Painting as the depositing of time (Marin).
Exhibiting1 as matrix.
Film as flux.
The essence of the arts of space: time, the essence of the arts of time: space.
What of film?
What of exhibiting? What of film as the model for exhibiting?
Film as flux, as fluid, as stream, the spool that hurls us along.
Film as repetition. Repetition of a rushing along. Immobility of this rush.
Narrative film ties and unties, we become glued to it.
From the start film is a repetition. From the start, from the first second of the credits, the spectator enjoys this repetition, is both aware and unaware of it.
Film always simulates the present by unwinding it.
It is always the same film that one comes to see, it is always the same exhibition that one crosses. "Psychic activation," "intensive subjectivation," the only common points?
Mobile and immobile, immobile and mobile. A vertical flux in a horizontal flux
(the exhibition? the film?), a horizontal flux in a vertical flux (the film? the exhibition?). Walking or sitting down to look, to leave. Leaving to catch up on lost time, to find the beginning again. Walking or sitting.
There is the "exposure" of film to light, the exposure of the spectator to the luminous flux of the projector, the exposure (the dissolution) of the spectator in the tracking of the video frame. Thus, what is exposed, is the spectator restless in his or her seat, the parent of the squirming child, the person who has already left the exhibition or been absorbed into the painting, the person who has become diffracted within the installation. From one moment to the next "time" follows them with its eyes, catches up on them, brings them to a standstill before throwing them back into the ordinary flux of things.
Each runs on its own account. Here and there, there is the breaking-out of a voice, a ventured dialogue, the pause of a monologue, set into a shot, set into a wall, hanging from a picture rail. Nothing of the terrorism of the text in the theater that subjugates and bends a piece of scenery, fills ones eyes in the interest of the ear.
Vision (intense subjectivation) vanishes in such a shot, such an image, such a succession, such a flux. Sound in the film takes sight from behind, around it, outside its field. Sound plays the natural, plays being coextensive with the image and flees. Alone, confronted with the image emptied of sound, waiting for sound, the spectator of the film rediscovers the spectator of the exhibition at the exit.
In 1926, Mondrian drew up the plans for a "drawing-room" for Madame Bienert, art collector in Dresden. This space was never constructed and has constituted a basis of work for me. This space has become the matrix of a book, "The Bienert house," and an exhibition, "Absorption." The second exhibition mentioned here, "The hustler," radically transforms the drawing and constructs space as a narrative matrix and metaphor of exhibiting. The exhibition is modeled on the rule of cinema, considered as a process of constituting the body2 and of setting narrative into movement.
Remaining at the level of a project, this architectural space allows for an appropriation for the purpose of confrontations and montages. It is relatively easy to construct and is characterized by two windows and two doors. Its walls are entirely covered with rectangles of different sizes, colorless or colored. It can be physically penetrated by the body or give rise to different kinds of simulation.
Moreover it constitutes an element highly characterized in art history. Although it has never been constructed, this space represents a completion of neo-plastic thinking and its program. Mondrian conceived his practice as a painter as ultimately preparing an integration of the arts within a conception of the house and the city. Symbol or dead end of art history, it rends a pretext here to all "stories," narratives, inevitable mixtures of reality and fiction.
It was a question neither of reconstruction nor of appropriation in the normal sense, but of a "design" [une visée] that brings together various procedures of montage within the continuity of previously achieved experiences. Conversely to these last works, it was a question of executing a work whose "original" is definitively absent, namely the particular architectural execution in the context of the town of Dresden in the late twenties.
This drawing-room includes two windows and offers two views onto an exterior reality. These two views potentially transform the room into a space of retreat (a second "abstraction") and a place of observation the spectacle of which makes up one of the adventures of the project. In other words, it is both an autonomous, highly characterized space, closed on itself, and a place of confrontation with what is extrinsic to it.
These confrontations allow for procedures of montage which will be presented in the form of a book and an exhibition.
