Andrés Baron: Mirror Travelling

Personal exhibition
Cité internationale des arts, Paris
Curated by Thierry Fournier

March 16 to April 7, 2018
Galerie de la Cité internationale des arts, 18, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris

The Cité internationale des arts presents Mirror Travelling, Andrés Baron’s first solo exhibition in France, which brings together a collection of works created by the artist between 2016 and 2018: films, videos, prints, objects.

Born in Bogotá (Colombia) in 1986, Andrés Baron lives and works in Paris. Relying mainly on photography and film but also on the production of objects, his practice has as a characteristic not to dissociate subjects according to mediums, but on the contrary to cultivate their circulation between different spaces of representation. Portraits whose looks and corporeality are very present, sometimes borrowing from the stereotypes of magazines, natural elements (landscapes, fruits, skies…) constitute the recurring motifs of a look that multiplies vision situations as if to pierce their intensity. The photograph of a landscape, then folded on the edge of a table, becomes the object of a filmed performance. The image of a pear cut on a white background is reinjected into a photograph, held by a woman who reactivates its promise of sensuality… In these circulations, the passage from fixed to movement is also played out, from an object to its flat representation and then to its arrangement in a space, through the recurrent figures of the fold, the rotation, the cropping and the mirror.

However, the variation of situations does not only provoke a change in the perception of the subjects: it is the very space of the shooting that is involved each time, through a specific work on the frontality of the poses, spaces and looks which, associated with a constant presence of the flatness of the image (whether filmic or photographic), can sometimes evoke the characteristic forms of art prior to perspective. Moreover, Andrés Baron’s works are structured by a set of aesthetic choices (slowness of the planes, frontality or circularity of the camera movements, stretching of the music, luminous clarity, juvenility of the models, genre ambiguities, camera faces) which accentuate the “presentation” of these bodies to the image. In this sense, through their frontal or circular devices, their absence of narration and their deliberate artificiality, the films 36 rue d’Ulm, Mirror Travelling, Printed Sunset or Bettina and white background open a field of great ambiguity, where the filmed subjects always seem aware of the representations in which they participate and the codes that animate them.

Thus, although using the apparently classical forms of 16 mm film, video and photography, Andrés Baron’s work testifies to a relationship with the image well after these mediums, reconfigured by screens and networks and aware of their surface effects: always facing the image, but constantly escaping it.

Thierry Fournier, January 2018

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Andrés Baron

Born in Bogotá, Colombia in 1986
Lives and works in Paris
www.andres-baron.com

Training

DNSEP (congratulations of the jury) École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Paris 2016
La Cambre, Brussels, Photography (4th year) Belgium 2014
BA, Visual Arts, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia 2011
Personal exhibitions
Mirror Travelling, Cité internationale des arts, Paris, cur. Thierry Fournier, 2017
Formas Arcaicas y Familiares, Sala de Proyectos, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, 2011

Group exhibitions

62nd Salon de Montrouge, Montrouge, France 2017
Tropisms, Paris, France, 2017
HSR, Galerie du Sauvage, Porrentruy, Switzerland 2016
Notes and exercises, Trademart Brussels, Brussels, Belgium 2014
Caso du Livre, Salle d’expositions de La Cambre, Brussels, Belgium 2013
Bogotá Gruppenausstellung, Baustelle Kalk, Cologne, Germany 2013
Dibujos, Sala de exposición de la Universidad Javeriana de Bogotá, Bogotá, 2011
Peri

Heterotopia

Text by Ingrid Luquet-Gad published in Heterotopia, exhibition catalogue, Pandore 2017

Heterotopia

Is a space still a space if it is porous, reversible, atomized, or even temporary? To put it otherwise, what type of space could we assign to the skin, to a membrane, or to an interface? The first answer that would spontaneously come to a philosopher’s mind would be: none. Classical thought, which values depth over surface and essence over appearances, has always sought to pierce the outer layer of things. And yet, this outer layer does more than merely separate two environments: “it preserves the very balance and the exchanges between them; it acts as a hub where influences and reactions mix” (1). This first step towards a reevaluation of the concept of the surface can be attributed to the French philosopher of science François Dagognet. In the early 1980s, Dagognet, who was also a doctor, a chemist, a geographer, a graphologist and a seismographer, published Faces, Surfaces, Interfaces, an ambitious endeavor to reexamine peripheries. A “dermatologist of things”, as he liked to call himself, Dagognet set in motion nothing less than an epistemological revolution. We must stop lamenting the invisibility of a supposedly hidden meaning, as he used to say. Against idealists who see souls just about anywhere, it is imperative that all efforts to gain knowledge be directed towards a materiological investigation of living beings. For everything is accessible to those who know how to open their eyes: “I merely have to recognize the invisible, although we miss quite often what is near and what is available” (2). The surface would therefore be the only depth that we could study – and thus acknowledge.

Over 40 years later, the scope of Dagognet’s research has become more radical. Where it once concerned only living things, it now applies to any kind of reality. A striking example of this is the meaning of the word “interface”, which condenses these very mutations, as it has gone from being used to abstractly describe a separation between two environments, to its current meaning, which characterizes a reality per se. Thus, a technological interface, the most accepted meaning of the word today, now refers to human-machine exchanges. Once a simple separation, it has become an apparatus. Thierry Fournier’s solo exhibition Heterotopia acknowledges this recent transformation of the surface and the essence, and explores its different visual consequences and its emotional ramifications through a constellation of seven works. In the chapel of the Saint-Denis Art and History Museum, the artist has set-up these fictions whose human scale contrasts with the monumentality of the space. Created in 2015 already, Ecotone, around which the project hinges, is a networked installation where the boundaries between past, present and future, conscious will and mechanical activation, are liquefied. In a video projection, a radioactive-pink rendered landscape ebbs and flows along with the inflections of hazy synthesized voices. Slightly slowed, these voices from beyond the grave read live tweets in which users express their desires: “I’d like so much” or “I’m dying to” fuel the algorithm.

Ecotone, network installation, 2015, exhibition view

The users’ emotional investment in the network – made up of singularities that may be isolated, but are nonetheless part of an entity that transcends them – is addressed again in I quit. Facing their web cams, individuals who have made the decision to give up social media discuss their choice one last time – through the very social networks they are leaving. Pulled this time towards its unconscious side, the same emotional burden also appears in Oracles. Using Apple messaging’s auto-suggest function, a series of texts were semi-automatically generated and printed on plexiglas plates. The user’s idiosyncrasies are blended with suggestions culled from the most common wording choices, thereby illustrating the entire palette of the 2.0 standardized emotions. In order to pursue François Dagognet’s materiological investigation, one would have to treat this particular type of living entity as an augmented living entity, and connected interfaces as singular, full-fledged places. Like a membrane, the interface ensures the exchanges between the two environments it separates – in this case, the world of humans and that of so-called artificial intelligence – can occur. At the edge and the combination of these environments appears a new register of desires: the human being and its mechanical extension begin to share the same pulse, the same dreams, the same words.

I quit, installation, 2017, exhibition view

Oracles, installation, 2015, exhibition view

By saying that these interfaces are places, the Greek etymology of “topos” comes to mind. From the outset, they are re-integrated into the long genealogy of counter-spaces, utopias, dystopias or heterotopias so dear to the type of modernity that wants to move away from an excessively burdensome reality. Heterotopia, as a concrete materialization of utopia, immediately recalls Michel Foucault’s writings. More so than the “Other Spaces” he developed theoretically during a conference in 1967, it is the analysis of another type of space that must interest us here, such as hospitals and clinics. As they integrate surveillance and data-collection technologies into their primary functions, these epistemological and economic machines are already preparing to produce a future humanity that will be shaped according to specific criteria, taken as standards. Foucault was among the first to consider the possibility of an infiltration of political and economic power into individuals’ very flesh, and to develop a theory about what is known today, put plainly, as biopolitics. But when it comes to reflecting upon the overlap between architecture and social entities, philosopher and activist Paul B. Preciado goes one step further. Published in 2010, Pornotopia reveals how gender was manufactured and how masculinity was redefined in post-war America through the lens of a very particular construction: the Playboy Mansion, built in 1959, and later reproduced across the country with the Playboy Clubs of the 1960s. Born in the wake of the invention of the birth-control pill and of the market roll-out of medical derivatives of the types of amphetamines that were used during the Vietnam War, Playboy magazine and the architectural ideal it conveyed brought about a redefinition of sexuality. From the single-parent family living in a suburban house, the model of heterosexual masculinity shifted towards the trope of the bachelor in his urban garçonnière. For Preciado, Hugh Hefner highlights the transition from a biopolitical disciplinary – Foucauldian – regime to neoliberal pharmacopornographical economies, in which communications and electronic surveillance systems, along with the regulation of sexual hormones, are the norm.

The invasion of such techniques into the domestic sphere continues today with their epidermic infiltration. Manipulated by users, the interface provides them with information and directly contributes to the production of their subjectivity. There is no longer any need for architecture or chemistry: when we are in its presence, the digital membrane brings us blissful serenity or wrenching loss when it is missing. At first, we figured we were using this new tool as any other – having clearly heard Hannah Arendt’s lesson, which taught us that the tool was merely an extension of the hand. We then realized that we were its addicted subjects, rather than its masters and owners: a specific set of gestures had been added to our body language, as demonstrated by Futur Instant, with its casts of hand gestures frozen during swipes or scrolls, which become completely absurd when removed from their context. What happens next is nothing more than the outcome of the prophecy foreseen with the Playboy mansion. Regarding the Mansion’s technological setup – which involved telephones, alarms, surveillance and loud-speaker systems – Beatriz Preciado stated early on: “In the Playboy Manson, we are closer to the technological assisted organism of John McHale, Buckminster Fuller, or Marshall McLuhan: The screen-eyes of the house are no longer organs but media prostheses” (3). The display of skins in flesh tones seen in the installation Nude – where the synthetic and the organic appear to have taken part in some unnatural alliances – seems to support the author’s observation. We move from the biopolitical – which is dissolved in the body – to a re-localization towards the surface of the skin, the contact zone that leads to both addiction and pleasure when we connect with the matrix-machine. The “body without organs” of the modernity has become a set of organs without a body. Or rather, it has become a single, last organ that is the sum of them all: the interface.

Ingrid Luquet-Gad, June 2017

(1) François Dagognet, Faces, Surfaces, Interfaces, Paris: 2007 (1982), Vrin. Foreword to the second edition, p. 7.
(2) Ibid., p. 10.
(3) Beatriz Preciado, Pornotopia. An Essay on Playboy’s Architecture and Biopolitics, New York: 2014 (2010), Zone Books, p. 116.

Nude, installation, 2017, exhibition view

Futur instant, installation, 2017, exhibition view

Martin John Callanan: Data Soliloquies

Essay written for Martin John Callanan‘s solo exhibition Data Soliloquies at Argentea Gallery, Birmingham, May 2017

In his short story “The Library of Babel”, published in 1944, the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges imagines the whole of human culture brought together in a labyrinthine library. The books it contains represent the obsessive organisation of all conceivable human thought, in every language and from its beginnings. The concept harks back to the idea that knowledge could ultimately be grasped in its entirety, leading to mastery and omnipotence.

The work of Martin John Callanan (Birmingham, 1982) inevitably recalls this literary allusion, but it is immediately clear that it illustrates the way in which our relationship with technology has exactly reversed the terms of its argument. In contrast to Borges, who imagined that all knowledge could be made visible in one place, Callanan acknowledges that today we live in a decentralised information network that irrevocably determines the way we live. When he describes himself as “an artist researching an individual’s place within systems”, the “place” he refers to does not describe an aesthetic relationship in the traditional sense, in which the observer is dissociated from the things observed; it assumes that we are inextricably connected with them.

The exhibition Data Soliloquies establishes a relationship between three works that are clearly complementary in this way. The sculpture “A Planetary Order” features a 3D scale model of the earth, on which a series of satellite data is combined to show the exact state of the Earth’s cloud cover on a given date. It stands on the floor, making it seem vulnerable, and demonstrates that a phenomenon that is so transitory, while at the same time represented by “hard” data, is fundamentally impossible to grasp, and always beyond complete human perception: technology has not overridden what is incommensurable. The printed series “Text Trends” is a statistical comparison of Google searches for pairs of words, from 2004 to the present. The self-referential nature of the relationships between the chosen words (winter/summer, buy/sell, etc.) and the fierce humour that emerges from them, reflect the expectations embodied in these statistics: they represent actual searches of users. Something that might be taken as a single measurement reveals itself to be also an oracle, whose performativity determines our behaviour. Lastly, “The Fundamental Units” is a series of images each of which shows the smallest value coin used in various national currencies, photographed using a 3D optical microscope at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, UK. These images are then expanded and printed in extra-large formats, so that they show the all traces of the handling they have undergone, and thus the paradoxical physicality of money, whose exchange is now entirely dematerialised.

Despite their power and clear visual precision, these objects sometimes appear cold, as if placed at a distance: the white earth, statistics, coins. They are the product of a conceptual, minimalist approach that emphasises protocol. In addition, they contain no trace of the artist: unlike other recent conceptual works which compare human physicality with repetitive systems, as in the case of Roman Opalka or On Kawara, Martin John Callanan does not introduce his own actions into his work, or only very rarely. Moreover and strictly speaking, it hardly matters if we know the positions of the clouds on a given date, the development of Google searches or the way in which the coins in our pockets have aged: in themselves these facts and these objects include nothing that would give them the status of an artwork . In that case, where do we get the feeling that these works speak so profoundly about ourselves?

It is at once clear that what these artworks have in common is that they talk about value, and its direct connection with the way generalised quantification has become the dominant paradigm and the universal criterion for representing and evaluating human affairs. Callanan also addresses the idea of value from a very specific point of view, namely an almost deliberate focus on representing totalities. An overview of his work reveals the consistency of that approach, seen even in their titles: every flight departure, every internet search, every war waged during the artist’s lifetime, all his commands when I using a software, every telephone number, the number of people who have ever lived, the number of days of his life, every newspaper headline, every cloud present above the earth at a given moment, to see the whole of London, and so on. This approach may seem simplistic but it selects precisely those phenomena to which our sensory experience never gives us complete access. Given that the world of data is characterised by the very fact that the global calculations performed by systems are beyond human perception, can artworks reverse that relationship?

We then see that each of these artworks takes a specific physical form, which reflects a profound knowledge of coding, networks and computing, applied to a wide range of forms: sculptures, prints, artists’ books, objects or performances. Using this vocabulary, Callanan offers a parallel set of “ aiming devices” that connect the various totalities in order to show more clearly that we can never have complete control over them: having departure times appear briefly on a screen or a town crier proclaim the dates of wars; printing the clouds on a 3D sculpture that cannot be seen as a whole; demonstrating the performative nature of statistics and opinion polls and the physicality of money, or creating a publication that cannot be read due to its enormous scale. Each of these situations creates a paradox: they open up a divide between, on the one hand, the promise of omniscience and a totalising vision, and on the other, its impossibility, due to the inevitably fugitive and local nature of human perception. It is in this gap, this falling-short, that the agency of Callanan’s works resides.

In this way, by creating a very specific relationship between these successive stages –value, totality, promise and falling-short – Callanan reveals what we expect from these representations. It is a question not so much of value itself, than the desire for value; less one of totality than the dream of totality, less one of control than of what eludes it. All of these issues bring us back to the human condition, its desires and its limitations. This is where we find the poetic but also the profoundly critical aspects of a body of work that brings us face to face with the multiple manifestations of the infinite, only to assert our inability to embrace it. The work also emphasises the radically futile nature of all approaches that place an excessive emphasis on technology. What differentiates us from the “systems” invoked by the artist is that we also find meaning in things we do not understand.

This brings to mind the writer and critic John Berger, who showed that one of the specific characteristics of art is not to represent things in themselves but to identify the way we see them, enabling us to interrogate the ways in which that experience is formed and determined, including politically. At a time when many projects facing the issues raised by digital cultures fall into the trap of the figuration (of data, artificial intelligence, surveillance and so on), Martin John Callanan assumes the vain character of such an approach and positions himself at a point where his research leads us to a vertigo. With his characteristic modesty, with his works, their “data soliloquies” and the way they suggest that we would never seize them, he illuminates the specificity of the human’s condition vis-à-vis the immensity of the world.

Thierry Fournier
Aubervilliers, April 2017

Thierry Fournier is a French artist and curator. He also co-directs the curatorial research group Ensad Lab Displays. He lives and works in Aubervilliers.

