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Not for your eyes only. A narrative of the wanderings of the Earl of Onhoff in Lorraine Forest
(on éric Rondepierre, Dominique Petitgand, Steve McQueen, David Claerbout, Anthony McCall, Ceal Floyer, Sebastian Diaz Morales, Tony Oursler) in exhibition catalogue "On-Off", Frac Lorraine, 2006



Oh ! No, no, it is not possible /
that they have lost their vision ! /
They have turned their gaze somewhere else /
toward what we call the Invisible.
(Sully Prudhomme, Eyes)

What you don’t see is what...

Introduction

It could begin with the story of a man who is lost. First physically, then morally and topographically. A fallen man because, for reasons that shall remain "obscure", he has been struck blind. Eyes poked out. Or rather, had his neurological faculty of sight damaged : transient amaurosis. Forced scotomization. In short, he has had his light turned out, his prospects reduced to nought. Curtain. A man switched from On to Off : one sense lost and the other four heightened. Near blind, no longer able to make out anything more than the outlines of shapes, our character thus finds himself condemned to drift through a world that has become artificially dark. A dimly lit room. We shall call him the Earl of Onhoff : his models in literature are oedipus, Strogoff, or Lear’s friend Gloucester, blinded and suicidal, wandering in the Dover area. We may rest assured that Onhoff would not tolerate this proprioceptive amnesia either and would prefer to seek his quietus. A-morose-is. But, immediately, would not even know how to go about it, for in the very act of plunging one into nothingness, blindness complicates the material possibilities of voluntary death. Hence, condemned to eternal wandering in a forest of Lorraine, Onhoff will need someone to help him end it all. So, when in the forest he meets a madman called Lux, he will ask him to take him up to the top of a lighthouse so that he can jump off. But this second character is definitely not that mad and, seeing where this is leading, will decide to save Onhoff from his deadly purpose by losing him for the second time in the forest.

So there we have the backbone of our tale : the blind journey through a dark forest of a dissimulating would-be suicide and a putative madman. Or to put it another way, the adventure of a new sensory relationship to the outside world : the visually impaired and the fading awareness.

But what if au contraire, far from being corrupted, our hero plunged in darkness recovered the primal virtues of the "perceptual basics" - a contact with things that is at once more direct and more internalized, a utopia of perception at once more physical and more abstract ? What if paradoxically his damaged sight has brought him closer to meeting the prerequisites of love (herself blind) and knowledge ?

And what if, to put an even finer point on it, our hero Onhoff represented a new viewer of art : the mutant - judging by the end of retinal art announced a century ago - blinded by a visual and cognitive revolution whose ideal ground-rules were symbolically set out in a journal called "The Blind Man" ? Or even, a post-viewer-who-produces-the-picture, a post-dematerialization-of-the-artwork spectator - who really ought no longer be termed a "viewer". As if art itself had switched out the light. Drawn the curtains. Shut off the windows with black leather. Then ripped out the retina. An aesthetic relationship that had become a matter for the body and mind rather than the eye. Hence the mandatory monstrous development of other senses : one cerebral, one smelling, one touching, one sensual. All made of nerve (except optical). A spectator thus condemned like Onhoff to wander aimlessly around a territory that is barely visible but ideal, haptic and built up from sounds ; a disturbed landscape with unlikely gleams, vague glitters and mirages constantly blurring our retinal and mental images alike. And what if the only possible guide in this land of uncertainty just had to be a sly, playful madman stepping in to prevent his mentor’s fall [1] ?

So there we have the aesthetic underpinnings of the Earl of Onhoff’s peregrinations in this obscure land of art, peopled by ghosts : the desperate then curious path of a blind man who takes on board the basics towards a new way of apprehending the world. An art world coming after the "blinding" bomb of dematerialization. A universe filled with will-o’-the-wisp, with tiny rents in the dark, with voices in the night, with artificial glows, with magicians and apparitions, giving rise to the genetic development of a new form of night-blindness, playing off our incredulity against our surrender to sensations.

Chapter 1 : Who turned out the light ? (éric Rondepierre, Le Voyeur, 1989)

A forest in Lorraine, at night. The Earl of Onhoff wanders, alone and despairing.

Onhoff : - I can no longer see a way ahead. Nothing but darkness and affliction !
(Hearing a sound) : Who comes here ?

Lux the madman : - They call me Lux. Are you drunk, or shy or scared ? You don’t seem very steady on your feet.

