Into the wolf’s mouth

Michael Lucken


At one of his exhibits in Tokyo, a visitor once told Nicolas Buffe reproachfully, “Your work is inspired by the world of manga and cartoons!” as if to say, “It’s close — too close — to what’s done in Japan.” “What a coincidence! Here we are!” the artist might have replied, having lived in Tokyo since 2007 and just finished his doctorate at the Tokyo University of the Arts.

Mixing themes borrowed from the Renaissance, Hollywood movies, and Japanese cartoons, the work of Nicolas Buffe challenges boundaries and, with them, identities: identities of people, of cultures, and of styles. Can Buffe’s work find a place in the Japanese “we”? Can Japan be part of a Western “I”? Beyond that, to what extent are these distinctions still meaningful?

In Europe, for more than two centuries, Asian artists, especially Japanese artists, were considered imitators, whether of local traditions or of European art forms. This judgment, with its extremely negative connotation, was a way for Westerners to assert themselves in contrast as “creators” and to justify their right of conquest. The Japanese themselves assimilated these values. By 1913, Sôseki was asking his fellow Japanese to stop copying foreign styles. “When we think about it, it is possible that a time may come when, far from merely imitating others, we will have our own originality and independence. We must!” proclaimed the novelist.[1] And several years later, in 1927, the “orientalist,” Kuwabara Jitsuzô, a professor at the University of Kyoto, applied the stereotype to others — “The Chinese are, in general, gifted imitators but not doers”[2 ]— thereby emphasizing Japanese superiority. By then, Japan had completely assimilated the values of romantic modernity, in which mimetic desire is a driving force.[3]

Since the 1970s, the Japanese pictorial aesthetic has achieved growing success internationally, and the imitative balance has shifted. In Europe and in the U.S., tens of thousands of young people draw in Japanese manga style. Should we simply turn the tables on ourselves and lament this state of affairs? No, we should use this shift first and foremost as a chance to reflect on modern values and the division often expressed by the word “we”: “we Westerners,” “we Japanese.” Isn’t it ironic that Japan has progressively adopted the substance of modern values — the emphasis on the value of the individual and science, the ascendancy of creation over imitation, and economic liberalism — and that we lack the vocabulary to describe the community of modern cultures beyond distinctions of race and geography?

Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream has long been a source of inspiration for Nicolas Buffe. I remember how passionately he spoke about it when he was still a student in Paris. Poliphilo is a young man whose love is unrequited. Persevering, he finally succeeds in seducing the one he loves. He kisses her, on the verge of realizing his desire, but she disappears at the very moment he thinks she is his. This illustrated tale from the Renaissance speaks of the impossibility of one individual uniting with another, even in dream. At the moment when one expects to lose oneself in the other through love, one is brought back within one’s own confines. There is only “I”; “we” is an illusion. From this perspective, Poliphilo is a modern man alienated from his lover. He can desire, he can try sometimes to lose himself in the other or in a group, but he knows in his heart that he will never achieve his goal. Even today, this material is definitely workable subject matter!

Since the 1920s, Japanese philosophers have pondered how to overcome the contradictions of modernity. Inspired by Heidegger and German phenomenology, writers such as Nakai Masakazu have explored the question of distance (or ma in Japanese) as the space of the intersubjective relationship.[4] To be interested in ma is to see space as the tension between individual objects that are by necessity connected. For example, the distance we place between musical notes highlights each one, but it also connects them. On a broader scale, we can examine one culture at a distance from another to better show how they differ. The emphasis on ma was Japan’s response to the assault of the Western colonial perspective.

The work of Nicolas Buffe blurs distance: between classical and popular culture, fine art and entertainment, gravity and frivolity, the ideal of beauty and the decorative function, Western references and Eastern references, the perennial and the ephemeral, the museum and the street. Most of the oppositions that shape modern aesthetics push and shove within it. It isn’t satisfied with observing the confrontational hierarchies of Western modernity or claiming the Japanese ma, i.e. tidy space that is respectful of differences and situations. On the contrary, “Enter the wolf’s mouth,” it says. “Go see what’s in his belly!” There is something proliferant in Buffe’s work, as if it were an organic structure growing up against its own limits. In this sense, it has a decorative dimension. The decorative is not an end in itself, but rather the means to ignore existing boundaries and to break free of established systems.

