Sa­muel Bian­chi­ni The Art of Ap­pa­ra­tus

Art Press - - MACHINISME -

Sa­muel Bian­chi­ni is an artist-re­sear­cher who uses the tech­no­lo­gies of his times to trans­cribe the zeit­geist in­to his work. He do­cu­ments his “oeuvres de dis­po­si­tif” (ap­pa­ra­tus works) in an on­line li­bra­ry that he calls a “dis­po­thèque.” The ex­pe­riences vi­si­tors un­der­go with these pieces have been col­lec­ted in images in an artist’s book en­tit­led Au­dience Works.


Sa­muel Bian­chi­ni is an artist of im­me­dia­cy in that his pieces are gras­ped at the ve­ry mo­ment we first see them, even though they pro­voke ana­ly­sis and thus are ne­ver real­ly ex­haus­ted. His ear­ly work Pour l'ins­tant (1996) crys­tal­li­zed that dua­li­ty brin­ging to­ge­ther sim­pli­ci­ty and com­plexi­ty. The ap­pa­ra­tus in­vol­ved, a Su­per 8 pro­jec­tor, is lit up by its own pro­jec­ted beam re­flec­ted in a mir­ror, tur­ning it in­to a sha­dow amid light, an in­te­gral part of the pro­jec­ted image, do­cu­men­ting its de­ploy­ment th­rough the hands that set up the film reel. These hands ti­re­less­ly re­peat the ori­gin of the mo­vie pro­jec­tion in a present that re­duces them to the state of images 24 times a se­cond. Ope­ra­ting on the pro­jec­tor’s sha­dow they ree­nact the scene of their re­cor­ding, just like the cha­rac­ters who po­pu­late the is­land des­cri­bed by Adol­fo Bioy Ca­sares in The In­ven­tion of Mo­rel.( 1) Bian­chi­ni ‘s ex­pe­ri­ments so­me­times evoke what might have been, like du­ring the night of May 6th, 2006 in Nan­cy. Une Pour­suite (as this ur­ban per­for­mance was cal­led) lit up the Thiers to­wer. But the light beam on­ly high­ligh­ted the ab­sence or di­sap­pea­rance of so­meone who was no lon­ger there. Once again, the pro­ta­go­nist of this so­lo show was a ma­chine whose mo­ve­ments are cal­cu­la­ted by ano­ther ma­chine. In this art ma­chines have no use func­tion, like the spot­light that lights up no­thing but its own va­cui­ty as the night­time art­work gra­dual­ly re­veals it­self th­rough the com­men­ta­ries of the spec­ta­tors, or­di­na­ry people, neigh­bo­rhood re­si­dents or pas­sers-by, in­ter­ro­ga­ted by a ma­chine pre­sence en­do­wed with what Mar­cel Du­champ cal­led “the art co­ef­fi­cient.”


Bian­chi­ni’s images turn on and off in mul­tiple temporalities. Spec­ta­tors are ac­tive, too. They play their part in the fall of a wo­man about whom they know no­thing but the cause of her col­lapse sug­ges­ted by the title ( Sni­per, 1999). They re­play the

scene, flip­ping th­rough each mo­ment. “An in­te­rac­tive work is meant to be per­for­med by its vie­wers, it is meant to be played,” ex­plains Jean-Louis Bois­sier.(2) But we al­so have to act to­ge­ther ( Tous en­semble [ 2007]) when the rules of the game es­ta­bli­shed by the artist call for that. We see an image of tem­po­ral frag­ments of a de­mons­tra­tion, the per­fect sym­bol of the idea in the title, “all to­ge­ther.” But no­thing goes as ex­pec­ted in terms of ac­ting in concert. This idea, that kee­ping a si­tua­tion in­vol­ving ma­ny people un­der con­trol de­pends on the qua­li­ty and de­gree of co­ope­ra­tion, is a core is­sue in this artist’s re­search in­to what in the U.S. is cal­led Large Group In­ter­ac­tion. His 2011 per­for­mance Dis­con­trol Party al­lows a crowd to over­po­wer a com­plex sur­veillance me­cha­nism at the Gaî­té Ly­rique thea­ter in a per­fect il­lus­tra­tion of what mass co­ope­ra­tion makes pos­sible. Bian­chi­ni takes vie­wers from crowd in­ter­ac­tions to more pri­vate ones by con­fron­ting us with a piece whose main com­ponent is us, so much so that the vie­wer and art­work be­come in­dis­tin­gui­shable. In Contre­temps (2004-2010), a glass sur­face iso­lates a man who, in the image, is dra­wing ti­ny ho­ri­zon­tal bars that com­pose his sil­houette. As vie­wers swipe the sur­face they make the film of these re­pea­ted ac­tions go for­ward or ba­ck­ward and mark the pas­sage of time. The man dra­wing ty­po­gra­phi­cal cha­rac­ters fuses with the hand of the vie­wer who is ca­res­sing them. To­ge­ther they add up to a double mir­ror image. As they dis­co­ver each other, they come to­ge­ther in a re­playable ti­me­frame that can be kept un­der con­trol even wi­thout kno­wing who is control­ling whom. That’s how per­fect the fu­sion be­comes.


