Gilles is a multidisciplinary artist and academic whose work based on the idea of “the space between things” aims to establish links and decipher the narratives existing between disciplines, people, occurrences and parts of the world. His visual art practice more specifically deals with the theory of photography and its relation to time and space.
After studying architecture and photography in Marseille, he came to live in Singapore in 1981. His early participation to the local art scene saw him involved in a string of seminal art events, including the first editions of the Festival of Arts Fringe and the 1987 Yin Yang Festival. In the 1990s he travelled extensively across Asia and Europe, a way of living that resulted in over fifty exhibitions, and an extensive body of editorial work published in diverse magazines in Asia and Europe.
With the new century his focus shifted onto academia and research. His book Bintan, Phoenix of the Malay Archipelago (2003) had a profound influence on his artistic process, since then often dealing with history and ethnology in the form of mix-media works. This was followed in 2006 by an MA-FA dealing with the apparition of the photographic idea in the 18th century in relation to the notion of “image” as found in the English garden. He recently completed a research on Jules Itier who did the first daguerreotypes of China, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Viet Nam in 1844-45. Under the name of his alter ego Professor Ma, he is also pursuing a research on the parallels and crossovers between the respective histories of Photography and Quantum Mechanics.
He currently lives in Singapore where he teaches in LASALLE - College of the Arts. His work is part of the LTA Integrated Art Program (Buona Vista Station), the Singapore Art Museum and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris among other collections. He is a recipient of the French cultural award Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.
BORN 1955 Aix en Provence, France
EDUCATION 1974 Diploma of Architecture, Université de Luminy Marseille, France 1980 Bachelor of Photography and Audiovisual, Université de Marseille St Charles, France 2006 Master of Arts (Fine Arts), LASALLE SIA/Open University, London
WORK 1981 Advertising, Singapore 1985 Travel Photography/Writing, publication in a diverse range of magazines Fine Arts Practice, exhibitions in Asia and Europe 2004 Photography Lecturer for Fine Arts and Media Arts, LASALLE SIA/RMIT University, Melbourne 2007 Lecturer for Photography and Fine Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore Photo History Lecturer, Nanyang Technological University (School of ADM), Singapore
AWARD 2014 Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters)
Life is a work in progress and this website will probably remain so for as long as I roam Gaïa. Most of all this website is an attempt at organising the multifarious artistic and intellectual activities that took place throughout my entire life, eventually taking on the cloak of “profession”. Making a living out of my passion is the incredible luck I have been blessed with, and I hope this website will share something of that joy, along with the occasional sorrow.
As a child, I was a dancer, living and breathing for the elegance of the moment, carried around by a constant flow of inner music. Fate has it that I was already unable to restrict myself to a specific box. The six-year-old boy I was couldn’t take the discipline of the barre and so he ran away from the rigour and effort required to become a dancer. But the in-built urge for expression had to come to life. My expressive mode was directed towards the visual arts, which in turn led me to architecture when the time came to enter university. The multi-disciplinary first years proved most enjoyable, but serious business started in the third year, making me wonder if I wanted to do that my all life. That’s when a door opened-up on the verge of the path: Photography. It eventually led me to Singapore where I arrived in 1981. This is when life truly began.
Shortly after arriving in Singapore I went back to the barre and did what I had run away from twenty years earlier: I learned ballet. Incidentally, I had also come to Asia to work in advertising. This proved problematic for diverse reasons. Teaching French was less glamorous but clearly more meaningful and enjoyable: it made me meet people of all walks of life and share knowledge. As I would discover later, I was also an educator at heart. Most importantly, the audio-visual and events organisers adventure of Talking Eyes and Art of Parties allowed me to be everything that I wanted to be and even more: a dancer, a painter, a photographer, a singer, a curator, a decorator, all in one place and with one group of people. It taught me that collective work on art projects can result in meaningful actualisation of the self. For three years we roused the Singaporean nights in style with colours, lights and music, a wild and spontaneous bunch with an idealistic agenda but an appalling sense of business.
The ebullient eighties found a stupendous conclusion with the 1988 Fringe Festival and its opening, the community show City Celebration that made me use the WHOLE city as a canvas. By then I had also hit the road and had already made editorial work a lifestyle for a good three years. Asia was my playground, Singapore my base, France my paradoxically exotic interludes. This period of commuting between worlds and cultures saw me for over ten years on the road. At the end of it stood… Bintan. With the book on Bintan, I entered the realm of academia by the backdoor. I might have rejected discipline in my childhood, but the fluid and whimsical Malay world needed just that to make sense of it. And most importantly, WRITE about it. I just loved it. As if coincidental, this is when the educator calling caught up with me. I guess I was just meant for academia.
I joined LASALLE as a part-time lecturer, and was quickly proposed to do a Master to become full-time. This gave me the opportunity to complete a long held dream: a work about the castle of the Marquis de Valbelle in my mother’s village. The ruins of this castle had fed my childhood imagination. I turned them into a mystical setting for my exploration of the birth of photography in the 18th century. Reality and Fiction collapsed their wave functions, and the theory of photography became a defining topic of my academic profile. Without asking for it, I was offered the class of History of Photography in the newly founded School of Art Design and Media, NTU. This is when I encountered Jules, Jules Itier, and most importantly one of his daguerreotypes exhibited in the Singapore National Museum. His 1844 photographs were among the first of Asia. Could they be quite simply THE first? Or at least be the first extant and dated? And indeed, they would prove to be so at the end of a five years research that coincidentally took me back to my native Provence and my father’s village.
This is where the work in progress stands at the moment: research as life narrative and life narrative as research. Eventually I guess I could define myself as a multidisciplinary artist and academic whose work rests on the idea of the “Ma”, the space between things, the void that makes these things exist as . By placing my self in that space, I can adopt various strategies to establish connections that help me decipher the underlying narratives linking disciplines, people, occurrence and parts of the world.
For over thirty years a good part of my work has been devoted to photography and painting and their respective relations to time and space. And I am deeply convinced by now that time doesn’t exist, only narratives do and that’s why the universal myths of antiquity are so important: they tell us who we are. To hold a physical existence, things need to transform, they need to go from somewhere to somewhere, from one state to another. It is the journey that counts, not the destination. It is the inevitable narrative of the world constant transformation that induces the illusion of time, not time that induces the narrative.
One of the many interpretations of Quantum Mechanics suggests that there is nothing more to reality than the exchange of information. As the physicist J.A Wheeler said, It from Bit. It is the bit that creates matter and not matter that hold information. We are the story of our life, the exchange of narratives in the space between things, between you and me. We are our own true myths. Ho yes… that’s what I am. I experienced it with my own eyes.