Onhoff : - Alas, I am a poor blind man who has lost his way, but you can help me. Can you see a lighthouse in the distance, with its tall head sticking out and terrifiedly looking at itself in the water of a lake set at its feet ? Just take me there and I shall reward you. Come, lend me your shoulder and show me the way.

Lux : - The thing is : When it’s quite dark, there are practically no more differences between you and me. I can’t see a thing either. It’s night-time, the easily toppled empire of dreams and apparitions. By the way, can you answer this : who is it who each day in the year switches off the world’s lights to let us dream ?

"- Shall I turn out the light ? - No...". At first glance, this might look like Conceptual Art, in the manner of Joseph Kosuth or Felix Gonzalez-Torres. A trip with white words on black ground. But the trembling, uncertain hand that did this does not deceive us. This is cinema. More precisely, a television screen, paused on a black screen subtitled with this immediately paradoxical exchange. "- Shall I turn out the light ? - No...". That is all we are ever told. Not who is speaking, nor where the still is taken from, nor the reasons for this basic contradiction between the words and picture. Universal Picture. Le Voyeur is part of the Excédents series, one of photographer éric Rondepierre’s first, involving the isolation of completely black frames with subtitles, suppletive images drawn from a process of restoration of the film. In so doing, the artist finds his place in a tradition of photographic experimentation, in the scientific meaning of the word. His images, collected as samples rather than composed, operate with the same poetic seduction as those of living organisms taken for scientific purposes. Fascinating accidents, invisible to the naked eye. Unlikely grace of the aberrant detail miraculously captured. Only here, the zoom is not so much spatial as temporal, the angle shot towards the imperceptible less vertical than horizontal. It is a matter of exploring the visual chink at the very heart of the film : the frame being the moving picture equivalent of the atom.

An approach like this obviously refers back to the ontological issues of a medium, the cinema, which since its inception has constantly wavered between its mechanical and organic principles (the after-image) and its lyrical calling, between industrial and pictorial references, between flatness and temporality. We can hear already the Godardian, Bergsonian or Deleuzian sirens (not in that order). But Rondepierre’s work is much more playful than some theoretical demonstration. He is more the observer or amateur discoverer than the pundit or moralist. To sometimes absurd comic effect. "- Shall I turn out the light ? - No...". Now it is visibly already too late. This reframing is a reminder of how the poetry of the cinema is built up from an infinite number of absurd fragments that together make up the film ; and how the film as such belongs to the grotesque : an appearance of order obtained through a succession of disorders. But Rondepierre also works on the question of memory, in a discreetly morbid fashion. His choice of digging up his audiovisual ready-mades from cuts and spoiled frames from old films testifies to a conviction that the cinema is not made to last. The tragic images of an injured medium, in the process of decomposing [2], being torn, or a prey to some hideous malformations. A cloudy representation of fantomatic, fascinating ruin, somewhere between Hubert Robert and pictures of écorchés. It is a fact that, while the silver print freezes the present instant, symbolically perpetuates life and revives the dead, it offers no more than a stay of execution. For the film itself is fallible, perishable. Ultimately mortal. "- Shall I turn out the light ? - No...". This request now sounds like a condemned criminal’s last wish, that of a hero of light before lights out, reminiscent of the virtual characters in the film The Purple Rose of Cairo [3] begging the projectionist not to switch off the projector to avoid plunging back into nothingness.

From these random details emerging from a self-devouring condensation of this medium the cinema, Rondepierre uncovers something akin to a subtext specific to the cinematographic repertoire. Decontextualized, cast out from their narrative teleology, these frozen images take on a whole new secret, deviant, implicit meaning. One might detect here, for instance, an exciting and profound reference to a seminal episode in the history of the visual arts : the advent of the monochrome. What if this invisible interlocutor was none other than someone like Malevich, Rodchenko or Strzeminski issuing the art world one last warning ? "- Shall I turn out the light ?" - Answer "No..." Too late.

Chapter 2 : Voices in the night (Dominique Petitgand, La Cécité, 1994-2006)

...Onhoff and Lux come to a moonlit clearing. A murmur can be heard.

- Who is speaking so solemnly ? inquires Onhoff.

Under the stars, seven diminutive critics are arguing after listening closely to a play for voices lasting three minutes and eighteen seconds.

"- It is a travel tale, says the first. A haptic nocturnal trip by the fingertips between a bathroom and a dining-room. It is a veritable expedition, recounted in the form of a guided tour ; every stage is an opportunity for a precise description of the materials, sounds and smells. An invitation to explore, from memory and in a sentient way, a whole series of universes and sensory abysses over a distance of a few yards inside a familiar interior [4] .

