One week, one artwork – a tutorial

Houellebecq, Helmhaus © Manifesta11, Eduard Meltzer

Hello, my dears!

No make-up, no clothing, let me introduce you to my very new concept – I am sooo excited: the art tutorial for Manifesta 11. Briefly, each week in this blog I will present a short (5-10 minutes) overview of one artwork in the context of the biennial. Five questions, five answers. I hope you’ll like it, cutie pies!

Which artwork?

Today, Is Michel Houellebecq okay? Helmhaus, first floor. A piece by Michel Houellebecq, developed as a joint venture with Dr Henry Perschak from Klinik Hirslanden.

What about the artist?

Michel Houellebecq is a famous yet controversial WRITER who now slowly emerges as an artist too. It’s like everybody can become an artist nowadays, isn’t it? This year, he will have his own exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, Rester vivant. He is also a songwriter, sometimes an actor, a film director and he even took part in a kickboxing training session for a TV programme – definitely a man of many talents.

Mainly, there was this book, The Map and the Territory, for which he won the Goncourt Prize in 2010, a very important award for writers. It’s a story about the life of an artist, Jed Martin, who encounters Michel Houellebecq to collaborate on a project. Like Houellebecq meeting his doppelganger as an artist and vice versa.

What about the piece – where is it and what does it look like?

At Helmhaus, on the first floor. You basically enter a very brightly lit room all in white, which makes you feel a bit uncomfortable at first. All in all, it makes you feel like you’re in a hospital or something. This has also been thought to adapt the first intentions of exploring a Swiss clinic and our health system, so that makes sense. But I have to say that it is also the perfect place to make a selfie – yep, it’s Instagram time! So if you go in there, you will see some weird X-ray style pictures of Houellebecq’s face, brain and hands. To be honest, he could have chosen a better angle, a better filter or something because it doesn’t look very aesthetically pleasing.

What is my impression?

I thought that, fortunately, he doesn’t use the same images as Facebook profile pictures, and “that maybe this is done to force us to see portraits like we don’t expect them nowadays – scientific portraits should not be aesthetic”. That’s what the mediator said, you know, “to deconstruct our usual vision of the photoshopped face and body”. O-K. In fact, Houellebecq was primarily fascinated by the medical health system and particularly by the Swiss clinics and the high quality of their technology and standard of care which simply doesn’t compare to the French health system, for example.

Now it’s getting a bit intellectual so I need my notes, but that is always good to know: I read that the descriptive and sociological approach as well as the scientific dimension of his analyses (socio-biological or anthropological speech, the dialectic between man and his animality) are an important part of Houellebecq’s work as a writer. He also shows a preoccupation for the problematics of work and economy that constantly alienate our society. Last but not least, he shows a strong interest in the aesthetics of medicine and in the idea of combining an artistic and diagnostic point of view.  

You get it? Is Michel Houellebecq okay? Like when you know if you are in good health or not – I find it funny, ha! And it’s quite strange because this writer smokes and drinks a lot, so he doesn’t look very okay and, if you want my opinion, he should think about a facial scrub.

The paradox of this check-up is that, if we have any idea about who Houellebecq is, we already know that he is not a good example of how to live healthily. This kind of tortured writer privileges the stimulation of the mind rather than the body.

On his website, the essential ingredients of his lifestyle are listed as:

“Le rhum-gingembre, les cigarettes, Monoprix, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Franz Schubert, Françoise Hardy, Léonard Cohen, Brian Wilson & les Beach Boys, David Crosby.”

I’ll end it on these good words, guys, and as the sun’s coming back I take this opportunity to leave you with a song by Houellebecq called Plein été. Just follow the link below: