Samuel Bianchini The Art of Apparatus
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.”
ACTIVATIONS AND TEMPORALITIES
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.
AT A DISTANCE
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.