INTERVIEW WITH HERVE CONSTANT / INTERVISTA A HERVE'CONSTANT by Raffaella Losapio
1. Tell me something about you and your life as an artist in London.
I was born in Casablanca, Morocco. My mother was Moroccan and my father French, but my parents separated when I was 5 and both my brother and I went to live with my father in the South of France, near Toulon where he was born.
I do not have an academic background. When I was young, I worked in a shop selling car parts. There I met the director of the students’ parents’ association who advised me to join the Conservatoire de Toulon. I followed his advice and chose to study theatre. Since the courses were held either late afternoon or evening, I could follow most of them. I spent 4 years there and then applied to one of the main Drama school in Paris called Ecole de la rue Blanche. Fortunately, I was accepted given a grant and studied for nearly 2 years at that school. That same year I joined a Flamenco touring group and went with the Rafael Aguilar’ Company to Germany, Belgium, France which was truly a great experience and I enjoyed this period very much.
How I came to live in London is strange. It so happened that students from the Drama school were invited for a few days to visit some theatres and schools in the UK and I was so impressed with the quality of acting that I thought it would be a great experience to live, to study part acting and learn the language in England. I applied to study at a college in Hampstead and was accepted but I could not get a grant because I had not been living in the country long enough.
During my student days in Paris and even in Toulon I was extremely interested by the visual art and I remember quite clearly joining pictures of paintings in my theatre notes books. I started doing drawings, small and not so small paintings. To my surprise, those works got some good response to the point that I got some propositions of purchase. This is how it all started.
After about 4 or 5 years I decided to go back to south of France thinking it would be easier to concentrate and develop in that field. I was quite lucky to get a first prize at the Biennale de Nice 1984 and this led on to a major commission for the French navy a 5x3 meters surface 1985. There in Toulon, during my stay, I also pursue a course on printing at the Beaux-Arts. The course which lasted 2 years was based on silkscreen, etching etc...
I went back to London where I am still living albeit sometimes complaining about the quality of life, the weather and the cost of living here but deep down I realise and appreciate that London is a great city, vibrant and full of interesting people with curious minds.
1967-70 Conservatoire National de Musique de Toulon
1971-73 Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Techniques du
1980-83 Beaux-Arts de Toulon (Etchings/Silkscreens).
2. What moves you to dedicate your life to create and produce works of art?
For me theatre and visual art are like a woman, a priority. I always keep my distances and I do not think that is a good way for going to the second phase of a relationship (of a couple). The studio is my world, a space where I enjoy much pleasure; it is a space of tranquillity and richness. Between readings, see films that I project, here, occasionally. I have my tempo; I get up each morning reasonably early and very soon after a strong coffee start to work. At least till mid or late afternoon. I keep saying to everyone that: if we can meet it has to be mid and late afternoon. A discipline. The same with friends, I try to as much as possible to keep my tempo. I can be flexible and accommodating. I am conscious of certain priorities: to have an interesting conversation. I know I need to include those things in my space, but I make sure that it does not become the space of others. There we are. It is a customary need, an impulse to fulfil the time this way.
3. When, how and why have you started filming?
I obtained a grant to work and travel to Bosnia in 1997
and there I took a lot of photos of places, either burnt or full of shrapnel marks. When I came back to London and went to develop the series, I thought I did have a body of work; material I could use for paintings, projections and as prints to show them. I started to think as a photographer from that time. I am grateful for that trip as it gave me the possibility to discover another interest. Since then, I enjoy that process of creation.
From the photo, it was not far to move into video. Being a painter, I made a good sale at the time and every time some money comes my way I reinvest it straight away into new materials, trips or pay for my studio for the maximum amount of time in order to have a certain peace of mind. I also believe that an artist can work well when the pressure of materials needs is met so I got hold of a video camera and got on with producing two projects. The first one evolved through asking a dear friend to pose and wrap and unwrap his head with a long black scarf.
The second proposition came from the idea of using my own hands as ‘ballet’. I have all the time been fascinated by watching hands, the way people gesticulate, express themselves and so often reflecting their mind and behaviour. They are so revealing, so descriptive. Hands convey so much, tenderness, coldness, violence, sensuality, and delicate gestures. So many things in fact can be revealed that I set a cloth on a table and placed the camera at a certain angle and depth. Having, at the time no one I could think of asking to pose I made use of my own hands. I let them express any emotion coming through my mind and let my hands react to these emotions. I tried a few times to see the result. Not liking the use of colour for the reason that the colour was disturbing the focus on the hands I restarted without colour and switched to the B+W and I must say avoiding any musical sound also for the same reason and using the take in B+W worked much better in my view so I kept the video that way.
4. Which are your preferred subjects for your films/videos?
Very often they can be a mixture of absurd, political, or anti bourgeois meanings. They can convey a surreal and mockery of the values of the bourgeoisie. The obsession of presentation, of appearance and competition to name but a few that is to show off that you have something better and more costly than your neighbour.
Sometimes they have a need to interpret things seen around them in a poetic way. Again Surreal like the piece called ‘Toute Lune est Atroce’ we are seeing just the moon balancing, hiding and reappearing under the rapid passage of clouds in a kind of ballet with the only word ‘Go’ said in a kind of supplication, of menace, tender. Like the one called ‘Hand Ballet’ many emotions do follow the imagery.
The one called ‘Run’ has the subject of a time. The image is a sport clock, looking like a toy. It says the same as so many people obsess with time and its value. Time is money. Do not waste my time. I cannot give you my time, it is precious. How much do you charge an hour?
Then, the video shows a clock; time turning, being stuck in front of it wasting your time. Now, maybe You realize running around like a zombie after a time, being in time is a waste of time.
Another one I am fond of called ‘Demeures 1-59’ represents a series of photos of front doors. I wanted to give a very sharp and short time for each of them. 1 second for each one and 59 photos shown within 59 seconds. To add to the video, I included a recording from the film by Jacques Tati called ‘My Uncle’ I thought it will go well with it. The sound recording describes the Lady owner showing off her kitchen and the apparatus. It is hilarious, at least to me.
5. How do you develop your films/videos, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?
No, I do not develop or follow any principles. For me it is like an image or a painting. I get an idea and from that I see how I can progress into it. Though, yes maybe that will explain a way of development to do a video.
6. What are the chances of new media for the genre film/video in general and you personally?
It is attractive at the present time for a wide range of artists for the main reason of being immediate, easier, and more direct. You do not need plenty of space you can work on it at your own pace. Personally, it suits what I am interested at present, but I do not count on it in having a great expectation. Just a vehicle to keep creating.
7. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team?
I work individually (though not by choice) but so far that is the way it has been. I would be interested to work in a team to discover another way of approach to creation. Though, I am quite difficult, impatient, and hard working. Therefore, I like artists to be very present, fast, and responsive.
8. Who or what has an influence on your film/video making?
I like to film slow, neither complicated nor making use of many effects. I use a symbol and an idea to convey an emotion. That emotion could be satirical, humoristic, or poetic.
9. What are your future or dreams as a film/video maker?
Like a child I have a dream to be more ambitious, to jump the wall and go with more challenging venues. One of my aspirations would be to make a long feature. I look forward to that.
10. Why did you open your studio to other international artists’ projections?
For the reason of showing some interest to their work and sharing some experience. I show what I feel is interesting, challenging and the work who has a personal style and voice. My feeling is a lot of people can write a book, do a painting, write a poem but very few have the means to convey their personal world. Most conform to a learnt trade and habits.
11. Do many people attend the projections?
No, maybe it is due to the choice of the videos and films. The films shown are not trendy and commercial. I do not choose the films for being entertaining, easy and self satisfying. Like a piece of writing or a painting they need to show an experience, a mood.
12. After the projections is there discussion about the films/videos?
Very rarely since I noticed it can become an exercise in theory and a show of personalities. Also, I believe like most art forms being a personal experience. You need to create your own dialogue with the creator. In my choice of artists, they (the creators) do not impose their views they are expressing their own experience of thoughts and life. No need to say to the audience you are right or wrong but maybe to open a door to interrogation.