Interview for Reva Magazine by Cécile Flipo
Reva : did you start working as an artist in Polynesia ?
Jean Paul Forest : Before I moved to Polynesia the early 1980s, I'd started photography and wood sculptures in France, in Burgundy where I was born. In the rural world of that time, everything was salvaged, modified, reused... There were materials and tools all around me. I'm sure it influenced me.
R : Why did Polynesia keep you on his shores ?
J.P.F. : When I arrived in Polynesia "by accident " in 1979, I found an unhoped-for environment. Finally I left like I was at the planet's farthest edge, as if the Earth was flat and the water drained beyond the horizon. I felt I was far from the mainstream world, liberated. In Polynesia I found a culture with which I could communicate thanks to a common language, yet it showed me a different relationship to everything, particularly to space. On the isolated islands of the Tuamotu, I found infinity : in that archipelago more than anywhere else in Polynesia, you are faced with the reality of the human condition. I also met people who have a different way of looking at the world and that living beings.
R : Is the work you do in Polynesia a continuation of what you had started in France in the 1970s ?
J.P.F. Not really, because I stopped everything in 1982. I did'nt do any art for five years. Then in 1990, I started working part-time, and I got an atelier so I could satisfy a need : the need to work in matter.
R : Why is stone so present in your work ?
J.P.F. : I'm greatly attracted to rivers, and I decided that river stone were all I need in my work.
R : Why do you work in natural sites ?
J.P.F. :I worked on some sites in the Papenoo Valley (on the island of Tahiti), which is becoming industrialised, so they meant to disappear. I sewed stones there, polished and pierced them... I fixed them before they were swept away by bulldozers. That was in 1996 and those " pieces " had disappeared by now.
R : Do you steel work outdoors ?
J.P.F. : Yes, even though I came to realise that the notion of protected area site no longer exists. No place is sacred by essence. Look, even the sky, home of the gods for all civilisations, is streaked with planes or advertising slogans. Today everything can be turned into merchandise, even the territory of people who are becoming extinct...
R : Is that your message as an artist ?
J.P.F. : I have no message, just a questioning. I'm searching for the proper attitude towards the matter I can reach.
R : How does that translate into your work ?
J.P.F. : Sewing back a stone is an illusory way of holding back time. It's no use, but it's a very human gesture, a token of my attachment to this stone, this pebble, this rock... I chose to leave a mark, and that one I'm proud of.
R : Isn't there a measure of violence in that gesture ?
J.P.F. / If you look at that seam with a microscope, yes, it is violent. But if you look at it from a distance, in context, it's soft. Some could say I torment the stones. It's true that at the first glance, a seam looks aggressive. But when it's done to a stone, it's a treatment. For me, it's a tribute to a place that will disappear.
R : Would you define your self as a sculptor ?
J.P.F. : I have an intellectual approach, and my thought process requires matter. I'll let society call me a sculptor or not
R : Unlike an academic sculptor, you're not trying to give matter a shape ?
J.P.F. :I modify matter, because I need to see the result of my human action on the stone I choose. I do this because I haven't found in my artistic environment the relationship with matter that I physically need
R : You also work in your atelier. Two locations, two approaches ?
J.P.F. : Two locations, two different relations with matter ? Yes ! What's different when you work inside is that you take a pebble from a river, you remove it from the environment that made it and place it in an urban environment. Just by moving it, you make it a relic. Because people will see this object outside of its original world.
R : How do you choose your stones ?
J.P.F. : They choose me ! I delude myself that they are talking to me. It's a relationship that stats, except that unlike a woman, you never know if you're imposing the relationship to a stone. A woman speaks, and she lets us know.