Your work Supporters De Galeries translates some of the Ultras movements' strategies and aesthetics in a totally different field. Could you explain the creation process behind it?
It all started when I was an art school student in Cergy-Pontoise. One day during a lesson we heard a clamour soaring from the street. There had been a CAN game, and the supporters of the winning team were celebrating wildly. I then wondered what it would be like if contemporary art lovers, often caricatured as snobbish and not very expansive, were expressing their enthusiasm that way. It was pretty funny to imagine collectors in a suit and tie chanting songs to the glory of an artist in the middle of a deserted white cube!
From there, the analogy between football and the art market became obvious to me. These are two environments where the economic stakes are huge and it involves millions of people. They represent also two eminently spectacular fields well suited to the media. Another similarity was the violence that prevails in their midst. The one inherent in competitive sports and grandstands is known to all, extremely instrumentalized and popularized by the mass media. The one of the art world, much less visible and rather symbolic, is nonetheless very real. It is also interesting to observe that many personalities are major figures in both domains. Some influential art collectors, for example, own football clubs like Roman Abramovitch, who owns Chelsea, François Pinault, who owns Stade Rennais, and the Al-Thani family, closely bound up with PSG. I started from the premise that a gallery was very similar to a football team in its inner-workings, with its gallery manager being at the same time coach, selector and club owner, its artists / players and its collectors / shareholders. These teams / galleries compete with each other at major international fairs, which are the major art market competitions. I first focused on the most recognized Parisian galleries that had a strong image and charismatic leaders like Emmanuel Perrotin, Kamel Mennnour, Thaddaeus Ropac and Yvon Lambert. These four galleries also had the advantage of corresponding, in the image that surrounds them, to existing football teams. In this fiction, Perrotin is a bit like the PSG of the art world, a powerful gallery a bit flashy. Kamel Mennour is undoubtedly his great rival team, a mix between OM and OL, while Yvon Lambert would be Saint Etienne, a legendary team having lost some of its lustre. Ropac would be the equivalent of a large European club, Arsenal or Bayern Munich. I created visual identities for each, inspired by their public image whom I ironically hijack. I then wrote songs to their glory, created slogans and a whole bunch of branded by-products and goodies that I stage in my performances. Many other teams have emerged since.
Photo © Sébastien Baverel
You have reshaped football fan gadgets as well as Ultras distinctive signs like scarfs. Is this palette of materials for this performance/piece typical of your work?
Everything I do in plastic arts is just a succession of quotes. I like to take over existing images or objects, play with their meanings and change their usual broadcasting context. I also mix cultural categories a lot, items from popular culture with items from the so-called “legitimate” culture, in order to highlight their differences, and very often also, their similarities.
I also create a lot of fictional characters I like to embody in my performances. I am at the same time the failed doppelganger of a bunch of stars (Elvis, Freddie Mercury…), a stakhanovist super heroine who has no power but a pronounced taste for hard work through to burnout, my great grandmother who was a Communist worker and a cigarette smuggler, Tupac Shakur… It’s a fair but sometimes quite contradictory way of talking about myself. I unroll a different narrative thread with each of these characters, I activate them according to the context and each one has its own existence. All my plastic works are designed according to these narratives, like objects derived from these different fictions. So yes, goodies from football clubs or gear from ultra-groups speak a lot to me! I am quite familiar with these methods of manufacturing in my own work. I also like the artisanal aspect at work in this type of achievement. The majority of the items I produce are costumes or lengths of cloth, the kind we find a lot in fan circles or among Ultras. The combination between words, symbols, color codes and the way of showcasing them, through clothing or accessories, fascinates me completely. I am also very interested in the history of symbols and heraldry, which has also a strong link with this culture, and more generally to everything that allows us to create an identity, individual or collective, and the means of displaying it.
How about reactions to your work? You turned yourself into an Ultras or hooligan and acted in galleries, where we normally all have to respect a kind of church-like holy silence. Artists are in general warmly invited to be critical and to go beyond thresholds (in their works), but in fact they are required to behave in art world cathedrals.
What interested me in making the analogy between these two environments was above all the question of violence and social domination. And although this violence and these power games are present both in football and art, they are exerted differently. Obviously we don’t express ourselves the same way in the stands of a crowded stadium and in an art gallery or museum!
Different social codes are at work there and I am keen to dissect their mechanisms. At the origin of this set of issues, there is the discomfort that I’m systematically feeling when visiting an exhibition, wherever it takes place. I always feel out of place and certainly not legitimate. The fact that I come from a modest background with limited access to art and culture may have a lot to do with it. I do not master the codes, the habit to evolve in these spaces and feel completely comfortable. I’m probably not the only one feeling that way and I carried out substantial work on myself in an effort to desecrate these places during my studies in fine arts. I did not succeed, and it is a great victory when I manage to press the bell of a carriage door, cross the courtyard of a Haussmannian building and enter a White cube displaying an air of triumph! I manage this issue much better disguised as a hooligan. It is about embodying a character: I overact the part of the fanatic supporter and I regain control for a few minutes. I never request the opinion of the institutions where I perform, and the reactions are often directly proportional to the sound level of my little show. Nothing too brutal so far, just threats from guards who think I’m in the middle of a trip (“she’s crazy, she took drugs” I was told one day). It puts me in a rather uncomfortable situation as a young artist, because turning an institution into a shambles may not be the best way to be spotted and eventually invited to exhibit there someday. Anyway, since in any event they do not show my work, and as a precarious young woman I have little chance that will be changing soon, I grant myself this right. Also, I do not request permission from the galleries and institutions to use their name, and I haven’t met any legal problem on the matter yet! However, even if my work is clearly ironic and parodic, some of them take up my work in their own communication. Even if I found it at first a little unsettling, I integrate this into my approach for I love when fiction and reality intertwine and create complex situations from an ethical, political and aesthetic point of view.
