Quelques Corps Favorables

Artistic research, participatory epistolary action, audio, photography, work in progress since 2020.

My current artistic research takes as its conceptual and material starting point an encounter with the private library of French artist and writer Hervé Guibert, whose book collection has been preserved at the Paris home of his executor since his 1991 death from AIDS. The project imagines alternative approaches to art historiography and the forging of queer kinship bonds through the design of participatory, community-generating gestures involving epistolary actions and performative museum visits across Europe.

During my doctoral studies into libraries and audio guides, I had the opportunity to visit the library of French author and photographer Hervé Guibert (1955-1991), whose books have been kept in the Paris home of his executor, Christine Seemüller, where they stand on his original bookshelves. In addition to numerous mentions of his library in his writing, Guibert also produced a photograph of his library in 1987, entitled Ma Bibliothèque, pictured below. I photographed his library thirty years later, composing the image to mimic Hervé’s original. 

Most striking about the current state of Guibert’s library is the absence of the fifty-six picture postcards that appear displayed in front of the books in his 1987 photograph. Seemüller explained to me that after Guibert’s death, she distributed the collection of postcards among his friends, allowing each individual to select the cards they wished to keep. I am interested in these postcards, not only for their visual appeal, but also as diaristic and epistolary material, as signs of life, travel, communication, and relation.

I have embarked on a process of identifying and collecting as many of the postcards that appear in Guibert’s photograph as possible; to essentially “re-collect” this missing visual and relational material from his library. This process has involved reaching out to art historian colleagues and art-lover friends around the world, telling them about my encounters with the library, and requesting their assistance in my task. One artwork was even identified by a stranger on Grindr. 

To date, twenty-two postcards have been identified, the majority featuring artworks from European museums: Pierrot by Antoine Watteau at the Louvre ; Yawning Apprentice by Mihály Munkácsy at the Hungarian National Gallery; and six different self portraits by Rembrandt in museums spread across Europe.

Once an artwork from one of Guibert’s postcards is identified, I contact a friend, lover, or colleague who lives in the city where the artwork is housed. I ask them to visit the museum, purchase the postcard from the museum store, write a note on it, and send it to me. So far I have received postcards from friends in Amsterdam, Stockholm, Munich, Palermo, Budapest, New York City, Pisa, Stuttgart, Paris, and Vienna. 

As the research and re-collecting unfolds, I have produced a number of artworks that trace the contours of my research and expands both its sensory culture and the individuals who contribute to it.

This includes the design of a performance lecture that has been delivered at the Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid), McGill University (Montréal), and KASK+Conservatorium (Ghent); a research exhibition at La Chaufferie (Romainville); and research actions involving the creation and distribution of my own postcard series at Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid) and a-pass (Brussels).

I have also produced a suite of audio letters addressed to Hervé as well as contributors to my postcard research, entitled Trois Lettres Parisiennes. These letters were exhibited with a series of still life photographs at the Chaufferie (Romainville). For an exhibition at the Ystads Konstmuseum in 2022, an audio letter addressed to artist Conny Karlsson Lundgren was exhibited with a wall arrangement of 45 postcards as visual accompaniment to the audio narrative.

If you would like to contribute to my research, either through helping to identify artworks, exhibiting the work in progress, or through some other dialogue, please contact me at benny@nemer.be This research is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and KASK+Conservatorium.