Ceci n'est pas un document

by Jean-Christophe Arcos
art curator
November 2016

Ceci n'est pas un document

“I call images, first, shadows, and then reflections in water and on surfaces of dense, smooth and bright texture, and everythingnof that kind…”
Plato, The Republic, book VI, 510

To accompany the 2014 release of Adieu au langage/Goodbye to Language, his first full-length film shot in 3D, Jean-Luc Godard explained that he wanted to “give depth to flatness”.
The concern with perspective as a basic tool of a representation faithful to reality has been exercising the pictorial space ever since the Renaissance rediscovered the treatises of Vitruvius and Agatharcos—perspectivism is probably the gangue from which the post-Impressionists freed modern art with Vincent Van Gogh’s Eglise d’Auvers sur Oise, just a few months before the first screening of a film using the kinetoscope (vision of movement) and the kinetograph (writing of movement) of Edison and Dickson.
It is a cliché to say that technology has contributed to a shift in responsibility regarding the reporting of reality by concomitantly permitting, in the 19th century, the invention of photosensitive surfaces (photographic and celluloid film) and the distance between painting and that task which was hitherto its lot—at least after an initial movement of the Impressionists, perhaps seized by panic, leaving their studios with much urgency and plunging in a way into reality and grasping the nuances of light (a departure made possible by the supple paint tube, likewise invented in the mid-19th century).

The invention of 3D represented a principal marker in the race described by Barjavel in his essay Cinéma total (1944)1: the gap was being forever re-absorbed between the natural image (which, for Plato, represented the first referent of the image) and the artificial image (the one brought about by the work, and, according to him, dangerous because, by giving the leading role to the visible, that illusion, it moved away from the intelligible and the Truth).

If this hatred of the artificial image punctuates literary and philosophical history from Plato to, for example, Paul Virilio, the contributions of art and film criticism may shed a different light on what is taking place, or leaving place, in the potential connections and oppositions between image and text on the one hand, and between spectacle and spectator on the other.

First of all, thanks to the example of three Stanley Kubrick films, we can envisage three contemporary approaches between words and images.
The Ludovico technique, an aversion therapy used to reverse the extremely violent behaviour of the leading character in A Clockwork Orange (1971), links the moving image to a mental programming tool of the social corpus and its affects. Fitted with blepharostats, which keep his eyes wide open, Alex, the droog, is force fed with visions dissuading him from using any form of violence. In a thinly veiled allusion to the society of the spectacle, akin to political or advertising propaganda, Kubrick suggests that the moving image is the place and the object of a power play which channels the forms of social and individual violence of a society to which language no longer manages to give form and coherence. 
In The Shining, the powerlessness of words again grapples with the image, this time perceived as an evocative power connecting individuals: while Jack Torrance collapses in front of his typewriter, a collapse which will lead him to try to kill his wife and child, the visions exchanged between little Danny and Dick Hallorann reverse the murder (‘redrum’), and will culminate in the outcome which saves the day. 
In 1999, almost 20 years later, Kubrick seemed to take another look at the conflicting relations between seeing and saying in Eyes Wide Shut (a whole ballpark): reduced to silence in the fantasies of her husband, Alice, an unemployed exhibition curator, nevertheless gives an account of her own dreams, freeing herself from her demons using the royal road of the ‘talking cure’, while Bill, who tangles with their reality when he sees them for real, comes to grief. 
In the end, the film-maker is unable to believe that the image does not carry any betrayal within it. The image does not enjoy any privilege in and of itself when it comes to recording reality. We have had Méliès, we have had Iwo Jima, and perhaps Apollo 112 and even 9/11.

It is rather in the connection between word and image that their shared contribution to knowledge of reality is negotiated, through a certain complementarity which does not involve any of their differences. 

Which brings us to the invitation offered by the Documents d’artistes network (RDDA) to mark the 20th anniversary of La Station: writing a text to underwrite a selection of films made by artists and given visibility by the Internet platform.
A kind of pretext which is in no way a forecast—a textual introduction to a screening. 
Or rather to two screenings: first of all on this Internet page, and then at La Station, as part of a session specially organized for this anniversary. Two arrangements which seem to act separately but in concertation with the renewed perspective given to the relations between the place of the projection and the meeting between the work and the person looking at it. 
For the first year of the Cinema of the New Moon, a cycle of screenings showing films by artists and extracts of feature films which I proposed between 2013 and 2015 in the garden of the Cité internationale des arts in Paris, what was involved was a clarification of a relation of shift, a shift, first of all, of the film viewer as he waited for the punch line winding up a narrative. Then a shift in the artist’s film to separate it from its loop, its white cube, and its monitor. 
In an article published in 2009, looking back on the exhibition Mouvement des images held at the Centre Pompidou in 2006, Dork Zabunyan, for his part, mentioned the migration represented by the movement of the film from the auditorium to the museum, with images “which no longer move past in the darkness of the cinema, and on a single screen, but which are juxtaposed, sometimes in a dispersed way, in the museum or gallery space”,3 an initial migration duplicated by a migration of concepts making it possible to express what is displayed.
By unfurling the consequences of these two migrations, we can end up with two repositionings, on the one hand of the notion of the viewer, and, on the other hand, in a corollary way, of the documentation of reality.
The total immersion which Plato, Barjavel, Bradbury, Virilio, Godard, and many more seem to assign to the image as its ultimate goal, with the obvious fear that it may end up obstructing reality, seems to tally with a review of the very essence of the viewer’s role: by unblocking vision (to borrow Serge Daney’s words), the immersive projection in front of a standing viewer, himself moving about in front of/within the animated images, ushers in an arrangement in which, as Zabunyan points out, the editing, the mixing and, last of all, the script fall to the viewer, who thereby becomes something quite different—auteur? actor? agent? Here, in any event, there is a modification in the relation to the action, insofar as the head-on quality introduced by the work can be dodged. What seems to come across is a twofold polarization, around the viewer’s desire, and around the horizontality of the relation to the work—the planetary success of active immersion in augmented reality, for example through the Pokemon Go game, seems to encompass these two themes. 
Faced with this double distortion, what fate is then reserved for the documentation of reality? 
More exactly, in order to document reality, or rather negotiate with the reality of a vision which, by tradition, one knows not to be real, how can the respective contributions of word and image be combined, contributions which both offer to present, or more exactly represent, a reality that is always already there, but which, it just so happens, one can only render intelligible together, based on a relation that is both triangular and inside a social space? To answer this question the text must thus make room for works which, I hope, it has helped to introduce, and which, in their specific grammar, broach the challenges involved in this preface.
In this way, this text can be seen as the opposite of a closure, but as a complement to films which can henceforth be seen both for themselves and with the retinal persistence of an endlessly duplicated question which the viewer must lug about, whether he looks at these films on his personal screen, in an order that he will be responsible for defining, because, in this case, he will be the only viewer of a system which authorizes him to do as much, or at a screening, sitting in the middle of his peers in a black box in which the absence of lighting gives a thoroughly modernist overview, almost a transcendence, to the spectacle of the animated image over the viewers who undergo it. 
What here seems to be enacted and un-enacted stems from the viewer’s responsibility with regard to the artifice of the animated image, and in particular the arrangements which are used to show it, to invite him to think about the status of the images and the part that he has in them—and this is indeed the least of the services that can be rendered to him. 

“The question which these spineless times raise is indeed “What resists?” What resists the market, the media, fear, cynicism, stupidity, and indignity? The current answer, the romantic answer, seems once again to be: art”.
Serge Daney, Trafic No. 1, winter 1991.

As far as the choice of films is concerned, and the principles behind it, there have been several filters:
-firstly, as Odette says in Virginie Barré’s Odette spirite, films which do not have a letter to get to the hereafter: having recourse to this physical absence (or this superfluity?) represented by text, explanation, and discourse, Ibai Hernandorena’s Usage des tempsSaverio Lucariello’s Momadisme glouton, and, in the same ironical (idiotic) mode, Eric Duyckaerts’s 'Idéo and Jean Sabrier’s Mazzochio own up to their incompleteness, and the incongruousness of a word that the film incorporates, the better to underscore its strangeness;
-others try to find a way into the other, giving rise to a reconciliation or a conciliation—even if this does not work: BenAnna ByskovJean-Claude Ruggirello, and Natacha Lesueur all, in this sense, kindle the chord of failure to talk about this encounter, while Benedetto BufalinoJean DupuyFrancesco FinizioAnne Le Troter and Le Gentil Garçon tend to tread the path of wit and levity (“it fits, imperfectly, but it fits in all the same”);
-lastly, there are films which develop this outwardness; video and discourse exclude one another, just like reality and its representation, they pass the buck, like a switch: it is either one or the other, one being the other side of the other; so we have (in a metaphorical design) Michèle Sylvander’s Vu de l’extérieurMoussa Sarr’s Corps d’esclaves, and Julie C. Fortier’s Révolution; as for Marcel DinahetMathieu SchmittYves Chadouët and Benoît Laffiché, who totally do away with any recourse to words, they let the recording pass in just the image.

