Robert Filliou

Robert Filliou, Republics of Genius – Italy / Repubbliche Geniali – Italia, 1972. Collezione Francesca e Massimo Valsecchi, Milano. In comodato a Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Foto © Amedeo Benestante | Robert Filliou, Republics of Genius – Italy, 1972. Francesca e Massimo Valsecchi collection, Milan. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

In 1962 Robert Filliou (Sauve, 1926 – Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, 1987) joined the Fluxus movement, working on the mixing of genres and the aleatoriness necessary to articulate an approach to art that would push the boundaries and engage in participation, so making the concept of the artist’s individuality superfluous and emptying it of significance. The substrate of all his research is the theme of creation, not subject to the “privileged” condition of the artist, but contained in all individuals, even those not normally aware of it. His works thus demolish the barriers to art, embodying the same urge as in the art of George Maciunas, Nam June Paik, Emmett Williams, Arthur Kopcke and Joseph Beuys, to contradict and reject traditional aesthetic categories, working in a range of media, from performance to “action poetry” and video.
After studying economics at the University of California, Los Angeles, from 1948 to 1951, Filliou participated for three years, on behalf of the United Nations, in a program in South Korea. Together with a subsequent trip to Japan, this experience enabled him to study Zen philosophy, which played a crucial role in the development of his research. After returning to Paris in 1958, Filliou devoted himself to writing, preferring to be considered, even subsequently, above all a poet and writer rather than an artist. His interest in writing led to reflection on the power of the text to attain unpredictable overspills, giving rise to performances such as Le Collage de l’immortelle mort du monde (1960), the fragmented and random transcription of a theatrical text, in which the disarticulation of the conventional rules leads to semantic possibilities that cannot always be controlled.
In 1964, with the architect Joachim Pfeufer, he founded the Poïpoïdrome, a center for “permanent creativity” based on action and reflection. With George Brecht in 1965 he founded “La Cédille Qui Sourit” at Villefranche-sur-mer, a Fluxushop, studio-shop and cultural center where to sell artworks, toys, books, jewelry and “anything that has or has not a cedilla in its French name” (Brecht). It closed in 1968.

The attitude with which Filliou formulated a poetic in opposition to every linguistic convention was supported by an aware and defined ideal tension, which he described as follows: “I am not just interested in art, but in the society of which art is just one aspect. I am interested in the world as a whole, a whole of which society is one part. I am interested in the universe, of which the world is only one fragment. I am interested primarily in the constant Creation of which the universe is only one product”.
He also summed up this outlook in the following aphorism, which identifies a disappearance or congenital limitation in the work: “When you make, it is art, when you finish, it is non-art, when you exhibit, it is anti-art”. Filliou therefore conceived art as a participatory dimension developed through involvement and collective action, outside the standards of the art system. From this principle arise projects such as Eternal Network and La Fête Permanente, in which he stressed the status of the artist who acts in an eternal web of connections and the proposal to organize in 1973 a public celebration for the birth of art, with a party held at Auchen in Germany and the Neue Galerie d’Aix-la-Chapelle.

In Naples Filliou exhibited in 1990 at Nicola Incisetto’s Framart Studio, on the occasion of the exhibition Al di là della pittura, with Allan Kaprow and Brecht. The “absolute” value of the artistic idea, the awareness of the social foundations of the “creative act” as against the skepticism that politics and economics can solve society’s profound problems, constitute the grammar of an artistic thought that the artist often embodied in poor and ephemeral materials such as cardboard boxes.

On the basis of this practice of participation and lack of distinction between the artist and the public, in 1971 Filliou produced Le Territoire de la République Géniale (“The Territory of the Republic of Genius”), a conceptual action that had the sense of a utopia, presented for the first time at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. In this ideal utopian space. the public enter a de-territorialized territory, predisposed with documents and photographs, in which various boxes correspond to the different countries of the world. Interacting with this reinterpretation of geopolitics, arranged by the artist, the public was called to develop their own “genius” in the conviction, peculiar to the artist as to Fluxus, that the ignorant is privileged compared to the wise, in proportion to their innate talent and not their induced knowledge.

In his solo exhibition at the Galleria La Bertesca in Milan in 1972, Filliou accentuated his socio-political criticism of the Italian context in the work from this cycle in collection at Madre: to the left appeared a “dedication/homage” to the activists Sergio Israel and Ermanno Beno, while the wooden object on the right is an ambiguous allusion to either a police baton (evoking the violent climate of the political clashes in the 70s) or a pastoral crook, a metaphor for the ethical and social-political influence of religion in Italy.