Closed Circuit / Thierry Fournier

Thierry Fournier
Text about the Closed Circuit performance.

First of the seven performances that make up Outside Lectures, Closed Circuit suggests a spatial configuration and a specific relationship with the audience right from the outset. Audience members are invited to sit down in a somewhat circular arrangement, adjusted each time to the location. As with all of Outside Lecture‘s set-ups, Closed Circuit‘s very medium—the television set—is in plain sight. Set to TF1, it is on when spectators enter the room, and positioned such that they can only see the image when they enter the space, its back facing them when seated. An empty chair stands in front of the TV set. The sound is turned up; it’s 7.45pm. The audience waits a good five minutes, facing a television set that pumps out the usual pre-prime-time shows at an almost unbearable volume: artless miniseries, advertisements, like in a bar when it’s football time or in a retirement home’s common quarters. At 7.50pm, the performer quickly enters the room and sits facing the TV, followed by its guard cum technician who plugs a pair of headphones into the TV set and puts them over the performer’s ears. From this moment on, the only thing the audience will hear or see is the performer and their voice, deprived of both the station’s sound and image.

The performance lasts roughly 12 minutes, enough time to cover ads, the weather, ads again, and then the intro sequence to the 8pm TV news bulletin and presentation of the first item. During this time and in a continuous manner, the performer must repeat everything they hear and describe absolutely everything they see. The task is, of course, physically impossible given the audio and visual information’s density, ubiquity and simultaneousness. A simple protocol has been established, which in short means giving priority to the visual: don’t miss a single spoken message, describe visuals as soon as the voice cuts off, even if its only momentary; break off speaking as soon as a new shot appears to describe it, even if the previous description has not finished. It’s worth remarking that in this context and with this protocol, even the performer cannot hear what she’s saying, having been reduced to a mere reflex mechanism linking cognition and description. Perception’s central apparatus kicks in after this, to establish a spontaneous hierarchy of the most striking visual and audio elements. Via their description, it produces a kind of “perceptual summary” of this extremely dense and chaotic moment in the televised day: a constant semantic grinding, yet one from which ever-comprehensible voices, subjects and images curiously emerge. What’s more, talking with headphones on, the performer tends to scream rather than speak and thus becomes a sort of living loud-speaker, availing the public of the continuous chaos of stimuli that she ingurgitates, becoming the human relay for content that is always imposed from without. After a twelve-minute sprint, at roughly 8.03pm, the guard cum technician who had remained at his post on the chair during the performance, gets up and quickly makes his way towards the performer, breaking the exercise off abruptly with the press of a button on the TV remote. The flow ceases, the headphones are put away; the performer rests for a moment before going onto the next performance.

A form of “writing” is thus constructed on the fly, in real time, from the television’s raw content, in the absurd haste of live broadcasting, ousted with extreme violence onto the TV viewer. In turn, the mental and physical tension needed for this exercise produces a relatively accurate portrayal of the television vacuuming the performer’s “available intellect” (cerveau disponible—see note). The exercise could also be described as the converse application of Jean-Luc Godard’s adage (“The only thing to be done with the TV news bulletin is to play it twice”). By reducing the performer to a sort of funnel, shouldering all voices and images alone, the set-up also suggests that this general flow could be the product of one voice or in the least of one thought; as if the television itself was an author and therefore that the question of who is speaking could—and should—be raised.

(1) Who could forget the following statement from a 2004 interview of Patrick Le Lay, then managing director of TF1: “There are many ways to talk about television. But from a business perspective let’s be realistic: at bottom, TF1’s business is to help Coca-Cola, for instance, sell its products. […] For an advertiser’s message to get through, TV viewers’ brains need to be available. The purpose of our shows is to make these brains available, in other words to entertain them, relax them to prepare them in between two messages. What we sell to Coca-Cola is available human brain time.” Translated from Les dirigeants face au changement, Éditions du Huitième jour, 2004.