Tributes to tombs of knowledge with artist Guy Laramée

Interdisciplinary artist Guy Laramée creates beautifully sculpted masterpieces out of old books.
He is a name synonymous with numerous distinctions.
A theatre writer and director.
A contemporary music composer.
A musical instrument designer.
A painter.
A sculptor and installation artist.
But perhaps, the most fascinating aspect of his personality is his work as a painter and installation artist.
Through his work, he delves into ‘thinking’, not only “what” we think, but “that” we think.
The concept reflects in many a work of the now renowned artist.
The favoured media for his most known works are… Books.
No he doesn’t write, He carves them out to create art.
He likes to believe that, “ultimate knowledge could very well be an erosion instead of an accumulation”.
And so he sculpts landscapes out of old books to portray loss of knowledge.
“Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS.”
In attempt to indulge into his journey with the art, We bumped up a few questions at him. Here’s what he had to say
How did it all begin for you?
“When I was a kid, I used to mess up with things in the basement. I used to use my father’s tools to invent all sorts of things, that I would never finish, and I would let everything messy, and my father was always pissed off that I never cleaned his workshop before leaving. Very soon I got an intuition about the nature of life and art : art is the fight against chaos. The same with life. It feeds out of chaos and returns to chaos.”
Different people grow up dreaming about becoming different things. Did you always aspire to be an artist?
“I never thought of myself as an artist. Even today I am ashamed of calling myself an artist. It doesn’t make sense.
I would rather say that works of art use me to get born.
But that’s a bit too new-age…
I would say the same as I say with Buddhism : I’m not sure a real Buddhist can call him/herself a Buddhist.
If it’s about undoing identities, then why look for a “new” identity to replace the old one ?
An artist is someone who cannot fit in the world as it is. And through art s/he will discover that everything was/is perfect as it is. In trying to improve it, to create something new, the artist realises that everything was always there. So it’s not about becoming, you don’t become an artist. You just realise that you’ve always been, or better said : you realise that art is never where you think it is.”
Guan Yin
Art –  a journey or a belief?
“I don’t think art had anything to do with belief. It would be rather the transcendence of belief. Going beyond the need to believe in anything. Art is a kind of knowing, even if I don’t like to say this, because people then start asking “what does it say?” Art is not “saying” anything, art is “doing” something to you, something very profound. And this is what is meant by going beyond belief.
When you are in front of a landscape, do you need to convince yourself that this landscape is real ? You “know”, that’s all. Of course you can go beyond this also. Is this mountain really blue? And then it starts. By digging into perception you enter into the mystery of life : “It has no form and yet it appears”. God has no form and yet it appears. You have no form and yet here you are, reading this. How mysterious, how beautiful.”
The Great Wall
Do you have a favourite among all your projects?
“Do parents have a favourite among all their children ?”
The art you create is teeming with stories. Like empty ancient ruins where the wind itself whispers secrets. Are there any stories or is it plain ol’ over active imagination?
“It’s both. There is not exactly a narrative in there, even if sometimes I tried very hard to force one into the actual work. It doesn’t work. The work is always stronger than the story you want to link it to. Why ? Precisely because it is the viewer that has to fill in the blank. Contemplation works that way. The spectator, the viewer is the one who fabricates the show. The piece is the starting point, but then it is your own eye who travels within the piece. The same with narratives : your mind will inevitably accompany your eyes’ journey with a little story. Your mind just wants to participate!”
A Caverna
All your pieces have beautiful textures. Can you tell us a little about the process?
“It’s a secret. There are magic potions I take that give me Clear Vision™. Then I have to wait for full moon and go dancing naked on a mountain top. Then the vision presents it self to me, with a check ($$) and there it goes, dozens of Clear Vision™. Soldiers escort me to my dungeon and there I am forced to work day and night with only a piece of bread a day, lots of green tea, and bingo, after one month a piece is born. Then it all starts again…
It’s hell, I tell you, hell on earth. Help !
By the way, what is it in you that wants to know the tricks ?
You see, I’m just half kidding here. It is very strange that we would try to know “How” the magic was created, knowing unconsciously that doing so we run the risk to kill the magic. I mean, we all do this. We want to know where the secret wire is hanging so that we can deflate the effect that an illusion has on us. In a way this is OK, because we know intuitively about the power of the metaphor. No longer books, not yet a true landscape. In between the two views lies the power of imagination. “
How much approximate time does it take for you to complete a piece?
