Research in Progress

Robert Filliou


Mixed Media, 16 x 160 cm.
Materials: Felt, ink and soft lead pencil on paper glued onto brown paper, mounted on wood with hooks

Collection: Estate of Robert Filliou, Galerie Peter Freeman, Paris/New York.

Filliou proposes that ‘research is not the privilege of those who know, but the domain of those who don’t know’. He sees research in general, and artistic research in particular, as our best chance to live our lives in a spirit of curiosity and experimentation.

Excerpt of the conversation between Robert Filliou (RF) and Irmeline Lebeer (IL), Flayosc, France, August 1976.

IL: And ‘Speed of Art’ is a proposition, as you say?

RF: No, it’s ‘research in progress’, as I say. It’s part of ‘Research’. And what else do we have under ‘V’?


RF: Vitesse de l’art (‘The Speed of Art’). This is something new I’m working on, but I think the hat [Frozen Exhibition] will help you summarise it. It’s research that has been going on for more or less ten years. It’s part of a long series, which will pursue me until I break my pencil: Research on the Origin, Research on Pre-Biology, and now Research on the Speed of Art. I need to work with a mathematician. This time I’ll try to do that. I’ve made the general and intuitive proposition that art is a function of life + fiction, and that fiction tends towards zero. If there’s no fiction at all, art is life. In that case, it should be completely anonymous, so that we don’t speak about it. This fits with our conversation where I said: ‘If it’s true that everything is art, then we shouldn’t say so.’ From the moment you say it, you make a distinction between art and life.
            OK. Other times, fiction can be more than zero. A painter will represent reality by adding colours that, for the profane, don’t exist. For him the moon is blue, to take a typical example. In other cases fiction is negative, it’s less than zero. You summarise the whole experience of a life in a film of one hour and a half. Or there’s something you believe to be fundamental, like the Dead Man’s Game, and you’ll do it in a theatre play. Fiction is negative. In two hours Hamlet is finished, from his birth to his death.
            Here’s the proposition: art is a function of life + fiction. Based on that, if we go into mathematics – but I’m not going to bore you with that – we may calculate the first derivative of this function using differential calculus, which, by the way, is something we owe to your compatriot Leibniz, and to Newton. It’s really one of the great inventions of the human spirit. Why am I saying this? Maybe because the other day we talked about mathematics being so sublime, and you didn’t seem to agree…

IL: Not at all! You just seemed to privilege it over other things…

RF: Well, it was also stupid to call it sublime… But all this is just to say that certain manifestations of human invention are really unbelievable. The first derivation of a function is speed. That’s why I call this ‘the speed of art’. It becomes complicated. The temporary conclusions from my calculations have taken me rather far. Just like there was a revolution when we stopped considering Earth the centre of the universe, now, temporarily, I have arrived at the idea that consciousness is not at the centre of the universe. But my reasoning should be much more rigid. The starting point was very simple: the idea about the speed of art. And I understood that if we can say this about art, we can say it about anything. We can, for example, say that life is the universe + fiction, or that the universe is reality (what exists) + fiction (what we say, which changes). This means that the observer, instead of being a constant, is a variable.
            By chance, as I was working on this, I heard on the radio that new sciences are developing, which take science itself as a variable and not as a constant. Once again we see how artists and researchers in a period of great upheaval, like now, are on the same wavelength. Well, for the moment this works, and I have the intention to try to develop it a bit more, if I have the time. I worked a bit with Marcelle’s mathematics teacher when she was in fourth grade. The pupils’ parents came to see the teachers. We met the mathematics teacher, a young man, very pleasant. He told me: ‘Marcelle doesn’t have a problem, she’s doing well.’ ‘Maybe she doesn’t have problems, but I do.’ ‘What problems?’ ‘I’m trying to calculate the speed of art.’ ‘What? The speed of what?’ ‘The speed of art.’ ‘OK?’
            I asked him to look at some things with me. He joined the game. Every Tuesday we met in a café, because we lived in a very small apartment. He made some very interesting suggestions for a more rigorous definition. He started some research on the concept of mathematics itself, which had existed before but is basically fictional. It’s part of this fiction. I wanted to continue this year, but he’s no longer here. He disappeared, without leaving an address. He must be teaching in another school.
            But I’ll ask Edwige, before she leaves next week, if this interests her. The other things I could do on my own, but before presenting this… I really don’t know how to present this visually! I need the elements that would allow me to present this visually one day, like Research on the Origin.

Events View all

Actors View all