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Interview with Etant Donnés Residency Laureate Arnaud Dezotaux

French artist Arnaud Dezoteux presents the outcome of his Etant donnés residency, entitled The New Kid and inspired by the life and legend of Billy the Kid. For his residency, which ran from mid-March to mid-June 2019, Dezoteux partnered with the Las Vegas based contemporary art center and creative company Mayeur Projects. The culminating project will take the form of a movie and a projection in Mayeur Projects gallery in New Mexico.

What were your initial intentions for the residency?

At the beginning of The New Kid project, my idea was to capture the figure of Billy the Kid, an extremely popular figure in the American West. I wanted to imagine contemporary versions of the character, in multiple forms. Why Billy the Kid? Because he remains a heroic figure and continues to feed the most diverse theories about his life, how it played out, and the possible causes of his death.

I should also say that the idea of working with Billy the Kid came from a conversation  between myself and Christian Mayeur, the founder of the gallery Mayeur Projects, the first time we met. Christian told me that Billy the Kid had been imprisoned in the backyard of the same building that houses the gallery in Las Vegas today!  And so, I had the idea of making him the center of this research project: I wanted to imagine what type of person the Kid would be if he was living today. Would he still be an outlaw, or just an everyday citizen? Would he still live in the USA, or would he live in another part of the world? More generally, the project aims to questions to notion of the outlaw in the 21st century.

Can you introduce us to your new creations or tell us how your research is coming along?

From when I arrived, the connections established by Christian Mayeur and his assistant, Anne Poux, made it easy to meet people from all different backgrounds: students, writers, traders, artists, cowboys, historans, etc. I quickly started to build up a series of filmed interviews where I would pose the idea of a new Billy the Kid and how he is anchored in our reality. Despite how pertinent and diverse the interviews were, I quickly began to feel that the project should not be limited to a succession of opinions filmed on camera.

The story of Billy the Kid is full of gaps and falsehoods and there are countless romanticized and cinematographic representations of outlaws that don’t necessarily paint a coherent picture. Therefore, I thought it was important to tackle this multiplicity through a form which, in itself, covers several systems of action and discourse. As such, the televisual format took hold. I decided to structure the project around a fictional television show, which I entitled The Great Billy the Kid’s Reenactment Show. The idea mainly came to me when I met Jim, a student at Highlands University (a partner for the project) who had been retired for several years. Straight away I felt he could be the host of Reenactment Show. Jim had worked on newspapers on the east coast for a long time and the idea of reinventing the life of Billy the Kid from true or totally made-up facts really amused him. The residency and research project would therefore culminate in a kind of fake television program, where a series of miscellaneous sequences--fiction scenes, testimony, archives, animation, games, etc.--are cut up and reassembled. Enough events to let the characters improvise their role and to evolve as the research develops.

To what extent has the residency been an important point in your work?

With this residency, I have had the opportunity to refine certain tools that were already at the heart of my practice: improvisation and writing that is constantly evolving. Since it was a case of conducting research based on one hypothetical element, it felt important that to embark upon a project that would be written throughout my investigation. This was not always straightforward: depending on the meetings, I would spend time rewriting elements of the script, rethinking the impact of causality (and ruptures) that take the story towards whatever climactic moment, or toward some version of a modern day Kid.

Also, I was lucky in that I got to do this research in a town where the people are readily available, meaning we could see each other often and imagine the storyline, the twists and turns, the adventure, together, testing them in front of the camera and remaking them outside of it. That is something that I have never really had the chance to experiment with. Usually, I only see the actors at the time we shoot (with a meeting just beforehand) but never over a period of several months. Since I was able to see them regularly, I was able to involve them in the writing process.

As the residency draws to a close, what are your hopes/prospects for the future?

A lot of video editing! And where the film comes out, I would love to return to New Mexico and screen it as a projection. Since a lot of people participated in the project, it would be interesting to discuss the outcome and the themes addressed in the film. Several venues have expressed interest, chiefly Mayeur Projects.

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