Fred Forest - Retrospective
Sociologic art - Aesthetic of communication
Exhibition Generative art - November, 2000
Exhibition Biennale 3000 - Sao Paulo - 2006
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Louis-José Lestocart English version
Louis-José Lestocart : l'oeuvre-système invisible ou l'O-S-I English version
Vinton Cerf English version
Priscila Arantes Curator of the exhibiton "Retrospective au Paço das Artes" English version
Michaël F Leruth English version
Evelyne Rogue French version
Annick Bureaud English version
Mario Costa English version
Jean Devèze English version
Vilem Flusser English version
Derrick de Kerckhove English version
Pierre Lévy English version
Marshall McLuhan English version
Pierre Moeglin English version
Frank Popper English version
François Rabate English version
Pierre Restany English version
Pierre Restany English version
Pierre Restany English version
Edgar Morin English version
Harald Szeemann English version
Sophie Lavaud English version
1 - Synthetisis note on the activities of Fred Forest
2 - Manifests Sociological Art (1974) and Aesthetics of the Communication (1983)
3 - The Aesthetics of the Communication by Fred Forest (1983)
4 - For an Aesthetics of Communication - Fred Forest
5 - The Video family by Fred Forest (1976)
6 - Learn to watch TV through the radio by Fred Forest and Pierre Moeglin (1984)   
7 - Why present his candidacy for President of the Bulgarian TV by Fred Forest (1991)


The multiple spaces of Fred Forest

Jean DEVEZE (Paris, July 1994 )

Professor in Sciences of Information and Communication

Non only Fred Forest lives in multiple spaces but he haunts them. He is not necessarily where one believes he is and when he is not already there, he lets something of him, behind him. It is that he runs the artist of the communication, of connections in networks, and manage always to surprise us while being nearby, elsewhere, where one doesn't wait for him.

His work appears, to the evidence, in the social space. He speaks of it with peasant's words whose exactness hits: "I always considered that the field of the social activity was the natural field of my artistic practice" (1). But this practice itself appears in a relation to the material space (all as to the temporal dimension) that is always present. "The sociological space" evoked by Frank Popper (2) is pulled by Fred Forest toward a more abstract shape that he defines as "the space of the social communication", "the space of mediatization", "kind of surface pulled to nothing by the technologies of communication as the polders were on the sea". Still the rural metaphorsÖ before affirming with strength: "the artists probably have of what to reclaim in this virgin space for them". (3)

The clarity of the language and the wealth of the rural vocabulary, as the pre-eminence that Forest claims for the practice, indicate well that this one forged itself, and probably since his little childhood, a representation of the physical space and the physical time that since he didn't stop to refine and to enrich. His work conceals an original and personal ideology of the space and of the time.


The space is first a place of course, of exploration, of discovery. Such Alexander or Gengis Khan, Forest longs to be everywhere. His dream of ubiquity is flagrant, and the technologies of communication are by his cares, enslaved to this will of presence from afar that permits him to make explode the physical measurements of the limited space or constrained where he stays concretely: the workshop, the territory or a gallery. For lack of physical ubiquity, he practices the partial ubiquity with telephone call, radio, television and satellitesÖ

Already, in 1973, he makes enter the Rue Guénégaud in the gallery Germain and give to see the inside of the gallery to those that pass in the street. It is then about "reinventing" the space of the street following a new configuration, to make so that the street crosses the gallery, and the passersby also. Then to put the gallery in the street. "The outside put inside, the inside put outside ! The turn is played. The glove alternately returned, the obsolete space, the irreparably unsettled time. " (4)

A few months later, To São Paulo, with his friends, under the title "The White invades the city", he walks during three hours, in the center, ten "white spaces"; panels that mobilize the media and are worth him the police's attentions. He organizes an "aesthetical-sociological" walk in Brooklyn, peripheral district of São Paulo, dragging the visitors of the Contemporary Art Museum in "an expedition of ethnographic kind".(5) Once again, the walk is investigating, exploration and discovery of an environment. The artist's eye tracks the sign in this environment, and the sense under this sign.