"The Bienert house"
"The Bienert house" is conceived as a work of fiction from the project of sketches of the drawing-room. A letter from Dresden, dated the 13th of February, figures as an introduction. It mentions Madame Bienerts invitation, the difficulty in replying to several of her wishes and several disturbing dreams from the previous night. The images succeeding the letter can be broken down into three groups. The first group documents the place in which the drawing-room could have been built: the Bienert house in Dresden. Different perspectives elaborated from drawn plans are associated with the house. The second group develops a series of images which "dream" the destruction and transformation of the drawing-room and which could resonate with several aspects of the letter (imagined after the construction of different scenes). The third group connects the actual drawing-room in Dresden with its transformation through a play of mirrors and drawings: the actual drawing-room is reflected in one of the windows of the transformed drawing-room. Prior to this, the final stage of the dream like journey, "2001" (represented here) reverses the scene. It is the image of a weightless table that could evoke a kind of journey in time. As in a science fiction film, it is a question of going back to a time that has remained unexplored.
"Absorption" materializes in a three-dimensional space, on the spectators scale, the drawing of the "drawing-room." The presentation articulates the space of a scene with that of a narrative. The scene, which corresponds to the three dimensions of the room, is penetrable by the spectator. The narrative focuses on the eighteen scenes of the book "The Bienert house," which lies on the table and is introduced to the scene. The colored plans, set on the ground, develop out in lines on the walls, and each includes the outline of a character. Eventually it is possible to associate them with Madame Bienert and two silhouettes of Mondrian. Each character has his or her back to the spectator, "absorbed" in an activity. "Absorption" refers here to a procedure to counter theatricality brought to light by the art critic Michael Fried in eighteenth century French painting. The mise en scène constructed here both reinforces and troubles this theatricality, putting the spectator in a situation of simultaneous invitation and rejection.
"The storyteller or the immobile exhibition" (Manet Gallery, Genevilliers, November 1996)
The storyteller is a producer of narrative materialized in space. He articulates a drawing and a construction, a drawing and a film. The drawing is either done on the construction or directly on the ground. The drawing is the circular projection of the four walls of a rectangular room which is made up of doors, windows and scenery. Drawing, construction and narrative form three interpenetrating elements.
At the heart of the construction and of the drawing on the floor there are two videos. The first sequence "the storyteller" consists in a head animated by slight movements, between immobility and oscillation. The second sequence "the story" projects in the drawing of one of the walls of the room the last minute of a film in slow motion. Two characters cross a corridor prior to an explosion. "The story" and "the storyteller" are the product of a setting into motion, between two extremes: imperceptible movement and explosion.
The two sequences are related to a space between compression and distension and evolve out of an intense perception of the body. The circular space that is a transformation of the drawing-room is conceived as an envelope of the body. The head which oscillates in the frame reinforces this tightening around the body. The hardly perceptible or "floating" drawing on the inner circumference of the construction dilates our perception. The materiality of the wall disappears.
Site, Allegory, Film
The question of the site is one of the motors behind the conception of the exhibition project. At the beginning of my work, this question went from being a simple line on the photographic support to the penetration of several interlocking spaces as in the installation documented here.
I could define the site as the act of awareness and manipulation of characteristics particular to a place. Defining the site as a characteristic place does not get us very far. Unless one adds the notion of interaction that allows one to bring it into evidence. This interaction is firstly that of the body with the physical givens of the place. For example, the obstruction of the entry to the gallery by the construction, the tightening of the body between two spaces mark this interaction of the body with the physical givens of the place.
It is clear that this first type of interaction has nothing exclusive about it and necessarily engages a temporal definition, but also an architectural, geographic, symbolic one, or indeed a definition linked to the group of people who allow this place to exist. The use of an artistic place is a fundamental definition of this site.
The site can be concerned with something very ephemeral or be dealing with the long and enduring as, for example, a geographic or archeological location or even an institution that is not necessarily one of art. One can oppose or include in the notion of site that of the scene. The scene of exhibition has a rich history. It lead in the second half of the twentieth century to the famous white cube in which a work could find, it seemed, the most neutral environment. This became the conventional space of the gallery and the museum. It was the artists of the middle sixties who demanded this axiomatic space, and later others manifested their desire to shirk this new convention.
Returning to the general notion of site, I can now add that it is the fruit of a sort of paradox in the field of art. Attempts to apprehend a site to "index a site," to speak in more technical terms amounts in the end to effecting a displacement. Here, it can be a matter of this space of the drawing-room in the gallery, but also of the construction as "displacement of the drawing," or inversely. To take anchor in a place, paradoxically, is to give oneself the possibility of extracting oneself from it, of making a small or large journey which lets one reveal this site. All the more interesting, and paradoxical, is the fact that all artists concerned by the question of the site ended up sooner or later designating the earth as the site par excellence. Land artists are a good example of this.
