If there are such things as ghosts, Daniel Clouzot’s postmortem self must be utterly confused. How on earth did his personal effects, from the flippers he used for spear fishing to the X-rays cataloguing his dying wife’s cancer, end up in a studio in the Murphy Building in Fountain Square? Clouzot, after all, was a Swiss national, having lived his entire 90-plus years in an apartment in Geneva.
Clouzot’s things, turned into a work of art by Indianapolis artist Rhet Lickliter in David Mattingly’s Hidden Noise studio, aren’t just there, they’re lovingly displayed as an installation of sorts, put into place by Lickliter — the unlikely archeologist of Clouzot’s memory as near as it can be discerned from his personal effects. Collaborating with Mattingly, Lickliter has propped Clouzot’s belongings on a wooden scaffolding against two walls, on a table and on the walls themselves: small leather datebooks coded with different colored inks, art supplies, paintings (presumably of Clouzot’s own creation), copies of the two children’s books he had penned (one titled Night of Surprises), a collection of newspaper clippings on the topic of barbiturate-induced suicide, a pin cushion, books, magazines, letters and postcards — all of this and more. A life emerges from these items, revealing a well-traveled man with an active social life, a long and seemingly happy marriage (although his wife preceded him in death by more than 20 years), an artistic and athletic playfulness, a distinctly European vanity revealed in posed photographs Lickliter developed from found negatives.
In an odd twist on the taunt “finders keepers,” Lickliter literally found Clouzot’s belongings in heavy-duty Swiss trash bags in the basement of the apartment building Lickliter and his family occupied while living for a time in Europe — Clouzot’s neighbors, but not knowing Clouzot.
What was Lickliter doing down there anyway? Lickliter, a thoughtful and intentional collage artist who employs ephemera as collage elements in his artwork (perhaps using a single newspaper clipping in a painting), was digging for materials, and happened to notice, at first, Clouzot’s discarded wooden art box — and then, like bags of toys from Santa’s sleigh, more and more of Clouzot’s things began to “appear” in the basement in the following days, bagged and marked for the incinerator.
As Lickliter recalls, “I began going through his things with care and perhaps even reverence. I was in possession of what appeared to be the life history of a man who had lived nearly the entire 20th century. And I had become a surrogate heir.”
Found art indeed. Can art be made of one person’s life? If it can, this is certainly an auspicious beginning: The aura of mystery, the fascination with death, despite the concrete images of a fully lived life, suggest that Clouzot was far more than meets the eye. Where the viewer’s imagination, her or his own memories and impressions, make contact with what is seen, a work of art becomes dynamic. I have the sense that this is just the beginning of Lickliter’s journey channeling Clouzot.
Occupant is on view at Hidden Noise in the Murphy Building through October, open Saturdays and by appointment. Call 317-508-8043.