So What's the Bic Idea?

By Johnson, Phil | The Independent (London, England), May 24, 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

So What's the Bic Idea?


Johnson, Phil, The Independent (London, England)


Even if the Flemish artist Jan Fabre did not exist, it would probably be necessary to invent him, if only to goad popular prejudices about contemporary art even further. After all, how could you choose to miss out on so much fun? As an artist famous for working with the chemical blue ink of Bic biros, the bodies of beetles, and installations involving teabags and rashers of smokey bacon, Fabre could, from a cynical perspective, be said to stand in relation to the world of art as Spinal Tap does to the world of heavy metal, and then some. For compared to what Fabre does, the business of cutting farmyard animals in half begins to look decidedly cosy.

Consider the evidence: in the installation entitled The Bic Art Room, of 1981, in Leiden, inthe Netherlands, Fabre locked himself up in a room for days and proceeded to draw on every available surface - walls, bed, clothes, floor, and his own body - until everything was covered in a cross- hatched biro scrawl. Earlier, in 1978, he had exhibited drawings made with his own blood. In 1991, he covered Tivoli castle in Belgium in biro drawings, wrapping the entire building in paper which was then obsessively blued in Bic and left there for three months, its image mirrored in the castle's lake so perfectly that Fabre was able to exhibit photographs of the building the wrong way up. For next month's Venice Biennale, he will create an enormous globe fabricated entirely from the bodies of beetles, which will represent - as his assistant Tijs Visser says proudly, and with no trace of humour - the largest beetle-construction ever made.

Fabre's visual art is paralleled by performance-works in dance, opera and his own staged texts, in which he has collaborated with composers such as Gorecki and Wim Mertens at venues throughout Europe. Under his direction, dancers imitate the movements of beetles, dressed - when they are not naked - in armour-plated costumes modelled on the carapaces of insects. For his current showing, as the featured artist of this year's Bath Festival, Fabre has surpassed himself. The series of site-specific installations for Bath, Seven Rooms, is wonderfully inventive, placing his work in new, non-gallery settings of abandoned rooms and odd semi-public places where their strangeness resonates with extraordinary energy. Accordingly, a specially commissioned essay for the festival by Pavel Buchler meditates on the significance in Fabre's work of the number seven, bringing the seven seals of the apocalypse, the seven dwarfs, the seven samurai, the Magnificent Seven, and everything but the seven kitchen sinks into its orbit. The one thing it doesn't mention is perhaps the only seven- reference of real relevance: the Hollywood film Seven, where the murderer arranges the sites of his kills in a series of carefully wrought, macabre installations. The hanging form of a beetle-encrusted carcass (which recalls Rembrandt and Soutine), the drawing-pinned and bacon-wrapped figure of Me Dreaming and the subterranean-flooded cavern of The Tea-Bags Cellar, where the ceiling is hung with multiple Tetley's, each containing an image of the artist, are all stunningly accomplished examples of mise-en-scene, and so weird and discomforting that they could easily serve as sets from the film. Seven, Fabre has said, "is the number of impossible perfection". The final, seventh, room of the Bath series forms an appropriately climactic coup de theatre: in the majestic empty space of the disused Walcot chapel, a row of Bic-painted bathtubs covers the floor, looked down upon by the sentinel figures of glass owls mounted high on the walls, their forms blued - naturally - with Bic-ink. The owls, the insects, and the blue of the biro drawings all relate to Fabre's great influence and inspiration, his ancestor Jean Henri Fabre, a late-19th-century entomologist and writer who coined the phrase "the hour blue" to refer to the magical period that occurs when night melts into day.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

So What's the Bic Idea?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?