- It is a traumatic narrative, says the second. A recurring infantile anxiety (this compulsory walk in the dark), re-experienced as if under hypnosis, for some cathartic purpose. A way of repressing this deep-seated fear of the dark that can be likened to a loss of a sense (partial blindness), a primitive, universal nightmare that marks one for life. Paradoxically, the clarity and clinical precision with which these irrational feelings are evoked (a partiality to wood and a phobia for plastic, for instance) sound strangely familiar to the hearer, as some paradoxically "shared private memory".

- You are way off the mark, it is a story of initiation, says the third one. A philosophical journey through time rather than space. Starting out in the darkness of neurosis and finishing in the light of reason (reconciliation through singing and laughing), taking in on the way some edifying ordeals symbolized by these tentative gropings in the dark. This is the universal story of growing up into a personality through fear, suffering and willpower. From the childish anxiety of loneliness to the possibility of love, as in the earlier versions of certain folk tales [5] .

- And yet this final chord strikes me as rather unresolved, says the fourth. Don’t you hear this disturbingly sonorous and dull beat carrying the narrative along until after this supposedly cheerful, reassuring aside ? Doesn’t it leave the whole open to uncertainty ? And this weird "gap" that suddenly appears right in the middle of the narrative, and those supernatural echoes of ordinary materials, the popular song turning into a hazy cacophony. Here everything is bathed in a very unreal atmosphere, recalling both Beauty and the Beast and Claws in the Night. A series of perceptible derailments in the heart of the everyday : familiar, maybe, but never reassuring. Certainly it is a fantastic tale.

- It is more like science fiction, says the fifth, for it combines all the ingredients that go into a detective story. What is this woman afraid of ? Is she going to get as far as this door ? What is there on the other side ? Here the work has real suspense, highlighted by the soundtrack and dramatic shots : a fragmented narrative, shaky memory, invisible danger, and even references to the Hollywood thriller, a cross between Hitchcock (the plastic shower curtain) and Terence Young (magnificent and scary in Wait until Dark with Audrey Hepburn).

- It’s just a poetic narrative, says the sixth, an allegory of lost childhood suddenly regained, with all its disarray and all its enchantment, its hopes and fears. Here everything works in terms of correspondences, through a formalization of mental images in sound : the "dring dring" of the wood refers back to the sound of the guitar, the deep silence that follows the evocation of the "gap", the humming of a popular song to indicate the return to life, etc. It is abstract like a tune which, to express indescribable feelings, has recourse to a tempo, changes of rhythm, scansion, harmonics, and carries us off to worlds that are at once instantly recognizable and sentimentally off-beat.

- It’s a work of art, concludes the seventh."

Chapter 3 : A game of hopscotch (Steve McQueen, Pursuit, 2005)

"This dark brightness that comes down from the stars." (Corneille, Le Cid)

...What these critics say reminds me of my own condition, said Onhoff. But let us leave them to argue among themselves and move on towards our goal.

- Master, now I can see some strange glimmers, teeming lights in the night air.

- Describe them to me more exactly. They may be shooting stars or glow-worms, depending on whether they are giving off humus or falling out of the sky.

- Bravo, bravo ! A little girl’s voice broke in. You’ve won, you are right there, plumb between the sky and the earth.

- What do you mean and what is the meaning of these apparitions that I cannot see and which are frightening my companion ?

- To understand it, let’s play a game, said the little girl. It’s hopscotch, but without a stone. You simply have to hop on one foot onto each square. You get the solution when you come to the end. And you don’t need to see to play, you just have to let yourself go. Come on ! Come on !

EARTH
The first thing that strikes you in the visual world of Steve McQueen is its dark nature. Like on the far side of colour : black and white, either very dark or very bright. Powerful contrasts, chiaroscuros. An underground approach to the world, a cross between sensuality and morbidity, a profoundness he works on conceptually, physically and emotionally. McQueen is a drilling, boring [6] artist. His work, from one film to the next, involves unearthing, extracting precious nuggets from the bowels of the earth or soul.

Square 1 : Puzzle

It is still difficult however to get an overall picture of such a disparate, elusive and even paradoxical oeuvre. A variety of subjects and media (a mixture of fiction and documentary, photography, video, cinema and performance). A precision technique and complex issues for extremely simple, minimal formal resolutions always verging on abstraction.

