Interview – Poptronics, 2009

Interview by Cyril Thomas for the journal Poptronics (October 2009). Edited for the web version with links to the works.

CT : How do you think of your two exhibitions at Valence and Montpellier: are they complimentary or contradictory? One appears to be more geared towards touch and the other towards sight, or more exactly visual perception.

TF: The scale of the two exhibitions varies (one installation in Montpellier, and four in Valence, with accompanying performances in both instances), but they share a number of common motifs: about the notions of disappearance, temporality, the trace… Following different procedures, both exhibitions also involve participative situations for the audience. So I consider them to be rather complimentary. That having been said, neither of them were conceived with a specific action in mind, such as touch or visual perception. Fermata is not first and foremost about vision, it places the spectator’s body in a relationship with time for which the image acts only as a witness. The installations from Un Geste qui ne finit pas progressively form a sequence. From See you (exhibited here in a novel way, as a window display) through Siren and Infocus, both of which deal with the body and notions of presence, to Open Source, which involves the spectator’s touch and movement.

You called your exhibition at Lux (Valence) “A never ending gesture”. Yet far from unfinished, the pieces that require spectator interaction seem quite concrete indeed. Could you explain this title? Is it intentionally contradictory with your works?

I am referring to the gesture in general, not only to describe an action but also to qualify the involvement of sight and perception in relation to the piece—and therefore to the body. Gestures can result from either a spectator directly interacting with a device, which is the case with Siren or Open Source, or questioning their vision or presence as with See you or Infocus. However the situations that these works create do not lead to a resolution, rather they raise certain questions. It’s in this sense that the gesture “does not end.”

What are your definitions of touch and gesture?

As a possible mode of the interaction that I was just discussing, touch obviously interests me because it calls on the body, in the same way that hearing does. Amongst other things, this may be explained by the fact that my work deals as much with visual art as it does with live performance or theater. Being a musician and composer, I worked a lot with dancers, actors and musicians for various stage projects before developing an independent creative practice. When I began creating installations, working on gesture obviously drew on these experiences. With installations such as Feedbackroom, Step to Step or Siren, the spectator’s behavior is at the very limit of a dance or musical interpretation setting. Feedbackroom is reversible, as it can be experienced both as a performance scenario for dancers and an interactive installation intended for an audience. It is also for this reason that each other these exhibitions is accompanied by a performance: To Agrippine in Montpellier and Frost (part of the Outside lectures performances) in Valence. I’m interested in highlighting the relationships that I establish between these two forms, and in engaging personally with these performances myself, exposing myself to a certain peril.

Would you say that your works or your installations are a form of interactive art?

No, and for a number of reasons. The first is that I can’t see myself labeling my own work, and certainly not in this way. The second is that what interests me in the relationship with spectators is not interactivity in itself, but rather a much broader inquiry into perception and presence. Interactivity is one of the ways of achieving this, there are (and in the past there have been) many others. What’s more, See you and Infocus are not interactive works; one of the intentions of Lux is precisely to articulate a number of proposals to this extent and within the same space. Furthermore, it could even be said that referring to interactive art amounts to implicitly endorsing the notion of “digital art.” I feel, however, that it is paramount that we keep questioning this concept. It has meaning when referring to truly digital forms (such as network works), but becomes quickly quite ambiguous when qualifying works that make use of digital techniques. Indeed, today the term’s significance is above all linked to a trend (with certain artists, journals, places, journalists, festivals…) particularly in France where legitimization and labels continue to hold such importance. We should therefore keep in mind our ongoing ability to intertwine artistic production and research, develop technological innovations in the name of artworks, question the social and political facets of technology—without becoming disconnected from a general field of critical inquiry.

For all of these reasons, the physicality of a work and its relationship to space—two notions that maintain the spectator’s distance and free will—are of considerable importance to me. I prefer to articulate things. Outside lectures comes to mind, openly exposing its mode of display in a shared space with spectators (just like Frost in Valence). Or Step to Step which also relies on an archetypal spatial representation. Another example could be Fermata at Kawenga which only truly came together when the camera and the screen became material objects placed within their given space, and not just technical systems that one may not have been able to see.

Since when have you worked on processes or devices that involve spectator’s touch?

I had rather speak more generally of an interaction with the body, which goes back to my relationship with music, dance or live performances and in works created for over a decade. I was discussing this earlier.

How did you conceive the Open Source project?

The story of Open Source has two moments. I devised this project in Japan in 2005 during the Ce qui nous regarde project, thinking of a collective moment around a water surface, from written or drawn signs. I tried to produce it, before being invited by the Monaco Pavilion to the Zaragoza Expo. From that moment on, I worked more closely on the writing device, wanting to make it as immediate as possible. In particular, I had in mind those drawings you make with your fingers a frosted window. The sensitive aspect is instantly apparent because any basic contact with the surface produces a form that disappears from the console when finished only to immediately appear on the water’s surface. The set-up is highly simplified, thereby leaving greater space for this back and forth between the individual moment of drawing and the possible collective situation created around the water pool.

Does this work make reference to Piero Gilardi’s Biosphere piece, at least in the connections between drawing, projection and play with the drawn and projected forms?

I knew very little about Piero Gilardi’s work, and I was not in fact aware of this particular installation. If certain arrangements are similar (in particular the use of a water pool and the association between individual drawing and collective behavior), I believe that Open Source is much more immediate in its intended action. Gilardi’s work contains a figurative and narrative message that I did not share.

