José Lévy — Judogi



José Lévy

Past: September 5 → November 3, 2012

“That which we call exoticism is merely of a different rhythm”1

Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, 1955

Upon embarking for his artistic residence in Japan, José Lévy was unwittingly following in the footsteps of Claude Lévi-Strauss. Experiencing “the other”; exploring both the unknown and one’s self. This same adventure had been undertaken decades earlier by Judogi, the company founded in the 1960s by Lévy’s grandfather Anatole and specialized in the manufacture of martial arts equipment. An inveterate traveler with an abiding passion for Japan, Anatole took back to France special machines that would enable him to locally produce authentic tatamis, kimonos and bokken. Thanks to his innovations and dynamism the company soon became one of Europe’s leading suppliers in the sector and official supplier for the Olympic Games. As a child, José spent time in his grandfather’s shop on the Boulevard Beaumarchais in Paris, surrounded by kimonos, kodachi, hakamas and endless other fascinating objects with mysterious names; here, a kendo shield… there, a folding screen inlaid with mother-of-pearl, behind whose panels lay a magical imaginary world…

This family legacy is at the origins of the project developed during Lévy’s residence at the Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto. A sensitive, personal expression in dialogue with the spirit of the still-present grandfather, it explores a Euro-centric fantasy of otherness.

After several months in residence, the artist’s presentation in Paris at NextLevel Gallery refers to his “Japan experience”, before, during and after. Testimonial works, a carpet, a screen, mask-sculptures and photographs in the form of a slide show, all together they recount a visual and emotional diary that is shyly shared with the public. A hymn to exoticism, yet one which avoids the clichés of Pierre Loti or the Nippon inspirations of the Art Nouveau movement.

As a fashion designer, José Lévy had owned several boutiques in Japan, giving him a very specific and summary vision of the country. However, at Villa Kujoyama Lévy experienced a deep confrontation between this vision and the unconscious legacy of his grandfather, compounded by a profound sense of a different temporality.

“Travel unfolds simultaneously across time, space and social organization. Impressions can only be defined in terms of these three axes and as space alone comprises three dimensions, at least five are required in order to compose an adequate representation of travel”1.

Claude Lévi-Strauss in Tristes Tropiques, 1955.

With his exhibition, José Lévy seeks to delicately unveil these hidden dimensions in order to reveal a new face, both of Japan and of himself.

He starts with The first 24 days in Kyoto, a slide show that explores the unspoken and seeks to capture the intangible Shinto essence. Projected during the inaugural Kyoto Nuit Blanche in 2011, the series is made up of doubles in which snapshots taken daily in Japan converse with photos from his personal library, taken in Paris, Marrakesh and elsewhere. A dialogue between future memory and past memory.

In a fusional clash between Paris and Kyoto, the sculpted woolen trails of the hypnotic Asphalt Zen Carpet, made by the Manufacture de Moroges, wind meditatively from a mineral, vegetal Zen carpet to the asphalt of Paris. His grandmother’s screen Dora becomes a light sculpture and his engraved Washi paper shapes would bring a gentle glow to either a Japanese bungalow or an apartment overlooking the Arènes de Lutèce in Paris.

The Nô masks and the enigmatic tatami faces entitled Beaumarchais & Juliette are soul-searching objects presented in the form of seat sculptures in fiberglass, covered with tatami, an everyday fabric that here — sacrilege or innovation? — becomes noble.

Inspired by the artist’s childhood memories of objects in the Boulevard Beaumarchais shop and by the collected objects in his grandparents’ home, the works are created from memory. Filtered through the meanders of the artist’s wandering imagination, they are transformed by new stories, materials and functions.

With these works, José Lévy uses his intimate experience to guide him through the transversal dimensions of Japan. Judogi speaks of the other, but first and foremost it speaks of the self. It is an interior voyage that provokes a kind of emotional jet-lag and provides an insight into the artist’s complex inner world. It is often said that observation modifies reality. It also modifies he who observes.

1 Non-literary translation

Cédric Morisset, English translation by Miranda Salt
  • Opening Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 6 PM
NextLevel Gallery Gallery
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T. 01 44 54 90 88

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Saint-Sébastien – Froissart

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Other times by appointment

The artist

  • José Lévy