Translation Imogen Forster

Données à voir / Data on view: Introduction

Thierry Fournier, artist and curator

Introductory text to the group show Données à voir (Data on view), La Terrasse, espace d’art de Nanterre, France, October 7th – December 23th 2016, Curated by Sandrine Moreau and Thierry Fournier. Text translated by Clémence Homer. Photograph : Martin John Callanan, A Planetary Order, sculpture, 2009.

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As the concept of data has become ubiquitous and seems inseparable from the contemporary era and from the Internet, a broader look back on recent history reveals works of art that were already challenging that very notion several decades ago. Yet between these artists from the seventies and the contemporary works that address the issue of data, two points in common appear: a critical approach, which highlights systems of relations, of representations, and of power; and the use of drawings and of code (sometimes simultaneously) to visualize these systems, transpose them and question their stakes. This exhibited data raises multiple queries, both individual and collective. What is our place in these systems? How can artists discuss it? What do we expect from data? How does our freedom unfold in this context?

A long history

Our culture is referred to as post-digital, not to suggest that the Internet is behind us, but rather that it is now ubiquitous, pervading contemporary society’s practices and apparatuses. The Internet is no longer separate from the everyday world, nor is it in any way virtual – rather, it is well rooted in reality, through its infrastructures, its energy consumption and its globalized labor force, but also because of the way in which it follows, fuels and records our own activities. Our relationship to the network has, in a certain way, taken on the part that electrification played in the 19th century. Data is the “current” that runs through its veins: simultaneously flow and measure, it qualifies and conditions this relationship’s intensities, as the mark and the mirror of our behaviors.

snowmap_points

John Snow, clusters of cholera cases in London, 1854

The use of data, however, is grounded in a long-standing history of the measurement of collective phenomena and of exchanges, which began as early as the period of industrialization. As new media theorist Lev Manovitch reminds us, most of the basic data visualization techniques used today were invented at the end of the 18th century – and have actually remained unchanged despite technological revolutions. As an example, after several experiences on collective data, British doctor John Snow invented data visualization back in 1850, when he mapped cases of cholera in London, thereby demonstrating the correlation between the spread of the disease and contaminated water points: one of the first cases of public data mapping was born.

Quantification and surveillance

Therefore, from the very first instances of its use, by revealing a representation that individual perception cannot fully grasp, data is not merely a tool to interpret and transform reality, but it is also an instrument of power. Having become the dominant material of a networked world, its potential for collective action comes with a dynamic of ever-expanding capture: recording and trading personal information; polling and surveying; movement tracking, relationship-, opinion- and preference-mapping, deep-learning and artificial intelligence fed by users, browser histories, recommendation algorithms, enclosure of the web by Google and Facebook, etc.

This generalized quantification, and the surveillance that goes with it, is designed and generated by political and industrial powers. It is fueled by individuals themselves, eager to increase their visibility on the network and exploit it intensely – even if it means quantifying themselves: smart objects, sleep and health trackers, fitness, self-evaluation and the quantified self are replaying expectations of religious redemption. The type of control exerted over individuals that churches and totalitarian societies once dreamed of is now effortlessly obtained, thanks to the miracles of narcissism, the quest for comfort and the fear of missing out. Prophets of the “web’s technological revolution” had not anticipated how the network would channel people’s energies into a hyper centralized system of information, tightly controlled and designed to benefit a small group of businesses and their owners. The stakes involved in decoding, in citizenship appropriation of data, and the “watching the watchers” are becoming increasingly crucial as this situation evolves; they also overlap with the critical approaches frequently taken by artists. For this reason, it was only logical that the exhibition Data on view should present, alongside the works, a series of films and sites that deal with these issues.

The trace and the diagram

11-507366

Hans Haacke, Shapolsky et al, Manhattan Real Estate Holding, 1971

The representation of data, of relationships and of power by artists first took off with the protest movements of the sixties, when the emergence of conceptual art coincided with the political engagement of artists. It was in 1971 that Hans Haacke’s solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was canceled, because one of his series of photographs and texts (Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings – a Real Time Social System, 1971) listed the names of all of the real-estate owners in Manhattan and revealed that one of the members of the board of the museum, and one of its main patrons, was among the property owners who were accused of being involved in a real-estate corruption scandal. It is this very approach that the drawings of Öyvind Fahlström and Mark Lombardi perpetuate – since well before the advent of the Internet: eminently political world maps, in a process that we will encounter later on in the diagrams created by Ashley Hunt and the collective Bureau d’études.

The concepts of the trace and the diagram are thus central to the Données à voir / Data on view project, as tools for visualization, projection and critique. The term “trace” is taken here in its double meaning, as the footprint that humans leave in data systems, and as the representation that artists make of it. Accordingly, drawing and code (computer programming) play a complementary role: by suspending flows that are usually invisible, they decode them, transpose them, open their black box and question their motives. Not only in the political realm, but also to demonstrate how individuals, with their desires, their imagination and their utopias, are caught up in these force fields.

Broadly speaking, most of the exhibited pieces reveal what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari called “diagrammatic thought”: these works by no means limit themselves to recounting hitherto unformulated structures – rather, they make those very structures come into view. They precede and trigger thought, even before the existence of the drawings. In Foucault, Gilles Deleuze stated that a diagram “never functions to represent a persisting world but produces a new type of reality, a new model of truth. The diagram is not the subject of History, it is above History. It makes History by unmaking previous realities and significations (…). It doubles History with a a sense of continual evolution” (translated by Sean Hand, 2006). As Ashley Hunt himself explains, “I understand these maps as diagrams that might make discourse and action possible” (interview with Natascha Sadr Haghighian, 2008). It is in the creation of this history and of these evolutions that the exhibition is interested: the exhibition Données à voir / Data on view questions data visualization and the modeling of reality that it produces. It asks us what it is that we expect from data visualization and modeling, and how this data constitutes a representation of ourselves, individually and collectively.

The exhibition

When Sandrine Moreau suggested that I join her team to curate this exhibition, she had already laid the groundwork for it, by suggesting the works of Mark Lombardi, Öyvind Fahlström and Ward Shelley. It is this foothold in drawing and in a history that predates the Internet, as well as the two first artists’ strong political commitment, that gave rise to this project’s specific approach towards the relationship that artists have to data – in a way that is quite different from recent exhibitions devoted to these questions in Europe, such as Big Bang Data or Data Deluge. Here, a singular dialogue between drawing and code goes hand in hand with a political inquiry rooted in a historical perspective. This approach informed the choice of works and publications, as well as the selection of films and web sites presented in the documentation area, designed by Agora (Maison des initiatives citoyennes de Nanterre) and artist Benoît Ferchaud, who created an editorial interface.

Données à voir / Data on view brings these works together in one extensive landscape that implies a dialogue and a flow between the drawings – hung around the room – and the installations, publications, films and sites, placed in the centre of the space, on very low standing display units, thereby inviting visitors to pause and have a seat in order to experience the longer time-frames of the videos, networked pieces and web sites.

Two installations (Cracking Data Machine by Ali Tnani and Lukas Truniger, and A Planetary Order by Martin John Callanan), three screen-based works (Data Trails by Ali Tnani, Tracking Transience by Hasan Elahi, and Atlas du Temps Présent by Claire Malrieux), and a series of publications are set up in the exhibition space. The same unit, featuring a low stand, a screen and low seating close to the ground, was designed for the publications. This set-up encourages visitors to connect with the works, and promotes movement between each of these forms, precisely to experience the continuity that links the drawings, the code, the installations and the films, to the same issues.

Four thematic threads are interwoven in the exhibition: two run through just the drawings that are displayed at the edges of the room, and two others pervade the drawings, the installations and one performance.

Networks and power

One dimension that the drawings first put forward is the critical representation of patterns of power relations. Through his “heuristic drawings”, Mark Lombardi reveals the financial networks of a lawyer and those of the president of an American bank convicted of embezzling public funds (George Franconero, Bank of Bloomfield, State Bank of Chatham), as well as the connections between a state bank (Indian Springs State Bank), the mafia and Irangate funding – an operation directed by the Reagan administration, which involved the sale of weapons to Iran to fund the Contra counter revolution forces in Nicaragua. Öyvind Fahlström’s World Map and Column series of drawings, described by the artist as “world maps”, seeks to highlight the power relations that govern the world, and in particular the different components of American imperialism. In his drawing À la Recherche du miracle économique, Julien Prévieux takes excerpts from Karl Marx’s Capital and quotes from British economists, to which he applies the Bible Code, a secular encryption system said to reveal the hidden meaning behind texts – but in this case, the key words portend only catastrophes, crises and scandals. Finally, by showing all of the protagonists involved in the prison industrial complex, Ashley Hunt’s Prison Map drawings shows how the penitentiary system’s desire for growth sustains itself.

Collective processes

Another series of drawings represents collective processes – including those that operate in the art center itself – as does the work of Philippe Mairesse, who, basing himself on interviews and documents, recounts in one of his posters how the activities of the visual arts sector evolved in the city of Nanterre between 2013 and 2014. As for Marie-Pierre Duquoc, she explores the different types of dialogues and appearances of art that occur in various contexts and locations. Each project is part of an experience that she exposes through performed narratives and exhibitions of her drawings, diagrams or flow charts. American artist Ward Shelley deals in his own terms with History, and attempts to understand the world, by organizing a mass of interdependent facts on very large posters, in order to evidence the relationships that bind these pieces of information: the big, colorful diagrams Addendum to Alfred Barr, History of Science-Fiction and Leading Men respectively describe the history of art, the history of science-fiction and the hierarchy of male roles in cinema.

Capture and proliferation

Three of the pieces featured in the exhibition deal with the process of the proliferation of web-specific data, by questioning the power stakes behind it. Such is the case of Martin John Callanan, who challenges types of data visualization and asks what place the individual could carve out for himself in these representations. In Text Trends, pairs of words are compared in Google with the sole purpose of highlighting the user expectations that dictate the fluctuation of their value. The sculpture A Planetary Order shows a still image of clouds above the Earth at a given moment, a mass of data that reduces the planet to its own representation. Tracked by the CIA after September 11th, American artist Hasan Elahi created Tracking Transience, a site on which he posts on a daily basis photographs of every single one of his activities (dining on pizza, visiting restrooms, transiting through airports, waiting at bus stops…) in what amounts to a case study of obfuscation: overwhelming surveillance by saturating it with data.

Drawings and utopias

Through operations that involve the visualization and the transformation of elements extracted or collected from the Internet, other artists address the issue of utopias and of our expectations with regards to data. Since 2014, Claire Malrieux has been working on the series Atlas du Temps Présent (Atlas of the Present Time), by producing a daily drawing from code and scientific data, challenging a possible representation of the present moment. The series is presented here in the form of a video, created by the artist, that shows all the drawings created in the past year. Finding their inspiration in mathematician Grégori Grabovoï’s algorithms, the generative drawings Economie Vibratoire imagine a performative illustration that could utopically influence reality. Ali Tnani extracts data from the network to create, through installations or drawings, “counter-spaces”, which are both visual and political: the installation Data Trails question the transformation that a news story from Tunisia undergoes before becoming a political myth; the installation Cracking Data Machine created with Lukas Truniger transforms data from the network into sound vibrations; through the disappearance of the drawing, the series Blancs Documentaires (Documentary Whites) suggests the fragility of collective movements.

In parallel to the exhibition, by performing a fake Ted-like conference that deals with the compulsive quantification of happiness, French artist Magali Desbazeille brings together a plethora of statistics that measure feelings of well-being, in order to ironically question their meaning and their function.

Finally, and as for myself, having also been invited by Sandrine Moreau to show a piece, but wanting to make space for the artists that we were exhibiting, I chose to use the space of the center’s bay window, which opens out onto the Place Nelson Mandela, with the in situ installation La Promesse that refers to the utopian expectations of control through data about oneself, and about the world.

Artists’ books and films

Several artists’ books are presented in the exhibition – either in order to mention series that would otherwise have been difficult to exhibit in this particular context, or because the artists themselves chose to work with that particular format. In his book Where the F*** was I?, James Bridle published a dizzying series of aerial photographs resulting from (often incorrect) geo-locations produced by his smartphone; Bureau d’études’ (Léonore Bonaccini and Xavier Fourt) An Atlas of Agendas gathers maps of networks of power built at an international level to ensure control over the definition of the planet’s future; Martin John Callanan’s essay Data Soliloquies highlights the ambivalent and dramatized character of data representations; originally created by Eli Commins on the application Whatsapp and exhibited here on a tablet, the Seelonce Feenee project develops a narrative from the traces generated by stakeholders of the aviation community; a publication dedicated to On Kawara’s famous Date Paintings underscores the gesture repeating the same data every day – the date; in the artist’s book My Google Search History, Albertine Meunier ironically reveals the unintentional and frightening portrait that the history of her searches draws of her; The Outage by Erica Scourti is a ghostwritten memoir based on her digital footprint. Finally, and in a nod to History, he exhibition features Jacopo da Pontormo’s Journal: every day, in 1556, the portraitist recorded his meals, which he believed influenced his painting, thereby offering an extremely early form of the quantified self.

The concept behind the exhibition is completed by a series of films, in which documentaries address the violence of the political stakes brought up by activists, or reflected in socio-political situations: Mark Boulos (All that is Solid Melts into Air), Brian Knappenberger (We are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists), Laura Poitras (Citizen Four dedicated to Edward Snowden), Sandy Smolan (The Human Face of Big Data) et the portrait of Mark Lombardi by Marieke Wegener (Kunst und Konspiration).

Freedoms of perspective

Through the historical relationships that it explores, and through the permanent connection that it highlights between very different mediums, the exhibition seeks to address our relationship to data by means of a transversal approach, in the hopes of demonstrating that it is not in any way limited to a “digital” field, but rather, that it concerns the whole of art and society. The works, on the other hand, do not demonstrate anything: each one finds its freedom in a proposition that can be poetic or critical. They also invite a freedom of perspective and of interpretation.

Special thanks to the artists for their trust, their presence and their seamless collaboration; to Sandrine Moreau and her entire team for her invitation, her generosity and her complete confidence in the elaboration of this project, which managed to open between us – despite the rather short time frame we had – a true meeting space, where we were able to debate and research.

Paris, September 4th 2016

In Progress

Nicolas Feodoroff, In Progress, in Last Room / Dépli, Pandore 2013

Considering a tablet and a film, Last Room, by Pierre Carniaux: eluding the finiteness of the film-object and its imposed progression in time, Thierry Fournier proposes with Dépli another way of comprehending film matter. Somewhere between the film and the interactive installation, the idea – apparently a simple one – proves to be as delicate to implement as its stakes are overwhelming: to make a film and its unfolding. That is, in the words of Thierry Fournier and Pierre Carniaux: to create two pieces of a single diptych.

Admittedly, the history of cinematographic forms teaches us that we have often dealt with the fundamental principles of what we usually refer to as cinema: some have chosen to liberate themselves from the movie theatre, and move to museum- or other spaces, while others have sought to undo the projection’s continuum. These experiences have constituted opportunities to break away from the ritual of the showing and of the progression, which both belong to a previously determined temporality, with multi-screen installations for instance, where a process of mental editing is left to the discretion of each viewer.

Dépli fits into this system, by appropriating itself the very same material as a film, but in a new way. Indeed, the project has another ambition: to take on the entire film and move within the very matter from whence it came, its raw footage, in an apparatus that engages a new way of watching and practicing images – particularily in the case of the theatre version of the installation, in which the viewer/user must stand, and cannot surrender to the comfort of the seat. These rushes, therefore – the raw material used to make the film – can be watched and experimented with at one’s own pace. Materiel that is usually invisible (what Chris Marker referred to paradoxically as his peelings), often rich, but that the film must extract itself from in order to assert itself as a film, through choices (aesthetic, ethic, their nature is of little significance in this case) made from recorded data. Here, the viewer is offered other options, as he gets a glimpse of the material that was set aside during the final editing process. But this is not about (re)making a movie by simply reediting it for one’s own account. Rather, it is about reclaiming and reworking these images in a different way, with broader matter, since the lengths of the shots in Dépli are 30 minutes longer than the ones in the film. Finally, beyond these conditions stipulated for play (which can be played individually at home, or in a movie theatre, live and in public) the Dépli apparatus leaves no trace of the viewer’s passage through the images, other than bits left in the memories of those who witnessed it. Herein lies the singularity of this experience, different every time, couched in the present of its execution, like a performance with no record.

