Recherche sur l'origine

Robert Filliou


Mixed Media, 280 x 8900 cm.
Materials: oil, pastel on canvas, wood

Collection: Collection MAC, Lyon.

Filliou proposes that ‘research is not the privilege of those who know, but the domain of those who don’t know’. He sees research in general, and artistic research in particular, as our best chance to live our lives in a spirit of curiosity and experimentation.

Excerpt of the conversation between Robert Filliou (RF) and Irmeline Lebeer (IL), Flayosc, France, August 1976.

IL: Later it was shown again at Documenta. And then you took up this principle again in Research on the Origin. We make an arrow: ‘Research on the Origin.’

RF: Yes, and under ‘Research on the Origin’ we’ll explain how I did it. It’s very complicated to write a condensed version, but it’s the only thing we can do. You’ll integrate it there. I’ve simply added there, in the middle and at the end, what the title refers to…

IL: When I did this I hadn’t understood. It was too difficult for me. I had to use texts as a basis. I hate that. It’s the first time that I see myself doing something that isn’t clear.

RF: We should say it’s difficult. It was published by Opus, each time with pictures. There’s one with me and Marcel Broodthaers. They changed the texts I gave them. It was also shown in Aachen. Now it’s in the museum in Münster.

IL: Is it on display already?

RF: I don’t know. They never told me. They have the crate, that’s all I know. They bought it after Documenta. They mixed up the sentences in the text. I pointed it out to them, during Opus. That’s normal. Lambert, in his book, uses the same thing. I pointed out to him that the text wasn’t readable. He made a mistake. That means it was always very badly explained, until Research on the Origin and the text [Jürgen] Harten [Director of Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf] wrote and the one Jean-Christophe Ammann wrote for the exhibition in Luzern. When we want to explain it, it becomes too long. We must accept presenting it like that.
            It’s not that it’s that difficult to understand, but I understand the problem you encountered at the time. We talked about many things and we didn’t know each other yet. It’s easy to understand when the work is there in front of you, but it’s difficult to summarise, even with Research on the Origin. I begin by trying to explain it, but people find it difficult to understand.

IL: But here you just explained it very clearly. Great. So it’s done. Let’s move on to ‘Eternal Network’.


IL: For ‘O’ we have ‘Research on the Origin’.

RF: There are many documents. There‘s the catalogue.

IL: Well, I have the small blue notebook. I don’t have the roll.

RF: I’ll give you one. It’s so complicated that the best is maybe to s ay that it’s a work I made in 1974 in Berlin when I had the DAAD. I have some very good pictures of myself working on it, and I'll give them to you. The best is to reproduce the beginning of the roll. Because I explain the method, the Principle of Equivalence, and how it applies. What’s important is that the work is approximately 3 × 90 metres on fabric, but in the catalogue it was reduced to a scale of 1/10. All the elements of this work are in the catalogue, which allowed me to mail it to many places. We made 450 copies, 50 of them for me.
I sent them to friends in Poland who exhibited it. I was told it was exhibited in a factory in Budapest. In Budapest it’s László Beke, in Poland [Andrzej] Partum, who has something he call the Poetry Office [in Warsaw]. And in Portugal it’s Ernesto da Sousa, who tells me he also showed it in a factory, and in places for youngsters. I forgot to tell you that I also exhibited the catalogue in East Berlin in Jürgen Schweinebraden’s gallery, in a group exhibition with Robert Rehfeldt and… What’s the name of the only well-known artist in East Germany?

IL: Penck?

RF: Penck. And some others. I brought the catalogue and exhibited it the evening before the exhibition of the actual work on fabric, in West Berlin. That was interesting.

IL: So you exhibited Research on the Origin in West Berlin?

RF: I exhibited it at the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, in Berlin, and then in Lucerne, at the Art Academy. You have the catalogue from Lucerne, no? I must give you that.
            I apply the Principle of Equivalence to the physical origin of the universe. The books I used for the documentation are just popular science books. I provide the references to them, so that everyone can look them up. And I believed I had found a relation between the traditional teachings of Tao and nuclear astrophysics, but I apply the Principle of Equivalence.

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