Interview with Herve Constant by Deborah Ellison
Article published in Aesthetica Art Book December 2004
What is it like to be an artist in the 21st century? What drives a
person to dedicate his/her life to the one goal of being creative and
producing works of art? This is an extract of an interview that tries
to explore the psyche of being an artist and the drive and
determination needed to succeed as an artist in this century.
Hervé Constant is a French artist, based in London since the mid 80’s.
Born in Casablanca (Morocco), Hervé was brought up in South of
France where he started to study theatre acting at the Conservatoire de
Toulon before obtaining a grant to further his studies at the Ecole
Nationale Superieure des Arts et Technique du Theatre in Paris.
Hervé’s work is a mixture of different interests and influences. The
poetry of Arthur Rimbaud has been a continual interest as well as the
Kabbalah. Recent projects involve video, photos and sounds and
Artist's Books. Hervé Constant’s most recent exhibitions were at
Museo National de Bellas Artes,Havana Cuba 2002, Contemporary Art
Centre, Vilnius Lithuania 2003, OUTVIDEO Festival, National Center
for Contemporary Art ,Ekaterinburg Russia 2004. VII Bienal do Reconcavo,Bahia Salvador Brazil,
File04 International Electronic Language Festival Sesi Art Gallery Sao Paulo Brazil, 7 Encuentro
International Poesia Visual Sonora Experimental, Buenos Aires Argentina.
DE: Being an artist in the 21st century where materialism is rife
must be difficult. How do you keep focused?
HC: I think that as soon you have made a choice, a committed choice
in any field it is a point of no return. It becomes just a one way of
living. It is not a separated commitment and dedication; it becomes a
prime decision in one’s life, a kind of obsession. Materialism has
reflected any society in any century. Materialism is very much
integrated into the fibre of any culture, past and future. My motivation
reflects a deep interest, a sense of discovery, which leads every time
to new research in different fields. Art has always interacted with the
social environment; it is never neutral and is always in necessary relation
to the current social structure.
There is always a correlation between society’s values, directions, and motives
and the art it produces.
DE: Do you think art enables the discovery of oneself? And that the discovery
can never really end - as the human psyche is always evolving and changing?
What has this taught you about yourself?
HC: It is obvious that the main interest of being into the Arts is to undergo self-discovery.
This discovery is probably the most enjoyable part of art, knowledge through travel, books,
and meetings. I feel I am lucky as Art gives me the possibility to travel to some very exotic
places such as Havana, Cuba (for the Festival of Digital Art), Seoul, South Korea (Biennial 1997)
Exile Art in Copenhagen 2000, St Petersburg, Russia (Biennial 2001), Alvar Aalto Museum,
Jyvaskyla Finland 1996, and most recently to Vilnius, Lithuania (Artist’s Book exhibition and
touring 2003). These travels have been a strong part of a self-discovery process. To mix and talk
with different nationalities, see different behaviour and values makes one ask many questions.
My main interest is to keep that curiosity and questioning alive. Life is full of surprises: it can
change your perception of things, attitudes, and characters.
DE: Self-motivation is obviously a key driving force for your work. What other
influences are there for you as an artist?
HC: The more difficult it becomes, the more it challenges me to touch my own limits and potential, to
see what point in myself I can reach. The Viennese psychoanalyst Otto Rank once wrote (in 1932) about
the artist - “His calling is not a means of livelihood, but life itself…he does not practice his calling but is
Today, however, whatever we do, we are supposed to do for the sake of “making a living”, and the
number of people, especially in the artistic and intellectual professions, who might once have challenged
this view has notably decreased.
DE: Most recently, you have been working with digital technology
such as photography and videos. Could you explain this change in
HC: I have always liked photography. When I started painting and
drawing, and later printing such as lithography, silkscreen and etching,
I thought photography was something different, something I could not
get into, another world. Then the day I started photography, I was
invited to Tuzla, Bosnia as an artist in residence for a month, in 1998. The four artists chosen were
invited to work and show in a Museum of Tuzla. I brought a series of medium size paintings, 10 in total
(20x20inches) made in encaustic for the show. Since we were travelling across the country; being shown
the aftermath of the war, I started to take a series of photos depicting my feelings against that war. The
view of the park we were taken into, with the small coffins of children had their photos on top, the park
being turned into a cemetery made me realise all that absurdity. It was shocking.
HC: For me, real success is the urge and ability to keep involved in
creative research. Of course, having exhibitions, obtaining reviews and
prizes can feed the will to continue. That is my way to evaluate
personal success. I doubt that is the understanding of success for most people, since success must be
define by how much money and material acquisition is garnered and accumulated. Now, very often
artists want art to serve their careers rather than seeing themselves as serving art. Creative humility is no
longer in style, and it may be worth asking ourselves how such a reversal in our thinking has come about.
What was formerly an ideal has become the very framework of ambition: “making it on sales alone.” The
real reason to do anything is to do it for a personal pleasure, for oneself. That is where motivation,
commitment appears. A genuine search.