With Dépli, the viewer’s place is revisited, and an additional tool is taken into account: the tablet. This quintessentially personal technical object is, in this case, engaged in a paradoxical use. At the crossroads of a collective space and a type of contemporary hyperindividualism that is exacerbated in this object, echoing the possibilities currently offered by different media and networks within this mass made available by the Internet, Dépli offers a means of updating experiences that have aimed to remove cinema from its current set-up, a form which was inherited from the theatre and has gradually prevailed as the norm.

Fold

The unfolding manifests itself as fabric, a combinatory of the present images. Through a very concrete gesture that involves moving one’s fingers, Dépli indicates this paradox between the distance that is particular to images (amplified in this case by the geographical origin) and the tactile proximity of these images, conveyed by the sensation of possessing them by a simple touch. By grazing them with the tips of our fingers, we invent a world that offers itself to our gaze. We move from the gesture to the projected image, to the actual manipulation of the images. Where we play on lengths, overlays, creating forms that also unravel possibilities, from the film to the tablet and the DVD. Wandering, drifting in a maze-like space, in which the viewer/manipulator is invited to lose himself, to dig through the visual matter, to develop his own desires, offer his own extensions from shot to shot, experiment his own associations, Borgesian possibilities of infinite junctions within a closed space.
This constitutes, according to Umberto Eco’s expression, an open work, a feat that is never necessary but always possible, challenged time and time again. It is about playing, like in a card game – but beyond the possible combinations in a given hand, the cards in this case can vary according to the associations and lengths that we remember, the mode and the degree of the dissolves between the images, the speed – slower or faster – the reversal of movement, the superimposition… There is no going back to before, but rather, to differently. A multiplicity composed of stops, suspensions, chance meetings made possible by this gesture. The unfolding that is operated does not involve taking the film apart, or leveling it. Nor is it about returning to some initial form that preceded the editing operation, like an origami that would regain its original shape after it is unfolded. Matter made ductile by the hand’s gesture, between two fingers, like a fold. As Gilles Deleuze notes: “The un-fold is never the opposite of the fold. (…) To unfold means that I sometimes develop, I undo infinitely small folds that keep disturbing the background; but doing this in order to draw a large fold on the side, from which forms appear”; he goes on to point out that “I always unfold between two folds, and if to perceive is to unfold, than I always perceive in the folds”.

Details

To unfold is also to fold, and in this space, the image is no longer a window, but offers itself as a surface, an infinitely malleable preexistent matter. The status of the images changes: from their relationship to the implicit (but no less problematic) world with a preexisting reality, we find ourselves with the images as they are. From a type of verticality, going from the world to the image and back, we find ourselves in a horizontality of images subjected to our gestures, in which they function in relation to each other – as cinema does with editing. Close at hand and at a distance, we are therefore in a relationship of surfaces. The images become a surface that is replayed, doubled by the tablet’s own surface, over which our fingers slide, between video gaming and drawing, with this world at the tip of our fingers, a world that we are drawing. Nothing but images where we can operate by detail and in detail. Change of nature or degree? Change of gaze? A cinematographic langage, surely, and cinema, if we consider that it remains pure movement: not of the world and its beat, but of images and their breathing, that build worlds according to a renewed poetic. From the editing table and from the viewer’s seat, a short circuit has occurred in the relationship of the parts to the whole that is a film. Not total submission, but an overlap, a superimposition of the two moments.

From the film to its manifestation in Dépli? One that belongs to cinema in its historic form, the other would perhaps be one of its future forms? It would be vain and futile to attempt to make such a prediction. However, it opens up one of the possibilities of a cinema that encounters what Bernard Stiegler calls (in order to critique it) temporal industrial objects that give rise to this singular form. History has taught us that artists, like film-makers (coming from within cinema as a constituted space, and from without) have played with the finished form of the reel as it unrolls behind us and with its reception space, the theater. Let us keep the theater, the projection, its viewer, and unfold this reel which has become a digital stock, not of images but of sequences, of varying and unknown lengths.

To make a film, in this case, is to elaborate possible fragments of a non-existent film, and, to a certain extent, construct extension to the world that is the matrix film, organize our own meanderings that might emerge from it, belong to it, come out of it, without ever disconnecting form it. Like a reel that draws infinite interlacing -the image of an expanding film. Open up its possibilities, short, long, contemplative, random, calculated, systematic, dream-like… an infinite amount of possibilities, sustained by the intensification of its fragments. The pleasure of making and working with a particular matter, playing with chance and accidents, inventing, handling the images in their carnal thickness.

Nicolas Feodoroff is an art and film critic, and programer at FIDMarseille.

The Fabric of images

Anne-Lou Vicente, The Fabric of Images, in Last Room / Dépli, Pandore 2013

Dépli originated in an encounter between artist Thierry Fournier and director Pierre Carniaux in Japan, during the filming of Last Room. This encounter resulted in a fruitful collaboration where duo, dialogue and diptych are closely associated. The number two is of particular significance here: indeed, the very essence of Dépli, from the point of view of its origins and of its operation, lies in the interstices.
As with the “intermediary apparatus” designed by Thierry Fournier, Dépli summons an important network of relationships: between the installation and the film Last Room (and their respective authors), between the installation and the viewers/players, between the viewers/players themselves, between their bodies and the space/environment in which they find themselves, etc. To a certain extent, the inter-human dimension that is literally put into play is a matter of “relational aesthetics” (1), especially in that it pervades existing social and cultural forms, such as the movie theatre (2), a paradigm of the ritualized experience that is at once individual and collective.

Presented as a “playable cinema” project, Dépli addresses the viewer/visitor while it also requires his participation. As he is invited to trace his own path through the film, or rather, through its interspaces (shots), the viewer combines observation – which is by no means passive – and action, emission and reception, in an alternative logic that varies between watching as others do and making others watch. While, as Marcel Duchamp famously put it, “It is the spectators who make the pictures”, in this case the spectators do not rewrite the story, they are invited to make their film, and become actors to the fullest extent, in this context in which a film is extended, not so much in its rewriting, but rather, in its reinvention through the prism of a person, a spirit, a voice in itself.

Sustained by practices that lay at the crossroads of contemporary art and traditional cinema, such as experimental cinema, video art, and multimedia art in particular, a broadening of the cinematographic form (3) occurs, in the case of the installation Dépli, on different levels: beginning with the very places it may invest – a movie theater, home video set up, or exhibition space – and as a result, on the level of the users, and with them, of the usages. These are related in more than one way to post production, as the installation involves “treatments applied to recorded material” (4), pre-existing or even preliminary, insofar as, at least in movie theatres, it follows the projection of the film Last Room.

“Cinema is both the source and the paradigm of new media. It is the source, insofar as it is the instrument that enables us to understand how representation is transformed by the very screens that condition it. There is a move from the classic screen (a rectangular surface, a window onto the world, as André Bazin sees it) that offers a frontal vision of a fixed space, to a dynamic screen on which images are in motion and lead to other systems of vision, where questions of viewer immersion and identification are prominent” (5). The dozens of sequence-shots extracted from the film, stored in the interface’s timeline, appear as samples, from which the player may compose his own music. He is invited to clear a path feeling his way along, to navigate – even to drift – until he feels the breath of images turned porous, which he may freely slow down or accelerate.

In this manipulation of images and sound – on a formal, temporal and kine(ma)tic level – the viewer uses a tactile tablet that makes touch the experience’s driving force. Offsetting (or rather, in this case, complementing) the classic viewing scheme of cinematographic projection onto a (large) screen, which, while it prompts the viewer to delve into the film, almost keeps him at a distance, Dépli offers to engage in it physically, sensually, to touch the images in order to affect them (and be affected by them). “The different kinds of relationships that exist between cinema, film, sensorial perception, physical environment and the body can be represented as a series of metaphors, dichotomous concepts, that, in turn, can be “mapped” onto the body: its surfaces, its senses and methods of perception, its tactile, affective and sensory-motor faculties”, write Thomas Elsaesser et Malte Hagener in the introduction to their book Film Theory: an introduction through the senses (6). In reference to the fifth chapter, entitled “skin and touch”, the authors add: “We will be dealing here with theories based on the idea that skin is an organ and that touch is a means of perception. From them, ensues the understanding of cinema as a tactile experience, or, conversely, as one which endows the eye with “haptic” faculties that go beyond the usual “optical” dimension”.

Who plays (and what is playing out in) Dépli? This interactive installation, where participants share what they perceive through their senses, renews the cinematographic experience and, like an invitation to travel within the images and listen to them, the viewer is invited to move them (physically and emotionally) by drifting through the infinite folds of their fabric (7).

Anne-Lou Vicente is a contemporary art critic and independent curator. She co-directs the publication VOLUME – What You See Is What You Hear, a bi-annual contemporary art magazine devoted to sound, distributed by Les Presses du réel. She is co-curator in residence for the year 2013 at the Maison populaire art center in Montreuil.

Notes

1. See Relational Aesthetics (1998), a cult essay by art critic Nicolas Bourriaud in which he exposes the way in which certain contemporary artistic practices contribute to the emergence of a “relational society”.

2. Exhibition spaces are another example of public spaces in which Dépli might appear; the installation can also be experienced at home.

3. The reference here is to expanded cinema, a concept theorized by Gene Youngblood in an eponymous work published in 1970.

4. Part of the definition of the term postproduction to be found in the first words of Nicolas Bourriaud’s essay Postproduction (2004) ; the term forms somewhat of a diptych with the concept of “relational aesthetics”, mentioned previously.

5. Yann Beauvais, Code source ouvert (Open source code), preface to the french edition of Lev Manovitch, Language of New Media (MIT Press, 2001 for the original english edition, Les presses du réel, Dijon, 2010 for the french edition).

6. Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener, Film Theory: an introduction through the senses, Routledge, 2009.

7. Etymologically, the term diptych means «folded in two».

Too much data is not enough

Pau Waelder, Too much data is not enough, catalogue Overflow, Pandore, 2015

The Internet has overflown. It is no longer concealed into a “cyberspace”, separate from our “real” world, our everyday existence. Nowadays, it does not take a phone call to hook up a home computer to the World Wide Web by means of a noisy modem. This connection is not temporary but permanent, and being online is not an option anymore. What happens on the web doesn’t stay on the web, as our online identities cease to be mere masks or fantastic avatars and increasingly become ideal projections of our real selves. Even when we are not browsing the web or sharing content on a social network, when we turn off the computer and go to sleep, our online presence is still there, and accounted for. The Internet has overflown from the realm of interconnected computers, smartphones and tablets, not only into all sorts of other objects, but also into our culture, our language and our daily activities. It might be argued that it doesn’t exist, since it has no shape, or that it has ceased to exist as it once was and has become something that we still don’t know how to define. The Thing Formerly Known As The Internet is not a space anymore, since it pervades all spaces and activities, but it is still a constant flow of data in both directions: towards the user, and from the user. As users, we are part of it, whether we want to or not. Because all of our actions are in one way or another registered in the network: as a search query, preference, time and date of access, IP address, hashtag, like, poke or comment; as uploaded or downloaded files, logins and user profiles. Now the data flow pours out of our devices and into our bodies: heartbeats, steps walked, hours slept and calories burned are also counted. In a similar way to what Robert Musil described in The Man without Qualities, it is almost impossible to live in a post-industrial society without participating in an exchange of data over a network, since every action can be recorded or quantified. The network is so ubiquitous that it has become invisible, as necessary and apparently non existent as the air we breathe.

The overflow is not limited to the circulation of data: our own role as spectators and users has overcome the passive reception of content and the limited reach of an individual’s voice. On the one hand, more people are able to produce content, be creative and participate in communities than ever before. Clay Shirky refers to this as “cognitive surplus”, indicating that audiences are not just collections of passive individuals, but groups whose members can use their free time to contribute to communal efforts. On the other hand, the actions or ideas of a single individual or a small group of people can quickly spark a revolution or generate a trending topic. In both instances, limits are overrun, demarcations become obsolete. It seems as if boundaries and hierarchies had lost their power in the age of the Internet, as the network allows anyone to connect to a vast resource of knowledge and tools and spread their ideas to a global audience. But this is not the case.

Protocol

Alexander Galloway criticizes the generalized conception of the Internet as an unpredictable mass of data, without any form of centralized command or hierarchy. While it is true that networks are built on nodes that connect in a non-hierarchical, peer-to-peer mode, what ensures a form of control over the network is the existence of a protocol. Protocols define standards of action: on the Internet, the TCP/IP protocol enables computers to communicate between each other, thus facilitating the exchange of data on which the network is based. The network exists because there is a shared protocol. Furthermore, standards such as DNS are controlled in a hierarchical structure, which paradoxically makes it possible to access information in the apparently anarchical Internet . Therefore, a form of control and a basic hierarchy exists in the continuous and inescapable flow of data that feeds us and is fed by us, and it is embedded in the very structure of the network. This condition is not exclusive of data networks: following Galloway’s description of the protocol as “any type of correct or proper behaviour within a specific system of conventions”, we can see that in our daily life we are constantly following a set of protocols.

The sound installation Set-Up (2011) addresses the visitors of the exhibition with a series of messages similar to those of a public announcement (PA) system in train stations, airports or shopping malls. Some of these messages apparently respond to the need of directing the flow of visitors inside the exhibition space (“visitors are kindly requested to move forward, thank you”; “five people maximum, thank you”), while others reproduce quotations from literary texts which seem out of context and therefore nonsensical (“a shadow walks with me, reflections de-multiply my appearance, a horizon is projected in front of me, thank you”). Finally, some sentences express direct orders that evoke an emergency alert (“all visitors immediately stop, thank you”; “everybody on the ground, thank you”). The sentences are read by a female voice in a kind but authoritative way, all of them duly signed with a warm “thank you.” As a disembodied presence, the voice fills the exhibition space and turns it into the stage of a performance, one that is involuntarily played out by the visitors, whether they follow the instructions or not. A protocol is set, as the fictitious PA system demands the attention of the visitor by emitting absurd requests. Meaningful messages (such as “please do not smoke” or “do not leave your belongings unattended”) would be registered by visitors as guidelines of conduct and duly followed without questioning, but the lack of meaning of the sentences in this installation beg to question their purpose, as well as their authority: why should we listen to and follow the instructions of a PA system? Public announcements share with other forms of information flows in our society the fact that they are constantly broadcasted and become somewhat inevitable. They belong to a top-down system in which the public is a receiver of the messages sent out by a broadcaster. As there is no visual display, there is nothing or no one to respond to: the possibility of a dialogue simply does not exist.

In a similar way, EX/IF (2014), a series of three videos filmed by Thierry Fournier during a trip to Japan (Mori, Cool, Service), expose the way in which humans are subjected to flows and protocols in the largest megacity on the planet. Three views of Tokyo are presented as raw, objective, unedited documents. The gaze is suspended over a long time on what would usually just hold our attention for a brief moment. This lengthening of the gaze allows us to look closer, pay attention to the details, think about what is happening in these scenes in which apparently nothing is happening.

In Cool, the rooftop of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, the sixth tallest building in the city, is the domain of several machines: ventilation systems, security cameras, a wind gauge and a set of speakers humming elevator music. In this highly technified realm, far detached from the everyday activity that goes on 54 stories below, the smooth jazz music seems out of place. It is too human, and in fact it was installed to entertain the visitors who walk up to the observation deck in order to enjoy the views of the city. Instead of these views, we are observing the machines that climatize the building and provide information from the outside. They lead us to think of the building as an organism, traversed by flows of people, data, electromagnetic waves, electricity, water, hot and cold air. The calm stillness of this rooftop, bathed in the warm light of the setting sun and the soothing music, betrays the frantic activity that gives this building its reason to exist.

As the night falls, the city plunges into darkness. An elevated highway crosses the Roppongi Hills district towards Chiyoda, a broad artery of light that cuts across the buildings. The incessant circulation of cars and trucks stresses this analogy: the city appears also as a living entity, whose vital organs, veins and bowels are spread over a large territory. Still, the long, shiny highway seems to belong to a different time and space than the rest of the city: it brings to mind Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84 (2009-2010), in which an emergency exit on the highway, leading to the street below, actually takes the characters to a parallel dimension. It also illustrates the notion of a city governed by flows. As Roland Barthes remarked in his book L’Empire des signes (1970), Tokyo is a city with an empty center, its numerous neighborhoods being defined by the void of train stations, traversed by thousands of journeys every day.

In a tennis court, we see several players taking turns to hit the ball. They share a play field designed for up to four people, but they are far more numerous. One after another, they enter the field, hit the incoming ball with a racket and quickly leave in order to allow the next player to perform the same action. When a ball hits the net, four kids on each side of the field race after it. Only one catches the ball, while the others nevertheless feign the role of ball boys. Observing this protocol, we realize that none of these people is actually playing a match, but taking part in a fragment of the activity involved in a match. They are training for the game in a choreographed system that distributes the actions of a single player into a multitude of participants.

