HE MAY BE 90 YEARS OLD, but Julio Le Parc remains a child at heart.
Enter the historical room of his studio in Cachan, in the suburbs of Paris, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped inside a psychedelic funfair. There are discs spinning, reflective blades fractioning and multiplying images, and wavy metal strips performing acrobatic tumbles.
The Argentinean artist is a pioneer of Op Art and Kinetic Art, and has been using colour, light, space and movement as aesthetic materials over the last six decades. He adheres to an artist-as-researcher approach, which has always been one of experimentation and reinvention rather than concentrating solely on one theme or medium.
Through his large-scale installations, sculptures, and now, virtual reality, Le Parc’s aim has always been to disorient viewers and challenge visual perception. The human experience lies at the heart of his immersive, participative environments. His first solo exhibition, Continual-Light-Cylinder, held at Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong, saw visitors plunged into darkness and invited to lie down on a mattress. The exhibition was made up of a whirlwind of rotating lamps and light-diffusing motors that made viewers feel they were entering directly into the artwork.
Le Parc sits down with Keyyes to share more.
You’re often called a kinetic artist…
I don’t like being called a kinetic artist because I am sometimes grouped with people who don’t have the same behaviour or attitude of research, someone whose work is similar to what I have done, but who has developed a style just to sell or gain recognition.
Why is active audience participation important to you?
Participation was the starting point in the analysis with my friends, Francisco Sobrino, François Morellet and others. But there was someone who did not participate at all: the public who came to an exhibition, without making too much noise; only to receive things, but without any power.
We wanted to find out if it was true that the public was unable to understand the art of its time. Our preoccupation was always with the eye of the viewer — If we corrected the parameters a little, is the work more or less visual, does it produce more or less an optical reaction in the person looking at it?
We started with the experience of the person looking and from there, participation was solicited little by little with other experiences until active and reflexive participation.
You have been involved in the denunciation of totalitarian regimes in Latin America since the 1940s. Do you consider yourself a political activist? Can we talk about an art of resistance?
No, it’s just simply being a citizen; we can help. At one time, there was a person who informed us about the situation of different countries in Latin America that used torture as a system of government in the 1960s. We spoke about the political prisoners, about the people who disappeared, and how they disappeared.
Together with three friends, I made paintings about torture in 1972. There were seven panels, 14 metres long, to denounce this situation. We had an idea; we had to put it into practice.
What message do you wish to convey to your viewers?
If there is a contact that is established between my proposals and viewers, and they leave my exhibition with a certain sense of optimism, that’s enough.
If I do paintings about torture to denounce it, that’s very good but it’s not for everyone. If you see paintings on torture, misery or starvation, your optimism diminishes because you say we’ll never get through it. Denunciation is all very well, but from a direct point of view with the viewers, if we instil resignation and can’t provoke a minor revolt or a little optimism, it is negative. On the other hand, optimism may perhaps help people to better confront their problems.