Films (length approx. 94 mins)

Virginie Barré, with Claire Guezengar et Florence Paradéis, Odette Spirite, 14:07, 2013
BenSe regarder dans un miroir, 00:47, 1963
Benedetto BufalinoLa Ferrari sur voiture sans permis, 00:54, 2013
Anna ByskovL’escalier, 00:58, 2007
Yves ChaudouëtAlto, 3:48, 2016
Marcel DinahetLa lampe du naufrageur, 02:48, 2015
Jean DupuySagittarius, 03:52, 2007
Eric Duyckaerts‘Idéo, 02:49, 2011
Francesco FinizioCar dancing, 05:04, 2007
Julie C. FortierRevolution, 05:00, 2007
Le Gentil GarçonThe Rise and Fall of Black Light City, 04:33, 2009
Alexandre GérardSans titre, 00:27s, 2011
Ibai HernandorenaL'usage des temps, 09:03, 2016
Benoît LaffichéLa forêt de la montagne de Moïse, 05:55, 2013
Natacha LesueurSans titre, 01:47, 2010
Anne Le TroterLe gueuloir, 2:42, 2014
Saverio LucarielloNomadisme glouton et boulimique, 02:34, 1997
Jean-Claude RuggirelloAngström, 01:19, 1994
Jean SabrierMazzocchio catoptrique, 06:40, 2007
Moussa SarrCorps d’esclaves (série Points de vue), 03:01, 2013
Mathieu SchmittCut up à la fleur, 4:22, 2012
Michèle SylvanderVu de l’extérieur, 04:45, 2012

Footnotes :

1 “ Nowadays, the auteur of films can no longer make a silent film, tomorrow he will no longer be able to make a grey film, the day after a flat film. Since its birth, cinema has been undergoing a constant development. It will end when it is capable of presenting us characters in the round, colourful and perhaps fragrant, when these characters will free themselves from the screen and from the darkness of cinema auditoria, and go walking in public places and in each other’s apartments. Science will go on giving cinema little improvements. But, by and large, it will have attained its perfect state. ” René Barjavel, Cinéma total, Denoël, Paris, 1944.

2 According to a conspiracy theory, contacts between NASA and Kubrick prompted him to take fictitious shots, on their behalf. This theory is based on the alleged involvement of a former NASA adviser and NASA’s interest in the film 2001, which was being edited at the time. NASA pushed Kubrick to take part in the studio direction of phoney moon landings in the Apollo 11 and 12 programmes. In 1968, Kubrick was allegedly secretly contacted by the space agency to direct the first three moon landings. Kubrick at first refused but ended up agreeing when faced with threats to reveal his brother Raul’s “embarrassing” involvement with the American communist party. He then allegedly proposed a script in which the Apollo 13 mission failed, but the astronauts were saved. Faced with NASA’s refusal, Kubrick put an end to his collaboration. These assertions come for the most part from the fictional documentary Opération Lune/Dark Side of the moon, made by William Karel in 2002 to show special effects methods and how the video and interviews were manipulated. That documentary made with actors and hijacked interviews caused confusion, with certain parties recounting real facts, and others hypotheses and pure fiction, with the whole being put together to be used for a fictitious narrative.

3 Dork Zabunyan, Les espaces autres du cinéma, in Les images mouventes. Entre la sale de cinema et l’espace d’exposition: une tentative d’etat des lieux. Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2009.

Virginie Barré, avec Claire Guezengar et Florence Paradéis,
Odette Spirite, 2013
Vidéo, 14’07’’
Se regarder dans un miroir, 1963
Vidéo, 00’47’’
Benedetto Bufalino,
La Ferrari sur voiture sans permis, 2013
Vidéo, 00’54’’
Anna Byskov,
L’escalier, 2007
Vidéo, 00’58’’
Yves Chaudouët,
Alto, 2016
Vidéo, 03’48’’
Marcel Dinahet,
La lampe du naufrageur, 2015
Vidéo, 02’48’’
Jean Dupuy,
Sagittarius, 2007
Vidéo, 03’52’’
Eric Duyckaerts,
’idéo, 2011
Vidéo, 02’49’’
Francesco Finizio,
Car dancing, 2007
Vidéo, 05’04’’
Julie C. Fortier,
Revolution, 2007
Vidéo, 05’00’’
Le Gentil Garçon,
The Rise and Fall of Black Light City, 2009
Vidéo, 04’33’’
Alexandre Gérard,
Sans titre, 2011
Vidéo, 00’27’’
Ibai Hernandorena,
L'usage des temps, 2016
Vidéo, 09’03’’
Benoît Laffiché,
La forêt de la montagne de Moïse, 2013
Vidéo, 05’55’’
Natasha Lesueur,
Sans titre, 2010
Vidéo, 01’47’’
Anne Le Troter,
Le gueuloir, 2014
Vidéo, 02’42"
Saverio Lucariello,
Nomadisme glouton et boulimique, 1997
Vidéo, 02’34’’
Jean-Claude Ruggirello,
Angström, 1994
Vidéo, 01’19’’
Jean Sabrier,
Mazzocchio catoptrique, 2007
Vidéo, 06’40’’
Moussa Sarr,
Corps d’esclaves (série Points de vue), 2013
Vidéo, 03’01’’
Mathieu Schmitt,
Cut up à la fleur, 2012
Vidéo, 04’22’
Michèle Sylvander,
Vu de l’extérieur, 2012
Vidéo, 04’45’’