One could easily imagine a PA system such as the one in Set-Up broadcasting from the top of the Mori Tower, sending each citizen a set of instructions to carry out the proper actions in their specific contexts, be it at the office, on the highway or while practicing a sport in their leisure time. But such a system is not necessary: the protocols are already embedded in our daily lives.

Postproduction

Information flows and protocols also shape our perception of reality, particularly through the media on which we are increasingly dependent when trying to create an image of the world around us. As Hito Steyerl asserts, we are exposed to “too much world” and need constant editing of the information flow in order to make sense of it. This means not only that the content displayed on the media is a version of reality, but that reality itself becomes the product of an operation of editing and postproduction and can only be understood in these terms.

Thierry Fournier’s Precursion (2014) explores this relationship between the media and reality in a mashup of recorded video footage from the streets of Valence, music extracted from blockbuster films and news feeds culled in real time from the Internet. The familiar environment suddenly becomes a zone of conflict or the site of a memorable or catastrophic event as the text at the bottom of the screen describes situations taking place elsewhere and the film score provides an emotional atmosphere intended for a different set of images. Reality (both in the video footage and the news headlines) becomes a fiction through the combination of unrelated elements. This fiction, in turn, becomes reality as we watch it and try to make sense of the three different channels of information, one addressing visual perception (and our assumption that the things we see are real), another one directed to our knowledge of the current state of affairs and the last one affecting our emotions. Reality, as Steyerl suggests, is edited and post-produced in this artwork that leads to questioning the media and our own mediated perception of the world. Moreover, the title itself leads to thinking about reality as being created or anticipated by the media: an unsettling aftertaste of this installation is the thought that what we see, while not being true at this point, may become a reality in the future. The fact that Fournier updates the video footage to match the site where the piece is exhibited and that the news are constantly referring to current events adds to this confusion between reality and fiction and the need to perpetually renew the data in order to keep up with a changing environment. In this sense, the artwork itself is also subject to a process of postproduction every time it is shown and remains as an open system: as Nicolas Bourriaud would describe it, it is not a finished product but a “site of navigation”. As such, it offers us a window from which to observe our surroundings in the form of an endless newscast, invariably presenting a recent event that requires our immediate attention. Can we cope with this requirement?

Excess

In a cartoon by Robert J. Day, a young student is telling her friend: “It isn’t that I don’t like current events. There have just been so many of them lately.” The joke is reproduced in Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s The Medium is the Massage (1967), where McLuhan presciently writes about an “Age of Anxiety” in which trying to deal with the current flow of information by means of outdated concepts and tools leads to confusion and despair. This form of anxiety and the inability to manage the large amount of content produced by the media is clearly demonstrated in the performance Closed Circuit (2007). Actress Emmanuelle Lafon is asked to describe everything she sees and repeat everything she hears on a TV set in front of her. The audience cannot see the images nor hear the sounds emitted by the device, and therefore must rely on the actress as the sole mediator. Lafon tries to follow the instructions given to her, but before long she stutters, interrupts herself in mid-sentence, loses her train of thought. It becomes clear that the amount of information is too much to be processed while describing and repeating it. As a spectator, she is unable to respond to the flow of images, sounds and messages: she intends to produce her own soliloquy, but finally she is drowned by the information pouring out of the screen. Her Sisyphean task ends abruptly after fifteen minutes, when the television is turned off. McLuhan described this situation forty years earlier, indicating that we are flooded by information which is always new, and that there is no other option but to look for the overall features of this massive amount of data. Just as Lafon can only retain fragments of the images and words she perceives, we build our image of the world from scattered pieces of information: headlines, found images, short videos, infographics, tweets, posts and so many rumors. Where Précursion suggests how these fragments can build a different reality, Circuit fermé shows how the excess of stimuli blocks any possible processing of the data into a somewhat coherent discourse. Lafon’s exhausting experience suggests that it is impossible to cope with the flow of data, and certainly there is “too much world” to be aware of. But the flow can be edited and redirected in meaningful ways.

Ecotone (2015) captures tweets in real time and generates a virtual landscape with them. The selected tweets share their expression of desires with the inclusion of words such as “I wish”, “I would love”, “it would be so great”, and so on. Every time that a tweet is captured, it is read by a synthesized voice and visually represented by an elevation of the polygonal terrain. A camera flies over this imaginary landscape as mountains grow here and there with every new sentence. The voices tell us about the constant need for what we do not have, the dissatisfaction that drives our consumerist society, as well as the cathartic process of sharing with others those unfulfilled desires. Notably, none of the authors of these tweets wished to be part of this installation. Their words have become data that flows from one computer to another, as well as across different contexts. Here, they take a more human form as pronounced wishes, voices that do not spell out instructions as in Set-Up but express their fragility and their ennui by stating what is missing in them. This is particularly relevant in the context of social media, where it is common to present a positive, successful version of oneself, stating only achievements and support for the causes that are integral to the self image. As in Précursion, the flow of messages is constantly updated, which in this case is telling, since it shows that the discontent in our society is unremitting. Although we live surrounded by excess, we always want more.

In these artworks, Thierry Fournier unfolds an ongoing exploration of the relationship between the individual and her environment, in terms of a physical, social, and informational space. These contexts reveal their porosity as they are traversed by the flow of data that pours from one onto the other, affecting the way in which they are perceived as well as the actions taking place in them. The flow becomes an overflow as the boundaries are blurred (no more online/offline, public/private, virtual/real) and the massive amount of information cannot be contained or classified anymore. From protocol to excess, five different narratives expose the workings of our current information overload, stressing our participation in it and the fact that, despite being overwhelmed by data, we can’t get enough of it.

Pau Waelder
August, 2015

Outside Lectures: in situ

Photographs by Alexandre Nollet of the Outside Lectures performances in October 2008 with Emmanuelle Lafon. These 134 photographs are sorted by the twelve places in which the performances have been played: Ansouis, Bagnols sur Cèze, Camaret, Châteauneuf de Gadagne, Courthezon, Goult, La Gare Coustelet, Le Vigan, Massillargues-Atuech, Pernes les Fontaines and Sorgues, all in the Vaucluse and Gard districts in the South of France.

These images show the in situ adaptation of the apparatus to extremely various conditions of space. For each performance, the set up is done in a few hours, inventing a specific relationship to the architecture.

See also the performance pages: Outside LecturesClosed Circuit, Foreign Office, The right Distance, Residency, Ready Mix, Frost, Sentinel.

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.

The performer’s point of view

By Emmanuelle Lafon
About Outside Lectures, series of performances
Translation coming soon.

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Processus

Quand j’interprète Conférences du Dehors, tout a lieu à vue, au milieu et autour des spectateurs. Si la salle le permet, la lumière du jour décroissant nous accompagne. La relation au temps et à l’espace présents est centrale : à la part d’improvisation propre à toute interprétation, s’ajoutent l’aspect performatif de certaines pièces réalisées “en direct” et la volonté de jouer dans des espaces diversifiés.

Il y a sept pièces dans CdD. Elles se répondent, contrastent, se chassent, s’enchâssent, comme autant de dispositifs  dont la capacité à agir, à transformer, est inséparable de la manière dont ils sont eux-mêmes agis, ou provoqués. Je traverse ces pièces et me laisse traverser par elles, accordant sans cesse ma posture. Actrice, performer, médiatrice, interlocutrice, vecteur , musicienne, un corps, je suis le fil conducteur d’un parcours suggéré aux spectateurs. Il y a une télé, une table, une chaise, des coussins, un morceau de polystyrène, un téléphone et un ordinateur portables,  un lecteur DVD, un haut-parleur, un vidéo-projecteur. Ils dessinent des espaces de jeu, et proposent des places à chacun (les spectateurs, Thierry Fournier et moi ). Les costumes sont noirs, mais on peut reconnaître des treillis, rangers souples et une inscription, “sécurité” , dans le dos de T.Fournier qui intervient tout au long de la représentation). Ces éléments sont en eux-mêmes des dispositifs dont nous usons au quotidien, ils participent de notre rapport au monde, comme outils, voire modes de représentation. Enfin ils sont précisément les supports d’écriture choisis ou mis en scène de chaque artiste.

Il s’agit donc d’un tissage de fabrique hétéroclite, qui tire sa cohérence de la mise en relation de chaque maille les unes avec les autres, mise en relation recherchée depuis la conception du projet jusqu’à sa réalisation. De là une grande variété des processus inventés pour activer ces dispositifs, et la nécessité d’en éprouver très tôt les charnières possibles.

Une étape importante des répétitions a été les échanges avec chacun des auteurs; certaines pièces ont même trouvé leur aboutissement en leur présence ( le jour où Jean-François Robardet a trouvé l’étui de polystyrène dans la rue sur le chemin de notre “pause déjeuner”, les essais image/son/corps avec Juliette Fontaine… ). Elles ont eu lieu en appartement ( sur une durée de plusieurs mois, passer chez T.Fournier un peu avant 13h et/ou 20h, s’entrainer 30 mn sur pub/JT/météo/séries, “jouer “ du polystyrène dans la foulée, faire alors entrer en résonance La Bonne Distance … ) puis dans la salle de danse de La Chartreuse, où la mise en oeuvre scénographique et sonore nous a permis d’écrire une partition d’ensemble. Les contraintes spécifiques à certains dispositifs nous ont servi à plonger dans le vif de nos enjeux, notions de dehors, d’accès, relation à l’autre, usages du langage… Par exemple, les appels téléphoniques de Ready Mix étaient consacrés alternativement à la performance et aux répétitions. Et jusqu’aux représentations, nous jouons et sommes joués par cette configuration  “ à distance “ et “ en direct “, le déplacement de l’usage téléphonique fait voler en éclats l’évidence de son rôle de communication. Ou encore, CdD s’ouvre avec Circuit Fermé, qui lui-même est lancé par l’horaire du Journal télévisé, donc tout l’espace/temps de la représentation fait écho à un autre espace, pour le moins public, celui de la télévision…

Aperçu

Circuit Fermé

19h52: entrer dans la salle avec Thierry Fournier. Les spectateurs sont là, installés de l’autre côté de l’écran de  télé. La télé est allumée depuis leur entrée. S’asseoir bord chaise face à l’écran, coudes sur les genoux, poings joints, pieds au sol. Pose du casque audio, volume augmenté pour que je ne m’entende pas, branchement du jack, j’agis à cet instant . Dire tout ce que je vois et entends. C’est impossible. Le faire: foncer dans la machine et accepter de me laisser faire par elle. Trouver immédiatement le placement de la voix, relâcher les épaules, laisser le regard mobile, ne penser qu’à respirer, quelques gestes m’échappent. Environ15 mn plus tard, T.Fournier éteind. Souffler, boire, s’étirer, se rassembler.

Ministère de l’extérieur (première partie)

La télé est tournée face aux spectateurs, retournée à son usage. S’asseoir à côté. Ainsi je m’inscris dans la continuité de l’assemblée. En prendre mesure. Présenter simplement David Beytelmann, philosophe et historien. Actionner le lecteur DVD. Interviewé par T. Fournier en 2007, c’est à chacun qu’il s’adresse aujourd’hui, c’est la parole et le visage les plus humains des CdD, alors qu’on le regarde à la télé, et qu’il agit en différé. Loin de produire un discours assigné à son statut, l’intellectuel parle de lui, de son expérience d’homme, on suit les mouvements spontanés de sa pensée. J’ai l’impression de l’écouter chaque fois pour la première fois, impression accrue par une autre écoute, que je superpose : celle des spectateurs autour de moi qui, eux, le découvrent. C’est l’occasion pour moi d’affûter mon oreille, comme le diapason d’un accordeur.

La Bonne Distance

S’asseoir à une table, surlaquelle sont disposés  un verre d’eau, un crayon, un micro, quatre pages agraphées, un téléphone portable. La lumière se modifie avec l’extinction de la télé et l’aide d’un projecteur orienté vers la table; je me racle la gorge, et je suis le bruit des spectateurs qui à ces signaux modifient leurs positions et angles de vue. Comment oser dire ce texte? A chaque fois je me pose cette question, chaque fois je la traverse au moyen d’une autre question, inscrite dans le titre- même de Noëlle Renaude, celle de la distance. Nous avons décelé-là une clef  dont on s’est servi pour mettre en oeuvre chacune et l’ensemble des CdD : “à quelle distance” se positionner? Pour dire, regarder, écouter, parler, adresser, pour ajuster la posture du corps, qu’il suive ou qu’il déclenche, pour “ faire semblant” ou “pour de vrai”. Ajustement permanent de focales.

Interpréter ce texte comme si c’était une conférence, avec réalisme, pour rendre sensible la tension existant entre ce qui paraît le motiver, et ce dont il parle au fond. Se maintenir en cet équilibre comme un scientifique maintiendrait le fil de son raisonnement, et ce jusqu’au point final, le seul du texte. Plaisir du langage (tempi, accents, volumes, adresses, silences, attaques, emphases, ajustements aux réactions de l’auditoire …).

Ready Mix

Boire et téléphoner du portable sur la table, je dis: “Allo Esther, t’es où? ”. C’est Esther qui répond, “pour de vrai” : Esther Salmona, l’auteur et partenaire. Elle est toujours dehors, il est toujours à peu près 20h22, mais les espaces qu’elle parcourt, les gens croisés varient chaque soir, devant, derrière, en haut, à côté d’elle, en marche, à l’intérieur d’un commerce, d’une cour… Sa parole nous transmet cela. La communication téléphonique est amplifée, l’habituel échange à deux voix dévoyé. Je me fais le vecteur de sa parole, mais mon oreille collée au combiné n’est pas qu’un prétexte, elle cherche à exprimer le paradoxe de la situation, à savoir la fabrication d’un temps commun mais pas au même endroit. Le comble d’un spectacle. Je lui pose parfois une question au nom de nous tous ici, qui sommes dedans – un “ dedans “ commun (la salle de la représentation) et un “ dedans “ séparé (l’imaginaire de chacun). Pour cela être au plus près de ma propre visualisation, intérieure et subjective. Sa voix et nos écoutes provoquent de courts déplacements de ma part, par ricochets. Enfin: “Et toi, t’es où? ” dit-elle,  je dis : “ Moi  je suis là “, et elle raccroche.

Il est remarquable que la plupart des spectateurs veulent croire à de la fiction, du pré-enregistré, malgré toutes les stratégies qu’on a imaginées pour rendre la situation du “direct” la plus claire ( paramètres de la prise de parole d’ E.Salmona, geste de la numérotation, téléphone cablé dès le début, interventions de ma part dans son flux, arrêt de la performance décidé par elle…) .

“ On se fait avoir ” , “ on se fait avoir mais on y croit ”,  “ on y croit donc on se fait avoir “, “ en fait on veut se faire avoir “… sous une forme plus ou moins anecdotique, les dispositifs de la convention théâtrale eux-mêmes sont interrogés. A l’issue de chaque représentation, propos infinis sur l’aptitude du faux, en tout cas de la fiction, à dire mieux le vrai, et qui mettent en relation l’ensemble des CdD.

Ministère de l’extérieur (deuxième partie)

La télé est rallumée par T.Fournier, bruits de tous qui se tournent vers le son et la lumière de l’écran. Je passe la main, confiante, à celui qui agit filmé, me place en périphérie. Rester aux aguets. La caméra s’est rapprochée, D. Beytelmann apparaît tout de suite en gros plan, sa parole est de moins en moins descriptive, mais très concrète, nourrie d’anecdotes. Il s’en fait le sujet et l’objet à la fois, quelque chose de poreux s’installe. Générosité. Le dispositif aménage un espace de résonance entre cette parole et, en puissance, celle de chaque spectateur. Ensemble d’écoutes. C’est le moment où les réactions, rires, sourires, interjections, sont les plus sonores. Mon étonnement est renouvelé chaque fois: je sens que cet homme à la télé est la fenêtre la plus ouverte sur le rapport de chacun entre son monde intérieur et l’extérieur, entre soi et l’autre. Boire.

A Domicile

Quand la télé s’éteind , une musique de film d’action retentit, laquelle on ne sait pas, LA musique de  TOUS les films d’action.S’approcher de la source sonore, un haut-parleur surlequel un ordinateur fait office de prompteur, lire au micro chaque ligne qui défile – viser du visage la webcam et en ignorer le mobile. Ce rôle, le style du texte de loi, la position physique penchée, la musique, le suspens et le danger et l’angoisse qu’elle dégage, laisser tout me monter au nez… ma propre voix se fait monstreuse quand j’actionne la barre d’espace, coller le micro devant l’enceinte, larsen, voilà c’est là que ça se passe, prendre du champ, les spectateurs me font de la place, se ruer sur l’enceinte à nouveau, hurler les mots qui me restent en mémoire: “ le siège d’une association ”, larsen, “ un local résevé à la vente “ , tomber, ramper, larsen, hurler, “ yacht de plaisance ” , c’est la guerre, dégoupiller le micro-grenade, T.Fournier se jette à terre pour rattraper la bonnette, je me relève essouflée, everything is under control, retour au poste, allez un dernier coup pour la route, larsen, je reprends mon calme et la lecture, respiration abdominale en contre-point pour adoucir la voix, jusqu’au silence.

Frost

Enclencher le programme de synthèse granulaire, déposer un MP3 au pied de la sculpture, puis le micro: je m’asseois là, curieuse. A proximité du micro chaque grain de polystyrène mu, frotté, égrené, produit un son: écouter l’histoire qui en émerge, qui change avec l’acoustique de chaque salle, le nombre et la disposition des spectateurs… Je laisse  tomber une main sur le bloc lui-même, écoute, le parcours doucement de la paume, des doigts, actionne le MP3 et on écoute Jean-François Robardet raconter une histoire qu’on lui a racontée. J’approche le micro du bloc, c’est une sonde, et le tout, un orchestre; au gré de la matière, des volumes, et des sons, je promène et de tout mon corps suis le micro, il s’agite, s’immobilise, s’éloigne, plonge dans… quoi? Un iceberg? Un building? La banquise? Une cité en ruine? L’oeil du cyclone? Le vent ? Un simple étui pour écran plasma? On écoute la fin de l’histoire de J-F.Robardet. Tenter la catastrophe, le volume maximal. Vertige d’échelles entre l’oeil et l’oreille. S’apaiser, partir, laisser le micro sur la sculpture. La résonance meurt lentement.

La Sentinelle

Ecouter le silence, puis laisser naître un nouvel espace fait de la lumière diffuse d’une projection vidéo, de mangoustes filmées, de leur environnement sonore, des mouvements et bruits des spectateurs qui reviennent de la “catastrophe”. Je m’y inscris à l’aide de l’ouïe et d’un sens “aveugle”, purement physique de l’espace, je ne regarde pas le film de Juliette Fontaine ni personne en particulier. En fonction des sons, positions et dispositions des spectateurs, je cherche où me mettre, là cet angle, cette jambe allongée, ce vide entre deux corps, le chambranle d’une fenêtre, ces tibias repliés, le bas du mur, ce coussin, la rangée de ces cuisses, cette épaule… Le corps trouve, reste jusqu’à ce qu’il commence à déposer son poids, jusqu’au début de la tranquilité, puis va chercher ailleurs, le contact avec les corps des spectateurs est plus ou moins chaud, plus ou moins prêt, rétif, surpris, tendre, figé, changeant, je capte de très près ce qui émane de l’heure passée ensemble, comme des ondes concentriques sur l’eau… La vidéo cesse, je reste , je perçois les lueurs de la télé qui marche sans son, l’accélération des pas de T.Fournier vers la sortie est mon seul signal pour partir.

Tournée dans des bibliothèques du Gard et du Vaucluse

Suite aux répétitions dans la salle de danse de La Chartreuse, nous nous sommes vite confrontés à des espaces aussi variés que les multiples “ coins lecture “ de chaque bibliothèque, un préau, une salle polyvalente isolée au milieu des vignes, le sous-sol d’un bâtiment à l’architecture moderne, une salle de concert, de réunion, de projection, une mezzanine, une église … Entretemps nous avons aussi joué à La Chartreuse. A cela on peut ajouter, bien en amont, les répétitions initiées en appartement. Ces allers-retours entre espace institutionnel, espaces publics, espaces privés, espaces assignés à une fonction, font partie du processus de création de CdD. Ils ont mis à l’épreuve les questionnements posés par le projet.

D’où la légèreté nécessaire, en terme de mobilité , du dispositif  à monter : le tout est contenu dans une voiture ( 3 personnes, costumes et décor), et dans une journée (installations, répétitions et représentation). Néanmoins c’est un défi car de nombreux paramètres sont en jeu pour une adaptation très rapide. En début d’après-midi il faut choisir un espace, le désenclaver de sa fonction, s’y installer, penser le rapport aux spectateurs le plus juste sans être jamais sûrs d’une jauge précise, travailler au bon fonctionnement indispensable  de l’antenne télé, du réseau téléphonique. Il me reste entre une heure et quinze minutes pour m’ajuster à l’espace , à la lumière et à l’acoustique, ajustements qui, de fait, se poursuivent au fil de la représentation, en fonction du nombre des spectateurs, et d’un environnement qui est doublement agissant car nouveau. Ajustements dont j’ai fait le fondement de mon interprétation: je n’ai pas de marques dans l’espace, mais l’expérience en moi d’un équilibre d’ensemble, l’ouïe est mon principal guide, et la sensation, presque animale, de la place et de l’écoute des spectateurs.

Jouer “ à l’extérieur “ implique une relation spécifique aux spectateurs, pas seulement scéniquement. Il n’y a pas d’espace séparé, comme dans un théâtre, la porte d’entrée peut donner sur l’aire de jeu, les angles de visibilité peuvent être très différents, par l’appropriation d’un espace “ extérieur ” nous proposons à des usagers de se faire spectateurs. Nous invitons ces spectateurs à apporter la dernière pierre au dispositif de CdD. Ils s’y sont plus ou moins préparés, mais la représentation est toujours suivie d’un échange, sous une forme ou sous une autre, ne serait-ce que dans la mesure où notre temps ne s’arrête pas là, il y a encore le démontage. En fait, ces moments d’échanges sont un réel prolongement à la représentation. C’est le moment des questions, qui sont exactement nos moyens de construction, souvent ça a lieu autour d’un pot ou d’un repas. A la collectivité créée par une représentation s’articule instantanément celle de la vie quotidienne…ou comment créer un espace propice et renouvelé à la parole.

Outside Lectures / Thierry Fournier

Outside lectures is a series of seven performances for general installation, each of them deals with the notion of “outside” from different angles. The concept is broad, and I have often listened to proposed alternatives for a more concrete qualification, yet I am attached to this vacancy, this openness. I am also attached to the fact that it is by experiencing them that these seven performances that with very different situations (be they political, intimate, collective, fictional or media-related) outline a landscape, an idea, a proposal.

The relationship between inside and outside, the notion of access (to wealth, to borders, to representation, to work, to speech) cuts across all contemporary situations; it concerns both the political and the intimate. Generalized economic liberalism no longer allows anyone to live outside of its logic. The only remaining possibility is measured involvement from States and individuals—resistance, according to some. This system is increasingly grounded in the notion of access which has gradually replaced the concept of property as a divisive issue. “The logic of access is now considered to be the door that opens onto progress and personal accomplishment. It represents to today’s generations what represented to those before them.” The  direct consequence of this “world without outside,” paradoxically, is that the very notion of an outside has become all encompassing and fractal, which is to say constant on all scales. It simultaneously refers to relationships between individuals and their surroundings, their history and society; to fictions, myths and fantasies disseminated by the collective imaginary; to state political matters: globalization, policy and debates around immigration, the hang-ups and consequences of colonialism, etc. I have chosen to address this question with a deliberately limited proposal that, forgoing the question’s scope, allows us to seize upon its tendency to multiply and cross through a variety of fields: political, fictional and intimate.

All of these performances develop a relationship with the outside, spreading it out by way of a specific apparatus and form of writing. If they were stories, they would call on different voices: some would try to come inside, others would defend or test borders, would describe it from without, and others still would defend a territory or would have recently disappeared… The whole thing is carried by the same performer, Emmanuelle Lafon, an actress who agreed to go along with a project exploring the limits of visual arts, performance and theater.

The apparatus is minimal and mobile: television, conference table, amplifier, laptop, polystyrene… Given the lightness of this system each of the performances can be independently worked on, developed and presented—I’ll come back to this in reference to repetition and representation.

One of the aims of Lectures was also to take over spaces whose quality and location also questioned the concept of “outside” : public places, schools, exteriors, residual theater spaces, apartments, … Each of these spaces is called upon in its ability to become a space of temporary representation. The performance’s form is thus defined at the last moment, according to the host space: quickly taking into account a given location’s characteristics, the system’s flexibility means it can be set up mere hours before the show takes place.

The performer negotiates the part of lecturer or mediator as well as actor, testing these changing roles: distance, immersion, interpretation, lecture, commentary. The spectators share the same space. The “outside” regularly intervenes: through television, sound, and the set-up itself.

Lectures is grounded in a curatorial principle. With the exception of one episode working with the flow of televized data in real-time, each episode calls on an artist or author who I have invited to participate in the writing process. The current list of sequences is a starting point, which is up for revision as these collaborations progress. No order is set, and all titles are provisional. In collaboration with the creative development team, the location (or locations) that host the performances could thus alter the project’s two operating levels: the choice and number of sequences that will be worked on and/or presented, and the performance site (or sites); a single space, or a journey, whether interior or exterior.

This project is part of a process of inquiry into the possible connections between art projects and live performance, particularly concerning the changes in the performer and public’s respective roles: spectator involvement, interactive systems, procedural writing. Lectures calls on codes from the visual arts and theater (narratives, systems, actors, performance time and place), et questions them in relation to the “outside”: varied source materials, heterogeneous empowerment, non-stage spaces, spectator involvement.


[1] Jeremy Rifkin, The Age of Access, The New Culture of Hypercapitalism, Where all of Life is a Paid-For Experience, Tarcher, 2001

Outside Lectures / Franck Bauchard

To develop library awareness of the recent inquiries of the Centre National des Ecritures du Spectacle (National Center for Stage and Theater Writing), to give an idea of what a stage at the forefront of today’s arts and technologies would be to territories directly concerned by the transformation of writing and reading. Such were our objectives when programming Outside lectures in the Gard and Vaucluse departments.

With a practice at the intersection of the visual arts, sound production and theater, and in collaboration with different artists, Thierry Fournier explores the question of writing in an unusual way for theater: with Outside lectures he offers a writing of the arrangement via materials taken from our political, technological and media surroundings. A light and mobile form that was developed to go right up to its audience, flexible and adaptable to all sorts of spaces found in libraries, and likely to provoke discussions and debates.

With the use of composite and ordinary materials—from television to cellular telephony, ministerial circulars to mongeese—so often expunged from the theater stage and through the role and presence of Emmanuelle Lafon, Outside lectures hooks up various recording devices to fragments of reality within one common space. The performances’ unity is woven from a common thread of inquiry: the question of access, or more precisely a range of scenarios dealing with “crossing” that demarcate inside and outside.

The only way to account for our technology environment, which has substituted nature for all intents and purposes, is to select fragments, juxtapose them, and have them commentate one another. The materials exist as such, yet are caught up in a new composition that both includes and surpasses them; they resonate and create new constellations of meaning. Outside lectures functions as follows: it is a non-linear, caustic, and sometimes abrupt account of the world through either live or pre-recorded devices, each conceived of to undermine political, technological or media-related levels of reality all rendered inconspicuous through daily usage. A reality of exclusion, surveillance and enclosure hides beneath the promise of access for all.

This art of writing for the stage requires its own reading modalities. Otherwise put: this creative process produces a new relationship between work and spectator. It is difficult to apprehend according to habitual judgement criteria, which, incidentally, it generally ignores or puts into perspective. It is presented as a crossing, a sensitive, poetic and cognitive experience that requires the spectator to make their way by free association between the proposed materials. On this particular level, Outside lectures sometimes intrigued spectators, even upsetting them. Yet it also created some magical moments where you felt a sort of public consciousness was gradually forming, an almost tangible clustering of questions, curiosities and perceptions on site.

When I think of Outside lectures, I think of a vigil around a fireplace that would both warm us up and enlighten us: a small assembly of spectators giving themselves over to the collective understanding of a world that was only more opaque for trying to become visible, where each and everyone’s participation was tested in the search for shared meaning.

I wish here to thank all of this adventure’s protagonists: first of all, the librarians who played this game with such enthusiasm, the Gard and Vaucluse departments who made it possible, and of course Thierry Fournier and Emmanuelle Lafon who crossed both departments recreating a space in each library where Outside lectures could be heard.

Franck Bauchard
Assistant-Director of la Chartreuse
Director of Centre National des Ecritures du Spectacle
January 2009

Foreign Office / David Beytelmann

David Beytelmann

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See also the performance page: Foreign Office

May Thierry forgive me, for not having managed to write a fully theoretical piece that does justice to his hopes for Outside Lectures. I’ve given into the charms of semi-autobiographical fiction and am wading in narrativity; this is no way to practice philosophy.

When Thierry Fournier first asked me to conduct the interviews that the scenes from Outside Lectures are taken from, I must admit that I hardly saw myself in the role of the witness, and much less in the role of someone having a human experience to meaningfully recount, of which the general or universal import, in being inextricably individual, would be the very dignity—the substance calling on speech.

The idea was to speak simply and express how I perceived certain situations, to describe my perception of a problem, because I had already described them and because he felt my opinions were interesting for this particular work. One of the most striking experiences of my life—and I’d told Thierry about it—was working for a cleaning company (I would recommend this experience to all apprentice philosophers in between two takes of Das Kapital tome I). There I learnt, both socially and bodily, what it means to be what I call “an invisible person” (the guy who comes to vacuum and clean the toilets, and who is often a woman). It’s banal and everyday, but nobody seeas you, everybody averts their eyes, nobody dares speak to you, all conversations, all social situations, everything is beyond you. One becomes a mere spectatorly conduit of social interaction, not “somebody.” All the more so for those working nights in the subway network. I’ve made it a matter of pride to say “Good evening, sir.” Social life evolves according to this invisible limit deciding if you exist or if you don’t; you’re there but you’re just utterly irrelevant. No one has anything to say to you, there’s just the need to communicate what you have to do. Instrumentum vocalis.

My job was to clean three floors of an office block as quickly as I could, in other words before 7.30am (I arrived at 5am by bicycle, as this was when the guards changed shift) “to avoid seeing the employees when they would begin to arrive,” said my supervisor. What was interesting, in this experience, was the aftertaste of serfdom it left; it’s a totally and utterly disembodied socio-economic relationship, and it’s accepted as such. Nobody feels the need to address you with the norms and modes of typical face-to-face interaction. Nobody will say to you: “Hello, excuse me, where has the coffee been put?” Instead they’ll say “where’s the coffee at?” This brief description is of course clumsy, given our more or less general awareness of the mild manneredness that maintains the pecking order. Here, however, I simply point to how naturally we inhabit this mode. One of the projects vindicating me and that I shall perhaps never accomplish is to account for the experience of cleaning workers, a manner of speaking the conflict created by being necessary to the reproduction of material life and yet allthewhile treated like dirt, like nothing. This is also and far too often an experience that only affects “immigrant workers.” I’m not quite sure how, but I would like to explore this experience, almost like an homage to to those anonymous souls having to turn the crank on part of the capitalist merry-go-round. An image from Patrice Chéreau’s 1981 production of Don Giovanni at the Théâtre du Châtelet comes to mind: while the action is taking place on stage, large teams of workers labor away, barely taking in what’s happening before them, as if absorbed in an all-consuming and never-ending task. During this time, those in power bustle about and have the time to wonder wistfully about whether they’ll get an erection or not. It seems to me that there’s a kind of ironic note to the fact that the cleaning sector operates under this same dynamic, and that the current French president won an election by campaigning on a theme dear to the extreme right: “national identity.”

But to return to these experiences… sure, well, yes, but I got out of it. It was a passing moment. Not my social destiny, I’m petit bourgeois. I’ve gone to university. There are many people, every day, who continue to survive in these conditions, they have neither face nor voice, their experience remains silent and mine has been a passing moment, I cannot manage to be their voice. These are some of the things that came to mind when Thierry asked me to speak in front of the camera.

But despite this, I could see myself speaking about what Thierry thought to ask me to recount. I think that this is because I trust him, out of affection and politics of a sort, and out of the understanding and affinities we share. He had previously let me know and so I already had an idea of what he was interested in, of what he’d been thinking about. We’d already exchanged a fair bit about political, personal or family stories, about minor events whose meaning is unavoidably political yet, paradoxically, only declared in the dramas of privacy. I’ve got to admit, it all begins with short anecdotes, around a table, a café, in the middle of a conversation, like when you associate a sound or smell to something that stops you dead, listening to a great piece of music in your apartment, watching the streets of Paris unfurl indifferently out your window. Yet the material of life-been-lived, the thickness of words put to describing experiences, seemed also quite intimidating to me. I felt something akin to uneasiness, embarrassment—this may ring a little false like false modesty, but it’s true.

In fact, I’m tormented by those folk that have “really lived something.” It begins early on in life, like when you’re told as a kid that your great grandfather saw half of his family knifed to death by porgromists and then left to Paris on foot. In this sentence, the person telling you the story emphasizes the words “on foot.” The same guy (his name was Aaron) sets up in the Marais area of Paris, learns a trade and becomes a tailor and, after great effort, manages to send for his wife, in the Ukraine until then. She settles down with him, but soon falls ill, she has to be sent to hospital, until one fine day when Aaron receives a letter informing him he can go pick up his wife (I wasn’t told what her name was). So he buys the finest cloth and makes a beautiful dress for her. But when he goes to the hospital to pick her up, he is told—or rather he’s made aware—that she’s dead, that he has to retrieve her body. In the only photograph we have of him, Aaron is serious with a Sicilian-style mustache. He has strong a jaw line and a sad look in his eyes; they’re outlined with kohl.

The moral of this story is that when you’re an immigrant, it’s better to learn the local language. (I’d add that failing having been able to enroll in the public school system, Aaron should have had a dictionary of administrative French on hand). My grandfather told me all of this and I’d like to make the most of this space to add that the bastard didn’t want to pass on Yiddish to me, because he was ashamed, and because evidently the emotional thickness of language does indeed exist.

But beyond the weight of such stories, I think it’s because I read too many personal accounts, too many narratives, because I listened to too many incredible words. Shmerke Kaczerginski and his I was a partisan (his memoirs as a jewish partisan in the soviet forests), Marek Edelman, the autobiographical texts of Jean-Pierre Vernant, Geronimo’s Memoirs, Hersh Mendel, the incredible Biografia de un cimarrón, Frederick Douglas or Booker T Washington, Joseph Dietzgen, Che Guevera, etc… the heroes’ hall is endless but retains a strange permanence, like the bent out goal posts of a football field long abandoned yet always taken up anew and trodden on by generations of players. I believe this is a permanence known to those readers who were taken off as children into the worlds and stories of Jack London. The merits of this secret epic can also have indescribable features, revealed in those almost anonymous encounters that we sometimes have. To this day, I can still recall a café in Buenos Aires, Avenida de Mayo, where exiled republicans would meet to talk and play cards. I remember that at the far end of the room they’d hung a Spanish republican flag (red-yellow-purple for those don’t know it). They would fight as they recounted the Battle of the Ebro. I remember one old guy who, extremely moved, told me: “You know, I killed someone back there. I saw him and I pulled the trigger. I heard him scream and I saw him fall slowly. He was just another unlucky guy like me. I still dream of him at night, I see his hand twisting on impact, like this. I was 16 years old.”

That’s some of the impossible tone that I’ll never correspond to, and that will always escape me. But I realize afterwards, and it’s the strength of the work Thierry made of me in some ways, his maieutics, that I still had something to say that was worth being shared. There’s no mystery to it, and I don’t think Thierry will hold it against me if I reveal the hidden secret of our interviews, but we laughed a lot about often tragic things.

I might be wrong, but I think that it’s from this experience, that I told him of, that the idea came about to speak of the inside/outside border through pieces of wallpaper coming off an old wall. I’m personally amazed by what he managed to do, the way in which managed to incorporate these ideas around a maté (seen briefly on the table), and I am also surprised by the depth that the problem of language takes with this question of ones’ emotional relationship to space and time as revealed through the migrant experience. I feel that it’s by speaking with Thierry, by trying to formulate what could unite a shattered experience, that I came to express a feeling which has followed me since childhood and which I had never quite found the words for. It’s the idea that you never really fit into the drawer. There’s always a leg or an arm sticking out (cf. “national identity”). Whether chance events or existential perspective, part of you is always foreign, outside, and strenuously resisting “national identity” which, after all, is just verbal lunacy: in Argentina, Argentinian but jewish; jew amongst jews, but with a mixed family, with the Irish, the Basques and the Indians; among jews, an internationalist, a cosmopolitan, not a zionist (which is to say nationalist); at school in Argentina, son of an exiled commie, under a military dictatorship at once catholic fundamentalist, anticommunist, Maurras- or Franco-styled nationalist; in France, a run-of-the-mill Latino (with all that goes with it)… etc. The list could go on, with various situations; you can see how certain “identity frameworks” seem to switch on, beyond your control, and with independent impunity, affecting speech and bodily characteristics.

For a long time, I wondered why it was that I had never managed to find the way to express, beyond mere theory, how much these various elements I’ve just spoken about formed an unstable whole. What I mean by this is that the political program of the nationalist normalization of social life consists precisely in destroying the categories of expression of these particular situations in order to slot them into an framework of experience that is prefabricated by a political discourse in which identities must be stable. Just like with the issue of national identity.

The fragment of Outside Lectures that I appear in bears a title: “Foreign Office.” I think the title’s basis is well justified: we spoke and laughed for hours when I recounted by anecdotes about the administration, and particularly my residency visa.

David Beytelmann
Paris, February 2009

Sentinel – Juliette Fontaine

Juliette Fontaine, 2009

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« Nous n’aimons guère considérer les animaux que nous avons transformés en esclaves comme nos égaux »
(Charles Darwin)

Notre relation à l’animal a changé profondément, et inéluctablement. Cette modification questionne notre rapport au monde, lui aussi modifié. Les traces de cette modification vont bien au-delà de la domestication de l’animal par l’homme et de toutes autres exploitations violentes du monde animal. Par ailleurs, poser la question de l’animal engage une pensée de ce que veut dire vivre, parler, mourir, être au monde, c’est un profond questionnement de ce que Derrida appelle successivement « être-dans-le-monde, être-au-monde, être-avec, être-après, être-suivi et être-suivant ». Penser la question de l’animal élargit la pensée que nous pouvons avoir du monde, et de notre rapport avec lui.

Le mot sentinelle a une étymologie latine éloquente, au-delà de son sens militaire. Le mot vient du verbe sentire qui signifie « percevoir par les sens ». Le titre convoque un des éléments importants du projet, la notion d’Umwelt, un environnement perceptif, ce monde vécu par l’animal étudié par Jacob Von Uexhüll, car dans l’immense diversité de la nature, chaque animal a son propre monde plus restreint. Ce monde est un monde de signaux, signaux que l’animal capte avec son système sensoriel particulier, signaux auxquels il réagit. De plus, le mot est au singulier alors que le film met en présence deux bêtes. Par là, il devient la qualification d’un symptôme ou d’un état : l’être-sentinelle. Il souligne un comportement stigmatisé par l’enfermement, la captivité d’un zoo, rendant à peu près identiques les deux animaux du couple, deux clones muselés, qui, pour cette fois-là, nous révèlent une première version, 1.0, de cette charge que l’on donne communément aux soldats, de faire le guet. Ce sens suggéré est bien sûr symbolique, une sorte d’allégorie d’un état de guerre possible, plus largement d’une menace, d’une situation périlleuse, inquiétante. De même, la formulation 1.0 met en évidence que le couple des deux carnivores constitue lui-même un dispositif qui produit une protection mais aussi une surveillance. Tout comme deux soldats en faction qui, pour reprendre l’étymologie militaire du terme sentinelle, protègent un territoire et peuvent être amener à le défendre par une stratégie offensive.

Le choix de l’animal est important : ce n’est pas un singe ou un primate, le symbole aurait été trop fort et aurait réduit le sens de la proposition. Mais la mangouste se dresse sur ses pattes, elle sait la station debout, elle est en devenir-bipède. Elle peut regarder plus loin, observer à l’horizon l’apparition inattendue d’un danger, ou celle de sa nourriture. Cette question du regard rehaussé, élargi, nous rappelle aussi le « partage du visible entre les créatures du monde » (Jean-Christophe Bailly) qui est un des points de départ de ce travail. Le monde est regardé par d’autres êtres que les hommes, qui ne sont qu’un fragment d’une vaste unicité du vivant.

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Sentinelle 1.0 est le plan fixe d’un couple de mangoustes mis en boucle cinq fois. Il s’agissait tout d’abord de filmer l’animal comme le définit Gilles Deleuze : « l’être aux aguets », l’être qui émet des signes et qui réagit à des signes. L’animal est sauvage mais, même si volontairement aucun indice d’enfermement n’est visible à l’image, il est dans un zoo. Les mangoustes réagissent donc à des signes sonores qui ne sont pas issus de leur environnement naturel : le grondement sourd et lointain du métro parisien, le murmure urbain, le gloussement étrange d’un autre animal du zoo, les ricanements stridents de corneilles qui se disputent le territoire d’un arbre à proximité, les piaillements beaucoup plus discrets de moineaux. L’animal nerveux à l’affût, intranquille, se dresse, regarde de tous côtés, s’assoie gardant relevée une de ses pattes avant frémissante. Elle semble vouloir fuir ou se protéger à tout moment d’un prédateur potentiel. Puis la deuxième mangouste entre dans l’image. Elle rejoint l’autre, tourne sur elle-même pour s’asseoir à son tour, touche de sa queue touffue la queue de l’autre bête, tourne sur elle-même une seconde fois en repoussant doucement son compagnon qui quitte l’image. Elle a pris la relève de la garde du territoire. Le territoire est un sol de pierres et de sable blanc, une métaphore visuelle de la neige en pleine nature. Cette part de désert a été circonscrit et imposé par l’homme, même si le mammifère semble dans son comportement manifester tout son être réactif, instinctif. Un seul signe pourtant de déviance : tourner sur soi-même avant de s’asseoir, tourner en rond comme le fauve dans sa cage, comme l’homme dit fou répétant un geste compulsif, ruminant inlassablement une ritournelle. Le plan mis en boucle cinq fois vient souligner ce trouble.

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J’ai longuement observé le déplacement de ces deux viverridés dans leur territoire contraint pour choisir le cadre de l’image, lui conférant un sens précis : entrer et sortir d’une image comme d’un territoire. Au cours de mon observation, j’ai d’abord été stupéfaite par leur « chorégraphie » écrite, presque ritualisée comme on ritualise dans un espace dans lequel on n’est pas chez soi, pour inscrire ses repères, même si cette image reste anthropocentriste. Puis, à un moment, ce que je regardais m’a mise mal à l’aise. La répétition obsédante de cette « danse » élégante dans les mouvements et les déplacements m’a paru désolante. Elle m’évoque clairement aujourd’hui quelque chose de la survie, et de la survivance.

De la survivance d’un instinct malgré la perte du territoire natif, la délocalisation forcée. Si toutefois, ce comportement est peut-être le vestige d’un langage, ou d’un code gestuel entre les deux bêtes, que reste-t-il vraiment de l’instinct à un animal sauvage enfermé dans un zoo, dans un constant contact avec l’animal politique qu’est l’homme ? Et dans cette réclusion, lorsqu’il arrive que l’animal croise le regard de l’homme, comment perçoit-il ce dernier ? Comme un prédateur possible ? Un être étrange, imprévisible, déréglé ? Quel regard porte-t-il sur ce dernier ? Car je crois, comme l’écrit Jacques Derrida, que l’animal qui me regarde a un point de vue sur moi.

L’animal a été sur terre avant l’homme, il s’en souvient. Il me semble que l’on peut percevoir cet avant quand on rencontre le regard d’une bête, ce qui crée un trouble étrange, difficile à expliquer, comme si devant cette sorte mémoire archaïque, la bête nous « rappelait » que nous descendions Cialis d’elle, que ce qui nous différencie d’elle n’est qu’une question de degré. En filmant avec attention les deux mammifères, même s’il n’y a pas eu vraiment d’échange de regard, j’ai ressenti très fortement être en face de cet avant, de cette précédence. C’est pour cette raison que j’ai filmé volontairement sans pied. De cette manière, mon corps qui portait la caméra était le prolongement de mon propre regard, avec les ondulations ténues des mouvements de ma respiration. Autrement dit, ce fut un face à face, paisiblement déroutant, augurant, naïvement peut-être, la possibilité d’une rencontre. Le cadre de l’image, qui est aussi un regard, a été pensé à l’amont, de manière à ce que lorsque l’une des deux mangoustes se dresse, elle apparaisse au milieu de l’image, et qu’elle sorte de l’image lors de la relève de l’autre sentinelle. Mais l’image a été recadrée par la suite pour le bouclage, pour que la « soudure » soit quasiment invisible, en d’autres termes, pour que la relève de la deuxième bête se fasse au même endroit que l’apparition de la première au début du rush. Cet aspect du travail est important. Si dès le départ, j’ai voulu ne pas montrer à l’image des signes de la captivité (barreaux, encadrement délimité de l’espace…), le bouclage recrée un enferment et une mise à distance. Ceci pour éviter tout d’abord l’empathie et sa contagion, pour objectiver ce qui se joue à l’image, mais aussi, en manipulant la répétitivité de l’animal, en l’instrumentalisant comme une machine, un mécanisme, la vidéo devient un dispositif de jeu de pouvoir, comme les autres dispositifs de Conférences du dehors. Le public qui regarde, espérant peut-être un croisement de regard avec les animaux, devient également l’humain qui a enfermé la bête.

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L’homme a perdu une intimité avec le monde animal comme la perte d’une provenance, d’une souche. Malgré cette rupture, il demeure un côtoiement possible. Ce côtoiement est l’expérience d’un seuil, d’un lien ténu mais survivant. « L’intimité perdue est indiquée par un seuil où la perte s’inaugure ». Ce seuil est évoqué par la projection du film en boucle sur un mur de l’espace. C’est une fenêtre sur un dehors mais c’est aussi un espace autre, inaccessible, dans lequel on ne peut pas rentrer physiquement. Durant la projection, la comédienne se déplace dans la salle au milieu des spectateurs, comme cherchant son propre territoire ou un refuge dans cet intérieur qu’elle partage avec eux. Deux espaces se frôlent à distance. Car s’il y a encore côtoiement, il y a une fracture, une limite abyssale entre l’homme et l’animal. Cette frontière n’est pas une et indivisible, mais elle est multiforme. Elle ne peut être dessinée, tracée. Elle ne peut donc être objectivée. L’ignorance de la vidéo par la comédienne est une nouvelle fois importante car regarder les mangoustes projetées dans l’espace aurait annulé la complexité de la frontière entre les deux territoires.

Cette tension entre les deux espaces (la vidéo et la salle de représentation) met en évidence la survivance de ce côtoiement avec l’animal, voisinage complexe fait d’évitements, de dissimulation et de méfiance réciproques, et non plus de continuité homogène. Par ailleurs, s’il n’y a pas d’échange de regard entre l’animal filmé et la comédienne, c’est aussi pour une autre raison. Si comme l’écrivait Nietzsche, l’homme est un animal indéterminé, l’animal devient l’Autre absolu, allogène, inconsolé d’un monde sauvage perdu et autrefois partagé paisiblement avec l’homme. Lorsque Derrida parle du regard de l’animal sur l’être humain, il écrit que son point de vue sur l’homme est celui de l’Autre absolu. Cet Autre absolu est peut-être une rencontre impossible, même s’il éveille justement le désir d’aller à sa rencontre – le désir n’est-il pas en soi ce qui tend vers tout autre chose, vers l’absolument autre, nous mettant en rapport avec l’invisible, c’est à dire avec ce dont on n’a pas idée ?

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La posture choisie selon laquelle la comédienne ne tourne jamais son regard vers les animaux filmés, ignorant totalement la projection durant ses déplacements, soulève cette question de l’altérité. Elle se déplace parmi les autres, pose sa tête sur l’épaule d’autrui, s’appuie sur celle ou celui qui lui est étranger. De plus, l’autre est celui avec lequel on partage, on agence un territoire, dans lequel on dessine des limites. Les déplacements dans le public de la comédienne sont ambivalents, car si elle recherche un refuge dans l’espace, elle le contrôle aussi, tout comme elle choisit de s’allonger près d’une personne en imposant la proximité de sa présence, de son corps. On retrouve cette ambiguïté dans la projection du film Sentinelle 1.0, car l’ignorance des regards est réciproque, les animaux ne regardent pas la caméra, et par extension ne regardent ni la comédienne manifestant son indifférence à leur égard, ni le public qui les regarde. Ce dehors qu’ils surveillent, qu’ils traquent est une partie du zoo, mais c’est aussi l’espace de la représentation.

