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.