In a short essay by Richard Hylton on the occasion of Jimmy Roberts solo show, brown leatherette, 2002, Hylton recalls Roberts commentary about his own work gravitating towards the empty space between materiality and representation.
Roberts work across the mediums of film and video, photography and performance continues to exemplify this movement in a series of disarmingly muted, minimal, gestural works, that are framed momentarily within familiar contexts; if whether that be the specificities of a particular location or space, in film and video works such as French Film, 2002, that revisits sites in Vietnam where the French novelist and film-maker Marguerite Duras grew up, Chartham Court, 2002, a housing estate in Brixton, London where Roberts once lived, and Saynètes, 2004, which flips between interior and exterior spaces in Amsterdam where Roberts lived during his residency at the Rijksacademie.
Another area of Roberts work is to deconstruct the material and conventional frameworks structuring our understanding and relatedness to photography, cinema and literature in performance-led works such as six things we couldnt do, but can do now with fellow artist Ian White in 2004, Encore une journée divine, 2005 and the 35mm film Léducation sentimentale, 2005/6. This process is further enacted in his installations comprising two-dimensional works that are creased, folded or torn; forming a palpable fascination to invoke and initiate other conversations, other associations solicited by such gestures.
Robert was born in Guadeloupe, raised in Paris, studied at Goldsmiths College, University of London and has since lived in Amsterdam and now Belgium. Currently, he is the first resident artist at FLACC Workplace for Visual Artists in Genk.
Regarding the practical reasons for his decisions about where to live and work, the artist believes that love is often the dynamic that inspires a move, but not always. Interestingly, Robert has never made art in France, and is unfamiliar with the French art scene.
After starting literary studies in France, Roberts felt the London art scene had more opportunities and the energy seemed much more attractive, and somehow (had) much more potential than within the suburbs of Paris, which appeared conservative and limited to a certain class.
Although Robert enjoys London, the fact that it is so expensive means that one needs to generate a certain amount of money to survive, which places artists in a mode of production that is not always healthy and consequently ephemeral. Holland offered Robert time and space, the luxury to slow down and take a look at the wider European picture he was curious to experience the freedom to move and position himself within different sensitivities. Roberts believes his practice might be peripatetic precisely because he feels nomadic and unstable, fearing a definite labelling.
The supportive networks necessary to produce work in each place are varied; a great deal of flexibility is necessary to activate different environments such as a commercial gallery, independent situations, artist-run projects and more institutional ones. Robert likes the idea that one could choose to practice within all those parameters and thus define a very personal way of working, despite all the unwritten laws.
I believe it never ends, you continually seek new ways of producing, which would inform your work in interesting ways, sometimes also you are sought after for what some think you might represent, which is politically subtler but cant be overlooked. Eventually what I mean is that there is no ideal situation, but the one you independently, responsibly choose.
Roberts current residency at FLAAC in Genk, appealed firstly because he was free to structure it to best suit his practice. This included how regularly to attend, (it is an almost 2 hour train ride away from his home in Brussels), but also in terms of how he would develop work away from its context but concretise it in Genk with the context always in mind.
Robert initially worked there over a month and a half, going there once a week staying overnight, with very specific tasks: including experimenting with new kind of papers to print on, enlarging scans, but also closing a certain circle of shifts within materials, in particular folded paper studies which ended up on a human scale and in metal. In collaboration with dancer Werner Nigg, Robert developed a way of activating the metallic structure and therefore further exploring some of the concerns he has with movement/gesture, masculinity and a notion of labour. The metal structure acted out as a skirt of some sort but also as a restriction. The performance occurred in the space in which the object was actually built, attempting to underline a certain sense of inadequacy or failure, regarding his position and what was expected from him within the context of a residency; performing the artist.
Robert is currently represented by Galerie Diane Stigter, Amsterdam. In terms of how having gallery representation figures into his practice, Robert feels It does and doesnt. Not being bound to the commercial space, feels necessary and healthy to him. Roberts particularly loves the idea that all these environments are conflictual and activate debates. (Although) alienation is never far away, maybe it prevents romanticism or idealisation, I dont really know which word is more appropriate in this context. I am learning everyday, nothing seems applicable for all situations, and (unfortunately?) it is not what you learn at art school, but through a daily confrontation with change and alone.
Robert has a number of projects in the pipeline including a new performance (currently in development) with Ian White for STUK (Belgium) and De appel (Holland) for early November. Marriage à la mode et cor Anglais is a performance work that explores the line between an image and a related set of movements, through various coordinates; artificiality, posing, mortality and repetition. It combines and re-presents image, text and music. Specifically developed for performance in theatre or theatre-like spaces, the piece relates to but differs from the earlier work, 6 things we couldnt do, but can do now (Tate Britain, 2004) in terms of both process and structure.
Another collaborative project is Act out with Emma Hedditch and Emily Roysdon for Studio Voltaire this September, which the artists are developing partly in situ, but also through the process of writing to each other.
There will also be a solo presentation at Cubitt in the early part of 2008, which Robert is looking forward to, as he hasnt presented work in the UK for a while.
Commissioned by Sonya Dyer as part of a set of Artists profiles exploring perapatetic practice
First published: a-n.co.uk November 2007
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