Parce qu’il tend à disparaître de la surface de la terre, « par rapport à cette direction qui semble inéluctable, tout animal est un commencement, un enclenchement, un point d’animation et d’intensité, une résistance ». Autour de la question centrale de l’accès, le projet de Conférences du dehors parle également de résistance. Celle autant d’un positionnement politique (Ministère de l’intérieur de David Beytelman, A domicile de Thierry Fournier), que celle purement physique d’une performance dans laquelle le corps éprouve ses limites, se met en risque. L’espace de la représentation, un espace physique, devient un espace politique, ce dans quoi la question du pouvoir autoritaire se pose et se joue.

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Notre monde est un enchevêtrement à la fois de plus en plus complexe et de plus en plus cloisonné, compartimenté ; comme l’évoque David Beytelman dans ses entretiens, il faut pouvoir rentrer dans un des tirroirs fabriqués par la société capitaliste. Dans cet entrelacement, de plus en plus d’hommes luttent pour survivre et deviennent invisibles. Il y a cette nudité cruelle dans La Bonne Distance de Noëlle Renaude, jusqu’à l’abandon des forces (Frost de Thierry Fournier et Jean-François Robardet) où l’homme se suicide en se rendant à la puissance de la nature. Dans cette continuité, Sentinelle 1.0 réintroduit l’animal dans tous ces mondes humains, résistant et luttant lui aussi contre sa propre disparition.

Testing the space

Juliette Fontaine, catalogue Step to step, Rennes College of arts, 2009.

In many of Thierry Fournier’s interactive installations, space is not so much a site as it is a material. Time and time again, engaging with one of his apparatuses means penetrating a singular if not peculiar audio material. The sound always retains a strong physical presence, it is almost organic, if not erotic (Electric Bodyland, Siren). The visitor’s movement through this space modulates the sound which is then “sculpted” by their presence.

In Step to Step, the visitor does not navigate a musical piece like in Electric Bodyland, nor do they insinuate themselves into the dark matter of troubling, animal sounds that constitute Feedbackroom, once again, however, experience space. Wrapped in darkness, the installation is presents a white block on the ground in front of a life-size video coach giving a step class. This face to face, the symmetry between step and block and stepping class, all of it encourages us to explore the set-up. Setting down your foot or climbing onto the block instantly slow down the music, the coach’s movements and his voice, as if kneaded by clay yet still comprehensible. Yet your control over the image is but a passing impression; as if through a conditioned response, visitors inevitably mimic the screen becoming manipulated by it in turn. It’s no longer clear who is biting and who is being bit—who is aping whom? This is the installation’s humorous side: the impossibility of imitation turns into an absurd and farcical game founded on denial, recalling the singular antics of Buster Keaton. In this way and with intelligent irony, the question who has a hold on whom is constantly replayed through role inversion.

Putting the spectator into play is worth remarking upon because he must cross the space, go to the middle of it, and climb onto a block. In other words, you’re asked to expose yourself. Staying away from the apparatus would deprive you of this particular experience of the work. You have to explore the piece, undergo the slightly upsetting experience of forgoing the reassuring familiarity of privacy,  the security and invisibility of self-effacement, and then enter into an exposed and collective space. Furthermore, each spectator is prompted to encounter their connections with the space, but also the otherness of fellow spectators and the coach, particularly since the latter is a projected image rather than a tangible body. Indeed, the body is focal point of the other’s gaze in this configuration of mutual acknowledgement. There are other ways that the installation raises these questions of the other and the gaze. The block that the spectator stands on is opposite the projection: face-to-face, step-to-step, and, ultimately, peer-to-peer. In his patent absence, the coach looks at the spectator; combining energy with gregariousness, he addresses, signals, and shouts at them. The mirror effect is almost flawless: the coach’s “step” and the one within the space are exactly the same size, and the coach’s distance from the frame is identical to our own. The image could be our own reflection—except that we’re face to face with another.

In Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel writes : “The now is precisely what no longer is when it is.” If we take this sentence to be an enlightened axiom, it becomes a striking aporia that creates a vast field of inquiry. And yet the territory it plots out is ultimately akin to an uninhabited clearing: a rich albeit overgrown garden, but one that, from certain angles, is utterly barren. The initial remark will not yield: the present is unsolvable. Testing present time, or better yet trying to formulate it, is like catching fish in the river with your bare hands. With Step to Step, we experience space-time empirically: it is inconstant, slippery and fundamentally indeterminate, improbable. Rebellious and subversive, space-time forming both immediate and imaginary time in a troubling relationship between the present and the presence of the body. My body is in the present moment, both what does it experience in this moment, what does it perceive through intelligence and feelings—both inevitably intertwined—and what will my body retain of this always already former present? The last aspect of this question underlies the installation as it purposefully submerges its spectators in pure present: standing on a block, their bodies move in front of another projected, moving body. Yet the distance and detachment necessary for this observation only comes from stepping out of the installation. This uncertain concurrence is established in the impossible imitation of the coach’s movement. The present therefore feels like an instant fleeing our feelings’ very present. Sébastien Le Gall’s image becomes the perpetual vanishing point for an unreachable horizon.

Though very different, the installation See you offered an equally unsettling experience of time. Through this installation’s startling temporal shift, our bodies—constant witnesses to the here and now—observed the goings on of the exact same location with a 24 hour delay. However Step to step produces a contradictory impression of present time: it exists only in as much as it rescinds itself. The metaphor which sees the present as the only point on a curve that we can intersect becomes a tangible experience, a brutal reality confirmed by the installation set-up. The weight of the body on the block slows down the image until it almost freezes it, yet it never quite stops : ever-elusive, ever-escaping, we either give up on grasping (at) it or we freeze it and are left powerless to experience and so to describe the standstill.

Juliette Fontaine

Interview – Paris-Art, June 2008

Interview by Evelyne Bennati for Paris-Art.com, June 2008. Edited to add the links of the works.

EB : The Cube Festival, held at Issy-les-Moulineaux between the 3rd and the 8th of June, gave us the opportunity to see See you, a work which was produced by the festival.

TF : Indeed, the piece was created within the framework of The Cube Festival. In part, the idea for <See you stemmed from the context of this urban-driven festival. The question of where a work is displayed and experienced is very important to me; I feel there’s a lot of work to do on this front. Furthermore, Carine Le Malet (programming coordinator and festival coordinator for The Cube) and I had discussed urban displays as a possible exhibition form throughout the festival. Lastly, I have been working with temporality for a long time now, in terms of the interaction between spectators and their experience of a particular piece. These three things intermingled very early on, grounding this extremely radical project. I even went through an initial stage where there was no shift in temporality whatsoever.

Could you start by describing the piece?

See You is an urban video display whose screens show the view behind the monitor—but with a 24 hour delay. The goal was to retain the display’s traditional status as an urban device typically used for advertising. However, while preserving the display’s appearance, its position on the street, and all the other usual variables, it becomes emptied of its representation, drained in a sense, and replaced by pure temporality.

We chose the piece’s location very quickly, within a pedestrian space at Issy-les-Moulineaux. When on site, I experienced a kind of constant interplay, a palpable tension—people were examining the image, trying to understand what it was about. This was what I was really interested in, as well as the question of temporality. The whole thing also references 1970s systems called “closed circuits”, except that here the circuit can never be closed because of the 24 hour delay that separates the recording and display phases. This inability to close the circuit produces the range of possible interactions between spectator and image.

The piece made me think of wormholes in space, those theoretical passageways in the fabric of space-time related to folds in the structure and properties of matter. Were you thinking about this?

I’ve been interested in these questions for some time now. Though I don’t explore this field literally in my work, everything to do with the theory of time, such as expanding matter, is not only of great interest to me, but highly pertinent to my work. I was trained in the sciences, I am an architect, I have a developed dialogue with mathematics. The definitions of time and of space are central to my work.

By retaining this urban signage while drawing our attention to what we don’t usually see, you also raise the question of our relationship to the image. It’s like a transfiguration of banality. Passers by ask themselves what there is to see, in this game and mise en abyme, because they’re being filmed while looking at the work.

See you is a work in which space reveals time, and vice-versa. This utterly banal framework shows something akin to temporality. Indeed, time is the only thing that’s actually expressed—which is no easy task. Banality, of a fashion, must be produced, allowing for a fresh take on a banal image. Time reveals the image and the image reveals time in a reversible movement. It’s a sort of constant back and forth between the banality of this framework and this temporality, which calls for a different take on an image that’s usually produced for advertising. And yet advertising shows promises us what will be; it raises the question of access. In a way, this concept works the other way round here. See you thus links up with another piece, Outside lectures, in both a subversive and very personal manner.

Advertising is static, it’s a permanent image, even if it does provoke desire. See you is an opening, it creates a gap that makes us think in three dimensions.

In four dimensions: there’s depth and there’s time with this piece; it creates a sort of “temporal depth”, the coexistence of two different temporalities.

See you draws people to a halt. In this way, you really notice how much we’re moulded by the urban environment: there’s a display over there, there must be something to see. But there’s a need for an explanation, we’re not expected to pick up on the difference in temporality.

Yes and no. In keeping with a committed personal practice, I did not want an explanation to figure on the display itself, yet this was not the festival’s curatorial policy. I’m extremely committed to the idea that works of art are not accompanied by an instructions manual. For its spectators, the very nature of the questions raised by a work can vary depending on which path is taken. I do not want the process to be explained before it can be experienced. The way a work is received and kinds of connections made can be infinitely more open. This may of course lead to complete misinterpretations, but it’s all part of the way the piece works. All things considered, there’s no sign at the Pompidou Center next to a Beuys piece telling me where to look. It’s quite a pertinent curatorial debate, especially in the case of interactive work where the artist may want to either conceal or reveal their constituent modus operandi. I saw two six or seven year old kids who were looking at the display for five minutes. Their entire discussion revolved around whether the image was real or not. I have noticed the same maturity in their way of seeing among many of their peers.

The plaque short circuits the experience.

When it explains something, a plaque sets off a response mechanism in the viewer. In effect, it short circuits their perceptual entanglement with a work of art, and the relationship that they may make with it. See you does not rely on an instantaneous interaction, instead it produces levels of interaction, whether social, physical or other. We shouldn’t expect interactive works of art to generate systematic insight or simpler readings. Viewers aren’t expected to understand this kind of work more quickly than another. That having been said, I am expected to construct a situation that will construct the spectator’s perceptual entanglement straight away—without the need for an instructions manual.

Your work questions our relationship with immediate temporality, transformed today by the ubiquity of channel surfing. What frame do you think we’re willing to hang ourselves in?

This questions relate to the whole field (of art). How much time does someone spend looking at a painting in a museum? Between one person and another, there’s an infinite scope of possible answers. See you is about time, and so it rekindles questions like this.

The system leads viewers to think about visual perspicacity. It’s Daniel Arasse’s “we can’t see a thing!” Take a closer look, because there’s got to be something there and it’s time.

It’s within this “nothing to see here” that things are actually taking place.

My assistant on this project, Mathieu Redelsperger, a student at the Nancy Beaux-Arts and participant in the research and creation studio Electroshop that I co-run with Samuel Bianchini, has a reading of the piece that crosses Freud’s “uncanny” with Henri Michaux’ relationship to time.  I would really like to see this piece relocated in other contexts and other public places, to see how it can react-ivate a space. This initial experience was an experiment, a laboratory study.

I thought of Christo and his wrappings in terms of how you use an apparatus to draw attention.

You raise the concept of an apparatus, that can be understood through Foucault or through Deleuze in terms of an arrangement (agencement) that simultaneously gives bodies both possibilities and restrictions. This notion has also been explored within the context of media apparatuses. In “What is an apparatus?” Giorgio Agamben discusses how the concept can be recast as the “ability to capture, direct, determine, intercept, model, control and ensure the movements, conducts, opinions and discourses of human beings.” As he himself states, this includes not only the panopticon, the prison, and the hospital as defined by Foucault, but also cigarettes, mobile telephones, remote controls, advertising billboards… Recasting this concept generates an extremely fertile line of inquiry regarding how to interpret these apparatuses, their entanglement with perception and conditioning, the control they effect, and the system of thought that generates them. A+ questions one such urban apparatus and offers a reappraisal of its constituent power relationships. In this way, it rejuvenates how we see and the related questions of how we move and behave.

With Christo, the monument is abstracted. See you does not have the same message, nor does it use the same aesthetic. It takes up a preconceived apparatus in order to reverse its method of operation. This approach is not only about objects: for years, I’ve been creating works that are not exclusively displayed within traditional artistic spaces—gardens, museums, public events… Dépli, a work I created at the beginning of the year, was installed in a cinema but it overturns the cinematic apparatus and suggests another type of projection for and relationship with spectators. Outside lectures, a series of performances, was installed within the theater in order to explore various apparatuses such as the television. Each time, eruptions and emergences can be conveyed where they’re least expected.

The displacement appears to be the dictum.

I don’t really like this word. For me, this intention is resolutely political. It’s all about reassessing the way we look at objects or situations.

Displacement to the extent that it leads to a different point of view.

In See you, one representation is torn down and another built up. When you realize that it’s been built, you understand that you’re already firmly in the grasps of its operating mechanism.

What are your upcoming projects?

The installation Open Source is being hosted by the Monaco Pavillion for the 2008 Expo Zaragoza from June to September. It’s an interactive video installation allowing for a collective writing situation around a pool of water. This summer at the Avignon Festival, Outside lectures will continue in the context of the Rencontres de la Chartreuse in July. In September, a new installation, Step to step, created with a fitness coach will be shown at a personal exhibition at the Rennes École des Beaux-arts in September. And in November, the new version of Reanimation, a performance and installation for dancer and spectators that I co-created with Samuel Bianchini and Sylvain Prunenec in the context of the Electroshop studio at the École national Supérieure d’Art de Nancy, will be presented at the Espace Pasolini in Valenciennes.

Given my training as an architect, and my ongoing practice with sound and music, working with digital processes is but one aspect of my work. What I am most interested in is working with the “theater of relationships” that are not necessarily exclusively interactive. This is one of the issues we will be faced with in the years to come: constantly opening the lid on and being watchful of the term “digital art” which continues to produce a veritable ghetto. We should defend the need to explore and interrelate what is digital and what isn’t, within the same work, while institutions, curatoring, and funding tend, conversely, to limit and restrict this field. My work covers video, installations, performances. I never think beforehand in terms of digital or non-digital. This question is fundamental to me.

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.

Net theory

Jean Cristofol
About Outside Lectures, series of performances, 2009-2015

When I think about Outside lectures, the first image that comes to mind is a net. It’s not quite the idea of the network though, at least not in a first instance, however important this idea is here.  Before becoming a network, nets are merely an aggregation of things: a housewife’s webbed grocery bag gathered in a ball, or the fisherman’s fishing nets clumped in a heap on the jetty. An aggregation of things, though always retaining a particularly malleable quality, a shapeless density allowing the housewife’s net to fit in her pocket, or the fisherman’s in the rigging of his boat.

The props needed for Outside lectures fit in the trunk of a car. The form is light, literally. Nomadic, if you will. In any case, it’s transportable and adaptable, it’s meant to be performed from place to place, set-up and bumped out. These different elements are then spread out (deployés) in a display (déploiement) that changes from site to site, depending on each location’s conditions and circumstances. The first act of Outside lectures consists in casting the net, distributing its various constituent elements throughout a given space. Something akin to a shape is thus drawn, loosely traced around a center point in a circular motion. Some of the crowd takes to this webbed circle, they’re captured by it, caught up in it.

This description, however, is not entirely accurate. A first reason for this is that the circular form is, by definition, closed. It draws a line that folds back on itself and splits the world in two: inside and outside. As it happens, what spreads out is a never-ending movement that does not fold back on itself, for it calls forth differing scales and carries over onto discontinuous planes. And, as it happens, though a loop is made, it’s hardly circular—even if you are left with the distinct impression of a stage or a playing field, even if something does indeed take place, spread out, and resonate. For, as the name of the Lectures suggests, the distribution of inside and outside plays out differently. The movement inherent in the theatre design gives way to another movement, or runs into a kind of displacement that penetrates this design, transforms it, articulates it in another dimensional register.

