Interview with Catherine Lefeuvre
You have been collaborating with Jean Lambert-wild since the beginning of your career (and his). This project is a new departure since you are here an artistic collaborator. Could you tell me more about this way of working? What is the place of this project in the history of yours and Jean Lambert-wild’s collaboration?
We have been working together for almost twenty years now. We founded Cooperative 326 when we first met, in 1997, and since then, we have always thought together about the projects we wanted to build. My artistic contribution is usually mostly centred on choosing what type of projects we will do and how to produce them. I have been lucky enough to witness Jean’s trajectory as well as the ways his artistic work has evolved. One of the things I find the most touching in this trajectory and that I was able to accompany is the evolution of his white Clown, who was born in the dazzling Calentures and is made of Jean’s nature as an artist and a poet. When he suggested that I write this text, I think Jean wanted me to take on a privileged position: to be a witness, an entomologist who describes what she sees and talks about the way his clown appears, talk about his nature, the emotions that nourish him.
Was it difficult for you to write this text?
I enjoyed the experience because I’ve been writing regularly yet sporadically for a long time. I always have a few projects on the go, It’s a way of giving a structure to this need I have, which I accept but don’t advertise. My writing wasn’t meant to be spoken about with anyone until now! But sometimes, because we share a life together, Jean and I talk about this parallel activity and how it nourishes me.
What was the writing process like? Did it happen in secret? Through conversations with Jean Lambert-wild? In rehearsals or on your own, at your desk?
This text is part of a triptych about Jean’s white clown. The instructions I had to start with were both very specific and extremely broad. The first text of this triptych, The Clown of the Swamps, evokes in a very poetic way the origins of Jean’s poetic language. It refers to his childhood, the island he comes from, and his hypersensitive relationship to the world. Jean wanted to keep the same momentum for the other two texts, for them to exist in one breath that would be a constant interrogation of the origins and nature of the Clown who comes out of him. These two other texts, The Clown of the Boulder and the Clown of the Stream, were yet to be written. This is how I wrote, inspired by this commission and the pre-existing title, which I already knew and which is part of the poetic design that Jean had imagined. Of course, I asked him about the title. Jean often works instinctively, it is something that is particularly strong in him and that always shows the way a project should go. Jean sensed that the myth of Sisyphus was going to play a part in The Clown of the Boulder. I had to decipher the underground connections that lead from Sisyphus to his white Clown. Very quickly, we agreed that the Sisyphus closest to his white Clown was the Scarabeus sacer, most commonly called dung beetle. In Jean’s favourite bestiary, dung beetles have always had a special status, and we had often talked about them in the past. Formally, Jean didn’t give me any instructions and so I immediately used the format of a fable to tell this story. This allowed me to describe a strange character (strange indeed, since it is an insect) caught in a series of intriguing acts that say something about the world he lives in and his artistic universe. This text is a story, told as a parable, about this dung beetle artist.
You are close to Jean Lambert-wild’s Clown, whose different facets you know. You have seen him evolve in different shows, and, I imagine, off stage too. What can you say of the way he has evolved?
The Clown is invasive and greedy! He is constantly on Jean’s mind and he takes up his time. He leads him to explore the works of Shakespeare, Beckett and soon Molière. He started as a silent figure in the Calentures, in occasionally extreme physical and psychological performances. The clown wears striped pyjamas which have become a recurring feature, crystallising this poetic and tragic force that is a deep part of who he is. The costume creates a conceptual character who can represent many things in our collective imagination. Each performance reveals a new facet, and the audience is always perfectly able to grasp its poetic weight. He is not dissimilar to a comic book character, we follow his adventures we follow from book to book. With time, this has made him a popular character, close to his audience. The audience recognises him and follows him through his poetic and theatrical adventures. Of course, the white Clown also means the acting can be approached in an atypical way. The Clown is very creative and very free, whether it is through the characters he plays or the idiosyncratic and quirky world he creates with his presence.
In relation to the way the Clown has evolved, how do you see you work as a writer? In this act of looking at the Clown from the outside, while knowing him from the inside, on an intimate level? This is the first time that instead of Jean Lambert-wild’s perspective on his clown, we have the perspective of someone else, “a distant and loving vision”, as Jean Lambert-wild put it.
As a topic for my writing, the clown has deep roots in our shared history, of course. But the point was to extract a poetic and distanced perspective, from the particular position, it is true, of someone who is writing knowing this intimacy we share.
Do you have any idea how your text will be staged? Did you know anything about that while you were writing?
My writing was free from any constraints regarding hpw the text was going to be directed. But of course I had in mind the fact that I was writing for Jean’s white Clown. This is why I wrote for him and for his audience. In places, the narrator talks with complicity to the audience, who also witness the actions of this strange white-faced insect…
Could you tell me a little more about the analogy you develop between the dung beetle – the figure of the artist – and Jean Lambert-wild’s Clown?
The Clown of the Boulder uses the myth of Sisyphus to describe Jean’s white Clown. An anthropomorphised dung beetle has become a farcical Sisyphus. Rolling a piece of dung, it is a skilled astronomer, a stubborn and solitary worker who, in many ways, and not the least comical, reminds us of the artist’s condition. Through the literal description of a dung beetle rolling its ball towards its hole, obstinately progressing no matter what, I wanted to evoke the quest of the artist. It is absurd, senseless yet deeply necessary, similar to how Albert Camus described it for the Absurd Man in The Myth of Sisyphus. The ball that the dung beetle must carry along is the poetic matter that the artist must knead, his human memory, his need to be in the world, the labour of his life, his quest for the right words and a renewed, different world.
Entomology teaches us about the instincts that make this Sisyphus carry on with his efforts. And on this topic, I am reminded of a modern entomologist and uncontested poet: Jean-Henri Fabre and his marvellous writings, to whom this text also pays tribute.
Interview conducted by Eugénie Pastor