“A bug that repeats itself and finds its regular audience, that means the artist was right“
He likes to manipulate well-known visuals by integrating foreign elements – often from popular culture, even if it means radically changing the meaning. Combo Culture Kidnapper is a street-artist who has made hijacking his trademark, to show, react and think of something other than what the mainstream culture offering. It offers a subversive and engaged perspective of the world today. That’s why Bug Me Tender wanted to know if for him, artists were by definition, buggers.
Combo, let's tackle from the outset by the fundamental question: is an artist or a creative by definition a bugger?
A good creative is going to look for the contrast. This is where you find good ideas. But it is not a natural process.You can create a bug but only if you want to and by exploring the counter current. It is not something that falls from the sky or from the creative spark intuition. It’s a laborious research job. When I start working on a new project, I write down my ideas and they come out a lot. The first are often easy and bad but over the process, by contrast the approach is refined and dissonance is then obvious. It is necessary to put oneself in this state in default psychologically. It requires self-transcendence and it’s a daily exercise. The spark of the artist is a myth, it is pure romantic symbolism. Picasso started his day with five hours of drawing.
Do you have an example from your works that illustrates this development of a creative bug?
“La Venus de Clichy”, a 17-meter fresco painted on the facade of the Ministry of Culture, is a good example of this mental and artistic process. While initially, I wanted to more or less do the same thing as Manet’s “L’Olympia”, I told myself that it could be more interesting to veil this woman lying on a bed. In the post- Charlie Hebdo context, hijacking this image, was a way of questioning perceived ideas, living together and debates on secularism.
You hijack the images and their meaning to provoke a reaction and question our prejudices or opinions on contemporary subjects such as Islam, religion, politics, homosexuality ... From this point of view, can we say that your street-art works produce the bugs and discord in the public space?
Yes and no. It is more an intuition than an intention because one can never fully grasp the reason of an act of creation, which remains a mystery. I am not looking for a result or a typical reaction in people, nor their acceptance, nor their rejection, especially since none of us has the same cultural background and therefore the same reactions.
When I painted Tintin and Haddock kissing, I did not try to create an impact or to make people think about homosexuality. This was for me just a realistic point of view and not the defence of a societal cause: when I think of these two characters,I simply think of two single men who live in a castle with a dog. I think they are homosexuals and that’s what I say,no more, no less. After that, I choose topics that are important to me and that are up to date but it’s just my daily life, what I live. I prefer to say that I am doing historical art rather than engaging art.
In other words, you create societal bug in spite of yourself. Would the artists be buggers in spite of themselves?
Yes, we can say that. I am not looking for a result but just tells what seems to me to be a truth. Do not confuse the understanding of an artistic approach with its acceptance. Do I accept that this person hangs this object to make art or do I think it’s a joke? It’s a real cognitive bug and even beyond, a social bug. Do I accept this cultural form becauseI understand the process or am I one of those who refute this work as culture?
Certainly, but at the same time, in street-art we also find the hijacking of the public space - fixtures, building facades or other urban landscape; and the hijacking of cultural codes by drawing on popular imagery that is little consecrated by classical and museum culture.This permanent act of hijacking and jamming does not make street artists buggers ultimately?
Street artists appear more subversive because they express themselves in public space, often without permission.The mere act of expressing oneself is an act of power. Doing it in the street becomes more transgressive. As for relying on popular culture, I consider it a key to seeing, an open door to discussion. The use of codes perceived by all, easily recognisable as those of the comic books for example, provokes an immediate understanding, without prejudging the interpretations that they will generate.
Can an artist bug his whole life, at the risk of making his initial bug a standard of the mainstream culture?
A bug that repeats itself and finds its regular audience, that means that the artist was right! The “Coexist” poster campaign that I have done and which plays repeatedly and in multiple ways on the symbols of the three monotheistic religions has found itself in museums, media, civic education textbooks. This moment, which is an act of artistic self-expression, suddenly becomes an act of education and pedagogy. If this “Coexist” design, seen as a fault or a bug [the artist has been attacked by a group of individuals in 2015 while he was finishing a large fresco on this subject, Ed] it is a norm that I have succeeded in wide spreading a dissonant message in a context marked by the rise of religious extremism: a desire for peace.
How do we keep this step-by-step and stay against the current when our work as an artist is consecrated by the institutions and the public and becomes a norm?
It’s a choice. We choose or not to question ourselves and take a risk. Unfortunately, many artists today are content to rehash what once worked into a series for ten or twenty years. This is simpler and easier. After 35 years, the artists have only one desire, it is to live well. The figure of the cursed artist hidden in his cave is a myth. The artists who claim it are liars and hypocrites. Nobody wants to be poor and unknown. All of us seek gratitude and the widespread of our message. Another element related to the art market is economic, also explains the low risk taking of artists over time: an artist is evaluated in relation to his selling price, not his intrinsic talent. The art market does not push for risk, unlike the IT market, for example. In other words, when you’re an artist, do you create software or do you invite Google? in other words, do you create something new, distribute and sell to the majority of people? Or do you take the risk every six months to put yourself in default, to create breakthoughs in your processes? that’s what a company like Google does. Artists should adopt the same approach.
Combo, let's end with the two questions that always conclude the interviews of Bug Me Tender: First, what is your personal definition of a bug?
It is an element that disturbs the system. The bug is the system that irks a bit . And it happens every day: we cannot predict what will happen and our life is made only of bugs, unplanned and discording elements.
Then, in your field what is the biggest bug?
The biggest bug for me would be that the Ministry of Culture disappears. We do not have a ministry of plastic arts, street arts or theatre, but a Ministry of Culture that is very broad, too broad. Are the Buren columns more cultural and worth funding more than a girls’ cheerleader weekend? What is more cultural than the other? By allocating funds, the Ministry of Culture is the referee of this definition. It is a political choice that is absolute and almost fascinating in a certain way.By abolishing the Ministry of Culture, we would stop imposing this choice on us. I think that would be interesting. The other bug I dream about is that the artists of my generation can live without the galleries. Today, to live from our work, we are obliged to please gallery owners: it is a mercantile lead screed even if it allows us to earn money and then work on other projects and go out in the street.