Square 2 : Music

If there is a model for apprehending this oeuvre, it may well be music. Sound is very important with McQueen (see his video on the singer Tricky or his trenchant video soundtracks). At a deeper level, his visual work appears to have all the mental and physical energy of a certain musical family : jazz, groove, funk, somewhere between John Coltrane and Marvin Gaye. The same vague eroticism, raw, dark and deep sensuality that sucks up, breathes in, absorbs. Seriously sexy.

Square 3 : Blow-up

The work focuses on precise, straightforward situations, from which rich substance is drawn through tight multiple framing (multi-screen play for a rolling drum [7] , a camera thrown up in the air between two motionless people [8] ). A Blow-up on ordinary everyday situations observed with desire, love..., or even libido.

Squares 4-5 : The Personal - The Commonplace

A foot in each square : McQueen is always both in the personal and the commonplace. The exacerbation of contrasts is thus not only visual but just as much notional, shifting all the time between the graceful and the sordid (Charlotte Rampling’s eye v the street cloth ; the balancing tightrope walker v the aquatic mixture ; the clean duel, a pretext for exhibiting the genitals).

Square 6 : Body

Steve McQueen’s work is basically to do with the body. His own or his subject’s, shot in confrontational situations (as when he performs in the nude a choreographed fight with a partner/opponent [9] ), but the viewer’s as well, placed in the middle of various environments that disturb the senses.

Squares 7-8 : Reality - Fiction

McQueen is always at once a real-life situation and a set piece, an opportunity for some in-depth thinking about the boundaries between the documentary and fiction, the scientific and the imaginary (the projection of material sent by NASA [10]). Working on dreams without the artifice, McQueen is in this sense more performative than cinematographic. Taken out of context and replayed by the artist, the famous scene in Steamboat Bill Jr when Buster Keaton passes through a collapsing house front [11] is thus shifted from the burlesque to the pathetic, perhaps revealing the tragically performative essence of this clever stunt.

SKY

The purpose of this game of blowing up the immanent, the prosaic, the telluric is to attain to transcendence in the heart of immediacy. So the basic locus of McQueen’s work is in mid-air, as with the picture of that stuttering tape-recorder tied to a balloon flying up and away [12]. An overall positioning of suspension, tension and fragile balance that we again find in the installation Pursuit, the projection of a kind of firework display between stretched-out mirrors. This simple, basic arrangement plays on the loss of perceptions through the multiple reflections of the dark sky with its shooting stars. Fascinating but not necessarily reassuring, it recalls, as the origins of the game of hopscotch, how suspension between the sky and the earth doubles up with the one between heaven and hell.

Chapter 4 : Camera non lucida (David Claerbout, 8 Février 1999 and 9 Février 1999, 1999)

...Onhoff, who has come out of the hopscotch : - Lux, are you still there ?

- I’m behind you. But this time we have to stop. I can’t guide you any more, because it has got even darker, and I can’t even tell what there is right in front of us.

- I have already lost space, now it’s a matter of not losing time as well, says Onhoff. Also for healthy eyes there is no such thing as absolute darkness. It is the transition that blinds you. Just wait for a while. Let the night stream into your pupil until your eyes become accustomed to this condition and you will see a new reality of space reappearing. You will see that black is not just a colour, it is also a light capable of carving out the landscape.

In fact, when you go in, you see nothing. Total darkness. Black-out. A power cut ? Lightboxes off ? Devastating blindness ? In every case, total and disturbing loss of memory of places. So when, after long minutes of feeling lost, there gradually appear from nothingness these tenuous, fleeting images coming from the boxes that are glowing rather than luminous, as if developed in the darkroom by the retina itself, we are somewhat reassured. Then again no, not really. So densely black that the interior light has difficulty passing through them, these night shots of snowy landscapes are rather forbidding. Empty, desolate panoramas. Visions from the end of the earth as if swallowed up and devoured by darkness. Abstract. Unreal. Lunar. "Dull" images. Dreamlike, ghostly landscapes, echoing the way they are brought into view : barely emerging out of the darkness as mental images rise up from the nothingness of the unconscious.