What’s your personal relationship with football fans, in particular with radical fans movements?
I am not really a big football fan to tell the truth. Sport in general does not interest me, and I get bored pretty quickly in front of its spectacle, even if I recognize the beauty and the great technicality of an athletic performance. In my daily life, I’m also the opposite of a great athlete, which is quite strange when you are a performer with your own body as main tool.
On the other hand, I like the culture associated with football, the economic and societal issues attached to it. I’m mainly interested in its sociology. More generally, the history of social and political struggles since the beginning of the industrial era questions me a lot, and it is through this that I took a keen interest in the history of football clubs and their groups of supporters. Ultras-groups are microcosms to me, reflecting more complex and overall social tensions or dynamics. The cultural richness we find in ultra-movements and its sometimes obscure codes are subjects of fascination for me.
Photo © Alexis Cherigny
You recently presented Made in Catelland, which is also based on many Ultras topics: scarves, imitation, copy, theft. And it’s in fact a complexe analysis of art world.
One of my first “wild” performances took place in October 2016 at the Monnaie de Paris, during Maurizio Cattelan’s exhibition, Not Affraid of Love. I came to support the artist represented by the Perrotin gallery with my bombers and my scarf displaying his colors. I was merely posing in front of his works mimicking an attitude of grotesque support. Immediately afterwards, I posted the photos of the performance on social media, and they had been acknowledged by his gallery owner. A year later, in October 2017, I was surprised to find football scarves bearing the effigy of MOMA on the online store of the great New York museum. They were signed Maurizio Cattelan and had been already on sale for a month. It was the very first occurrence of these scarves on the Internet.
Maurizio Cattelan subsequently developed a brand marketing these scarves under the name of MADE IN CATTELAND. They are carried out in partnership with Selletti, the great italian designer, and with the support of the most prestigious cultural institutions. The brand is distributed through the shops of these museums, art centers and galleries. An Instagram account with the same name was launched in January 2018. It promotes the brand by posting photos from the institutions selling the goodies, the artist himself and the people who bought them, showing their support to one or another of these art places. The project is brought together under the name MUSEUM LEAGUE, which role would be to make it more accessible to become an art collector (“ART FOR ALL”). Obviously, it is quite exhilarating to be plagiarized by an artist as well-known as Maurizio Cattelan. It’s quite rewarding for my artist ego. That said, it also illustrates perfectly the point I was trying to make when working on the relationship between football and the art market. With the Supporters of Galleries, the issue was above all to emphasize the relationships of domination and the economic and symbolic violence inherent in the artistic milieu. We’re right in the thick of things! Indeed, it is quite easy to copy a young artist who is little known and precarious when you have been a heavyweight on the market and recognized by institutions for thirty years! With MUSEUM LEAGUE, Maurizio Cattelan is committed to making potentially everyone art collectors. Obviously, (almost) anyone can go into a museum shop and buy an arty gift for $ 50. From a sociological point of view, this is a little more questionable.
As a matter of fact, as a precarious young artist, I had a day job at the time. I was working as a cashier … in a museum shop. Another fun fact now. There is a mistake in my middle name. Normally it is written KATELL, but my parents had it logged as CATEL in the civil registers. By adding the suffix -LAND at the end, we get CATELLAND. As luck would have it, I find myself unwillingly branded with a name very similar to that of the artist who copied my work. Dealing in my approach with the copy and the fake, I decided to use this chance as foundation of my answer. I recreated a personal Instagram account, MADE IN CATELLAND, almost homonymous with that of my plagiarist. I carefully remade all the photos appearing on the account, but with my scarves. I reconstituted each staging, with the most similar models possible drawn from my professional or friendly entourage (by taking occasionally the opposite view whenever it was relevant). Each time, I tried to get as close as possible to the context or the decorative features of the original photos. This project was carried out for the most part at my workplace, during my breaks or between two shifts. It seemed appropriate to use this paid working time for artistic creation – not a free time full of creative energy as we imagine, but a time set within a neoliberal economy. It was a way of showing the reality of the majority of contemporary artists, specifically an increasing precariousness and the need to exercise salaried work often casual and insecure. Artists inside institutions, but as precarious workers. There was also a desire on my part to recreate these photos in a “low cost” fashion in order to get as far away as possible from my model’s opulence. A bit like Celeste Barber, famous Instagramer who parodies the Instagram accounts of glamorous influencers or famous models by mimicking their postures in an exaggerated way or by recreating their luxurious universe in a cheap approach. It was also a way of positioning myself in relation to Maurizio Cattelan, who also worked on football (Stadium, 1991, A. C Forniture Sud, 1991) and the art market (Errotin, the real rabbit, 1995, Wrong Gallery, 2001) at the beginning of his career, but in a completely different approach to mine. In a way, this plagiarism would be to a certain extent an appropriation of my work by Cattelan as an extension of his own. And yes, it seems obvious to me that we are both in the logic of behaviors from the ultra-environment. He steals my work, I steal his by hijacking it, as if I had stolen the tarpaulin from his club’s premises and had hung it upside down in my stand. Except it is a virtual logic we are following – our stadiums being social networks, our shifts and turns our own Instagram accounts.