Aesthetics of Domination
Jean-Max Collard

“I take no interest in stories, I prefer filming scenes.” Devoid of continuous narration, of character psychology, of any particular technical quality, of visual effect and without great interest, either, Philippe Terrier-Hermann’s latest movie, Romans, is horribly annoying: Against the backdrop of Villa Medicis), a group of fashion creatures - young people as beautiful and glamorous as advertising gods, dressed in Armani suits and haute couture dresses - stroll about the gardens, rooms and aisles of the Roman residence. Fragmented visions by a fistful of wealthy and beautiful people through a series of two-fold narrative sequences: words spoken out loud in Italian deal with love, but the English subtitles address issues such as money or business plans”. A luxury sitcom, a kind of The Bold, the Beautiful and the CAC 40 (which is the title of a collection of articles by Jean-Charles Masséra), the movie, Romans, is an unlikely mix of financial speculations and conceptually soppy sequences à la Antonioni, the ugly duckling of the Nouveau Roman genre and of photo stories. Right from his first film, Accident providential (Providential Accident), he already annoyed the average viewer to the utmost by pulling the strings of a bunch of depressed international jet-setters locked up behind closed doors in a farm turned into a castle. A group of friends and close acquaintances of the artist’s play actors, each one speaking in his own language and representing his own social status, from the New York trader to the young Belgian aristocrat not to mention the German-speaking Swiss banker. The movie is subtitled in English, as required by the international dress code. One could have found a deeper meaning in this Deluxe Loft Story: the staged imprisonment of an elite, the ultimate cry of the man from above, the story of an upper society locked up within its own setting, nonchalantly uttering movie quotations referring to the 1970s bourgeoisie, as if it had grown totally alien to itself (Alain Resnais’s Providence, Joseph Losey’s Accident and Last Year at Marienbad, and Buñuel’s must-see The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). However, Philippe Terrier-Hermann chose to get rid of all those over-dramatic and excessively meaningful elements to construct Romans as the trailer of a value-added sitcom, a luxury product also serving the purpose of its own T.V. commercial. Intercontinental presents… To give a more graspable insight into these peculiar cinematic sequences, we should specify that they participate in an image production initiative with a wider scope, but also in installations and items made by Philippe Terrier-Hermann, the artist, within his agency called Intercontinental. A fictitious firm he both runs and works for as an employee, a “production company” lending its name to a whole series of exhibitions, book publications and films, Intercontinental discloses its “business-plan” immediately: producing this resolutely international style through which the new spirit of triumphant capitalism reveals itself. This implies abiding by its codes and formalism, becoming the “Réservoir prod” (1) of an “airport art” already seen in air-conditioned spaces, airline magazines, gatherings set up by “Première” and other transit areas in Hong-Kong, Frankfurt) or J.F.K. Airport. Among the items produced by Intercontinental, one can, for instance, mention the Terrier-Hermann perfume, developed in collaboration with a professional seasoned “nose”: a transparent glass flask drawing its inspiration from Chanel, a basic and refined fragrance, not excessive, a standard luxury product to be sold in duty-free shops from Paris to Dubai. His company also manufactures man-made green gemstones lining the artist’s installations, wannabe Japanese knick-knacks (totally meaningless but still good to have for aesthetic purposes) easily and immediately identifiable and with prices fluctuating, like at the stock exchange, according to supply and demand. It also designed a “haute couture dress made of devoured velvet”, a giant ceramic Mikado and luxury furniture, in particular, a Wengee wood square-angled coffee table with an extremely modernist cut, an item whose origins and design date back to the fifties). With regards to photography, Intercontinental is also an image databank: containing on the one hand typical ad-like images without a logo nor a product, featuring top-models strolling in an architecturally modernist environment) from Mies van der Rohe to Barcelona, and on the other, the jet-set’s family album, an objective semi-documentary showing, one after the other, a white wedding among the Cercle Gaulois (3), a horse-drawn carriage stroll in Tyrol, a yuppie’s “Ultra Brite” smile against the backdrop of the London business district, not to mention the visit through other worldwide air-conditioned non-places: the great international museums. In other words, PTH produces not so much a report as a series of clichés, of “points of view-views of the world” about upper-class society that offer power spheres where money rules a mirror with which they can practice self-contemplation, self-recognition while imposing themselves upon the rest of the world. Aesthetics of domination. What status do Terrier-Hermann’s films have within Intercontinental? In the same light, they are, above all, luxury sitcoms, a mix between Dallas and AB Productions (2), films devoid of quality but doted with a value added. Executive Partner, a phone conversation between a Japanese business woman and a man on a train, provides a good example of his work. A double still-shot blending the ready-made aesthetics of sitcom and corporate films, confusing the viewer who cannot tell if the scene