart of the cosmos — and who don’t worry about it! — interest me. The conscience is of course at the heart of genius. Because there is necessarily some genius in all this. 

Untitled, 1998-1999 | Thierry Marlat Gallery, 2008 | Bill Henson©

Eric: Mathematics, as a source of abstract knowledge, allows us to reinterpret reality by purifying it, freeing it from chaos. Could this science one day define the artistic genius that you evoke, as they did for geometric harmony with the golden ratio, for example? By extension, which mathematical theory applies best to photographic creation?

TM: Your question has multiple facets. Maths are plural, that is important. The starting point of maths is a number, or a code to memorize data. However, the Ancient Greeks claimed that we only need whole numbers. It’s after imagining continuous digital spaces — from infinitely large to infinitely small, with its dichotomy leading to real numbers, — that we have provoked a mathematical tidal wave whose probability theory is the result, or one of the results, that is the thunderous use of artificial intelligence. This technology perfectly concretizes the continuous models’ impact on not only our vision of reality but also our processing of it. It attempts to project an image of the way us humans approach reality.

Untitled, 1936 | Thierry Marlat Gallery, 2007 | Archiv Ann und Jüngen Wilde, Zülpich | Jeu de Paume Museum courtesy | Albert Renger-Patzch©
Discrete mathematics, however, have not ceased to question us. In other words, the question we dwell on, forget and then dwell on some more, is: “After all, is the world discrete?” Did man not simply invent decimal numbers and decimate everything simply because he is more comfortable with the continuous rather than the discrete? It is one of the great questions of the mathematical world. And it is maybe a false question, that is to say, a question that is not properly formulated. Because if we transpose the number’s analysis toward the whole, then the continuity is not a necessity. We can be satisfied with whole, digital entities. We are clearly in the world of computers.

Daisy Waterfall, 1971 | Thierry Marlat Gallery, 2016 | Andy Warhol©

Skull walking cane, 1988 | Thierry Marlat Gallery, 2016 | Robert Mapplethorpe©

Eric: What are the respective places of order and chaos in this new world? And, a corollary question, how do you situate the artist?

TM: To approach the notion of chaos, mathematicians started by inventing a language for it: first 1, then 2, resulting from chaos as products of chaos, and then the entire mathematical language, including Bourbakism, which produced a climax because it appeared that, to organize this chaos into a language, there must be mechanisms, logic — one plus one equals two, and the rest. Mathematics organize chaos, but at the same time preserve it, given the plural nature of mathematics. Quite simply, mathematics is correct — because otherwise, it's no longer math — but they are not true or real.

However, is chaos a reality or a view of the mind? Euler understood this very well when he invented the imaginary number. In mathematics, everything is imaginary, it’s just that some simplifications seem right because they stick, they coincide well with reality. But what is the math of this space of order and chaos? Your question finds a particular resonance in the world of art: the artist is at the heart of the ineffable, so to speak of chaos. However, artists are necessarily happy because their art consists in embracing life in chaos: they find order where others would be lost. They have their own mathematics, mechanisms, logic, which is a math of chaos, a mechanism that produces order, a logic that does not collapse straight away. This very beautiful idea of the late collapse is an idea of Trois Carrés, that restores poetry to all mathematics, that is to say, it recalls its time-based character, essential to all mathematics. In fact, mathematics and art seem to be interested in a common idea: the coexistence of order and chaos. They are like partners, one working in a reverse, dual or negative perspective of the other. The concrete universe that man has constructed is made as follows: yes and no, one thing and its opposite, yin and yang, a bit like an hourglass that makes no sense if one does not have the option to turn it over, but the picture is very offbeat though. So in your question, there is the idea of the solution: by magic or by science, can we find the solution? It is the idea of the golden number that would solve the difficulty, it is the idea of the miracle solution that would free us from uncertainty. For this, one should see a psychoanalyst or practice yoga.

Chaos is my job | Artist's book | Stéphane Trois Carrés©

Man, like nature, is an essence that emanates from both order and chaos. Take one or the other away from him and he dies from asphyxiation. On the other hand, art and mathematics have a similar art of living. They have a great fraternity, a great freedom and they proclaim their equality as a duty they give themselves. They are, of course, not the only ones to proclaim this kind of thing. But every time a mathematician advances, every time an artist finishes a work, whenever one or the other finds himself taken over by joy, every time he proclaims: here is what I produced, we'll figure the rest out later. And immediately, he gets up to continue, because later is always now. This math, these mechanisms, are one of the components of the genius that does not give himself time, but rather takes it. Let’s get back to photography.  Every photograph is a theorem or almost; I do not know anything else. This conjecture of the Thierry Marlat Gallery has not yet been officially demonstrated. That said, an upcoming exhibition of the gallery should be titled "Exhibition of Theorems, or Almost”, if ever the bright future confirms it.

Chaos is my job | Artist's book | Stéphane Trois Carrés©

Eric: In developing your notion of artist mechanisms, would it be wise to say that the relationship between the continuous and the discrete gathers, in fact, the whole history of art?

TM: The fact that artists are at the heart of a chaotic process and are related to larger issues seems obvious when you are an art dealer, gallerist or collector. An artist is first and foremost a major contribution to the illumination of humanity. It is, therefore, a pragmatic feeling, an observation, that the artist is in a proper mechanism which carries and integrates a whole cosmos and universe. In this process, temporality remains an essential concept. Action painting is one of the most flagrant illustrations, it describes very well what happens between the continuity, the long time where the artist takes care of a whole lot of potential, and the discrete point where he restores everything, in the artwork, in an act, a series of gestures.

In photography, the act precedes the series of gestures. In painting, the series of gestures ends with an act: the painting. In both processes, there is continuity — integration — and discretion — act. Is it advisable to proclaim this relation as continuous and discrete? Certainly. It brings us closer to the cosmos, it opens us to the digital transition, it opens up possibilities. It opens our senses to better understand the present and what is real.
LIBRE | First solo exhibition at the Thierry Marlat Gallery | Stéphane Trois Carrés©

An artist who questions this is Walker Evans, with his monstrous coldness, his very singular and unequalled objectivity. In the end, his accuracy stems from a fundamentally discrete and almost impulsive, act. In "Doorway 204 West, 13th Street, Greenwich Village", for example, a photograph taken in 1931, Walker Evans places himself in a posture that makes him almost solely a camera; he is essentially in the act of photographing; he watches the frame, the light, placing himself outside of any history, any continuity. His business is not to tell but to capture. The door is charged with its historical load. The same door photographed by Berenice Abbott in 1937 gives a completely different photograph, completely narrative. Change of frame, change of light. Abbot is in search of continuity. In this case, the one who manufactures the future is Walker Evans. Stéphane Trois Carrés acts like Walker Evans, like other artists of this caliber: charged with a whole world, chaos, like a condenser — this is what Stéphane calls "to procrastinate", and from his procrastinating emerge his fabulous notebooks. Thus, the canvas becomes the support of an isolated, discrete act; the artist is essentially in the act of painting.

The canvas does not need continuity to exist, the continuity pre-exists in the work. The artist does not have to worry about it. The works of Evans and Trois Carrés have this in common: they are signed, in the most obvious way, by the artist's hand. Facing works like theirs, we attend births. What is certain is that all this is not easy to say. But it is art’s nature to contain its share of ineffable. The work is born, the analysis follows… And that is why we collect works, that we transmit works, to give ourselves time to decant into the ineffable. Otherwise, we would be content with simply exchanging ideas verbally.

 « The essence of mathematics is freedom »
Georg Cantor