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

Heterotopia

Solo exhibition, June 16th-August 7th, 2017

Solo exhibition
Saint-Denis Art and History Museum
Invited by Synesthésie, art and research center
June 16th to August 6th, 2017

The Synesthésie art center presents a personal exhibition of Thierry Fournier’s work at the Saint-Denis Art and History Museum. For Heterotopia, Thierry Fournier uses the entire space of the museum’s chapel, occupying it with a large-scale apparatus that combines a networked installation and a number of new pieces.

Our experience of identity and alterity – in a broad sense – has been largely redefined as a result of our permanent exposure on the web and of our coexistence with entities that challenge the boundaries of human beings. Thierry Fournier explores these issues in a speculative manner, through a series of narratives that engage with each other.

The subjects, bodies and objects presented in this exhibition cover multiple statuses: desires expressed on the Internet are captured in real time and read by synthesized voices that generate an endless landscape (Ecotone); an apparatus projects into the space testimonials of people who have left social networks (I quit); a program queries whether its viewers are human (Just in case); smart-phones produce absurd poems (Oracles); a neon sign announces that it wishes to be concealed (Hide me); an installation composes an hybrid organism (Nude); hands modified by their gestures on interfaces (Futur instant)…

Through this set of works, the exhibition suggests a parallel space that is both utopian and dystopian, to which we are permanently confronted, and whose rules have already altered reality. Up against systems in which their imitation or replacement has never presented such a significant challenge, human beings are permanently interacting with the trail they leave behind on the network, with their images, simulacra or extensions.

A catalogue published by Pandore Editions includes a text by Ingrid Luquet-Gad and an interview with exchanges with J. Emil Sennewald.

Overflow

solo show, 2015

Solo show
September 18th – November 7th, 2015

Lux Scène nationale de Valence, 36 bd Général de Gaulle, 26000 Valence, France
www.lux-valence.com – +334 7582 4415
Opening hours: Mon. 2 pm – 5 pm; Tue., Thurs., Fri. 2 pm – 8 pm; Wed. 2 pm – 7 pm; Sat. 4 pm – 8 pm. Closed on Sundays.

Lux Scène nationale de Valence is delighted to present Thierry Fournier: Overflow, a solo exhibition. A french contemporary artist, Thierry Fournier provokes situations of otherness and sociality to address their individual, collective and fictional stakes. He is especially interested in the way these questions are redefined thru our current relationship with the images, networks and medias. In a minimal aesthetic, his works proceed by shifting phenomena (which are often found objects or processes from our physical or digital environment) through space or time, in order to create new meanings: living and nonliving, human and machine, fiction and reality, intimate and collective…

Overflow brings together several of Thierry Fournier’s recent works that each concern experiences of the relationship between data flows and the human: sound or networked installations, videos and performances. From social networks to live information feeds, to collective protocols, the artist stages confrontations between programs and our physical limitations: perception, the body, and temporality. The works decode and suspend these flows, highlighting stakes that involve the senses but are also political: 3D landscape generated in real time by tweets expressing desires (Ecotone), fictionalization of reality with live news feeds and blockbuster musics (Precursion), implosion of the language confronted with a TV (Closed Circuit), intrusion of a control within the exhibition space (Set-up), etc.

The word overflow refers to a spill over (of natural phenomena or of programming variables that exceed their reference), or even a submersion, perhaps that of our perception being saturated by data that overwhelms it. It is through the distance that separates us from the world that we shape our representations, even though we live in a culture where images are progressively replacing reality. The network is ubiquitous and is fed by individuals through increasingly present capture devices, in an economy whose attention has become the raw material. However, resistances to these systems continue to occur: distance is shifting, an exteriority is always possible.

The works presented in this exhibition are attentive to these paradoxes, generating specific relationships between environments, bodies, perception and language. The overflow referred to in the title isn’t only that of the data flow, but also and symmetrically that of the human being who finds himself confronted to it.

Catalogue

A catalogue of the exhibition is published by Pandore. It features critical texts by Jean Cristofol, J. Emil Sennewald and Pau Waelder, a substantial iconography of the works and work documents.

Works

Ecotone
Network installation (2015)

Ecotone generates an infinite 3D landscape from live capture of tweets read by synthesized voices, which all have in common to express desires : I wish, I would love, I would be so great… A camera endlessly moves on in slow motion through this artificial paradise.

Extracted from their original context and from the codes of a social network, these personal thoughts (and sometimes very close) are thus projected into a collective space and form an involuntary narrative. Through the issues of these words thrown like prayers or messages in a bottle, the work questions the permanent visibility and the traces of these lives on the internet, addressing the fluctuating boundaries of privacy and secret.

Exhibition photographs:

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Precursion
Network installation (2014)

A program assembles randomly real-time news feeds, extracts of blockbusters musics and video footage shot in situ, in the exhibition surroundings. The video produced is infinite : the installation continuously generates the realtime editing by combining these three elements. The layering of meanings that result – sometimes comical, sometimes tragic – highlights a general and social storytelling, always centered on the imminence of the event or disaster : the attention economy at work. For each exhibition, the work is contextualized with videos shot in situ and local RSS feed.

Exhibition photographs:

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Closed Circuit
Video of a performance (2008)
Excerpt of the performances series Outside Lectures, with Emmanuelle Lafon.

Seated with headphones in front of a TV during the commercial break and the evening news, Lafon must respect a certain protocol that demands that she exhaustively repeat everything she hears and describe everything she sees, which is physically impossible. The flow of speech and resulting stuttering directly express the tension between the spew of information that is delivered and a saturated individual attention span.

Exhibition photographs:

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Ex/ if
series of three videos (Mori, Service, Cool, 2014)

The series of three videos Ex/ if (Mori, Service, Cool, 2014) presents urban situations captured by the artist during a trip to Japan that highlight situations involving regulation, in which the social body and robotic behaviors converge: urban flows filmed from a tower reminiscent of a panoptic structure, enabling an all-embracing vision; a tennis practice session during which each player systematically screams out a description of his actions; a panoptic device set-up on the rooftop of a building where the accumulation of outputs generated by surveillance sensors is accompanied by an elevator music.

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Set-up
Sound installation (2011)

Set-up gives orders to exhibition visitors, in the tone of service and security messages: “Everything’s going to be alright”, “Everybody down!”, “If you’re young, rebel against older people”, etc. Playing on the ambiguity between artwork and service messages, Setup suggests a fantasy of control of the spectators, to which the apparatus addresses itself, as if to visitors of an amusement park or an hostile environment.




Credits

– Setup : voice by Juliette Fontaine, texts written in collaboration with Jean-François Robardet.
– Précursion : work created during Thierry Fournier’s residence at the Maison Populaire in Montreuil in 2014, with the support of the department of Seine Saint-Denis. Mathieu Chamagne collaborated on the programming portion of the work.
– Ecotone : Lux Scène nationale de Valence and Synesthésie coproduction in the context of Thierry Fournier’s residence in 2014. Programing and creative participation by Olivier Guillerminet. With the support of DICRéAM, of the SCAN Rhône-Alpes Fund and of the Region of Ile-de-France.
– Circuit fermé : performance from the Conférence du dehors cycle, designed and developed by Thierry Fournier, created and produced during his residence at La Chartreuse – Centre national des écritures du spectacle in 2008, with Emmanuelle Lafon. Coproduced with Pandore Production. Special thanks to Franck Bauchard.
– Ex/if : special thanks to the Institut Français in Japan, Samson Sylvain and Isabelle Olivier.