Dis­tance is a re­cur­rent no­tion in Bian­chi­ni’s work, star­ting with Va­leurs Croi­sées (2008), a piece made up of a wall of ti­ny di­gi­tal dis­play units. Each of these in­nu­me­rable luminous com­pu­te­ri­zed coun­ters dis­plays a rea­ding of the dis­tance se­pa­ra­ting them from the vi­si­tors un­der observation by the ins­tal­la­tion. Vi­si­tors re­co­gnize the “im­print” of their pre­sence as they see the chan­ging va­lues of the com­pu­ters that add up to a kind of ki­ne­tic mir­ror. These im­prints are ex­cellent sym­bols of the di­gi­tal da­ta we ge­ne­rate from birth to death. The orange-ish lights sketch the contours of a win­dow on­to the world of Big Da­ta—at a time when the line se­pa­ra­ting da­ta from con­trol has been cros­sed by states and cor­po­ra­tions. Va­leurs Croi­sées is al­so an evo­ca­tion of the world of Big Bro­ther, and control­ling da­ta and va- lues means re­mote con­trol of the world. À dis­tances (Re­mote Controls) is the title of ano­ther work, made in 2011, de­mons­tra­ting the elas­ti­ci­ty of our re­la­tion­ship with images in pu­blic spaces. An LED screen flashes images when so­meone is there to see them. The de­gree of fo­cus cor­res­ponds to the dis­tance bet­ween the screen and ob­ser­vers. As vi­si­tors approach the screen the images di­sap­pear, lea­ving a light out­line of their sil­houette. Shouldn’t we keep a cer­tain dis­tance bet­ween our­selves and images and me­dia in ge­ne­ral, es­pe­cial­ly since we don’t al­ways know where they come from? The form of this en­ti­re­ly di­gi­tal ins­tal­la­tion re­calls the prin­ting tech­nique (Ben-Day dots) em­ployed by ar­tists to make a “work of art in the age of me­cha­ni­cal re­pro­duc­tion,”(3) re­fe­ren­cing the prac­tice of pho­to­gra­phy. Ex­cept for this: here it is the en­tire bo­dy that re­gu­lates the fo­cus, the elas­tic re­la­tion­ship to images. As if in res­ponse to a ques­tion po­sed by Nor­bert Hillaire in 2013, “is there still a place for the in­cal­cu­lable part of the art­work?,”(4) Bian­chi­ni fre­quent­ly in­serts er­rors in­to the co­ding of his pro­jects. The ma­chine that is the core of the ins­tal­la­tion En Réa­li­tés (2009, made with Syl­vie Tis­sot) proves in­ca­pable of dis­playing the mes­sage, “I am a bug­ged pro­gram.” In fact, that will al­ways be im­pos­sible be­cause the mes­sage it­self spells out the rea­son for its fai­lure. It’s up to the artist to re­veal the co­ding for the condition that leads to eve­ry ac­cep­table error. Key­words (2011) is a pro­gram that vain­ly tries to de­ci­pher Capt­chas,(5) those boxes with dis­tor­ted let­ters and num­bers de­si­gned to keep out au­to­ma­ted ac­cess re­quests meant to take over an ac­count and ge­ne­rate spam. But the com­pu­ter, which can on­ly fail at its task be­cause that’s what the artist has de­ci­ded, seems to he­si­tate. Hob­bled by the artist’s res­tric­tions of its ca­pa­bi­li­ty, it seems to act more like us, even though, un­bek­nownst to us, what is going on is an in­ter­ac­tion bet­ween two pro­grams. The same idea of he­si­ta­tion pro­gram­med in­to a com­pu­ter is al­so found in En­seigne (2012), a fla­shing si­gn that ma­nages to make sense on­ly once in a while. It starts out all over again and again, trying to make words drawn from a da­ta­base dis­play cor­rect­ly. When and on­ly when it suc­ceeds, it stops for a mi­nute, as if to sa­vor the victory, sug­ges­ting that per­haps all our own he­si­ta­tions are not in vain. But it is the di­men­sion of im­per­fec­tion it­self that makes the art­work, in a to­tal­ly di­gi­tal world where al­most eve­ry­thing can be cal­cu­la­ted, with the ex­cep­tion, ho­we­ver, of art­works, even in the age of me­cha­ni­cal re­pro­duc­tion.

Trans­la­tion, L-S Tor­goff

(1) Adol­fo, Bioy Ca­sares, The In­ven­tion of Mo­rel, New York Re­view of Books, 2003. 2) Jean-Louis Bois­sier, Jouable : art, jeu et in­te­rac­ti­vi­té, HEAA, Ge­ne­va, Ensad, Pa­ris, 2004, p.17. (3) Wal­ter Ben­ja­min, “The Work of Art in the Age of Me­cha­ni­cal Re­pro­duc­tion,” Pen­guin Books, 2008. (4) Nor­bert Hillaire, “Art in the Di­gi­tal Era,” art­press 2, no. 29, 2013. (5) Capt­cha, Com­ple­te­ly Au­to­ma­ted Pu­blic Tu­ring Test to Tell Com­pu­ters and Hu­mans Apart.

Do­mi­nique Mou­lon is an art cri­tic, cu­ra­tor and ar­tis­tic di­rec­tor of the Show Off art fair.

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