My use of a site most likely does not cover this planetary dimension that has been typical of a certain historical period. The site with which I have been recently occupied is a kind of nomad site that constitutes a place of confrontation. Its origin is in a drawing for a project that has not been realized. It is both a historical element and something very banal: the definition of a room with two doors and two windows. It is a space penetrable by the body, and it is able to be reconstructed depending on the circumstances.
This relation to the site aims to piece together several places and allows the spectator to place him or herself in an at once concrete and imaginary place whose links are to be deciphered (drawing, construction, video, drawing-room, gallery).
This notion of deciphering leads me to the second point that I wish to evoke in this commentary: allegory. Allegory presents itself as something to be deciphered. It does not present the immediacy of the symbol, but is the fruit of an accumulation. As Walter Benjamin says, allegory is a form of writing.
This relation between the body, the site and allegory is a strong tension that I live both consciously and unconsciously in the elaboration of my work. But site and allegory are more than two aspects at work in the exhibition. They are two linked elements that equally refer to four other concerns in my work: appropriation, impermanence, accumulation and hybridization. Craig Owens, from the beginning of the eighties, has shown very well that allegory and all its characteristics that I have just mentioned (and that define it) are relevant to contemporary art.
To work with a site is inevitably to designate several of these characteristics, to appropriate them for oneself. This appropriation covers equally the work of art itself. Thus, the appropriation of symbolic elements has focused at a given moment in my work with an element which possesses the highest symbolic charge in the artistic context of the work itself. This work, when it already exists as a work carried out by another artist, engages one of the rare elements that have remained taboo in contemporary art: the notion of originality.
In this context, if filiation or quotation are common practice, the appropriation as such of preexisting works presupposes either an exemplary means of reproduction or a way of proceeding to its reconstruction. The reconstruction, rematerialization and, therefore, re-interpretation of a work have become common practice over the last twenty years. They are nevertheless delicate to carry out and habitually demand the re-interpretation by the author of the work. This question of re-interpretation is posed in view of the new spatial and temporal context in which it is carried out.
The question is posed with all the more acuteness when procedures of montage are associated with it. It is with this aim in mind that I have used procedures of montage. The art of montage is a founding given of modern and contemporary art. It inevitably mixes elements taken from reality, transforming them into fictions. This relation between montage and fiction necessarily evokes the question of film. Film is evoked not only as part and parcel of installation but also as a model for exhibiting. The term of installation traditionally refers to the model of the stage and theater. It is up to the spectator to survey the stage to locate elements that compose it and to discover, and imagine links between these elements.
This is why an exhibition is the object of an act of deciphering that can come close to that of traditional allegory. This aspect of the interpretation and reading of the exhibition is linked to its conception. As in allegory, the conception of the project that I practice gathers elements. Progressively, consciously and unconsciously the elements are hierarchized. But, in the end, it is up to the spectator to define his or her own hierarchy. This is not unrelated to a form of the most subtle interactivity, and this, without it being necessary to have recourse to a sophisticated technology. This is why accumulation, modulation and deciphering are linked.
The hybridization of genres is the characteristic trait of allegorical technique. I have very quickly mixed, hybridized in my work various supports and techniques. This hybridization between constructed elements videography, photography, drawing does not however engage with a more fundamental level which would be the equivalence between the verbal and the visual. The hybridization at work here is the fruit of a process of maturing, for many unconscious which can to a certain extent lend itself to deciphering as a text. But the text never preexists this process in its habitual form. What appears today as hybridization, or "practice against nature," can be re-situated inversely as a universal practice.
In the Renaissance the artist was painter architect and sculptor. Nothing to do with any kind of hybridization, but rather with associated and complementary functions. It is both the constraint particular to the event-like nature of an exhibition and the lack of confidence on the part of public authorities in the work of artists which in part generate the fragmentary and hybrid aspect of contemporary production. And yet the exhibition, when envisaged as a whole, is architecture, stage, scenery, and event and can partly restitute the ambition of an art that assumes a hierarchy of functions. The problem lies in how the specialized and autonomous technical knowledges developed in our society can be integrated, above all, in the absence of a social model in which people can share other than through default.
