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The Long Voyage

Michèle Bernstein


Translated by Phil Edwards and Not Bored!

EVERYBODY KNOWS Asger Jorn. He's the best of painters. What's more, he has done everything. He has made marvels: that is to say, innovations everywhere. We are even beginning to discover, and henceforth those behind the times will soon be forced to realize, his decisive contribution to the new urbanism and to the creation of a situationist topology. Not to mention his detourned painting, which is quite another thing from ordinary painting; several hundred pages of aesthetic studies, from which aesthetics will never recover; and the biggest ceramic sculpture in the world. And, naturally, tapestry. Asger Jorn has never stopped making paintings, despite doing everything else.

Thus, he has succeed in bringing a revolutionary modernization to even the most traditional, the most outdated, artistic technique — and this at the moment when, in the techniques that claim to be painting's most advanced, we see the base Feudal-Christian tradition express itself without shame, reactionary forces raising their head.

Jorn's work in tapestry owes much to the initial revelations of — and thereafter to Jorn's personal collaboration with — Pierre Wemaere. It is surprising, moreover, that the importance of Pierre Wemaere in this matter is a long way from receiving the recognition that would be appropriate. In fact it was in 1938, in the course of a trip through the Scandinavian countries he made with Jorn, that Wemaere glimpsed the possibilities of renewal contained in the ancient tapestries of Northern Europe. And since then, their collective work has constantly developed. Their original conception of material fabrication, which maintains the creative freedom of the performer, has now produced this workshop of a new style, installed for the moment in Paris, on the Rue Saint-Denis, out of which comes "The Long Voyage".

Within a durable form — and one that stinks of the museum — one can see quite clearly in tapestry the ancient lineage of two structures of communication very much alive today: the art of comics, and the art of cinema, in their permanent interaction. Tapestry is the comics that have stood the test of time: the tracking shot that does not pass.

"The Long Voyage" is more than fourteen meters long and twenty-four meters high. This experiment, which came from the North, will return there: come the holidays, it will be moved to the University of Aarhus. Jorn has insisted that the tapestry remains covered until then, so that it bursts into sight with the traditional presentation of the plastic arts that, in the West, is now always permanent. Thus, renewing a Viking tradition, "The Long Voyage" will become visible for the occasion, like the painting in a Chinese roll.

The theme of "The Long Voyage" is precisely the Viking adventure, which has passed away without a thought of coming back. "The Long Voyage" is a eulogy of exile and head-long flight. It is the flight of nebulae, in every direction of an expanding tapestry, as in the design that Jorn and Wemaere had seen in Bornholm during the course of their trip: there is no orientation, no compass; it can be read in either direction, starting from a center that is not otherwise defined.

"The Long Voyage" is also a story, an odyssey without an Ithaca and without a return; it is the flight of the days from every moment and from all coasts; it is the story of a hero (Asger Jorn, for sure), in his voyage across life, like those explorers who, having discovered America, lost it again. And America reappears in "The Long Voyage," with the cowboys from the Westerns, the displacement of the Frontier.

The tapestry also has Danish fog and the trumpeters of Fortinbras, of course. In brief, all the techniques of the nouveau roman could not encompass this ensemble; the School of the Look will lay down its arms when it looks at the complexity of this tapestry.

Travelling, between continents or galaxies, or in the labyrinths of everyday life, is what explains Jorn best. In his n-dimensional continuum (the dimension of time is the funniest and the most beautiful), Jorn looks like the painter of Science Fiction — UFO, Unidentified Flying Objects, 1955. But, contrary to the general spirit of this genre, which is the uneasy transposition of aggressive class and race domination into space, the traveling creatures encountered in Jorn's paintings are well met. Inheritor of revolutionary universalism, Jorn is the first to proclaim the fraternal slogan: "Monsters of all planets, unite!" The long voyage is not finished.

Jorn's work is beautiful. Anyone who doesn't like Jorn's work is wrong.