From April 11th to May 25th 2012
Opening on April 11th from 6pm to 10pm.

Text by Jacinto Lageira

Our awareness of our finitude impels us to complete, conclude, and accomplish, in a timely manner, a great number of things of relevance to us out of a fear of not being able to bring them to completion. The anxiety of not being able to finish out of a lack of time is, however, paralleled by the anxiety of not wanting to finish, of not wanting to be finished with the project we had started — out of procrastination, or a desire to kill time, or because we have entered a phase of doubt, hit a bad spell or, most often, out of akrasia — the classical Greek term for 'a weakness of will'. The art history books are brimming with anecdotes about creators endlessly not finishing their works, who are constantly working on them — even right in the middle of their opening or during the exhibition, like Turner — and who end up leaving them unfinished, or turn their akrasia into a supremely positive attitude by declaring their work (Le Grand Verre, after having been broken in shipping) "definitively unfinished". The most surprising thing about this huge area of the un-finished, the non-completed, the outline or the sketch (and nuance is required here) is the great number of finished publications on the subject. However, the incisive perspectives certain writers present — for instance, M. Blanchot and E. M. Cioran, — only make the nagging question — "how to finish?" — even more complex.

The question is literally meta-physical (beyond the physical), for if it is natural for each thing to have an end, finishing an artistic creation is an utterly artificial operation. Other philosophical, aesthetic and artistic conceptions do not give so much importance to the act of completing, to finishing — because from the perspective of the infinite cycle of the universe nothing dies and nothing is born definitively. Let's not forget, then, that the obsession about finishing is a Western imperative. For this, one needs to have started or to start; but, in the absence of beginning(s), the question of the end, or the ends, loses some of its relevance. Mutations, continuities, and transitions give us an altogether different perception of our condition. Raymond Gervais's installation titled Finir refers more to the abstract imperative than to its realisation, for it quickly becomes clear that the artist has not really started a work, nor has he finished what other artists — Claude Debussy and Samuel Beckett — had left pending. It required a kind of Asian subtlety to avoid falling into the logical-semantic trap of beginning to finish and finishing beginning.

Written like a score, the installation places Debussy and Beckett in dialogue, re-staging them towards the end of their creative process, at the point when they were respectively asking themselves how they should finish, wondering about the possible failure of their production, and therefore wondering "how" and "what to do" — because finishing still entails doing something. The fact that Beckett was an amateur pianist who liked to play certain pieces by Debussy, the fact they both lived in Paris and are also both buried there, and their concern over finishing a work, and, more importantly, the fact that Raymond Gervais had previously pursued separate projects on the two artists who are finally united in this piece, are just some of the elements making up this sober staging which Gervais names a "poetics of finishing". Taking certain lines from one of the last texts Beckett wrote, Stirrings Still (1988) ("Oh all to end"), and the title of his last poem "What is the word" (1989), and Debussy's last three sonatas, imagined yet never composed (Sonatas No. 4, 5 and 6), to produce both concrete and figurative resonances between the two approaches, Raymond Gervais left any possible ending or completion pending by accomplishing an artistic gesture which is itself located somewhere between being and non-being. That is already quite a substantial statement, metaphysically speaking. Is it even possible? Because either we have 'being', or we have 'nothingness'. Indeed, but in art, there are imaginary objects which, despite not having any concrete existence, derive at least a mental existence from the mere fact of having been imagined, and in philosophy they are referred to as "defective objects". Works of art are defective objects par excellence, because they only exist as such in our imaginary, being essentially made up of fictionality. As regards unfinished artistic objects, not completed (which is not the same thing as finished objects), or considered unconcluded by their creator (while they may still be finished), there is a kind of redoubling of the defective, as such objects only exist in the mind of their conceiver. And sometimes they will always only ever exist in the mind of their conceiver, as is the case with the Debussy sonatas we are dealing with here, or other pieces he considered unsatisfactory. Raymond Gervais's installation is, in this sense, a defective object: its existence is partially invisible and inaudible, its presence is partially imperceptible and mute, but once thought, imagined, conceived by the receiver, then the installation truly begins to flesh out. A receiver who is indefinitely adding to it, without ever completing or finishing it.

To the defective character of the installation we should thus add vagueness (and the same could be said about other works by Raymond Gervais), for although the receiver is perhaps meant to put the finishing touches on the work, nothing indicates that we can, or that we could have arrived at some resolution — as in classical musical harmonies — of any kind of dissonance. Here we have another of the artist's evasions: not, even on an imaginary level for the receiver, effecting a resolution of this dissonance, strangeness, equivocalness — for it could ultimately transpire that it is impossible. Not because the fulfillment and completion is the business of the producer or the receiver, and that some psychological cause or a confirmed incompetence might prevent them from accomplishing it, but because it lies within the object itself. It would be impossible, so to speak, to finish, end, accomplish, to draw to a close, de facto. For, to finish it, to conclude it, one would have to know beforehand where it begins. Yet nothing is less certain if one considers outside reality, which is at once sufficiently determined for us to be able to move about, and sufficiently undetermined for us to lose ourselves within it and never reach the end. The mental state of the creator or receiver would no longer be the (supposed) cause of our inability to finish, but reality itself, concrete and tangible reality, which would be pulling us towards the slippery slope of the vagueness of the world.

The American pragmatist Charles S. Peirce points out that vagueness is not nothingness, nor the inexistent — it is, quite to the contrary, a situation somewhere between the undetermined and the determined, which is perfectly intelligible and interpretable, but which partially eludes us for this very same reason. We are unable to finish, therefore, because the object we are attending to is simply not finishable. Of course, it is finishable on a material level (the final point of a text or a score), yet not on a perceptual one. And this is in fact felicitous, for we would not otherwise be able to apprehend works of art in their full aesthetic dimension, in other words pursue them, extend them, develop them indefinitely and infinitely within ourselves. We would be putting them to death if we were to finish them through our reception. When exposed to them, we actualise them, make them effective without however fixing a limit to their meaning or their plasticity. With Raymond Gervais's Finir, the visitor literally performs the installation. I activate it, we activate it, and so and so forth, in such a way that the installation only exists through a performance which is ever exclusive and unique — just like the receiver — and will be continued as many times as there are performers. Everyone can continue, in their minds, Beckett's words or Debussy's scores, producing an infinity of digressions on the way things unfold — how to continue?, and on the way things began — how does it start?, and, of course, the finalisation — how does it finish? We can follow some of the indications Raymond Gervais provides, or instead follow a tangent, divagate and digress, which is another way — and a very effective way, as with Proust (about whom Beckett wrote an essay, published in 1931) — of not wanting to finish. Digressing or deferring, starting over, restating and redoing, deleting or destroying, interrupting or abandoning, whatever our delaying tactics, we will never escape the question everyone unavoidably asks themselves: how are we going to end (up)?

Translated from the French by Anna Preger