With this particular work, you appear to be interested in the audi connections produced by spectators, or their progression through the installation. What do you think about chance? Is it still something that you’re interested in (I have Dépli in mind, where the manipulation of certain video sequences led to clashes in meaning) ?

I don’t work with chance. My writing develops instead through certain conventions: I imagine fields of relationships that then lead to a general logic. In Dépli, the video installation you refer to, the matrix of the different possible combinations of frames was devised by the film’s director, Pierre Carniaux: these sequences of images are therefore generated through writing and not chance. Their particular mode of appearance, however, their speed, and their superimposing result from the particular quality of each spectator’s play and the sequencing mode that they establish.

Music and voice do not provide mere audio accompaniment to your work, they also act as catalysts, even multiplying the questions raised by various pieces. What relationships are you interested in exploring? Is this linked to rhythm? Gaps between sounds? Their cadence?

I started out in music and architecture, and my first installations were sound pieces. Musical or audio composition (particularly with the voice) often plays a key role in my work—Outside lectures could, for instance, be almost entirely described through this aspect. As I was saying earlier, sound always has something to do with the body and presence. It’s no doubt for this reason, that whenever I develop an installation or a performance, movement is interwoven with an instrumental approach (in terms of a certain sensitivity or atmosphere), even if its simply peripheral as with Open Source. I have never created a gap between imagery and sound—I always envisage my pieces through both these aspects at once.

How did your 2004 work To Agrippine come about, and could it be seen as a point of transition in your artistic career?

I would prefer to say that it is more of a shift than a transition. To Agrippine was created to precede the staging of Agrippine/em> theater performance produced by Frédéric Fisbach and designed with Handel’s Agrippina in mind, an opera that the latter had previously directed. So you get an evolution across these three forms: a performative object, the theatrical version of an opera, and the opera itself.

The project became a sound performance for a laptop, working from the opera’s very materials: the first opening orchestral phrase; the first recitativo, and its spoken French translation. I chose to “enter into” these three elements by completely unravelling their temporality, treating them like spaces within which I would construct a journey, sometimes in extreme slow motion. A useful metaphor is the aerial view of a landscape, where the viewing distance no longer allows you to grasp geographical lines, but simply to seize upon certain details. The most incredible thing was that the system itself meant that in order to play it, I myself had to invent a musical motion that was wholly conditioned by the slow speed of the recording heads that I had to operate.

This piece led to me work on the “depth of temporality” that then developed under other forms with pieces such as Réanimation, Siren, See you and of course Fermata: an exploration of the same object’s different temporal scales.

There’s a clear though not always explicit link between opera and architecture. Is this something that you wanted to investigate? (ps. I’m referring to the different meanings of the term ‘to compose’)

Yes, if you consider that when you begin to work on temporality, which points to modes of thought dear to architecture, then the very notion of writing is at stake. But today, its via cinema and the stage that I hope to explore larger scale forms (I’m referring to Dépli or Only Richard), whereas early on I would tend to display these aspects through installation. The relationship with opera is more complex: for a time, it was something I wanted to test out, with Nibelungen, Architecture of Paradise, or Sweetest Love, but I will come back to it later, differently.

From Siren (2006-2007) to Infocus (2009), you appear to build up a topology linked to a dialectic between touch and sight, action and concealment. Could you say a few words on this?

This is what I was referring to when speaking about appearances and disappearances. I’m interested in creating relationships between objects and phenomena whose modes of presence can be variable and sensitive, which then points to the very quality of the spectator’s presence—all of this can, of course, be quite disruptive.

Does Infocus point to a return to more visual work, unburdened with complex technological apparatuses?

Not necessarily, even though today I tend to look to pieces that, overall, are much simpler. I’m broadening the my work’s scope and toolbox, aligning different registers and scales. The complexity, however, is not where it appears to be. Films or video games rely on fifty times as much technology as any installation.

Fermata (2009) takes up previous projects on public space by establishing an alternate threshold between exterior and interior space. This production makes me think, amongst others, of Dan Graham. Is he an artist who has influenced you? Could you describe this work and the idea of dematerializing inside and outside that it brings to mind?

As far as a description goes: Fermata is an installation based on a screen looking out onto a street. Right behind the screen stands a camera on a tripod. Further behind this, in the middle of the room, a plexiglass screen is hung which, when no one is present in the room, simply retransmits the image recorded by the camera, creating a reflexion of the street just like a mirror. But when someone enters into the space, the speed of this image is visibly altered, according to the visitor (or visitors) movement. In actual fact, this slowing down is produced if the visitor slows down—a certain delay is created between the “real time” action of the street. If the visitor stands still, so too the image becomes a still. However the camera continues to record images of the street, and particularly passers by, and time “re-unfolds” itself when the visitor starts moving again, until it catches up with “real time” temporality once again.

You could therefore speak of a dematerialization insofar as the installation only makes use of time, the image being but a “witness” to the temporal variation. In this sense, the reference to Dan Graham is pertinent. However the device itself does not create desynchronization in a constant or invariable manner, it is rather provoked and modulated by the specatators’ behavior. What’s more, it is adjusted to their very movements, as if their bodies were gradually “sinking into time” the more they slowed down, like a spiral that simultaneously embraces the body, sight, and perception. The second aspect is found in the installation’s reversibility, which leads the visitors’ actions behind the window on the projected street image to also interact with the visual perception of passers by—the very same individuals who are caught in the image itself. As such, the whole process is not just about the visitor and the temporality of the image, but also the passer and therefore a triangular relationship. This tension between reality and artefact is one of the piece’s characteristics, linking up with other projects such as See you or the performance Closed Circuit from Outside lectures which works with television in real time.