The Newspaper and The Artist – by John Holten

John Lalor has placed text into the pages of  The Irish Times. A total of six columns, of distinct black text on red, have appeared over the course of a month or so. The columns were anonymous and dealt with cinematic matters of an esoteric bent; many regular readers of The Times were said to be confused, some becoming agitated, upon coming across the artist’s work.

One of my favourite gestures by an artist in the history of 20th century art was carried out by Yves Klein on November 26, 1960. On the shelves of Parisian newstands, slipped in to those beacons of current affairs, les kiosques de presses, appeared Dimanche – Un Journal d’un seul jour. A one day paper. I don’t know what it is about the French capital that sets artists reaching for newspapers to make their swats at the everyday. Libération has had a whole plethora of them redesign its pages down through the years. The art critic Félix Fénéon wrote hundreds of short stories in three lines (republished in a wonderful NYRB edition, edited by Luc Sante) for Le Matin. It was no surprise then to hear that John Lalor, an adopted Parisian, had turned his gaze to a newspaper.

The timing of this intervention seems propitious. Just as the quest to resurrect the avant-garde gesture asserts itself once again in a digital age, print newspapers are fumbling around, scratching their heads as to how to go on surviving in the age of the Internet. The Murdoch Machine seems to be barking about charging users every week these days. The Irish Times then, the newspaper of record for a country recently shaken to its core in matters economic, religious, social and European (with the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty), seems to be a challenging locus for a decidedly French interlude amongst its sombre columns.

Lalor after all is concerned here with Jean-Luc Godard. We see straightaway Jean Seberg strolling along the Champs-Élysées, crying out ‘New York Herald Tribune, New York Herald Tribune.’ Godard is many things to many people and in a way his work with cinema, that most avant-garde of 20th century new media, offers the perfect blueprint for renovation, reappraisal and reinvention in a medium that finds itself seeking fresh definitions. The entire text, delivered in Lalor’s increasingly characteristic – can one really say recognisable? – rolling semantics would seem to be a sort of academic quest for who said what about who, sparked by a visit to the Beaubourg’s Voyage(s) en Utopie overview of the French-Swiss director’s work. A mystery saga that hooked the readers of The Irish Times for a number of weeks, the anticipation of tracing a thin line of investigation in the history of modern cinema barely controllable.

I like to view Steoro JLG as a reminder to us that the realm of the everyday is open for the artistic, avant-garde (mainland European) gesture, that the facets of advertising and marketing can be used to bring art to new audiences or, while we’re at it, that empty buildings can house non-profit ‘businesses’, or redundant institutions aren’t the only givers of education and tradition. Such facts are exactly what The Irish Times is full of these days.

John Holten is a poet and novelist living in Berlin.


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