At the same time, Forest puts in place, around the sociological walk, another mode of apprehension of the space,: it is about an organized space, distributed, geometric. Indeed, the thirty "sociological walkers" had come at the indicated hour, to the museum, to take possession of their stool. The stools had been gathered in a space delimited to the ground by a rectangle of white painting. This space was conceived in order to let appear to a way of organization, of production (...). Every stool after its tourist "journey" would return in the museum to the place that was devolved to it. (6)

At this stage, it is not useless to remind his action the "The Stock market of Imaginary " in 1982 to the Center Georges Pompidou; and the interminable problems of the artist with the direction of Beaubourg that transformed in epic the conquest of a space of 300 m2, close, during three weeks. Let's recall for memory that initially Forest didn't ask anything and it is Beaubourg that came to look for it with a stationary idea: to fill the "central hole". A gestation of three years is going to transform this hole beaubourgeois in a communicational umbilicus whose author defines the objectives so: to use "the institutional space of the Center Georges Pompidou as a place of exchanges and animation. The instruments of the communication are erected there in a production that "entertains " the event. The space is organized on its central part like a place of interaction with the present public or from afar, and its periphery like place of presentation of the productions-answers generated by this last. " (7) One already notes at this time how much the concept of interactivity is own to him, as well as the production of the communication means, with the realization of a studio of animation similar in all points to the one of a studio of television.

This conquest aiming to abolish the geographical space continues during the winter 1983-1984 in the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, in Electra, where Forest presents " the communicating " space, multiplex network associating telephones, minitels and connected answering machines on the world telephonic network. He opens an interactive telephonic dialogue and gives a substance to the macluhanian concept of "global village". As for the organization from the physical space of the device to the Museum, it is characterized once besides by a worry of clarity and rigor that makes of it a techno-geometric kind of abstraction: consoles and telephonic stations aligned, batteries of answering machines in parallel, oblong organization of the whole. Intention clearly expressed here, once besides by the artist, of production of the tools of the communication, to underline the aesthetic opinion that he attends to pull of it.

The very temporary outcome of this step where the space is an object to conquer meets also in the "global sculpture" constructed telephonically around the surface of the globe by Forest and some of his friends during the F.I.A.C. 85 to the Grand Palais in Paris. The ambitious project that consists in making circulate in a successive way, from point to point, a message around the planet shows the capacity to conquer, only one instant, such or such part of the enormous and complex world network of communication, without making the detailed inventory of it. No matter that the message borrows the cables or the hertzian bundles, that it passes in transit by submarine ways or the satellites of communication-relay. The essential is that the message is looped and, left from the Grand Palais, comes back there. This last step prolongs the one of Electra and is symmetrical to it. The containing (the network) is over the content (bla bla bla bla bla!), the essential being to be plugged (on) in the network. The "global sculpture" maintains this point of view, except that the network looks like a " black box". The essential is then the continuity of the network itself, that assures the conquest of the space and opens the access to ubiquity. At this fascinating instant puts itself, inevitably, this question: is there the "demiurge" in this man?


As Jean Duvignaud noted it with relevance, Fred Forest "uses the emptiness". As call, stimulation, invitation or of provocation. Because "the emptiness is an injury! " (8) Duvignaud knew Forest when "he had just bought a piece of white page in Le Monde. To buy an empty zone, comparable to the white stains of the old cards of geography - terra incognita -, there calls reflection. Forest asked to the readers to fill this white space. With words, drawings, fantasies. " (8) One knows that this "work of 150 cm2 of paper newspaper", appeared January 12, 1972, was worth him to receive 800 answers, either of what to make a mosaic of 12 m2. Jean Duvignaud made notice to Forest that people answered by horror of the emptiness, that our society of the spectacle was a civilization of the "full". And that the emptiness embarrassed.

In fact, I suspect the man not to promote the emptiness that because he causes, nolens volens, to the best the occupation, to the worse the replenishment.

