Hervé Constant is a multi-disciplinary artist
living in London (UK).
His video “Tel Quel”
is part of “://selfportrait – a show for Bethlehem”
Interview: 10 questions
Tell me something about your life and the educational background
I was born in Casablanca. My mother was Moroccan and my father French but my parents separated when I was 5 and my brother and I went to live with my father in the South of France, near Toulon. where he was born.
My father was unable to look after us because he worked full-time for the Arsenal of Toulon and as a man living on his own and in spite of some help from his mother in law, the French state assisted by the social services decided that it would be better if both children were put into an orphanage. We were directed to one in Hyeres, a few miles from Toulon, in the south east of France. It was called ‘Refuge des petits’ and the establishment was run by an American couple.
We both spent over 10 years of our life at Refuge. The positive side was, that we lived in good surroundings, on top of a hill, situated close to the sea and mountains. Every week we practiced singing and were part of a choir and invited to attend the local church and sing. Our curriculum included biblical studies both old and new testament and I think this was perhaps one of the reasons why I developed a very strong interest in art. I am also very grateful that had we remained living in a suburb of Toulon with our father we could have become rough and disruptive children.
I don’t have an academic background in education. I started to work when I was very young in a shop selling car parts. There I met the director of the students parents association who advised me to join the Conservatoire de Toulon. I followed his advice and chose to study theatre. Since the courses were taking place either late afternoon or evening I could follow the majority of them. I did my 4 years there and applied to one of the main Drama school in Paris called Ecole de la rue Blanche. Fortunately, I was accepted given a grant and studied nearly 2 years at the school. During this time I also joined a Flamenco touring group and went with the Rafael Aguilar’ Company to Germany, Belgium, France which was a truly great experience and I enjoyed this period very much.
How I came to live in London is strange. It so happened that the school was invited for a few days to visit some theatres and schools in the UK and I was so impressed with the quality of acting that I thought it would be a great experience to live in England to study part acting and learn the language. I applied to gain entry at a college in Hampstead, and got accepted but told I couldn’t get a grant for the reason that I haven’t been living in the country long enough. Also at this time I had started to go out with a Filipina girl and got married.
At the time of my studies in France, Paris and even in Toulon I was very interested by the visual art and remember quite clearly joining pictures of paintings in my theatre notes books. I started doing drawings, small and not so small paintings. To my surprise those works got some good response to the point that I got some propositions of purchase. This is how it all started.
After a short while, maybe 4 or 5 years I decided to go back to south of France thinking it would be easier to concentrate and develop in that field. I was quite lucky to get a first prize at the Biennale de Nice 1984 and do a major commission for the French navy a 5×3 meters surface 1985. I did some shows in different part of the area but quickly realized that after few shows there, seeing the same collectors and critics yes I could make a name for myself but in my view in very limited circumstances. There in Toulon, during my stay, I also did a course on printing at the Beaux-Arts. The course lasting 2 years were based on silkscreen, etching etc..
I went back to London where I am still living albeit sometimes complaining about the quality of life, the weather and the cost of living here but inside myself realizing and appreciating that it is a great town, vibrant and full of interesting people with curious minds.
1967-70 Conservatoire National de Musique de Toulon
1971-73 Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts et Techniques du
1980-83 Beaux-Arts de Toulon(Etchings/Silkscreens).
When, how and why started you filming?
At the time I was becoming quite involve with photography after a trip to Bosnia where I got a grant to work and travel in the country 1997. At the time I did a lot of photos of places either burnt or full of shrapnel marks. When I came back to London and went to develop the series I thought I did have a body of work; material I could use for paintings, projections and as a prints to show them. I started to think as a photographer from that time. I am grateful since It gave me the possibility to discover in me another interest. Since then, I still do and enjoy that process of creation.
