Rose Pantopon and the Wheel of Fortune
A conversation between Hanne Hagenaars and Julie Béna
Hanne Hagenaars: The main character of your work Rose Pantopon, a character mentioned in William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Naked Lunch is a controversial book, Ballard called it ‘a cry from hell’. How would you characterise the book? What do you like about the book Naked Lunch?
Julie Béna: I took the Naked Lunch as a starting point. This title’s chapter under the shape of an interrogation “Have you seen Pantopon Rose?” really stayed in my mind, cause it was quite unusual a chapter-question mark, as in a way if it would be directed to the reader.I’m working very instinctively when I’m writing a character or catching some names, words or expressions, so as I don;t like to characterise my characters, I prefer not to characterise a book, which is in a way for me, would categorised it ( and I have also problem with categories, as you might feel from my practice). What I like mainly about books, it’s the freedom that they allow you. To imagine whatever you like, to close them whenever you want, to let them continue in your mind without the pages to turn.I remember a book I read when I was 12 years old, I had this amazing souvenir from it, a crazy and sublime story, full of sensations, fogs and colors. When I re-read it 10 years later, I realised that, in fact, I totally imagine the story. What stayed in my mind, what I remember the most was not this book, it was mine. The one I created due to the sensations I get form it.
Hanne Hagenaars: William S. Burrough wrote about his book: ‘The net result of Naked Lunch will be to make people shudder at their own lies, will be to make them open up and be straight with one another.’ Do you recognise and underline this intention? Your exhibition offers us a ‘show-based’ meaningless world, full of trivialities and cocktail conversations. Is your work meant to function as a mirror? I do recognise the plastic character of the world around me. Could I see the show as a mirror of a world ruled by media?
Julie Béna: It’s funny that you quote, cause I’m never reading any biography or quotes or analyses of books. Also, I’m always a bit suspicious with quotes cause they are always excerpt of something, so I’m missing the whole thought… At the moment, I prefer to think what they let me think by what they wrote.What iI apply for others,I also apply it for me in a way. I’m not here with the ambition to change something in the life of people, or to believe that I will unveil the truths or the lies.Regarding the exhibition, I’m not sure with the two movies and the pieces, that I’m proposing a “ meaningless world, full of trivialities and cocktail conversations”. I have nothing against these characteristics, and for the first movie, there is part of that of course, but it is to reveal something else.Meanwhile I do not think their conversations are non-sense or only trivial. I do think (or believe!) are actually quite deep and tragical. Of course, if you just passed like this, grab few minutes, that’s what you might get, but I’m not sure you’ll get that after the 34 mn. However I’m conscious time and attention are one of the most difficult things to get these days… Anyway I do not do things immediately catchable, pieces are requesting attention and this is a choice. Yet, if the pieces let you think that you can catch them at the first sight, I would say maybe it’s just an apparatus, because what it looks is not always what it is.
Hanne Hagenaars: Burroughs’ work was about deconstructing the hypnotic effect on human nature of power and he deeply wanted to create tools that would allow the individual to think for themselves. What tools can we create today to allow the individual to think for themselves? In my opinion is individuality the most important characteristic of art. How do you work with the notion of individuality?
Julie Béna: Could you develop more what do you mean by “think for themselves”? and what is “individuality” in your question, cause I don’t want to misunderstand. Thanks!
Hanne Hagenaars: I got the idea that truth is an important concept in your work. But in contrast to the period when Burrough wrote his book, we now live in a world where the confusion about truth has invaded everyday life. What tools do we have to discover what is real and what is fake?
Julie Béna: From my side, I would say that I am more questioning the doubt, all this uncertain territory between two points. For my stories what is true and what is not, is at the end pointless. Nevertheless, pointing this question of truth in the last video ( have you seen Pantopon Rose? The one-person show), recalls the situation of the spectator and create a doubt from herself/himself, relating to what he/she sees. Meanwhile it will also drive him/her to concentrate on this certain uncertainty. And this uncertainty, this shadow zone, this given for a taken, it is really what I like to work with. Again what you think it is is maybe not as it looks like. But to say the “truth”, I must say that during the redaction of the text of “Have you seen Pantopon rose? The one-person show” I read a lot about the truth and the fake, as a long time ago I read an amazing book about storytelling, and how stories from orality to books, to cinema, to tv, and finally to advertisements and politics, totally screwed our views… don’t trust stories! Ahahah
Hanne Hagenaars: Burroughs called his greatest novel Naked Lunch, by which he meant it’s what you see on the end of a fork. He’s a writer of enormous richness whose books are a kind of attempt to blow up this cozy conspiracy, to allow us to see what’s on the end of the fork … the truth. –J. G. Ballard. The text in your film seems to be a series of rather inane, meaningless conversations, also a sort of ‘rub out the world’. No answers. What function has this ‘rub out of the world’?