“Depending on the nature of the Oracle™. From four days to four years. It’s never the same.”
But I am curious, what is Clear Vision™ and Oracle™? Are these brands that you are promoting?
“Clear Vision™ and Oracle™ are not brands I promote, it is a joke I promote (lol). Everything is so merchandised nowadays, so sad, I’m not even sure I still can laugh about it.”
Are you sure you don’t want to reveal anything about the technical process? I understand the ‘kill the magic’ part, but for aspiring artists who might take you as inspiration, or just plain kids who might go wow, a little info might be helpful.
“My process is already abundantly revealed on the web. What is not so revealed is the questioning of why we want to disenchant everything. I think this is more important given the present world situation. I might be wrong.
People want recipes. I got dozens of kids and people wanting some tips, many of them because they did not want to make the effort of finding the Oracle by themselves. Art is about finding something very intimate. Finding something by yourself for yourself. Realising that everything has to pass through you to exist. The only recipe I know of is : put your hearth into it, find where your hearth is. I would be a fake if I would advise people otherwise. Maybe I’m a Fake™ anyway…”
Les livres-lumière
I am a literature student. If I had not seen the Mordor lands in one of your pieces making me an instant fan, a book fanatic like me would have been on your case for “destroying” a book. Has it ever happened though? What kind of books do you use?
“Thank God you didn’t ask me to reproduce Mordor in one of Tolkien’s books… People have asked me to reproduce the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, out of Mormon books… so you never know.
Ok, to be serious : I know there is this kind of Disney magic in my work; I would really want to get rid of it, but it is not easy to get rid of a ghost. I say “ghost” because to me, it’s not in there. I don’t understand why people link these works to fantasy worlds, science fiction, etc. To me, they are allegories, for sure, or can be seen as such. But I cannot see the work as only that.
Going back to your question : of course some people were shocked and some of them do dare tell me (most of them don’t I guess). But most people understand that the pieces are metaphors. The notion of “sacrifice” is pretty much at the center of that work. People who are closer to cultures dealing with sacrifices understand better I guess. In the sacrifice, the victims become sacred precisely because it is sacrificed.”
DESERT OF UNKNOWING – The Voices of Silence
What are you working on right now? And what do you hope to convey through it?
“I never think about conveying anything. I start working and the work tells me where to go. Over the years, I gradually stopped counting on “projects” to get some security. I gradually understood that projects only give the illusion of security. Entering into the unknown and the unknowable is really what art is about.
So every day brings its load of uncertainty, which the actual physical works partly resolves and to tell the truth : I have absolutely NO IDEA where I’m going. I think this is a more honest position than to pretend that one knows. There is no security anywhere, and that might be the only security we can get.”
El amor por las montañas
With the world changing so rapidly right now, all this chaos and dissension: fraud world leaders, climate change etc. In the words of Toni Morrisson – “This is precisely the time when artists go to work.” What are your thoughts on this?
“The world is both changing and not changing. It’s the same mess as it always was. One war after the other, clashes of cultures, one culture wins, the other is eradicated, etc etc. It’s so boring. What does not change is this perpetual movement. In India you have a great advantage. You have access to traditions who strive to indicate precisely this : in the midst of change, there is something timeless, something that does not change.
In the 20th century, India produced two of the greatest wise men of all human history : Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. The message of both is essentially the same. Forget about the changeful and try to realize what does not change.
Artists don’t go to work more in times of crisis. Artists never stop working, period. There is no period that is more propitious to art than any other.
Art is NOW.
And now is eternal.
The problem we have nowadays is the following : since people get more and more convinced that the world is going wrong (we might be close to a third world war, it’s true), artists think that art should devote its time to commenting the socio-political. I think that’s altogether wrong. Art is one of the things that can save us from being overwhelmed by the panic. Get our head off the turmoil, to be able, then to see more clearly.
I’ll concede something to your question : if we need something at this moment of our history, it is to remember that contemplation is the best remedy to heal tortured souls.”
Le Debut (P.C – Alain Lefort)
Anything else you would like to say? A message to the world perhaps?
“You are not in the world, the world is in you” – Nisargadatta
His other projects include ‘No Road to Han Shan’,  Guan Yin, The Cloud of Unknowing, A Caverna, and The Great Wall.
To enjoy more of Guy Laramée’s creations, click here.
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