I would be tempted to evoke, to his topic, the syndrome of Mascara. I already had the opportunity to signal the references of Fred Forest tothe earth when he evokes the space or the spaces. However the geographical space of his origins, Mascara (Algeria), is the one of the vineyard. His implicit model of occupation of the space is the one of the wine grower, the enclosed, where each inch of conquered ground receives in endowment a foot of grapevine. It probably explains Fred's propensity to fill - or better yet to make fill - the empty spaces that he discovers or that he creates from nothing.

In Tours, in 1969, he falls in love of a closed Gothic church, become gallery Saint Croix and doesn't have a rest to create a new environment, to make of it a place of meeting, of debate, a tribune. His art is certainly to fill the space, but not anyhow. He cultivates the art of the shift, telescoping gleefully the containing and the content. From the Gothic chapel to the sublime arches, he makes a video, data processing space, there shows the models of satellites, of the technical consoles. He takes a place and makes another of it. He plays the formal contrast of the Gothic and the technological.

October 26, 1977, for a moderate sum, he invests the luxurious lounge of the Ambassadors of the Crillon Hotel to proceed to "the parody of a ritual to the level of the legal structures, of the cultural codes, of the mechanisms and of the systems of information. " (9) It is about the official opening of the letters of offered prices receive in answer to the call of offers international, thrown in Europe by Le Monde and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for the sale of an artistic m2. There again, while choosing a prestigious luxury hotel to put to the test and to the question the working of the market of the art, he shows his worry to occupy the space in a completely new manner. He explained himself of it: "one of the particularities of the Sociological art holds in the will of its protagonists to appear in other places that the recognized cultural places. Places of the social reality and of the daily that become sudden fields of experience opened to all possible. Places of which the working and the usual destination are brutally diverted. (10)


In June 1976, in Cologne, Fred Forest experiments in an empty apartment, pending of renting, inspires to the artist a reflection: in the type of urban concentration that the society offers, the space constitutes in itself the individual's real luxury. This apartment, he goes, no to fill it, but to populate it (like all conqueror discovering a virgin land): he lodges in it a perfectly contemporary and banal German family that he invents for his demonstration. Only shift that he approves: it is the family VIDEO. As its name indicates it, this domestic occupation of the space is first videography, before organizing the visit of the domestic apartment for two hundred people in quest of the one of an apartment, the other of artistic emotions. After having invested the space, populated the apartment with the help of the family VIDEO, he organizes the invasion. He exults, enjoys and laughs some again! That one judges: "soon, it will be impossible to contain the stream of the visitors on the landing. They invade the apartment in tight ranks. Take possession of the ground. Organize the systematic combing of the video territory. Some whole hordes stroll of a piece to the other (...) In less than two hours, two hundred thirty people will march soÖ will survey in all senses the video apartmentÖ ";. " Fred Gengis Khan " meets there the Germanic hordes that rejoice him. The space, of emptiness, rocker in the overflow. He notes, in full happiness: "I am literally flooded". It is that one of the objectives confessed of the device is the planning of an experimental space, space of dialogue and critical reflection of the market of the real estate. Another of his objectives is to manage " the proof that today the artistic act can live without the museum, of the galleryÖ "; (12)

Following his reflection, he expresses: " if the family became an emptiness in an empty apartment, the artist's function will be to make feel this emptiness. To show this emptinessÖ to hit on its cockle is sufficient to note that it sounds hollow. And in this hollow the murmur of the emptiness resounds more and more strong, as in our apartment populated of televisions ". (13)


There is a third face of Forest, completely paradoxical, but perfectly identifiable in his relation to the space: the one of the civil servant that he was a long time and that he continues, mentally of the less, to be, whatever he thinks and that he can say some.