The net is thus an assemblage, an apparatus articulating a variety of elements linked by this journey. This system is made up of a sequence of situations that hang together, insofar as it is said that a work of art seeks an equilibrium where it “holds” according to the principles of composition, in the musical meaning of the word. There’s something in installation work that gathers up a variety of elements through the interplay of their connections, whether a movement, a journey, or, indeed, a crossing. It’s both stationary and in motion; stationary like a house of cards, in motion like a breath or a dance step. Add to this the fact that the appliances gathered here, and through which each moment occurs, are so utterly banal and common that they’re part of our everyday lives: a television, a table and a microwave, a laptop, a cellular phone, etc., all laid out around a chunk of polystyrene placed on a sheet of plexiglass. It’s a sort of modest sculpture, a ready-made taken out of its packaging, a blank and empty architecture that the sounds produced by a microphone’s audio feedback come to explore, transforming it into a block of ice, an iceberg, the detached and fragile fragment of an ice shelf. As things ice over in this moment of sonic decomposition, the movement stops and turns around, form fissures, and language breaks down in a static-ridden avalanche. In the progression of sequences that make up Outside lectures’, only this moment sees the sonic loop become the closed circle of the stage, reduced to the kernel of its presence, to the here and now of the scene—and, yet again, you get the sense that its on the inside that things are unravelling.

Outside lectures starts at a set time, with a sequence of words akin to an absurd challenge: plainly recounting what happens on a television screen between the end of the early evening shows, often game shows, and the beginning of the 8pm newscast—in other words, this rapid sequence of non-events blending soundbytes, advertising, weather forecasts, announcements, jingles and the opening spiel from the news anchor relating the day’s main stories. The actress, Emmanuelle Lafon, sits in front of a television screen with headphones on. Watching a screen that we cannot see, she gradually describes what goes on, what is said, what is shown, and all of this in a continuous stream while obviously unable to say everything given the onslaught of images that our minds conjure up, bubbling on the very surface, in an uneven race between voice and mere speech act when faced with the dull enormity, steadily flickering and churning away. The actress sits at the very heart of the TV apparatus, at the crucial moment when the premier private French television station sees its highest viewer ratings. This banal explosion of empty signifiers in an instant shaping and structuring the daily lives of millions of homes is precisely what is hidden from view and re-presented through the performance’s blueprint: a body, present and opaque in its encounter with the screen—the brain in its encounter with the televised stream. This particular moment, both fascinating in itself and in its spoken rendition—in which we have to recognize (though some spectators cannot) that what’s at stake in this very moment is what really occurs on screen, what we in fact do not watch because we are here, listening to the actress, watching her expend her energy as we would empty our minds—in this way, this particular moment is not reproduced, imitated, figured, represented, but, in a certain sense, “over-produced.”

The screen weaves a temporal field before it describes a surface. Indeed, it is constituted by way of a dynamic relationship grounded in the inter-actions of thought and image. What happens in Emmanuelle Lafon’s spoken performance, in the striated tension of her delivery, in her efforts to articulate words that are always already wrapped up in other words, is that a temporal vacuum is created—a difference in speed that endlessly attempts to conceal itself. In actual fact, there is no movement, no shifting synchronic mass, but rather a constant back and forth between lapse and recovery. With speech front and center, thought becomes unravelled. The gap widens between hearing and seeing, the movements of mouth and words, and holding them together requires effort, the object of the performance being this effort’s very limits, beyond the rest of the “show” that is Outside lectures—if, indeed, show is the right word for this kind of piece. To my mind, this ever widening gap—repeatedly covered over, always shifted, renewed, multiplied—is what founds a general dynamic, spanned by clearly identifiable extremes (technological, political, mental) that entangle themselves in a composite experience that questions the everyday realities of the network and the place that subjects such as ourselves occupy within it. Folded back on itself, reduced to the grainy decomposition of a feedback loop, this same dynamic drifts in realtime with the sound performance Frost.

“The brain is unity. The brain is the screen. (…) Thought is molecular. Molecular speeds make up the slow beings that we are. (…) Cinema, precisely because it puts the image in motion, or rather endows the image with self-motion, never stops tracing the circuits of the brain.” Deleuze wrote this in the 1980s, finding it to be the basis for a philosophical disposition. “One naturally goes from philosophy to cinema, but also from cinema to philosophy.” Around the same time, Fredric Jameson noted however the paucity of video theory, especially regarding its dominant commercial form, television: “the blockage of fresh thinking before this solid little window against which we strike our heads being not unrelated to precisely that whole or total flow we observe through it.” The flow in question is an uninterrupted discharge. In a surprising moment of cynical clairvoyance during his time behind the reins of the aforementioned television station, Patrice Lelay blatantly stated that it was his mission to create the conditions of sale for “available brain time.”

Jameson contrasts this televised continuity with the cinema, or the theater, in which movement is constrained within the limits of the spectacle or the film. Cinema is, indeed, a temporal art; it aptly develops what Deleuze patently recognizes as a flow, but a flow that ends with the ending of the film’s very form, and thus its narrative construction: “Turning the television set off has little in common either with the intermission of a play or an opera or with the grand finale of a feature film, when the lights slowly come back on and memory begins its mysterious work. Indeed, if anything like critical distance is still possible in film, it is surely bound up with memory itself.” Through the dual effect of this ending and editing, the temporality of cinema is not the same as the continuity of everyday life. It’s an independent temporality, just like cinematic space is an autonomous space, with its own laws and rules. It’s a time to which we travel, a moment up in the air, a moment apart. In truth, cinematic fiction is established through the specificity of this space-time, much more so than through a given narrative invention. Jameson deduces from this that much like we should concern ourselves with memory, and our ability to create and store memory, so too we should question the fictional abilities of video, or its particular means of producing fiction, insofar as video’s temporality can no longer be distinguished for the continuity of passing time.

Television’s flow, however, is the product of a concatenation of consecutive elements that vary in nature—entertainment, games, movies, current affairs, advertising, etc. Homogenenous, unilateral and levelling, it cannot be equated with the digital flow generated from the multipolar distribution of ever changing information that ebbs and flows with the distributed participation of its users. It’s worth asking if Jameson’s point of view isn’t beholden to the “outside” that he finds himself in, beset by the flow spewing forth his television screen. Today, in any case, this “outside” has become an imaginary standpoint, an unreal space, not so much because we now live in a world without walls, rather because we now inhabit and think in networks, the objective forms of our globalized world. The same thing has happened to what we used to call cities. Town and country differed like two opposite realities and this opposition was spatially construed in the objective gap between the dense urban habitat and its ring of fields and forests. Long ago, cities lost their form and were separated into zones of varying density, thereby ramified, making up megacities that have, in turn, taken over chunks of countryside. The straightforward opposition between inside and outside or of here and elsewhere has but a relative significance in a networked world. This is why we can say that a world of networks no longer has an outside. Further still, the material city is compounded in the texture of information networks. The flow’s dimension and form have changed. With the process of generalized digitalization, video’s place has not been taken by one single sphere of communication, but by the spread of interconnected networks, coupled to reality through specific exchanges, multiple mechanisms that activate behaviors, modes of kinship and communication, as well as various power relations and strategies.

Often, the image that we have of a network is overly simplified: a flatted, two-dimension representation that struggles to rid itself of a center around which it could still attempt to organize itself, something halfway between a maze and a spider-web. We forget the networks call on networks and thus proliferate within diversified dimensions where relationships with time and space play out differently—which also goes for what we typically call the here and now of the present. In this multidimensional universe, it is less a matter of centers—singular or plural—than of knots which, though they act as filters, feed on the energy provided by the network itself. The flow is no longer the product of a particular point of creation and dissemination, but rather what constantly circulates, what certain extremes congeal and mingle together, what they attempt to commercialize, and, possibly, what they control.

We also have difficulty recognizing the fictional and political issues raised by the systems that activate these network dimensions. Outside lectures pertains to this context. One could say that each of the show’s sequences unfolds by activating a pattern, a situation or a relationship that plays on one of these modes. I use the word “activate” because it is as much about inventing a system specific to creating a particular experience as it is using existing, everyday devices in the service of a performative situation. The show’s very script makes use of devices not in and of themselves, rather in terms of what relationships to speech and to others they conjure, or even the simple fact of their presence and the diversity of their modalities—hence the loss overcome in their just “being there” and recognized as such.

All you need to do is spin the television around and it becomes a monitor showing an honest, almost intimate interview that’s halfway between charade and critical account of a foreigner’s administrative adventures in France. The actress turns into a lecturer and presents us with a speech emphatically drawing an analysis of a homeless man’s speech act: “I have nothing to eat.” Or perhaps a telephone call is made to an accomplice, describing the space she’s sitting in, moving in, letting us simultaneously though remotely experience her presence elsewhere, in a similar vein to radio reportage. In each instance, it’s a matter of language and words, the way in which meaning is produced and exchanged. In each instance, it’s a matter of how what is said can establish a space: speaking space, listening space, communication space. And, in each instance, a relationship is made beyond the silence and the solitude, a reaching-out to the other, a possible experience of self, an encounter with what might make up a scene or begin a story.

The only thing is, each time the sequences also produce a shift, they create a gap between discourse and speech, status, weight, the reality that’s involved and the manner that it crosses the present’s net. Indeed these successive systems even shake the present. They reveal its complexity, how it is crossed by another moment, how it is porous and run through by an elsewhere that is barely identifiable and potentially temporary. If the “out of screen” is decisive to the narrative potential of both photography and cinema, it’s no doubt this particular movement, the interim crossing of the present moment, that augments the narrative potential of networked devices.

The last sequence, Sentinel, shows us something so obvious you want to call it out, despite the slightly paradoxical, mysterious or opaque effect. It’s a video on a simple loop: a mongoose shakes, turns around, stands up completely straight, in an almost feeble standstill, falls back on its feet and jumps out of frame while another, the same one, comes into frame, shakes, stands up, over and over and over again. One leaves and becomes the other, and both of them are just one animal, turning, shaking, standing, watching, reaching for an elsewhere we cannot see. A simple loop, with a match cut that, like a scratched vinyl, points to the slightly pixellized presence of the image. A figure at once direct, immediate and perfectly abstract, like the circular nature of the loop that produces it, that establishes its freedom of movement, its perpetual starting over.

Outside Lecturessuggests a communications space where memories of a recording slot into the span of what’s told, read, played or fictionalized. Strands of thought unravel in a space that’s made up of condensed layers, gathered up on themselves, dragged onto the folded heap of a net of which we’re ever constant interested parties.

Jean Cristofol, 2009

Interview by DigitalArti Magazine #5, Feb. 2011

Four centuries separate “Richard II”, the five acts play by Shakespeare from “Seul Richard”, (Richard Alone) of Thierry Fournier’s stage production inspired by it. It is well known, the great human wonders at the heart of the English playwright’s work are timeless, but the “context” in which they are re-presented makes it possible to highlight other aspects, other angles… To find an echo within the quite autistic technological modernity of certain forms of “traditional” expressions…

This is the very purpose of Thierry Fournier’ work on body and sound, gesture and narration, movement and space, transfigured by audio-visual techniques and devices which enable to establish new groundbreaking principles.

Interview

“Seul Richard” is a “work in progress”. Can you describe the stages which marked the development of this theatre production, since his beginning in 2006 up to its present form?

Last November, half of the show (45’ out of a total of 1:30) was presented at the Chartreuse theatre, following two consecutive residences. The process took place in three steps: a first sketch in 2006-2007, the adaptation and making of a film in 2008-2009, and rehearsals in 2010, with Emmanuelle Lafon, Juliette Fontaine and Jean-FranÁois Robardet. “Work in progress” means that we are currently looking for the last co-producer who will be able to host the project’s presentation. This is a common practice, today, for companies to complete whole stages of the work while still seeking partners.

For numerous reasons, our work on this project has thus been ongoing for five years. It was led at the same time as the ConfÈrences du dehors series of performances (which I directed), and RÈanimation, produced with Samuel Bianchini and Sylvain Prunenec – both in 2008. His research on the links between dramaturgy, cinema and interactive devices were conducted at the ?cole Nationale SupÈrieure d’Art in Nancy as part of Electroshop, the research and creation workshop – whose students also act in the film. Lastly, he directed Richard II translated by François-Victor Hugo, with a solo actress, an interactive device, a film with amateurs and musicians. The project does not evidently match the skills usually found in live performance networks. Its production thus requires more time than the average play and the possibility to show the work in progress.

Which “progress” and other developments can you imagine?

The form we reached by the end of November really is the one I wish to implement. Today we need to work on the light and on playing on a stage (until now we were in the rehearsal studio). We are starting collaborations with this in mind.

Why have precisely chosen Shakespeare (“Richard II”) for this type of “multi-media” production which mixes video, narration and interaction…?

It is rather the opposite, this is the core of the project. I was actualy attracted by this play for what it tells of the practice and loss of power. The text was presented to me by BenoÓt RÈsillot, an actor with whom the very first stages of the project were worked out. I then devised a proposal bringing into play this remoteness and this relation of control and loss of control, between a man and the outside world. Indeed an interactive device is initially and above all an instrument of control, in a relationship which is always exerted in a reciprocal way: one plays and one is being played, one controls and one is being controlled, by a console or by Facebook all the same.

In Seul Richard, these devices are accepted as such, forming an integral part of the logic of the character. To sum up, Richard II depicts the trajectory of a monarch convinced he can escape the laws of reality thanks to his divine nature. Faced with events he does not comprehend, his permanent questioning about himself and what he represents lead him to dismissal, prison and death. I chose to stage this relationship between Richard and the outside world by working with a film, which is manipulated and re-enacted by the character. The actress carries out control operations, but also is in command of distance or absorption in the picture, clarification, blur, etc One cannot tell whether the image is outside her or if it results from her own thought.
This relation is reinforced by the fact that the film is shot using Steadicam and point of view: the “gesture” of the camera is constantly reproduced by the actress on stage. Besides, I chose to work mainly with non-professional actors. The fragility of their presence on the picture is opposed to the apparent oratorical skills of Richard, at the same time as it challenges and contaminates it. The stage projection consists of several video events sometimes projected simultaneously, at different scales, which allow a large number of configurations between the public, the performers and the image. It is seen that the choices are not only made for digital devices, but also for writing logics applied to the film, the stage design, the actors’ direction, etc.

Could other “classical” plays or playwright also have been suited to this “play”?

Yes, of course. It is one of the major and constant challenges for theatre to be able to reinterpret traditional texts with new methods of performance. It is not because these methods imply digital devices that they are cut off from their heritage: History is ongoing, this is still stage production.

Conversely, would you like to resort to more contemporary authors like Beckett or Ionesco with such a stage design?

Yes and for the same reasons – except that these figures rather belong to the last century. All the co-authors of Conférences du dehors are contemporary ones (David Beytelmann, Juliette Fontaine, NoÎlle Renaude, Jean-FranÁois Robardet, Esther Salmona). I would also like to work with authors like Sonia Chiambretto, Philippe Malone, Eli Commins, who have a real knowledge of contemporary social and political issues and who sometimes develop their non-literary writing style from various networks. It was already the case with ConfÈrences du dehors which used texts from real time television, landscape reading… To answer your question in a broader sense, I think one should be careful not to confuse writing and stage production.

Writing is always contextual, therefore we can easily be attracted to texts in which we find our codes. Sadly, this is the current practice amongst producers. But it is precisely the job of a director to update issues, to make us hear what, in a text from 2011 or 1170, can be revealed as a permanent and trigger an essential question.

Your previous performances (“Vers Agrippine, Reanimation, Core”) also used images, glances, gestures, redefined spaces… Can you clarify the ongoing guiding principles in your artistic work?

I’d like to add Conférences du dehors, for the reasons I mentioned before. It is interesting you should refer to Core or Vers Agrippine (but also Frost) which are solo performances. Because one of the principles in my work is definitely to stage the body, almost in the sense evoked by Foucault: a traversed body, disseminated by the forces which connect it to the world, sometimes in conflict, exposed through situations and devices. I understood afterwards this had been leading me from music to architecture, then to my current artistic practice.

Which artistic devices or techniques, would you like to use or explore in the future?

I am increasingly interested in the relationships of domination at work and the transformation of nature. These two themes are widely displayed through globalization. Right now, I am also tackling questions about the genre which has been running through my work for a long time, in an underlying way. Lastly, I am getting closer again to sculpture and architecture, which started to appear in works like Frost, A+ or Point d’orgue.

Finally, apart from “Seul Richard”, are you currently working on other projects?

I am working on Hotspot, an installation made with the Electroshop workshop, which will be presented in April at the Contexts space, in Paris. Still in the Nancy area, the Cohabitation group show (which I co-curated with Jean-François Robardet) will be presented at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy from February 5th to February 25th. From February 27th to March 4th, Entrelacs by the choreographer Lionel Hoche, whose interactive video work I designed, will be performed at the CND in Pantin. Then the Futur en Seine festival in June, in Paris with a new installation, Augmented window, whose permanent version will be created afterwards in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

Interview by Laurent Diouf