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Conversation at the Mercus Barn Gallery
15 May 2017
Michael Parsons and David Saunders
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
We’re here in in Ariège (Pyrenées) and we’re going to discuss how
this project came about within the context of this current show of the Mercus Barn
permanent collection (May 2017). The project has been developing over a number of
years and I’d like to start by asking about your current concerns, and in particular
how this project relates to British art of a constructive and post-
Jean Spencer, Untitled, 17x34cm, oil on board, 1989
I’ve always wanted to live in these mountains, away from the city, although I have
worked in a metropolitan environment for most of my life, but I didn’t want to be
completely cut off from the world of art. I thought that I could, in a sense, give
something back, in return for what artists, writers, and musicians have given me.
I would have liked to have started a Foundation, but I was told that you must have
at least a million euros, so it wasn’t possible. But when I bought this house it
had a very old barn with it, almost a ruin, but the actual stone structure was sound,
as were the beams, so I used part of my savings to renovate it and turn into a building
which could serve as both studio and gallery space. This was done with the help of
an Englishman who lives here, Andy Ridehalgh, partly to my specification, but he
had many ideas that really helped to make it into a beautiful little gallery. I am
interested in showing the very best visual work I can get hold of -
David Saunders, Peter Joseph, Sharon Hall, installation, 2017
It’s a beautiful space and it’s clear that the work that has gone into it is extremely dedicated and impressive. The quality of the artwork you have been showing, and the thinking associated with it, should be evident to anyone who comes here to experience it directly, but it’s also part of the project to communicate this experience to a wider audience through the medium of print and technology.
Yes, we have to use the internet because we’re quite a long way from any metropolis. But we do also have a growing local audience who come to the exhibitions, and some people visit from London and Paris. But for the moment it’s mainly an internet project; that’s how we get ourselves known. We would like to have more people come here, it’s a very interesting place with a wealth of Romanesque architecture and cave art, all of which is accessible.
It’s a wonderful place to visit, the landscape, mountains, the continual changes of weather and everything are always inspiring.
As time goes on we would like to have more and more people wanting to come here both
to exhibit and to see work, but it’s quite hard work and we could do with some help
The Association La Galerie is also connected with the Lycée Gabriel Fauré in Foix, so there is an educational component.
Yes, the head of art at the Lycée, Michèle Ginhouliac, has given me an enormous amount of help since I arrived here in Ariège. There’s a gallery on the Lycée campus that is an educational annex of Les Abattoirs, the gallery of modern art in Toulouse. We combine forces from time to time, so we are building a strong network.
Let’s talk specifically about some of the exhibitions you’ve shown so far. You mentioned Peter Joseph; we should also mention Richard Bell, G R Thomson and Sharon Hall.
The first show was of two figurative painters, James Rielly and Justin Jones, to
which a couple of my works were added. The current exhibition -
Sharon Hall, Untitled, oil on linen, 40x40cm, 2015.
It would be interesting to pursue the diversity of your tastes and interests. You are probably best known as an original member of the Systems group, but your work has
evolved in a different direction. You still consider it to be in the constructivist
tradition in a wider sense. At the same time, your interest in landscape and photography,
and in forms of representational painting, are also important to you -
I’ve always been interested in indeterminacy, how work happens, how does it start,
what is a work of art? I think a work of art must always come from experience; not
a direct account of experience, but of how experience is processed in the psyche
We could mention our first encounters at Portsmouth College of Art, in relation to
the Scratch Orchestra, which was flourishing at that time. Like you I have this
interest in a determinate, constructive type of work as well as in indeterminacy
Ian Whittlesea, Caroline de Lannoy, Jean Spencer, Installation, 2017
G R Thomson, 'Anachromisms' two panels, oil on linen, each 40.5x30cm, Installation 2016
This raises the question of how your ideas and experiences are affected by the external circumstances you encounter, and the materials you work with, in ways that cannot be fully predicted or controlled.
The Barn itself is a piece of chance; I needed a live/work space. I found myself
temporarily homeless, and there just happened to be a semi-
So really the whole of this living here in Ariège is chance anyway, and the landscape
itself is constantly shifting and changing -
Richard Bell, Untitled, oil on panel, 30x30 cm #1, Installation, 2016.
It doesn’t represent the surface appearance of things…
…but the processes of change, the co-
Although we would be very glad to do photographic shows -
Yes, there’s always the change of light, the background, the unpredictability of
capturing a specific moment in the flow of unfolding events -
And there’s also the garden, of course. We’re looking out of the upper window of
the barn into the garden, which is actually just part of the mountainside which I
have cultivated in a very informal way -
Of course a garden includes intentional planting and also things that blow in on the wind, just as flowers can grow up in cracks in the pavement, totally unintended, in cities, where least expected. This is an example of how nature can intervene to create fortuitous occurrences, which cannot be anticipated.
Speaking as a musician I’ve become more and more interested in using open forms of
notation, which allow performers a degree of freedom in the way they interpret it.
I’m increasingly interested in the way their responses can be included in a performance,
rather than having them simply follow my prescriptions. Writing flexible instructions
can be a way of initiating a process in which performers can become co-
Yes, we always have inspiring conversations. Whenever I’m here musical ideas are
developed through listening and discussion, in relation to the artworks and the environment.
Of course, I’m not the first artist to want to get away from the metropolis -
We can trace this right back to Gauguin, for example…or Cézanne, working in Aix-
They didn’t have the internet like us. We can be in contact all the time -
It’s interesting how this rural retreat and the internet can form this conjunction
So there’s an element of indeterminacy here too, you don’t know what’s going to arise from these encounters.
This morning we came across a quotation from Balzac, from his introduction to La Comédie Humaine (1842) I’ll read it in French and you can translate it:
‘Le hasard est le plus grand romancier du monde. Pour être fécond il n’y a que l’étudier’.
‘Chance is the greatest novelist in the world. To be productive you only have to study it’.
And then you said something very interesting -
I’m now thinking that, in the making of the work, anything can happen: but in the seeing of the work only this can happen: both apply to the same work and to the critique of it. And so ultimately, the form we perceive must seem inevitable.
The way the work is made and the way it is understood. While it’s being made we can’t see the future outcome, but when it’s finished, in retrospect it’s fully determinate.
The feeling that only this could happen came out of … almost out of chaos!
Dom Sylvester Houédard, 'Typestract' typewriter ink on paper, 16.5X15.3 cm 1967
What of your plans for the immediate future?
The next exhibition, to be shown jointly at The Mercus Barn and The Association La Galerie in September 2017, will be called ‘Transforming Surfaces’.
This is a cross-
Richard Bell, who showed here last summer, and who was also in conversation with
you (1), proposed this exhibition concept, with Patrick Morrissey of Saturation Point
Projects, as a means of connecting this remote project in the French Pyrenees with
London and Paris, and to “extend the concern with the materiality of non-