In late 2012, Kitano Takeshi published a book entitled The Anatomy of the Idiot. Despite its farcical tone, the book is a serious reflection on the question of ma, which Kitano questions and critiques: “The sense of distance [ma] for which the Japanese are so gifted could become a hindrance to the realization of new things,” he writes.[5] By mixing genres and emphasizing gateways, Buffe not only looks critically at the twentieth century, but also proposes a stimulating solution through art. While painting in Europe has long been conceptualized, to use Alberti’s term, as an “open window” on history and the world, Nicolas Buffe sees it as a “door.” In fact, he has realized and shown a number of works in the form of doors: on top of existing structures, as at the Diane von Furstenberg shop in Paris in 2008; at the entrance to his exhibit “The Game of Love and Chance” in New York in 2009, and in interior courtyards such as at the French Embassy in Japan in 2009. Even the homepage of his personal website features a drawing of a door. The arches and columns that structure his compositions are also doors of a sort. Notably, this way of accentuating gateways also evokes video games, in which the goal is often to find a gateway to the next level.
All this is just a game? Yes, of course… and yet!
By making the painting a door, not a window, the viewer doesn’t have to feel he is inside looking out, here looking there, in the present looking at the past, or a “we” looking at a “them.” He can look in from one side of the wall, but he can also take a few steps and look around from the other side. This choice has not only a strong aesthetic dimension, but also an ethical one. To invite the viewer to pass through walls — whether physically or metaphorically makes no difference here — emphasizes the plurality of experiences and points of view. Plurality is an as-yet poorly supported but essential concept. Plurality is the opposite of singularity, but it is also the opposite of diversity, which is simply the juxtaposition of singularities. Furthermore, it is not a mixture that pretends to be a “natural” fusion. Plurality means accepting a form of disjunction of the subject — accepting faults, fractures, and contradictions. It means refusing the isolated “I” as well as the indefinite “we.” It does not mean questioning individualism — the individuality of Nicolas Buffe’s work is certainly obvious — but rather accepting that individuals are complex and not beholden to one master. Why is recognizing what is obvious for many still so terrifying?

(English translation by Linda Beamer)

1. Natsume Sôseki, “Mohô to Dokuritsu,” Natsume Sôseki Zenshû, vol. 33, Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten, 1957, p. 125.

2. Kuwabara Jitsuzô, “Shinajin no Bunjaku to Hoshu,” Kuwabara Jitsuzô Zenshû, vol. 1, Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten, 1968, p. 487.

3. See René Girard, Mensonge romantique et verité romanesque (English. translation, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, 1965), Paris, Hachette, 1961.

4. See Nakai Masakazu, “Geijutsu no Ningengakuteki Kôsatsu,” Nakai Masakazu Zenshu ̄ , vol. 2, Tokyo, Bijutsu Shuppansha, 1981, p. 3-10.

5. Bito Takeshi, Manuke no Kozo, Shinchosha, 2012, p. 157.

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The Maniera of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili Nicolas Buffe and the Dream of Polifilo

Toshiharu Ito, Art Historian and Professor of Intermedia Art, Tokyo University of the Arts

"The Dream of Polifilo" 2014, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art


Polifilo dreams.

Written by the Italian Dominican priest Francesco Colonna in 1499, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is a medieval adventure story about a friar called Poliphilo who after being shunned by his beloved Polia falls into a dream, wanders through a mysterious forest and magnificent gardens, reunites with Polia, and then goes on to have further adventures and recollections, which include extravagant processions and mysterious rites. But what has fascinated people about this book — considered by some the greatest incunabula of its time — is the encyclopedic knowledge it displays on subjects as varied as architecture, medicine, zoology and botany and the exquisite beauty of its exotic woodcut illustrations. The erudition and images, suggestive of a book of alchemy or tarot cards, constitute a brilliant display of imagination and ancient learning layered on top of a very curious tale.

Poliphilo falls asleep under a large tree in a dark forest and then wakes to find himself facing ancient ruins and a fearsome wolf with gaping mouth and fangs, one of the manifestations of the two motifs of fear and bliss that alternate within the story. To arrive at a place of serenity and joy, he must make it to the end of a dark, narrow and terrifying path as if it were a rite of passage. He encounters one difficulty after another on the way to Cythera, the island of love, in pursuit of his beloved Polia, who also symbolizes ancient knowledge.

For the exhibition, Nicolas Buffe transformed the entire Hara Museum along the thematic and structural lines of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, turning it into a setting for an adventure journey. The tree near the entrance of the museum became the great tree in the dark forest where Buffe’s character Polifilo slumbers and enters his dream. The entrance canopy became a wolf’s head, with its huge mouth open and long red tongue extended. Getting past this obstacle, one enters Buffe’s theme park, a labyrinthine succession of installations composed of wall murals and three-dimensional objects, including an interactive work that makes use of Augmented Reality.

Buffe’s Triumphe, ils ont sauvé la terre (triumph, they saved the earth) (2008) depicts a carriage in a triumphal procession that is decorated in silver and gold and accompanied by nymphs. Buffe borrowed its shape and composition from an illustration in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. A triumphal procession is a group of allegorical characters assembled into a moving spectacle to honor a given person or event. In this work, Buffe transformed the procession into a vision of marching Japanese live-action, special-effect action heroes who have just rescued the earth from danger.

Buffe’s Pulcino (2009) was also inspired by an illustration of a black elephant bearing an obelisk in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Buffe’s work is a three-dimensional elephant with a large obelisk on its back that sways. It is an amalgam of various elements ranging from Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk, Disney’s Dumbo, Japanese Buddhist architecture and portable shrines and rocking chairs. To support the weight of ancient knowledge represented by the obelisk requires a solid head (brain), but Buffe embeds his own message: action and play are necessary components in all knowledge.

In his art direction for the Haydn opera Orlando Paladino (2012), Buffe explored this kind of organic fusion between the fantastic and the allegorical on a deep level. This Renaissance tale is about the title character Orlando’s unrequited love and madness, which plays out against a backdrop of Charlemagne’s battle against the invading Saracens and the exploits of his paladins. Taking historical and geographical allowances, the story contains sorcerers and monsters and even a crazy journey to the moon. In Buffe’s hands, however, he creates a red arcade that is inspired by Baroque French stage sets, and in the cave of the sorceress Alcina, Buffe incorporates a circular stage and staircase that he borrows from the Cloud City set in Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back. The scene where Alcina turns Orlando to stone and sends him to Hades is taken directly from the scene in which Hans Solo is carbon-frozen in the same movie. In other words, Buffe applies a unique association of ideas to make his characters shine.

Then there is the design of the costume for Orlando’s servant Pasquale, which was inspired by the costume of Kamen Rider, the wings on his helmet and sword by the comic book character Asterix, the sheep herder Yuria by the sexy costume of Barbarella. The costume of the insane Orlando combines a strait jacket with medieval knight’s armor, and the hair and beard styles incorporate elements from Don Quixote and Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. Rodomonte, the King of Barbaria, was influenced by the kumadori make-up of Kabuki and the carriage he rides is in the style of Japanese decorated trucks. The sea monsters move like Godzilla or an Ultraman monster against a simplified backdrop in the style of a 1990’s TV game show.

Buffe’s creations are more than quotations or pastiches; they are creative attempt to generate a new dimension unlike anything before it. Paraphrasing Eduoard Glissant, it is a dimension in which people exist in one place and another simultaneously, taking root as they spread out, harmonizing as they wander.

The extreme rate at which opportunities for communications and movement are increasing has affected how people live and think, making their daily lives a kind of chaotic journey. Artists are starting to be seen as agents who penetrate this cultural landscape overflowing with symbols to create multiple forms of expression and pathways. For Buffe, these conditions describe the “altermodern era” of globalized, multicultural relationships that have resulted from a planet-wide creolization, an era that has supplanted the 20th-century Modernism of the West.

Buffe believes that what is important in devising a new maniera for the altermodern era is not to flatten the idea of historical time or geographical place, but to cherish the operation of shared cultures and the depth of shared cultural memories; that is to say, to go not in the direction of “Superflat,” but in the direction of “Supervolume.”

Faced with an astounding amount of information, contemporary artists must open themselves up to an aesthetic of diversity and drive a wedge into the monotony of uniformity while cultivating unique sensibilities with respect to selection and use. What is necessary is to transform the vast network of knowledge into a rhythmical movement, to play with history in a serious way, to have fun with anachronisms and to give form to joyous knowledge. It may be said that the succession of works created by Buffe are the best examples to be produced in this direction and from this stance.

Overflowing with allegories and symbols, including winged horses, the Tomb of Adonis, fierce dragons, the Three Graces and the Fountain of Venus, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili continues to be a major revelation for Buffe in that sense. The title is a neologism composed of the Greek words hýpnos,“sleep,”éros,“love,”andmáche ̄,“fight.”TatsuhikoShibusawa, who first introduced the book to Japan, translated the title using the characters for “madness,” “love” and “dream.” Embedded in these words is an organic chain of human emotions in which dream, love and fight are harmoniously combined in madness. Nicolas Buffe is sure to continue creating his own unique maniera, sending out variegated links with imaginary worlds and the real world through his ivy-like creative powers, constantly responding to its own growth and environment, transferring its own roots and adding new ones.

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Un nouvel œil ornemental de l’art

Christine Buci-Glucksmann


Text written on the occasion of the solo exhibition Mutations Merveilleuses de divers trucs (Marvelous Mutations of various stuff) held at Gallery Schirman & de Beaucé in 2009.

C’est au début du vingtième siècle, dans la Vienne de toutes les modernités, que la question de l’ornement fait l’objet d’une âpre polémique, qui scella bientôt son destin. Est-il un style, comme le veulent Klimt, Riegl, la Sécession et l’Art nouveau ? Ou un crime comme le prétendra A. Loos dans son célèbre pamphlet Ornement et crime, bientôt transformé en « L’ornement est un crime » . L’histoire est désormais entendue. Lascif, trop féminin et trop primitif, l’ornement avec ses arabesques va être exclu de l’art, et d’une modernité puritaine assoiffée de « pureté ». A l’exception de Matisse et de Klee, tous deux amoureux du mode ornemental de l’Islam, cette exclusion traversera tout le siècle.

Mais par un curieux retour du refoulé, la crise du modernisme et le développement du virtuel en art et architecture, s’accompagneront d’un véritable retour de l’ornement. Mais un ornement second, détourné, transgressé, objet de toutes les hybridations et mutations impures et risquées. Et c’est bien ce risque d’une ornementalité qui confond structure et décor, et habite toutes les surfaces comme une seconde peau, que prend Nicolas Buffe dans son travail. À l’encre blanche ou à la craie, durable ou éphémère, l’ornementalité habille tout de ses excès et de ses séductions. Renouant avec le sens originel d’un ornement cosmos et beauté, se jouant de l’abstrait comme du figuratif, mélangeant pop, BD et manga avec l’art de la Renaissance, Nicolas Buffe construit avec une très grande liberté et une inventivité remarquable, un nouvel œil ornemental de l’art, où l’artifice se meut en artefact. En arc, en cartouche, en vase, en mur, en sculptures, pucelle monstrueuse ou éléphant à bascule, l’ornement devient une interprétation graphique du monde, au plus près des grandes cultures ornementales, celles de l’Occident comme celle du Japon, où il séjourne actuellement.

Au départ, un premier grand modèle, les grotesques chères à la Renaissance et au maniérisme, depuis leur découverte dans la Maison de Néron. Le choix n’est pas indifférent. Car de l’Italie à Fontainebleau et aux Flandres, les grotesques représentent l’ornementalité la plus libre, la plus drôle et la plus fan- tasque, que l’on puisse imaginer. Niant l’espace, opérant une fusion érotique de l’organique et de l’inorganique, créant des hybrides mythologiques sans fin, ces grotesques qu’aimaient Montaigne comme Vasari, débouchent sur une véritable poétique du décor et de l’artifice, propre à la maniera, ce style du style, qui créent des êtres et des fictions1. Nicolas Buffe réinvente ce corpus en «Modulesques», en Songes, en Triomphe de l’amour, en Miroir aux sirènes, jusqu’à réaliser un Stu- diolo à la Maison Rouge.(2007). Né avec l’humanisme, le studiolo était une pièce secrète d’objets précieux et de portraits. Réinventé, il obéit à une même logique : créer un discours plastique qui reflète le monde. Dans une optique proche, Ni-

colas Buffe reprendra le parcours symbolique d’un célèbre livre : Le Songe de Poliphile qui mêlait déjà de multiples sources littéraires, pour mieux célébrer Polia, ce rêve d’une Antiquité retrouvée en ses mythes et figures, comme l’Age d’Or réalisé à Tokyo.

Mais que l’on ne s’y trompe pas. Nicolas Buffe rêve au présent, voire au futur, et ses figures, ses mythes viennent de la BD ou des mangas. Pingouin sur la célèbre boîte Campbell chère à Warhol, Carré-Méduse ou Mikiki de nos en- fances, Triomphe de Priape devenant celui de Bacchus réinterprété en Capitaine Haddock, Vache qui rit, ou Soleil en lapin playboy de Tex Avery, sans oublier ce Char du Triomphe habité de bien curieuses créatures. Bref, le vrai songe est celui de l’inventivité de la ligne et de toutes les mutations graphiques en un mé- tissage généralisé des cultures, comme ce chat « mangatisé» de Chesharo, ou les folles machines d’Ex Machina.

Aussi est-ce bien la métamorphose en tous ses états, celle d’Ovide bien sûr, qui sert de fil conducteur à son exposition actuelle à la Galerie Schirman & de Beaucé : Les mutations merveilleuses de divers trucs, traduction ironique des mutatione maravigliosa di diverse cose d’Ovide. Mais cette référence est l’objet de transformateurs multiples, où l’Actéon de Lodovico Dolce dialogue avec Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, et toute l’inspiration machinique des robots en un véritable univers de zombies… Bref, le véritable triomphe de Protée, sous la forme d’une bulle protéiforme, lui, ce vieux Dieu de la mer d’Homère, gardien des phoques, qui se change en dragon, panthère ou porc géant, comme les ava- tars des jeux vidéos contemporains.

Vous entrez donc dans la galerie, et vous vous trouvez d’abord face à Pul- cino, qui a retrouvé sa bascule, après avoir eu un merveilleux socle orné, lors du Parcours Saint Germain 2009. Un éléphant donc, avec son obélisque sur le dos, frère ironique de celui du Bernin installé à Rome depuis 1667. Comme un rocking- chair, l’énorme pachyderme, vous sourit de ses grands yeux blancs et de ses petites oreilles d’ange dressées. On pensera au Babar de l’enfance, ou à Ganesh, fils de Shiva, ce dieu indien de la sagesse et de la fortune, comme le hsiang chinois, homophone de bonheur. Mais tout bonheur n’est-il pas éphé- mère, comme cette œuvre murale qui vous fait face, et qui est vouée à une disparition lente. Détournant un rituel tout asiatique, les cendres blanches de la craie seront recueillies dans un reliquaire orné, forme sculptée d’un sacré perdu, devenu art.

L’éphémère donc, celui qui hante de nombreuses oeuvres contemporaines, virtuelles ou non, qui cherchent toutes à capter le temps dans le flux du monde. Comme s’il fallait saisir la modulation du temps, son passage infinitésimal entre apparition et disparition, dans un acte d’effacement progressif et imperceptible, réalisé ici lors d’une performance. Nicolas Buffe aime les oeuvres éphémères, comme celles qu’il a réalisées au Japon dans cet Age d’Or progressivement effacé. Or l’éphémère, et l’adhésion à l’éphémère – le mûjo et la beauté fragile des choses, le mono no aware – sont précisément des valeurs japonaises. Toutes celles que l’on retrouve dans Tokyo, dans sa culture des flux et son maniérisme fluide. Entre jeu et mélancolie légère, Nicolas Buffe nous livre sa conception de l’éphémère: une stylistique et une topologie de la ligne en arabesques, courbes et autres entrelacs, qui traversent les pratiques artistiques et architecturales, dans un passage et une disparition permanente des flux subtils du dessin. Car il faut « avoir l’esprit de la vague », comme on dit encore au Japon.

Vous descendez par un escalier en colimaçon et là, vous êtes à nouveau porté par l’esprit de la vague. Elle tourne, comme la roue de la fortune, sous la forme d’un phénakistiscope, cet ancêtre du cinéma, où l’on voit défiler des ima- ges animées. Elle flâne parmi les dessins et triomphes sur papier accrochés au mur, et dans la salle du fond, elle s’attarde face à un coffre mystérieux, entière- ment orné de l’extérieur. C’est la boîte de Pandore, un autre mythe réinventé. Or Pandore, qui fut l’objet des dons divins (pan tout, doron don) symbolise tous les maux liés au féminin Epiméthée ouvrit la boîte, et la souffrance, la vieillesse, la maladie et la folie en sortirent. Bref, Pandore figure le côté destructeur du sexe féminin. Ici, la boîte livre son secret tout érotique : des shunga, ces gravures érotiques japonaises, plus souvent réalistes et crues, qu’un Hokusai n’ignora pas, et qui renvoient à l’imaginaire de la copulation cosmique et incestueuse, mythe d’origine du Japon .

A l’époque de la mondialisation des flux, Nicolas Buffe réinvente sa traversée du réel, dans les immenses enveloppes des choses, ces masques, doubles et travestis, qui n’en finissent pas de se mêler et de s’enlacer. Mais élever le dessin à la puissance ornementale d’un œil ouvert sur le monde, se solde par un paradoxe évident. Tout est léger et inframince comme une architecture de l’éphémère. Mais tout est aussi précis, et vampirise les mythes en les actualisant dans l’ultra-moderne. Entre forme et informe, plan et chaos, passé et futur, le dessin sur fond noir-couleur et fondement, circule avec une liberté fantasque et une ironie étonnantes.

Alors, un mythe ultime, à détourner bien sûr. On raconte que la lune est un miroir de tous les êtres, au point de se mirer dans chaque goutte d’eau devenue monde. Car elle est changeante, impermanente, toujours éphémère. Faire rêver et re-rêver à toutes les apparitions, disparitions et mutations, à tous les Nemo, ces voyageurs qui ne sont personne : telle est la force toute nietzschéenne de l’œil ornemental de Nicolas Buffe, qui magnifie le réel, fût-il le plus insignifiant, de ses énergies, de ses rythmes et de ses parures«Aventure de lignes», aurait dit Michaux. Car: « mon plaisir était de faire venir, de faire apparaître, puis faire disparaître».2

_1 C.f. notre livre: Philosophie de l’ornement. D’Orient en Occident, Galilée, 2008, « Le Cogito ornemental du maniérisme ».
2 H. Michaux, Première version inédite d’«Emergences-Résurgences, Œuvres complètes», Edition établie par Raymond Bellour, Pléiade, tome 3, p .670, Gallimard 2004.

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The dream of Nicolas Buffe

Thomas Golsenne


Text taken from the catalog published by Editions Ereme during the solo exhibition Hypnerotomachies held at Gallery Schirman & Beaucé in 2007.

Nicolas Buffe’s work, at first glance, is not very serious. His imagination is inhabited by comic strip characters, icons of video games, and other animation stars: an imagination that refuses the “adult” world and turns its back on Contemporary Art’s current references. As if confirming this refusal, Buffe structures his compositions with an ornamental repertory inherited from the Renaissance and 17th Century: cartouches, grotesques. With an astonishing virtuosity and irrefutable sense of humour, he combines the “High Culture” of the museum world and the “pop culture” of his youth.

But Buffe’s work isn’t by far only a postmodernist joke, or a decorative pastime. It is punctured by a much more profound question, which totally justifies his references to the Renaissance. This is the question of Artistic Inventiveness. Ever since the Romanticists, this has been confused with “inspiration” or “genius”: it is the manifestation of the creative gesture. For Nicolas Buffe, just as for the Renaissance artists, Invention is in fact a derivative of discovery and craftsmanship.

The inventor isn’t he who creates without a previous model thanks to his own genius; but in fact is the person who discovers in pre-existent works remarkable shapes, isolates them and creates new combinations from them. In this way, a do-it-yourselfer creates a new machine from used odds and ends; the decorator uses motifs already drawn to create new images. The master Artist-Craftsman-Decorator is not a person whose genius has isolated him from the human species, but in fact a person who is able to create original associations using the shapes that he puts together like so many puzzle pieces.

By adopting the ornamental structure of the Renaissance grotesques as a background to his compositions, Nicolas Buffe has chosen a type of decoration based essentially on his subjective choices: the grotesques are hybrids in which the most daring associations are permitted, if not recommended. It was these grotesques that defined the structure used by Montaigne in his Essais, which were a heteroclite mixture of citations and original texts; the grotesques that a sixteenth century author called “pictorial daydreams”, in that they so imitated the thoughts that are shaped by our dreams. The goal of Buffe is much more serious than it first appears, it is born of a “serious game” so prized during the Renaissance, that conjugates pure invention, pleasure and knowledge.

In the framework of this exhibition, Nicolas Buffe has chosen to precisely illustrate a Renaissance daydream, The Strife Of Love In A Dream (Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Published anonymously in 1499, this novel of initiation was a best seller in the 16th century, despite (or perhaps, because of ) its hermetic status. Poliphilio, like all other Renaissance man of letters dreamt of a revived Antiquity, assimilated to the lady that filled his thoughts, Polia. Throughout the love story schema that is apparent in the text, it is an astonishing description of all kinds of ruins and monuments, inscriptions in all languages that combined to create a legacy of unlimited culture and curiosity without bounds. The real interest of this book lies in the assemblage of the diverse literary models, images and texts, writ- ten or visual sources, a combination that far surpasses modern day divergences of fiction and history, real or mythical Antiquity. In brief, a heteroclite composition in which the two emblems of the book are hieroglyphics and the grotesques, both invented by the anonymous author of Poliphilio’s Strife Of Love In A Dream. Nicolas Buffe would be hard put to find a more exact entity with which to exercise his talent than this prolific book.

Thomas Golsenne

Translated by Holly Warner

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