It is also the geometer's face, the surveyor, the administrator and the administrator that synthesizes, roughly, the one of the civil servant. In actual fact, it would not surprise me that the artist appears one day under an avatar (to the Hindu sense of the term) of this kind. Because, contrary to the appearance, he became otherwise a man of order, of the less a promoter. He gives the proof of it, in January 1986, to the school of Fine arts of Paris, but it goes back up well farther. The organic necessities of his enterprises, their technological complexity as the budgetary destitutions drove him irreparably to this paradoxical attitude: to organize the conditions of production that that mediocre minds call, to wrong, the mess, and that I will name, for my part, the entropical bubbling, that means, for example, the deviation, the diversion, or even the reversal, the questioning, the setting in question, the radical critique, Ö

But this affirmed worry finds a powerful counterweight claimed by Forest himself: " if, in all honesty, I consider retrospectively the environments that I achieved these last years, I must recognize that the worry of formal presentation of these wholes appears lawfully evidentÖ With regard to the styleÖ it is maybe only the direct consequence in complex operations (to the visual level and contents) of a worry of clarity that appears me more and more necessaryÖ It is maybe also for me a reaction of natural compensation and visual revalorization of the anarchical side (not to say rough draft and "bordélique") of everything that was the Sociological art production in the previous years. (14)

The cause is complete: Forest claims the creative bubbling but in a coherent organization, visually clear, and - why not?- provided, by addition, by the appeals of the formal beauty. The adventures of the "artistic m2" proceed of this frame of mind.

The idea of Forest is simple: to put on sale to the public bids, among works of art, and under the hammer of ivory of an appraiser, in a regular sale, a parcel of ground of one square meter. During his consultations, his mind of geometry blows him a daring extrapolation: to parcel out an apartment and to resell it cm2 by cm2! He buys 20 m2 of agricultural ground close to the Swiss border and founds the "Real estate Civil Society of the artistic square meter", with 20 parts, each giving property and enjoyment of one square meterÖ The price of purchase of the ground is of twenty francs, either 1 FF/m2. But every social part of the S.C.I.( Real estate Civil Society) equals 100 FF and the social capital rises to 2 000 FF. This multiplication by 100, even it is justified by expenses (notary, geometer, registration), before all operation on the ground, shows well the capacity of Fred Forest to administrate and to manage the spaceÖ The marked artistic m2, demarcated and surveyed on the ground is, besidesÖ framed of a dark wood setting! Of the way, the artistic m2 is inserted "in a setting with an human figure"! (15)

The district attorney of Republic having made interdiction to appraiser Mr. Jean-Claude Binoche to proceed to the Cardin space to the auction, Forest changes of space, as merely as others change of sidewalk. Certainly, he keeps the Cardin space like theater of his production, but he substitutes to a ground of m2 from Savoie, one m2 of wool cloth and tergal and to his "artistic m2" a "no-artistic m2". Certainly the m2 of cloth costs him dearer (59 FF) that the m2 of grass near the torrent (1 FF). But the genius of administrator of surface of the artist is going to operate again. At the time of the sale, he proposes the piece of cloth, downtrodden by the helpers, of a m2 that he signs and dates before all people: he explains, dry humor, that "this work doesn't have any report with the one forbidden of the sale, nor in the mind, nor in the shape. " (16) It is true, but stays the surface and its dimension. Started at 59 FF, the bids will stop to 6 500 FF. In less than one minute and half! The demonstration of practical work of applied speculation is succeeded, in return for a change of support, but with conservation of the surface and the space, to the sense of the mathematicians. Who would dare to say, after this glaring demonstration, that Fred Forest doesn't treat the space in artist? And preamble this remarkable increment (x 110), that he is not a prudent administrator of space?


It is not a space, to the physical sense of the term, but it is one of those where Forest snorts, gambols, moves, is agitated with an obvious joy and an incontestable success. About the tribulations of the artistic m2, he assures to have wanted to verify the following hypothesis: "an isolated individual is able, alone, to put a device in place susceptible to create an event of communication on a national scale. (17)

