Joël is twenty. He hasn’t had time to have a professional past yet but he does have a past, even though his young teenage body could lead you to believe otherwise.

At the age of twenty you know how to refuse, especially when circumstances and your own desires give you a step back from social convention. Especially when you know that this society will never accept you for your ability to assimilate, but rather for your talent for protecting yourself from it.

Joël does not answer the question « what do you want to do ? » (with « when you grow up » implied). A question that negates the objects he creates now, as though he was being forgiven for his excesses in the belief that they are merely errors of youth or intuitive objects of chance conceived despite himself. True, Joël is starting out and his future will not necessarily be more inventive or mature or waning, like the market or museum preservation can judge for certain confirmed artists. Like many other people, Joël makes objects and his objects have the quality of invention and poetry. It’s a question of attitude more than career. And that is no doubt where the charm lies, like with Edouard Rajoana in a very different register.

Autodidact ? Objectively speaking, yes and no. After school he only went to the private Art School in Tana for three months, he hasn’t travelled any further than the neighbouring Ile de la Réunion and a very recent trip to Paris for three weeks. Research and a quest more than any kind of training, sharpened by constant experiments and his desire to always look at things with a new eye: in Christiane Ramanantsoa’s acting troupe where he acts and creates the costumes and sets; at the Adeva, a European Union project on design and craftwork, run by two French expatriates, Nadine and Pierre Paris, where he is a permanent consultant. He also has fun making jewellery out of strings and old iron, exhibiting in craft fairs without selling anything, decorating a nightclub or a flat, or being a performance designer by covering his models in earth.

He has few references. They are intuitive and constructed from the imagery taken from magazines and books from foreign cultural centres, friends, street scenes, town and village life: the cloths, forms, techniques, attitudes, smiles and anger of all those around him.

And this is the strange thing, or at least the kind of thing that seems to link up with what we saw in Cameroon, Dakar, Cuba and virtually every other country (but not wanting to make a theory out of it) : Joël’s production and artistic attitude are beyond space and within his own time and could just as easily come from a New Yorker, a Carioca, a Kinshasan or a Parisian. Without wanting to explain for the sake of explaining, one could think that this is a kind of proof that world urban culture is perhaps more constructed and real than we think, that human characters are so deep that no cultural specificity seems to be able to constrain them. And yet Tana could be out of this world with its standstill time, its urbanism, climate, peoples, traditions and way of life.

Beeing an artiste …

Can one be the object of criticism, analysis or a biography at the age of twenty ? Is it rational to acclaim a young man who, driven by media attention, will think he is… what he isn’t or who will become what others would like him to be ? Consequentially, once the newborn flame has been blown out, disillusion and bitterness settle in the heart of the now cursed artist.

Not answering these questions is indispensable, for we are touching upon a double problem: firstly the problem of the nomenclature who fill artistic creation with codes : through the lack of confidence it has in each initiative or new desire – and the age of the initiator is now irrelevant – the society of experts, the media and « authorities » spends its time burying expressions on the pretext of passing them through the treadmill of time, its trends, a certain circle, the convention of pseudo-knowledge and normative training. Is it not possible to be the creator of a unique work with no antecedents and no continuation, to resume Julien Gracq’s anger ? Can we predict the future by analysis of the past alone ? Is it not possible to be a new man with each new project ?

Those who need curriculum vitae should stop reading now and await the improbable.

The second problem is the pressure which the art world exerts on artistic production that has to be inspired and fabulous. Without these epithets it does not even deserve to be registered in History or an art market: not taking into account the fundamentally humble and banal aspect of the artistic act. Transforming simple individualities into pseudo-geniuses, the weakest of whom will truly believe that is what they are. Being an artist is not a job or a career, even less a state, it is a society’s way of qualifying someone who once had the grace to charm or intrigue people with the things he made with his hands, words and body. Whatever the field, (writing, singing, painting, sets or costumes) the moment of creation is the moment when the very nature of the person living it blooms or materialises. The quality of this moment, the only important one, is not linked to its uniqueness or its being inscribed into any kind of continuity. Talking about Joël today means talking about Joël today. In his town, in what he brings to his sleeping world, with disconcerting appropriateness and freedom: design, direction, costumes, writing and above all a certain behaviour, an attitude that could be called poetic. He creates without trying to define himself as an artist or a designer. He creates for the fun of making, unmaking and remaking, endlessly inventing or borrowing from Madagascan forms.

Jean Loup Pivin