Since the late 1990s, David Claerbout has been operating on the fringe between the fixed shot and the animated shot, between photography and motion pictures. Two closely related media sharing the same scientific and technical genealogy, reunited by digital video after the interlude of analogue. Sometimes it is a matter of computer-aided artificial animation of parts of the projected images. Commonplace found photographs, often in black and white, have life breathed into them, but subliminally, almost imperceptibly : a rustle of leaves in a tree, the sun moving in real time across a frontage, the mere turn of a head triggered when a visitor comes in. An intermediate positioning, poised between the dynamic and the static, but also between truth and artifice, time and space. These light boxes, which began a series [13] , ultimately are based on the same process, as the idea is to use black in black for dynamic driving purposes, no longer in the actual picture itself, but between the picture and the viewer’s eyes, in the form of a gradual formal appearance ; an organic kineticism, reducible to a dilatation of the pupil.
As often with Claerbout, these works are undoubtedly attractive while at the same time giving off a vaguely morbid poetry. Here we have the coldness of the snow, a wintry metaphor, macabre romanticism. These black cibachromes that barely cast a reflection in the dark, but rather shimmer, belong to a metallic, funereal, almost Gothic aesthetics ; landscapes in mourning, consumed by the absence of light. Going deeper still, the very way they are made takes us back to a bygone era, that of the origins of the medium : late 19th century photographs on gelatine silver bromide glass plates. Ghostly resurgences of the discipline for maximum dramatic effect. But actually, no. For if Claerbout’s extremely precise and sensitive work keeps playing with sublimation of the subject through the chosen format and display mode, we may count on it, his method also involves a degree of humour, more precisely, an obscure sense of derision that is first expressed through this paradoxical choice of a lightbox to depict darkness. Of all things ! Then, through his determination to capture in black and white an image that is intrinsically just that (snow and night). This approach harks back to the philosophical questioning of young Calvin (not the Lutheran reformer, the comic strip hero [14] ), wondering : "Why are old photographs always in black and white ? Didn’t they have colour film at the time ?", and to whom his father calmly replies that old photographs are in colour, "it’s just that in those days the world was in black and white".

Chapter 5 : Too short a script (Anthony McCall, You and I horizontal, 2006)

...Lux : - Master, my eyes are by now accustomed to the dark, but what I see is even more frightening than nothingness. They are snakes, flat glittering snakes wriggling and writhing in the air. Please can we move on !

Onhoff : - Is it a hallucination on your part or another prodigy ?

The projectionist (appearing out of the dark) : - In a way, it is one, you are right. This magic spell we call the cinema. But don’t you worry, this light may be a lion, but I am a lion-tamer. One move and I have it under my control.

Onhoff : - You see, Lux, it’s only a film : light and silver. You have nothing to fear. Tell me instead, what is this story we are being offered...

You and me horizontal (script)

Scene 1 : Indoors, at night. A movie projector shows an animation of some dynamic luminous interlacing through artificial smoke. End.

It was with such a highly condensed screenplay that Anthony McCall became the benchmark for a certain radical trend in experimental cinema. For these emblematic pieces a simple gesture refocuses the action away from the picture being screened onto the light beam itself. No more screen : so a tacit injunction to look at something else - but what ? An animation, extruded from the film towards the projection light. The paradigmatic piece of this process, Line Describing a Cone, 1973 - the projection of a circle of white light through thin smoke - proposes a deliberate abstraction of the cinema’s core feature, which is then re-materialized in the shape of a cone of light floating in the void. This passage from 2D to 3D, from pictorial to sculptural cinema, is even more effective than Creature from the Black Lagoon [15]. This is manifest, flagrant, accomplished extrusion ; optical extrusion, but most of all, the formalization in space of the symbolic ideal associated with cinematographic "projection" : isomorphous broadening. A cone drawn out from a small (16 or 35 mm) base and enlarged to infinity. An extension of the scope of the magnifying glass ; the result is Bigger than life.

There have been plenty of comments on this work by McCall and later ones based on the same principle. Sculptures in light, the passage from one medium to another, taking action to question the exhibition and/or projection space. Most have discoursed on the sectorial ontology of this borderline-work : is it sculpture or cinema ? Derived from Dan Flavin or from MacLaren ? Rest assured, if the question still has relevance, all this remains the story of the cinema. In the first place, because the process of animating space at work in these pieces involves a certain logic, a relation of spacetime causality, and hence the beginnings of a narrative, albeit an abstract one. Secondly, because the precarious, dematerialized aspect of the phenomenon (irreducibly subjected to the operation of the projection appliance), imposes an urgency that belongs to the cinema. At a deeper level, Line Describing a Cone, like You and I horizontal (the latter being one of the more recent versions, updated by computer and so allowing the calculation of kinetically more complex tangles), opposes to the Hollywood dream factory, and to Godardian fetishism of the truth-image 24 times a second, a hypnotic fascination for the mechanical process of the cinema ; that is, its physical, technical, and even quasi-choreographical origins : the magic lantern beam dancing in the dark. The dazzling of the eye, the optical illusionism of light, the Cyclop’s eye, the light beacon... These are all motifs of earlier, primitive magic in fact behind the image flattened onto the screen. Conversely, film-makers have often used such sweeping light beam motifs themselves (from the final scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind to The Professional, or again the work of head cameraman Henri Alekan with Cocteau or Wenders). In so doing, McCall’s kinematic work stirs us out of our lethargy as passive spectators, absorbed and drowned in the flatness of the screen at the back of the room. Stepping back to look towards the centre of the projection itself, McCall makes us sit up, restores our freedom of movement, and ends up giving us a mobile role inside the film. Let’s keep moving, there’s nothing to see here.