He made the inventory of the necessary means: permanent capacity of initiative, high suppleness of adaptation and of reaction, systematic will of research of information, faculty to imagine immediate ripostes, patience to all testÖ But he adds immediately that the success of such a project leans on the good knowledge of the working of the media. In fact, he knows how, better than whoever, to mobilize, or even to manipulate press, radios and televisions. There are two possible explanation levels to this outstanding faculty. One is the one that Forest suggests, modestly: the good knowledge of the working of the media themselves. The other is perfectly narcissic: he speaks of communication and of media to the men of media and communication. His position of explorer of the media, of adventurer of the communication makes that the "pros" suspect in him one of these vague cousins that it is worth better to know and to recognize for the case where there would be something to recover from his experiments. The insertion of Forest in the media system is more the fact of illuminated, lucid mind, andÖ cynical than the mark of a generosity that the "pros" generally ignore. His own genius is without doubt to let glimpse to his interlocutors possible recoverable repercussions and to offer some, from time to time, thanks to the systematic stake of a permanent activity of conservation and storage.

Because he is a remarkable curator, stocking with method every trace of his acts, of his gestures, of his devices, of his environments. Working in the ephemeral, he manufactures what Abraham Moles named so exactly the "cultural canned food". Of the mountains of videograms, of the heaps of letters, of drawings, of photos, of plans, of diagrams, of sketch, of archives inexhaustible and neat, such is the space of the cultural canned food that is in Fred Forest the result of his practice, the material trace of his past "work" and the material of the one to come. I don't speak of globes of alphabet-pastas locking in the derisory signs of the political speeches of Babel, but for example of these about ten letters of refusal, polite or no, of the institutions of which he made, by the game of the exhibition, as many firecrackers gushing to the nose of those that had believed to get rid of him too quickly. The objects so put canned are ready to be consumed and Fred, on occasion, can serve them cold. Of it also the media are conscious.

The activity of Forest is centered mainly on the creation and the critical use of the communication spaces that he considers like grounds where to open out relational phenomena between the men, and on occasion with machines. But it is not of communication space that doesn't lean on concrete, physical spaces and on spaces mental associated. The modes of representation of the space, that is geographical, urban, farming or architectural, plot the mental, conceptual and spiritual intellectual spaces of each. Gaston Bachelard in his Poetics, Abraham Moles and Elisabeth Rùhmer in their Psychology, showed us these close interrelationships.

That these modest reflections on the spaces of Forest can help the reader to measure the size and the wealth of his views and his practices of aesthetics of the communication, such is the sense of this contribution:

- the space to conquer suits to the artist who is as him convinced that the art doesn't have any borders;

- the space to fill answers this worry to populate it of messages circulating in all senses;

- the space to manage is the place of the straightening of an activity that doesn't wish to be activism;

- the media space and the one of the canned food are different: they don't present themselves as objects or as the fields of action for the artist. Their investment, as their mastery, are necessary and therefore indispensable conditions to the success of his works.

The spaces of communication in which he opens out his inventive talent borrow few or many to these various spaces. His cerebral shaker assures the good dosage. He didn't finish to agitate it under our amazed eyes.


1. FOREST (F.), Thesis of Doctorate, Experiences of sociological art and artistic communication, 1984, p.418.

2. POPPER (F.), "Art action and involvement in The artist and the creativeness today, Klincksieck, Paris, 1980.

3. FOREST (F.), Thesis, p.420.

4. FOREST (F.), " Rue Guénégaud ", in the television in sharing, File Nƒ3, Institute of study and research in visual information, Lausanne, 1974, p.32.

5. FOREST (F.), Thesis, p. 243.

6. FOREST (F), idem, p.244.

7. FOREST (F.), idem, p.322.

8. DUVIGNAUD (J.), "A pirate", preface to the book of F. FOREST, sociological Art, U.G.E., 10/18, 1977, p.15-16.

9. FOREST (F.), idem, p.281.

10. FOREST (F.), idem, p.155.

11. FOREST (F.), idem, p.302.

12. FOREST (F.), idem, p.305.

13. FOREST (F.), idem, p.320.

14. FOREST (F.), idem, p.351.

15. In announces in Le Monde of March 10, 1977 by Forest himself.

16. FOREST (F.), Territory of the artistic m2, s.d., Paris.

17. FOREST (F.), idem, p.169.


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