Julie Béna: Ah! By the way, I have a long storie with Ballard too! I was totally turned upside down when I discover around 20, the trilogy: Concrete Island/Crash and High Rise.Concerning the “rub out of the world”’s sensation, I guess it comes from different factors. But mainly because, at that time, the base of my writings was coming from what I was listening. Also because my english was almost inexistant- I started to speak really late ( but I do not say I have a crazy english now, but it’s largely better ahahah). So I travelled a lot with this project to catch different languages, expressions, situations, way of living and to integrate them in my way of writing this story. Rose Pantopon is a character made by the surround. During the first part ( the first movie- Have you seen Pantopon Rose?), she is not speaking cause the Choir is speaking about and for her. Meanwhile they are super hard with her, they do not like her so much actually).There is different kind of relation to the text in the first video, cause between London, Montréal and Los Angeles, there is different cultures and preoccupation. Who knew what was a birth stone out of L.A? Personally, before somebody asked me about my birthstone in L.A, I had no idea. Burroughs.I was catching a lot of words, expressions and taking notes in my phone. From this, I was writing. So it is my kind of cut-up post Gysin/Burroughs.
Hanne Hagenaars: In your work truth and fantasy have a pivotal role, it is as if fantasy and imagination could create a sort of solution. Narrations escape into the irrational and surreal. Do you see the world as a surreal place, but what is the best way to escape the meaningless. Doesn’t the ‘irrational and surreal’ make the confusion even more intense?
Julie Béna: Fantasy, imagination, dream, drugs, sex, cocktails, escape.The emptiness is my biggest concern. Cause my problem with meaningless, is that in french, there is a lot of word for it, and they are pretty different- meaningless without purpose or without sense?And sometimes neither one or the other is “bad”. But for me the emptiness is really the horror, the vacuum. Cause you can’t do anything against vacuum, cause you can’t really fight vacuum, it’s just a vacuum.Speaking about that, I think the animations called Miss None and Mister Peanut, doesn’t exist for nothing, cause they are in a way two characters representing emptiness. Miss None, it’s miss nothing and Mister peanut is an advertising logo, but also if you refer to the expression for peanuts! It’s also nothing .http://juliebena.com/index.php…
Hanne Hagenaars: These times in which ‘fake’ (fake news) has got total different dimensions, my opinion about truth and fake has really changed. Off course every person has his or hers own perspective on what happens, but some facts must be revealed. Pantopon Rose, an incomprehensible mysterious figure, why do we need her in this world? Do we still need a mirage? Or is she a more real personage than we would wish?
Julie Béna:But first, do we need her?
Hanne Hagenaars: Mr. Peanut, the alter ego of Vincent Trasov , 1971, is a funny fake personage. Then the alter ego of the artist grew into a kind of reality that fought in May for the mayor of Vancouver. Could art still create confusion that is meaningful in today’s world?
Julie Béna: Confusion is everywhere, so can we still create a “meaningful confusion”? But what would be a meaningful confusion if so?I have also a long story with Mister Peanut by the way…
Hanne Hagenaars: Pantopon is a drug, that could be used instead of opium. Does this has any significance for for installation? Are the sweet dreams, ‘calling Patapon Rose’ a solution? And is art the medium that give the sweet dreams?
Julie Béna: or is art a drug for artist or a religion?Hanne Hagenaars: Or should the installation make me conscious of the world as an ever changing place, dependent on the relationships between people, their perspectives, and also influenced by the way we look at the past and the future, which is also an ever changing field?I read in a review: It is as if we cannot get to know Rose because the Present is not and has never happened, reconsider what is part of the past or the future.
Julie Béna: I love the wheel of fortune. I hope this will offer me an answer to my questions!