Eric Bau­de­laire Un­fi­ni­shed Bu­si­ness

Art Press - - MÉTAPHORE -

Af­ter ha­ving pre­sen­ted The Se­ces­sion Ses­sions at the Bé­ton­sa­lon in Pa­ris and the Ber­gen Kuns­thall, in Nor­way, this November Éric Bau­de­laire will show at the Fri­de­ri­cia­num in Kas­sel. This is an oc­ca­sion to re­vi­sit the last de­cade in the de­ve­lop­ment of a chal­len­ging bo­dy of work com­pri­sed of constel­la­tions in which film oc­cu­pies an in­crea­sin­gly im­por­tant place.

Eric Bau­de­laire has mo­ved around a lot. His jour­ney has ta­ken him from the U.S., where he was born to French pa­rents in 1973, to France, where he lives to­day; from geo­po­li­ti­cal scho­lar­ship and an­ti-ca­pi­ta­list ac­ti­vism to art; and from pho­to­gra­phy to ob­jects and film. But some things have re­mai­ned cons­tant: a de­sire to stick un­com­pro­mi­sin­gly to the com­plexi­ty of rea­li­ty; a me­thod using mul­tiple modes and pers­pec­tives; and a cea­se­less in­ter­ro­ga­tion of the pos­si­bi­li­ties and po­wers of images and nar­ra­tives.

The Se­ces­sion Ses­sions is the se­cond part of a pro­ject laun­ched more than a de­cade ago about Ab­kha­zia, a break-away from Geor­gia that to­day is re­co­gni­zed by on­ly a hand­ful of coun­tries, in­clu­ding Rus­sia. One of his first se­ries of pho­tos, États ima­gi­nés (2004-2005), was de­vo­ted to the birth of that Cau­ca­sian re­pu­blic. Then, wan­ting to fol­low up on the construc­tion of this pa­ra­doxi­cal state, he went back there to make Let­ters to Max (2014), a fea­ture-length film ba­sed on his cor­res­pon­dence with the for­mer Ab­kha­zian mi­nis­ter of fo­rei­gn af­fairs Maxim Gvin­jia, who ans­we­red the ques­tions the ar­tist put to him by mail eve­ry day in late 2012. Some are per­so­nal, others theo­re­ti­cal. Some are about Ab­kha­zia, others about Bau­de­laire’s up­co­ming film shoot. The last, with no re­ply, casts doubt on the rea­li­ty of Bau­de­laire’s pro­ject. “Did you get my let­ters, Max?” he pleads.


But Bau­de­laire is not trying to create a ste­rile confu­sion. His work is so­lid­ly ba­sed on rea­li­ty. He un­ders­tands its com­plexi­ty and am­bi­gui­ty, and re­fuses to re­duce it to ob­jec­tive facts and ve­ri­fiable, une­qui­vo­cal claims. While he re­tains the chro­no­lo­gi­cal form of his uni­ver­si­ty re­search (chro­no­lo­gies that, along with other do­cu­ments ga­the­red in a book­let, can be used to sup­ple­ment his ex­hi­bi­tions, as the Sy­na­gogue de Delme), he has re­jec­ted the cla­ri­ty de­man­ded by geo­po­li­ti­cal theo­ries and tools. He pre­fers to re­spond to com­plexi­ty with com­plexi­ty, and even ge­ne­rate confu­sion. More par­ti­cu­lar­ly, ins­pi­red by Pe­ter Wat­kins’s The War Game, a 1965 docu-dra­ma about a nu­clear at­tack on the UK and its conse­quences, Bau­de­laire went beyond an am­bi­guous mix of fact and fic­tion, and ins­tead used that film’s fac­to­gra­phic me­thod (re­por­ting on facts, when there is no image or do­cu­ment to do the job, by in­ven­ting them, with that fa­bri­ca­tion pro­du­cing the ef­fect of truth).(1) Thus he re­fuses to dis­tin­guish bet­ween do­cu­men­ta­ry and fic­tion, me­diums that, in his eyes, have equal va­lue. They are com­ple­men­ta­ry in our ap­pre­hen­sion of rea­li­ty, and, fur­ther, both consti­tu­tive of our way of pro­du­cing ac­counts of it. In bet­ween the two parts of his long-term work on Ab­kha­zia, Bau­de­laire made works of an ap­pa­rent he­te­ro­ge­neous cha­rac­ter, or­ga­ni­zed in­to the­ma­tic constel­la­tions while at the same time re­tai­ning their au­to­no­my. One of these constel­la­tions is ba­sed on 9/11, an event that he wit­nes­sed but did not feel the need to photograph. Sep­tem­ber 11 and its conse­quences made their ap­pea­rance in his work five years la­ter. The two year-long pro­ject was cal­led Cir­cu­mam­bu­la­tion (2006). Bau­de­laire cir­cled around Ground Ze­ro with two ca­me­ras, one poin­ted at the ground and the other to­ward the absent to­wers. Like this vi­deo, the other works in this cycle were al­so about the event and its representation. When scree­ned at the Eli­za­beth Dee gal­le­ry in New York in 2007, Cir­cu­mam­bu­la­tion was ac­com­pa­nied by a quote from Leo­nar­do Da Vin­ci about how to paint a bat­tle, which is a des­crip­tion, in a way, of an absent image, since Da Vin­ci’s pain­ting The Bat­tle of An­ghia­ri has been lost. These ab­sences are pai­red with the over­load of images in the pho­to­gra­phic dip­tych The Dread­ful De­tails (2006), a de­li­be­ra­te­ly ar­ti­fi­cial con­tem­po­ra­ry his­to­ry ta­bleau full of ar­tis­tic and jour­na­lis­tic re­fe­rences. The vi­deo Su­gar Wa­ter (2007) syn­the­si­zed this po­la­ri­ty by de­com­po­sing the time of an event, in this case an ex­plo­ding car, to fo­re­ground the po­ly­se­my of images. To re­phrase Jean-Luc Go­dard, there is no such thing as a just (in the sense of per­fect­ly ac­cu­rate) image, there are just images. These images, with their un­cer­tain cha­rac­ter and mea­ning, could as ea­si­ly come from a TV com­mer­cial or an ac­tion mo­vie (Bau­de­laire argues that be­fore 9/11 such images were the sole pro­vince of ci­ne­ma) as an ac­ci­dent, van­da­lism or a ter­ro­rist at­tack.


Bau­de­laire’s other constel­la­tion of work concerns the concept of ana­ba­sis, which is al­so a form of cir­cu­lar mo­tion but, in this case, ris­kier. Si­mul­ta­neous­ly a wan­de­ring in­to the new and self-wi­th­dra­wal, here the word ana­ba­sis de­si­gnates above all a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­rience. During a residency in Ja­pan, Bau­de­laire trans­for­med images in the man­ner of an ana­ba­sis. First, he tra­ve­led with blank film which, when he re­tur­ned to his point of de­par­ture, bore the marks of the air­port x-rays it had been sub­jec­ted to ( Ana­ba­sis X-rayo­grams, 2007-2009). