Francesca: In this gallery, we’ve reunited a number of works from an exhibition that Broodthaers mounted in 1968 called, The Raven and the Fox, or Le Corbeau et Le renard. It’s a fable by the 17th century French writer Jean de La Fontaine, in which a fox uses flattery to trick a crow into dropping a piece of cheese. Broodthaers’s idea was to surround visitors with text, to make them feel as if they were walking into a poem.
Broodthaers, Christoph Cherix: I took the text by La Fontaine and transformed it into what I call personal writing (poetry). In front of the typographic representation of this text, I place a number of everyday objects (boots, telephone, bottle of milk) so that they would enter into a close relation with the printed characters. This was an attempt to deny as fully as possible both the meaning of the word and that of the image. Once the filming was over I realized that projection on a normal screen, i.e., on a simple white canvas, did not reflect exactly the image I wanted to compose. The object remained too much outside the text. For the text and object to be integrated the screen had to be imprinted with the same typographical characters as those in the film. My film is a rebus that you need to want to decipher. It is an exercise in reading.
Francesca: The text on the walls here includes excerpts from La Fontaine’s story mixed with phrases taken from elementary school writing manuals. To me, it feels like you’re caught between wanting to read and understand the text—if you know French—and also just wanting to experience it visually and aesthetically. Broodthaers was attempting to use words as his material, the same way he used eggshells in his sculptures. So the words themselves are no longer just part of a poem or a narrative. They also become art.
Quote from “Interview de Marcel Broodthaers, notre invité au ‘Hoef’ le 30 janvier,” Trépied (Brussels), no. 2 (February 1968): 4–5, reprinted in the catalogue, p 152