Chapter 6 : The camera operator (Ceal Floyer, Door, 1995)

...Lux : - What a strange thing the cinema is : it is the reverse of sleep if you have to switch off the light to return to reality. Earl, you have not lost much, as sight is not the ideal vehicle for truth.

Onhoff : - Indeed not, and this is one of the basics of philosophy that you have just worked out for yourself.

The Projectionist : - Yes, it takes very little to deceive the senses. If you wish, I can introduce you to someone who specializes in such illusions. She is the queen of what we call "special" effects, contrivances that play tricks on our sensitivity.

Lux : - Let’s go and see this trickster, I’ll be interested to see how she goes about confusing our senses.

Onhoff : - Very well, but take care and steer clear of her wily ways.

An empty bucket from which comes a dripping sound. A mouse hole drawn on the skirting-board along a wall. An actual-size slide picture of an electric light switch. A horizontal shaft of light projected at the bottom of a door. At first glance, you would swear you had seen : drops of water dripping from the ceiling, a domestic cavity, a wall light switch, and bright sunlight filtering under a door. These minimal interventions in the exhibition space by the British artist Ceal Floyer play on the simplicity of the devices at work (never concealed but frequently well-nigh invisible) for an illusionist effect that is as lightweight as it is effective. So many imaginary, fleeting appearances that discreetly deceive the senses but without shocking them, these mirages have more to do with the commonplace than anything out of the ordinary : insignificant illusions, domestic ghosts. While she has great elegance and undoubted skill, these qualities lie in this exacting economy of effort, this generous, enhancing use of ostensibly rudimentary procedures. Practical intelligence. The result is a brilliant perceptive lever effect wherewith to turn the most mundane representation into something fantastical. Minimum effects for maximum effect. Prodigious ? The thing is that, as always with lever effects, the effort is shared : unconsciously, almost automatically, the viewer himself reconstitutes the missing part of the signified phenomenon, and in so doing establishes it as an artifice, fictionalizes it. In particular, through the mental reconstruction of a door under which slips this blinding ray of light, the Door piece invites us to envisage another overexposed world immediately to hand. Absolute brightness that may be linked to the allegorical motif of hope (the light of hope at the end of the dark tunnel), or even, in positive morbid mode, to the infinite enlightenment of the passage to life’s other side. The image is all the more fascinating for being elusive, belonging to the category of the fantastic seen as a rip or tear in the fabric of reality, a relationship to the imaginary in a radically "horizontal" form i.e. not as an underground or celestial exteriority to be revealed, but as a sensory crack ready to open up in the very heart of the immediate.

One might believe (and it has sometimes been written) that Ceal Floyer’s work is in the order of the immaterial, in the wake of her minimal and conceptual elders. Now it rather strikes us as being the other way round : a homage and a fascination for contemporary materiality through the depiction and utilization of everyday utensils and articles (carousels, bucket, light bulb, etc.) for playful and discreetly fantastic purposes. A tribute to the intelligence of the movie property man, who has to convey sensations and stimulate visions with a minimum of means. A set of ingeniously simple processes to imperceptibly dramatize mundane scenes, rather like the way Alfred Hitchcock placed a lit bulb in Cary Grant’s glass of milk in Suspicion as a tactful way of implicitly underlining its crucial role in the scene and of oversignifying its presence. In so doing, Floyer develops, in actions, a certain critique of the way our senses are conditioned : toying with our credulity (nurture not nature), she measures our states of awareness and tests our cognitive reflexes as we play her mug’s game. Her discreetly spectacular interventions thus speak to the senses as much as to the mind, in a game of skill, of adaptation and reflexes.

Chapter 7 : Madame Durasse’s monologue (Marguerite Duras, L’Homme atlantique, 1981)

...Onhoff, Lux and the Projectionist come away from their meeting with the camera operator.

