Introduction to Claude Closky's "Do you want love or lust?"

Self-help guides, New Age divinations, magazine quizzes, psychoanalysis, rituals of confession and expiation (religious and other), these multiple modes and models for self-scrutiny entertain as they enlighten -- or is it the converse? Does this distinction, in fact, matter? And wherein lies consequence?

In "Do you want love or lust?," Claude Closky's seemingly endless sets of questions, all culled from recent popular magazines, relentlessly interrogate the reader's tastes, habits, proclivities, and preferences. But by endlessly deferring a final or culminating question, he preempts the anticipated tallying, crystallization, and definitive determination: the implications and consequences of one's responses to this farrago of options cannot be systematized into fixed or conclusive interpretation. Closky's anomalous twist to the familiar pop-psychological quiz privileges the act of choosing, for every answer is followed by another apparently randomly generated question. Nonetheless, it is impossible to retrace one's steps, to reconsider one's preferences: serendipity constantly intervenes with alternative options, precluding the creation of meaningful sequences, and with it the building of telling results. When frustration wells up, the only option is to quit, yet in doing so the temptation to dismiss the whole enterprise as meaningless, as a pointless game, a mere jest, never quite carries conviction. For, by hesitating, deliberating, and pondering one has already invested time, activated desire, and flirted with the possibility of revelation...

Playful and ludic, Closky's works are free of any moralistic undertones. And never can his reticent, disinterested stance be described as coolly deconstructive. Typically, as in Do you want love or lust?, whatever semiotic and sociological implications might be drawn from this vacuous if harmlessly engaging pastime are left unstressed, as it is the perogative of the player rather than the artist, in his view, to confront any larger meanings that might be drawn from this experience. "I think what feeds my work are really small experiences in and out of the studio," he recently stated. "Everyday encounters stimulate me. The reflex is important.... Sometimes it is as if the piece already existed in the material I am using, so that all I have to do is to isolate a section ... and look at it from a different angle. And that new point of view comes from my immediate reaction to my everyday life."

Closky's early works played with that seemingly irresistible desire to construct taxonomic systems, and with the equally ubiquitous wish to identify order to any apparently inchoate or amorphous entity -- or, with its converse, an instinctive compulsion to disrupt the systematic by taking it to its logical if absurd conclusion. Beginning with lists and abstract typologies, he tested what are purported to be universal systems, most notably, the alphabetical, chronological, and numerical.

In one book, for example, he listed in alphabetical order the first one thousand numbers; in another, Osez, he amassed thousands of injunctions from advertising arranged by pace, going from long suggestions to quick, brief imperatives, beginning with "Apprenez a faire deux choses a la fois..." (Learn to do two things at once...) and concluding with "Osez" (Dare), the shortest commandment he happened upon in his characteristically informal method of searching, random sampling. 200 Mouths to Feed, a video compiled from short extracts from television commercials features a miscellany of people eating, a natural gesture which here becomes bizarre and artificial through repetition. And 100 photographs which are not photographs of horses is a short breviary comprised of images of hens. Whether in the form of cheaply printed books, unlimited editions of single-channel videos, posters or wallpaper, multiples are Closky's preferred vehicles. Given its demotic range, ready availability, and relatively low-cost production, the World Wide Web has become for this young French artist, an equally appealing medium in which to work.

The graceful deprecatory wit that informs much of his art places it in a lineage that stems as much from Marcel Broodthaers and Ed Ruscha as from Minimal and Conceptual art, from which it also derives certain strategies and stylistic influences. Unlike those predecessors such as the Situationists who maintained a strict distance from their subjects of inquiry, Closky and his generation immerse themselves. Thus, he savors the pleasures of flirtation, the titillations of desire and libidinal excess without finally succumbing, without being wholly seduced. Crucial to the suspenseful balance he maintains is the undergirding of his disarming bravura and wit with a rigorous methodological stringency, and a critical, if laconic, acuity. This, together with the subtly deranged playfulness that stems from his engaging affection for the absurdity of life, its mundane values and ideals, has resulted in a body of work at once singular and unmistakably his.

Lynne Cooke