"Jamais-toujours": an experiment in urban writing

by Antonio A. Casilli (Centre Edgar-Morin, EHESS) [1]

First off, the big news: Marianne Heier‘s exhibition Jamais-Toujours is now on at the Stenersen Museum, Oslo, Norway. It runs from January 14th to March 14th, 2010. If you are around, definitely go! If you are not, tell, tweet, email your friends who might be around – to definitely go!

Last time we met in Paris, Marianne Heier and Marco Vaglieri (her “partner in crime” and, incidentally, the gentleman you see writing in this picture) explained to me the central piece to the exhibition is a video-photo installation containing a reference to the famous graffiti “Don’t ever work” – Ne travaillez jamais – which philosopher Guy Debord inscribed on a wall in rue de Seine, somewhere in the 1950s. Marianne’s work has thus to be regarded as a détournement/reversal of the situationist slogan, a bitter commentary to the failure of a political attempt to “free men from labour”.

In this sense, one can understand the artist’s statement as to how the title “Never-Always” must “be read as a testimony of how the relation between production and investments has changed” since the post-WWII European youth movements. But Marianne Heier’s installation also plays out as an archeology of urban writing, one of the most relevant forms of expression within these movements. Jamais-Toujours is based on thorough bibliographical and fieldwork research in order to track down the exact address, down to the very same portion of the wall where Debord first wrote his situationist slogan – and to replace it by its contemporary actualization. Ironically, the immediacy, the quest for authenticity, the desire to represent “life as it is” which initially motivated these forms of écriture urbaine is here replaced by painstaking attention to the design of an artistic experience whose features and competencies match those required by – well, work.