Engaged in a strong relation to architecture and construction, I am fascinated by its corollary, the image of destruction and ruin. This fascination in the ruin is an equally strong element of allegory. For authors interested in the question of allegory in contemporary art, it is a matter of allegorys move towards the fragmentary, the imperfect, the incomplete that finds its most complete expression in the ruin. This relation to impermanence and to the ruin is to be found again in practices related to a site, in the integration and disappearance of the site and the work.
Film (Theater, Exhibition)
This question of impermanence, detached from its relation to the ruin as I have described it, can be associated with the event-like aspect of the exhibition. I will close these thoughts with a comparison of the exhibition with the model of theater and film qua event and duration [durée]. The event and duration of the performance of theater and film implies the conception of a reproducible and interpretable work. And yet, the interpretation of the director or actor in cinema is necessarily anterior to the recording, the recording setting up a definitive form of reproduction. Conversely, "the interpretation" of the actor in the theater is renewed at each performance. The contemporary work and exhibition have integrated these modalities, not without difficulty, and proceed more or less from one and the other.
If the works presented here have been able to move from a troubled theater model ("absorption") to a film model ("the storyteller"), it is not a question of choosing between these two modes for the exhibition. The exhibition stands at equal distance from them both, in an autonomy proper to it: unless the painting, the stage and the exhibition are to be associated from the beginning as proceeding from a single mode of representation, without precedents, that progressively shifts towards a "screen" model in which film and the spectator, but also computer and user, change over. One will retain that when it is a question of a model (film or otherwise), "it is not only as subject but firstly as the schema of action"3 that the model becomes operative in the artistic field.
If I use fairly regularly film within the exhibition, it is because the latter possesses several affinities with the cinematographic model that are the following: the appropriation of a visual reality, the compiling of a sequence, the categories of framing and montage, encounter between several spaces, the ability to multiply points of view, subjective identification and "intensive" subjectivation. All these elements are a move away from theater.
The appropriation of a visual reality has recourse most often to photomechanical, analog and digital means of recording and duplication. It translates the iconic regime prevalent both in film and in an exhibition. The paradigm of the "ready-made" constitutes an extensive (or preexisting) category that obviously reaches out to the object but also to the appropriation of entirely constituted scenery, architecture or sections of more or less autonomous words. The mobility of the image particular to film has as its corollary the displacement of the spectator, indeed the mobility of situations proposed to the spectator (various configurations of the exhibition, reactivity of the spectator) often reduced in the contemporary exhibition with recourse to the "animated image."
Hierarchical relations between space and time shed light on the relation and mutability between models of theater and film. Film possesses a large capacity to manage discontinuous spaces to the benefit of a duration particular to it. In the simple juxtaposition of two shots, the spectator can be confronted with two places situated thousands of kilometers from each other. But it is above all its ability to multiply almost instantaneously these jumps between different spaces or points of view that is striking. A change of scene and that of scenery presuppose a much greater inertia and will effect the narrative more strongly. The success of film in relation to theater is partly most likely due to the propensity for subjective identification on the part of the spectator, a propensity that is more immediate in film: force of point of view and of effect of the real. Corresponding to "objectivation," the exteriorization of the mediation between the play of the actors and the public is the instrumentalization of the actors that leads to an intensive subjectivation of the public.
The scenery or environment of figures (the bodies of the actors are the most often what possesses the status of reality in the theater) is from the first construction, working-drawing and fiction. Conversely the cinematographic scenery is from the first the fragment of a real environment, the crystallization of a visual memory constructed from places preceding the fiction.