From the photo, it wasn’t very far to move into video. Being a painter, I made a good sale at the time and since every time some money comes my way I reinvest it straight away into new materials, trips or pay for my studio for the maximum amount of time in order to have a certain peace of mind. I also believe that an artist can work well when the pressure of materials needs is met so I got hold of a video camera and got on with producing two projects. The first one evolved through asking a dear friend to pose and wrap and unwrap his head with a long black scarf to the sound recording of Dmitri Shostakovich’s ‘Concerto for Cello’.
The second proposition came from the idea of using my own hands as ‘ballet’. I have all the time been fascinated by watching hands, the way people gesticulate, express themselves and so often being a reflection of their mind and behaviour. They are so revealing, so descriptive. Hands convey so much; tenderness, froideur, violence, sensuality and delicate gestures,. So many things in fact can be revealed that I set a cloth on a table and placed the camera at a certain angle and depth. Having, at the time no one I could think of asking to pose I made use of my own hands. I let them express any emotion coming through my mind and let my hands react to these emotions. I tried few times to see the result. Not liking the use of colour for the reason that the colour was disturbing the focus on the hands I restarted without colour and switched to the B+W and I must say avoiding any musical sound also for the same reason and using the take in B+W worked much better in my view so I kept the video that way.
What kind of subjects have your films/videos?
They very often can be a mixture of absurd, political or anti bourgeois meanings. They can convey a surreal and mockery of the values of the bourgeoisie. The obsession of presentation, of appearance and competition to name but a few that is to show off that you have something better and more costly than your neighbour.
Sometimes they describe a need to interpret things seen around us in a poetic way. Again Surreal like the piece called ‘Toute lune est atroce’ we are seeing just the moon balancing, hiding and reappearing under the rapid passage of clouds in a kind of ballet with the only word ‘Go’ in a kind of supplication, of menace, tender. Similar to the one called ‘Hand Ballet’ many emotions do follow the imagery.
The one called ‘Run’ has the subject of a time. The image is a sport clock, looking like a toy. It says the same as so many people obsess with time and its value. Time is money. Don’t waste my time. I can’t give you my time, it is precious. How much do you charge an hour?
Then, the video shows a clock ; time turning, being stuck in front of it wasting your time. Now, maybe You realize running around like a zombie after a time, being in time is a waste of time.
Another one I am fond of called ‘Demeures 1-59’ represents a series of photos of front doors. I wanted to give a very sharp and short time at each of them. 1 second for each one and 59 photos shown within 59 seconds. To add to the video I included a recording from the film by Jacque Tati called ‘My Uncle’ I thought it will go well with it. The sound recording describe the Lady owner showing off her kitchen and the apparatus. It is hilarious, at least to me.
How do you develop your films/videos, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?
No, I don’t develop or follow any principles. For me it is similar to an image or a painting. I get an idea ands from that I see how I can progress into it. Though, yes maybe that will explain a way of development to do a video.
Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.
The Video camera I am using is a Sony DCR-PC100E
What are the chances of new media for the genre film/video in general and you personally?
It is very attractive at the present time for a wide range of artists for the main reason of being immediate, easier and more direct. You don’t need plenty of space you can work on it at your own pace. Personally it suits what I am interested at present but I don’t count on it in having a great expectation. Just a vehicle to keep creating.
How do you finance your films/videos?
Either the sales of some of my paintings or more often from a part-time work I do at the time.
Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team?
If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
I work individually (though not by choice) but so far that is the way it has been. I would be very interested to work in a team to discover another way of approach to creation. Though I am quite difficult, impatient and hard working. Therefore I like artists very present, fast and very responsive.
Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?
I like to film slow, neither complicated and making use of much effects. I use a symbol and an idea to convey an emotion. That emotion could be satirical, humoristic, or poetic.
What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?
Like a child I have the dream to be more ambitious, to jump the wall and go with more challenging venues. One of my aspiration would be to make a long feature. I look forward to that.
out of competition:
Can works of yours viewed online besides on VideoChannel?
Yes certainly, some videos can be seen on the website: www.herveconstant.co.uk to see more you need to click: Latest News/View All News Article