Onhoff : - Alas, I cannot share these delights of illusion any further. Let us leave, we still have some way to go.

The Projectionist : - Stay a little longer, I have a film for you. It is a special showing that will surely reconcile us all here, whether we can see or not. You will agree : the cinema is also in the mind.

Chapter 8 : An AFP dispatch (Sebastian Diaz Morales, Lucharemos hasta anular la ley, 2004)

...As they leave the show, Lux and Onhoff are arrested by some men in uniform.

Onhoff : - What’s going on now ?

Lux : - I can make out in the distance some shadows fighting in the dark.

Police officer : - Don’t move forward. You must go round the area. There are things going on here that you are not allowed to see.

The Reporter (holding out a piece of paper to Onhoff) : - You don’t need to see. Here, take this, and get it out to people around you. If you can’t see for yourself, at least you can read about it and tell people about it.

Onhoff : - Let’s get out of here Lux, this reporter is right, it is not confronting the image that builds up your political sense, it is awareness and thought.

DISPATCH. AFP 29.08.04 | 20.59. Argentina, Buenos Aires correspondent

Yesterday, members of parliament in Buenos Aires announced the passing of the city’s new "criminal code" (Codigo de Convivencia), which is much more repressive than the one it replaces, targeting in particular prostitutes, hawkers, and generally demonstrators, with their special target the "piqueteros", jobless people who regularly stop the traffic in the Argentinean capital. When the news broke, thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the local parliament building in a violent protest against these sanctions threatening public gatherings in the city. These latest clashes confirm the continued existence of a labour front that has been constantly widening since the country’s economic collapse in 2001, plunging Argentina into an unprecedented industrial and financial slump.

The pictures of these clashes broadcast by the television networks gave nationwide coverage to these events. One strange film in particular was circulated which recounted the violence through some extremely dark footage, like a negative. This was the initiative, presented as an installation, by the Argentinean-born artist Sebastian Diaz Morales, a video artist who usually operates through highly political films that are part documentary and part fiction. His treatment was restricted to manipulating raw images of news items by placing a simple graphic filter which converted the main outlines of the action into white lines on a black ground. "Like news drawings, only moving, a simple special effect for a derealization of the action", according to one witness to this aesthetic treatment of reality. "It makes it more dreamlike, like a cartoon, not based so directly on reality, and so easier to swallow", some commentators rue. Reactions certainly harking back to earlier approaches of an artist who has filmed a number of allegorical fictions in protest against contemporary political situations (among them, Parallel 46, 1998, a full-length film shot in Patagonia, or The Man with the Bag, 2004, showing a man on the run gradually losing the contents of his bag as he races across the desert). Based on the events of Buenos Aires, the ten-minute sequence condenses the real-life action along its force lines, in what is almost a choreography of entwined silhouettes, making it impossible to identify individual protagonists while focussing on their gestures.

Be that as it may, many were in agreement yesterday in recognizing the critical nature of this minimal intervention by Mr Morales working from authentic documents. First in his ability to pare a news item down to its physical essentials : i.e. a matter of bodily movements in the public space, relevantly exhibited here in the form of the teacher’s demonstration, like a chalk drawing on a blackboard. Then in the deliberate darkening of these performances : the protagonists of this burning question seem to emerge from the darkness, reduced to the status of anonymous, ghostly silhouettes blending in with the night. With this formal illustration of the alienation that befalls these outcasts of Argentinean society, but he is reacting in deed to the cognitive inadequacy of what is picked by television, with its supposedly "absolute" truthfulness, which actually rather blinds us with its passive, trivializing omniscience. Mr Morales seems therefore to be revisiting the myth of Plato’s cave, but the other way round : as if the truth had gone back to seek shelter on the side of the shadows in order to get out of the media spotlight. A formal treatment that also pinpoints the basic ambivalence underlying any political struggle, between the concreteness of real-life situations and the abstraction of the social ideal. "We have become virtual people who have already lost their roundness", noted one participant at the events, "at least may we as such change from being puppets to effigies, metaphors, allegories, a universal figure of the struggle for individual freedom and dignity". / AFP

Chapter 9 : The Madness of a light bulb (Tony Oursler, Talking Light, 1996)

- Yes, yes, that’s dead right, thought Onhoff. The day is contingent, local, it is night that is universal. Therein, to be sure, lies the origin of the paradoxical expression of the "grand soir" for the great revolutionary social upheaval taking place in the evening. Basically, idealists are like vampires...