If, on the other hand, the effect of the real in theater is considered with regard to the concreteness of three-dimensional space, especially in relation to that of the bodies of the actors,
The similitude of stimuli does not explain everything, since what is proper to the impression of reality, its very definition, is to play with a view to the imaginary and not to the material representing it [ ] in the theater this material is all the more "mimetic" than in the cinema, but it is for this very reason that theater fiction has a psychological power of reality less than the diagesis of film.4
This question, then, of the appropriation of the real and that of the impression of reality are particularly rich and complex to untangle when comparing cinema and theater. It is from the angle of the appropriation of an iconic real and "ready made" that the exhibition enters into relation with cinema, but above all in its ability to generate fiction. Let me again quote Metz from Le signifiant imaginaire here:
Cinema and theater do not have the same relation to fiction.[ ... ] In cinema as in theater, the represented is by definition imaginary; it is what characterizes fiction as such, independently from the signifiers under writing it. But representation in the theater is fully real, while in the cinema it is in turn imaginary, the material already being a reflection. Theater fiction is thus felt more it is only a question of a different "dosage," put better, of a difference of economy, but it is why, precisely, it is important as an ensemble of real behavior actively directed towards the evocation of something unreal, while cinematographic fiction is felt rather as the almost real presence of this unreal itself.
The actor in theater is interchangeable, his presence is renewed at each performance, while the role and actor in cinema are indissociable and "frozen" once and for all in the mise en scène which is fixed in the recording. This is not unrelated to the countdown in the making of a film which must end in the fixing of the image on the film and to that foremost in the mounting of an exhibition which will be fixed in the catalogue for the day of the exhibition. The photomechanical recording conditions the event in a determinant fashion both for the film and for the exhibition. (This can only be reduplicated every time that the film or the photo are present in the exhibition.) Although an important share of contemporary artistic production can be "reinterpreted," the exhibition is most often demarcated from theater-representation by its definitive side or the importance of its first appearance, and this, despite all the conviviality and "interactivity" that can succeed it.
In the end, it is the force of the visual universe over that of language that makes film a suitable model for exhibitions. In the traditional context of the theater, the visual and spatial environment is most often placed under the tyranny of a text that runs right through these environments. Conversely, the visual definition of the frame of the camera is at the origin and end of film.
Mobility and immobility
In the exhibition, the body is mobile unlike its attitude in the theater or the cinema. This mobility, which is already a form of understanding, must not be hindered: this is why I evoked the question of fluidity. The "deciphering" to which the spectators can lend themselves is not opposed to the fluidity of their displacement. This notion of deciphering cannot be considered as a simple, intellectual deciphering. The spectators must be able to allow several contradictory feelings to arise in themselves. Their imagination must be able to be activated in different ways, knowing that the meaning of the experimentation to which they wanted to lend themselves can appear several days, indeed even several years later.
Thus the mobility of the body of the spectator must be able to find its complement in an immobility of consciousness that lets the general intelligibility being proposed to it appear (be guessed, discovered). The immobility at the end of a journey, a succession of stops can bring into concrete form what I have provisionally called the immobility of the consciousness of the spectator. It is a question, then, of a coming and going between mobility and immobility, between a fragmentary seizure and a relating that restitutes the lived experience of the exhibition as a totality. It is this relation between mobility and immobility that I have tried to translate in the two exhibitions, several photographic fragments of which accompany this text.
a very old problem that already opposed theater and cinema. Those who profoundly loved theater objected that cinema would always lack something, presence, the presence of bodies which remained the prerogative of theater: cinema only showed us waves and dancing corpuscles with which bodies were simulated.5
cinema [that] coincides with its essence, at least one of its essences: a process of constituting bodies from out of the neutral image, white or black, snowy or flashed,6
or even, I would add, in the jolted image of slow motion. In "the storyteller" it is firstly the constitution of the body of the spectator in the drawing, the construction and path of the exhibition which exchange with the constitution of the bodies in the two video sequences. They are origin and end of movement: between the oscillation of the head of the "storyteller" (but also the genesis of the body of the characters in the drawing) and the final explosion in the "story."
Translated by Richard Beardsworth
1"Exposition" will be translated in the following either as "exhibiting," "exhibition" or "exposure" according to what is most suitable in the context. The reader should, nevertheless bear in mind the various modalities of the word in French.
2 See G. Deleuze, L'image-temps (Paris: Minuit, 1985) concerning Garrel whose work "makes cinema coincide with its essence, at least one of its essences: a process of constituting bodies from out of the neutral image, white or black, snowy or flashed," p. 262.
3 Bourriaud Nicolas, 1995, "Relation écran. L'art des années 90 et ses modèles technologiques," 3e biennale de Lyon, Catalogue.
4 C. Metz, Le signifiant imaginaire, Christian Bourgois: 1984, p. 173.
5 Deleuze, op. cit.
6 Deleuze, op. cit.