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700 Artists’ Processes
Maxime Chanson [see all titles]
Jannink [see all titles] Wide Open [see all titles]
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Preface
Alexandre Quoi
(p. 5-6)


This publication is the culmination of a unique project, carried out with a rare degree of tenacity. Spurred by the perfectly legitimate need of a young artist to define his own practice, Maxime Chanson embarked on an ambitious project, analyzing the practice of nearly seven hundred of his peers. Working with a precise set of criteria for the initial selection of artists (presented in detail in the following sections), Maxime Chanson then proceeded to methodically process each individual case, attributing generic expressions which allowed him to identify each artist's work process.
The keyword here, process, successfully suggests the type of action and progress that both fuels and structures the creative course — a complex phenomenon Maxime Chanson presents as the necessary alliance or combined action between a “Motor” and a “Means”.
The various charts presented in this book are the fruit of a gradual and meticulous gestation; they organize and synthesize a substantial amount of data and ultimately offer a wealth of insight. If we view these charts as a whole, what emerges is a map of the contemporary artistic landscape. Indeed, the method Maxime Chanson establishes here provides an effective tool for deciphering the myriad tendencies and orientations that coexist within current creation. It serves to highlight recurrent concerns, to identify some of the key ideas and procedures that fuel both artistic production as such and its related aesthetic stakes.
In this way, the results that emerge from this in-depth inquiry support the oft-made characterization of contemporary art as a heteroclite and protean sphere, while also providing some extremely useful points of reference to help find critical bearings amid the haze. Although creation in the contemporary moment can no longer be sweepingly labeled with such and such movement, trend, or other “ism”, it nonetheless continues to be articulated around major themes and shared queries that Maxime Chanson sets out to analyze.
If we consider this book at closer range, what emerges between the lines is a portrait of the artist himself. Through a mirror effect, the reflexive character of the book allows us to perceive the motivations and obsessions of its author — and surely the last chart in the book (which borrows formulas from cognitive psychology) also provides one of the keys for understanding Maxime Chanson's own stance. Bearing in mind the initial motive behind the study, it would be tempting to submit Maxime Chanson's project to its own interpretation grid. The “Motor” one would readily single out is the following: “Understanding society and its codes in order to show their conditioning nature through derision”, combined with a “Contextual set that establishes a playful relationship with the visitor” as its “Means”. Based on this generic definition, the classification system seems to place Maxime Chanson in good company, locating him alongside Claude Closky and Julien Prévieux, among others — artists who are also familiar with the programmatic exercise and diagrammatic data processing.
If we wanted to take this comparative game further, other more historical associations come to mind. Let's consider, for instance, the dozens of topographical charts on art George Maciunas produced between 1953 and 1973 — a colossal project, carried out in parallel with his famous series of diagrams on the historical development of Fluxus (1). Yet 700 Artists' Processes does not strive towards the same kind of totalizing utopia. Further, the project displays myriad similarities with some of the major principles of conceptual art: its investigation into the nature of art, its dematerialization of the artwork to privilege language, its “aesthetic of administration” (2) abounding with quantitative data, lists and all manner of systems (Dan Graham, Hanne Darboven, etc.). Georges Perec, for his part, asked in a posthumously published collection of short stories, Penser/Classer (Think/Classify): “How could one classify the following verbs: arrange, catalogue, classify, cut up, divide, enumerate, gather, grade, group, list, number, order, organize, sort?” (3) Maxime Chanson's work certainly keeps alive that zesty mixture of the serious and the absurd.
He shares with the Oulipian writer a common reflection on order and categorization which, far from merely succumbing to a fascination for classification, serves, rather, to underscore the vain and illusionary dimension of all attempts to identify universal laws governing phenomena. The taxonomic vertigo that Perec discusses precisely matches the feeling the reader may experience on encountering the pages crammed with classifications compiled herein.
The reader's puzzlement will no doubt be coupled with a sense of uncertainty regarding the actual nature of this book. What is the status of a project such as this? How are we to apprehend the book-object that accompanies it? While Maxime Chanson's approach plays on ambiguities, shifting constantly between playfulness and analysis, subjectivity and objectivity, it is the actual product of his study that ultimately maintains an ambivalent identity, defying all attempts at categorization.
Prima facie, the series of charts and lists in Maxime Chanson's book are not dissimilar to the ranking lists which often feature in the specialized press, establishing the markers of celebrity and value so prized by the art market. Unless, that is, the book's methodical rigor, its strict neutrality and impersonal coldness, its hermetic appearance and general structure ultimately bring it more directly in line with an academic dissertation or a scientific report.
In this way, 700 Artists' Processes will satisfy a variety of interests, depending on the reader. Some may approach it as an applied cognitive science exercise or a study in the sociology of art, while others will take it as an overview of the contemporary art scene and yet others as a didactic handbook for young artists. For Maxime Chanson, all of these various functions converge into a hybrid object that has enabled him to turn an initial uncertainty into a mode of creation — or, better still, an artistic form. Let's refer to this object as an artist's book (4). We would then need to imagine the kind of distribution and circulation this kind of publishing object would have. For instance, in which section would it be placed in bookstores and libraries? Douglas Crimp has told us how he came across a copy of Ed Ruscha's famous book Twenty-six Gasoline Stations (1963) while doing some research in the New York Public Library one day: this work — historically accepted as the inaugural gesture of the artist's book genre — had been shelved in the general ‘Transportation' section, amid books on automobiles and highways. The critic rightly observed that: “The fact that there is nowhere within the present system of classification a place for Twenty-six Gasoline Stations is an index of its radicalism with respect to established modes of thought” (5).
Ed Ruscha, who was himself very aware of the uncertain destiny awaiting his books, wrote a text in 1972 in which a fictitious character named “The Information Man” delivered an inventory (as comprehensive as it was comical) of the fate his books would meet (6). However improbable, we can imagine that crossing paths with someone equipped with such omniscience would be the ideal, ultimate conclusion to Maxime Chanson's own process. I therefore invite his future readers to cooperate by sending him any comments or information they might have regarding their use of this book.


1 See Astrit Schmidt-Burkhardt, George Maciunas' Learning Machines. From Art History to a Chronology of Fluxus, Vienna/New York: Springer Verlag, 2011.
2 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions”, October, Vol. 55, Winter 1990, pp. 105-143.
3 Georges Perec, “Think/Classify” in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, London: Penguin, 1997, p. 186
4 See Anne Mœglin-Delcroix's seminal work on defining the artist's book genre in Esthétique du livre d'artiste, Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 1997.
5 Douglas Crimp, On the Museum's Ruins, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1993, pp. 78.
6 Ed Ruscha, in an interview with A. D. Coleman, “My Books End Up in the Trash”, in The New York Times, August 27, 1972; reproduced in Ed Ruscha, Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004, pp. 46-50.
 
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