Onhoff and Lux come to the lighthouse, where the lamp is not functioning properly and is sending out incoherent signals into the night.

Lux : - Here we are, Master, up at the top of the lighthouse, right in there with the light. But is it my senses that have been corrupted by the dark ? I can only see flashes. So this is the light source that is supposed to be showing the way ? Crazy I call it.

Onhoff : - You are right, Lux, it is definitely not the light that it going to bring us the truth about this darkness. On the contrary, it seems to be to be producing nothing but "bad contacts". Let’s leave this lamp to witter on and let’s go back down, if that is all right with you. I would like to go back into this dark forest in your company after all, I’m sure there are still plenty of things not to be seen."

Lights up "arrrgghhh" OK.* Editions, multiple. A CD, a voice, a light reacting to the rhythm of the voice. Blinks (like an eye). Equalizer. Diode. * What ? It’s an edition, a multiple. A CD with a voice and a lamp reacting to the rhythm of the voice. A red flashing light that talks. Produced in 1996 (one nine nine six). With music. Originally placed in front of a Hans Bellmer (the one who would have been a serial killer if he hadn’t become an artist). * Hall all the work of Tony Oursler (not ALL the work) the 1990s, one nine nine zero, etc. They are : talking heads. Talking heads. Effigies. Dolls. Puppets. Totems. Scarecrows. How ? Material, garments. Videeeeo projections of a face (head, mouth, eye) that talk. Or blinks (the eye). Too right. Projections on vague, vague...ly anthropomorphic shapes. Stuffed fabric. Dismembered faces. Come unstuck. Ouch ! Dead body & living organ. So : in the critical grey area between subject and object. What ? Body and soul. Again ! Organ ! Basically NOT A BIT REALISTIC an interlocutor is it ? But it talks. It screams. Murmurs. Complains. Laughing stock. Not doing too well ! Not doing too well at all. Pretty bad. Especially stuck under an armchair or in a fishtank. Depression ? Psychosis ? Get it off your chest. Not sure about that... * As always with Oursler, communication with the viewer. Interactivity. A direct address. Confrontation. Punch. Uppercut. Draaama... But none too clear, (mmmm...). Language rather... destructured, what ? Primitive poetry (like with les avants-gardes). No, no. More like post-modern delirium. Mechanical language. Derived from the subconscious. Repetition. Traumas like his pal (Mike) (Kelley). The subconscious. (Once even, it is the visitors to the exhibition who spoke at a distance through an effigy. To the others. And what came of it ? Insults of course ! Right in the Pompidou Centre ! bravo, well done). Pom’ pom’-pidou. Where was I ? Yes, Tourette’s syndrome. Cerebral agnosias. Tics, jokes, insults. Breathing and laughter (to tears). Manic depression. Glossolalia. Coprolalia. A delivery from somewhere else. Got a problem them dolls. What what ? Yes. Like trains, they go off the rails. Communications problems. "Outside of language" (that’s what he said Tony). Desperate messages. SOS. This is an emergency. Universal voices calling out for help. * Is the public scared ? No. Laughter. Catharsis of our anxieties. You’re telling me. Substitutes. Repressions. Well. Well, it’s like a sort of (a spell of) voodoo. Only the other way round. Ah ! Ha ! This time, we are the ones getting pins stuck through us and the effigy dolls are the ones who are doing the suffering. Role reversal, very good. Hats off. * But here, right here it is even more immaterial. Talking Light. 1996 (one nine nine six). A CD with a voice and a light bulb, etc. To embody - or rather disembody - a character with light, like the little electric man Gyo (Gearloose). There’s no more body ! Pure mind. A leading light ! * Now. Now.... the lamp is the image of intelligence : good = fire = lights. The fairy electricity. A "brilliant" invention, wasn’t it ? Ah Ah... Really bright ! The talking light : sheer genius. The ultimate robot (that controls everything, arghhh...) look no arms. But here... but here, there’s something up. Again. It is derailed. It’s talking nonsense. No, it’s making a soliloquy. Repeating itself all the time. Its object status. Identity crisis. A sick mind. It is H.S. Like HAL in two double zero one : vulnerable to the neuroses of the double bind. So, you do see the critique of techno-logy : it is not a benchmark of reason. Not infallible. Not enlightening. Not... obvious. * Here, short-circuit. Physical and mental sizzle. Techno schizo. Paranoid. Out of control. A big bug. So, not very reassuring after all. * But don’t you worry. I am all right. A work of art. You don’t get it. Do you want me to enlighten you ?

Guillaume Désanges