deals with a sentimental break-up or a financial crisis. Capitalistic melodrama. Images devoid of quality Degree Zero cinema, design and photography … Philippe Terrier-Hermann practices not so much creation as imitation. Not so much inventing as soaking in and rendering: “On a strictly creative level, my work is uninteresting, I am not trying to innovate, nor find a new, catchy style, in my work nothing is overdone, there is no caricature either… My art is more about analyzing and reproducing an already existing style.” Therefore, one must take into account this total lack of aesthetic interest when viewing the work undertaken by Terrier-Hermann. Indeed, born in 1970, PTH belongs to a generation of artists violently confronted with the era of image-mania and visual overproduction. This situation leads many of them to refuse or avoid adding to the uninterrupted flow of images pouring down into television channels and advertising. In this context of collective saturation, PTH chose to stand half-way between production and ready-made: by reconstructing a style with its codes, clichés and references, by refusing visual innovation while favoring imitation, he unobtrusively sets up shop on the side of those who do not produce new images while fully participating in this ever-growing industry. An artist devoid of quality: in this regard, PTH ceases to appear as a creator, he merely fulfils his duty as an in-house employee within the Intercontinental company aiming at depicting the neo-liberal upper-class society. “To understand my attitude and my rejection of innovation, just think about the number of contemporary artists whose “visual coinages” are used to feed advertising agencies with new ideas. And above all, don’t forget that research in aesthetic creativity is indeed a tool dear to capitalism and marketing.” Inversely, his images, films and decorative installations are means to point out enforced codes, to expose the golden clichés of upper-class society globalization, to catch the signs of capitalism as it reveals itself today. In this, these works benefit from a ready-made effect: transferred to the field of art, these images full of beautiful people making you feel like buying items lose their utilitarian purpose. Aimless advertisements with nothing to sell, sitcom fragments one watches like rushes from a pilot episode, green and vaguely Japanese knick-knacks allow each one of us to stop the flow of images, to work as a semiologist, to grasp the setting and lifestyle in which neo-liberalism is sold, in order to erase any kind of potential fascination. Because, one obviously senses in Philippe Terrier-Hermann’s work an attempt to exhaust mainstream aesthetics from the inside; or at least freeze them, make them obsolete, drain them of their meaning. Outward Signs of Wealth Contributing to the propagation of the neo-liberal lifestyle while striving to exhaust its many wiles, PTH is an ambivalent artist willingly emphasizing this ambiguity. A few issues must still be raised: how deep is he personally involved in this glittering society he exposes by revealing its codes and clichés? How often does he attend their glamorous gatherings? How well does he manage to distance himself from all this? For instance, by hiring acquaintances in his first films or photographs or by taking the plane with her from Gstadt to Vancouver, PTH made his coming out début as a member of this neo-liberal jet-set. Out of gratefulness, PTH will name one of his perfumes after her, like Alain Delon or Paloma Picasso did, token of a social achievement not really representative of the artist’s current status. To put it differently, through his work, PTH really shows many outward signs of wealth. “It’s true that when seeing my work people tend to think I enjoy a good amount of creature comforts, a good economical standard and have a posh lifestyle. It’s crazy how people like to mix up what they actually see through an artist’s work and their own fantasized guesses about his identity. Once I was even denied a grant because they thought I was rich! In fact, through my status of artist and thanks to a network of professionals and friends to whom I’ve been endeavoring to produce low budget pieces, relying heavily on artifice. I also see it as a kind of challenge to produce a luxury item while cutting all costs. Furthermore, I produce everything myself, as far as possible, from carpentry to textile. I took advantage of my artist residency at the Villa Medicis to make my movie. In fact, I produce but mere pretences of wealth.” But the suspicious remarks uttered about PTH’s work belonging to the upper-class society are due not only to his life path, they are also triggered by more essential reasons. By the artist’s willingness to walk on the golden boys’ side instead of photographing grinding poverty, and above all by the very faint difference between his images and those found in the press and the advertising world and by their easy reutilization. Intercontinental has always been seen as dubious but at least this doubt allows one to freeze frame. It is a contaminating, spreading doubt maybe revealing a widespread media-related mystification. An attempt to fascinate or to wear out, these images and films play a two-fold game, torn between participating and denouncing.
Philippe Terrier-Hermann, a parasite or a spy?

(1) Réservoir prod is a French television production house founded by popular T.V. host Jean-Luc Delarue. It produces mainly broad-audience and family-oriented T.V programs. ?(2) AB Productions is a French production house flooding French television with cheesy and brainless sitcoms. ?(3) The Cercle Gaulois is one of the mighty Belgian select clubs attended by members of the elite (businessmen and politicians).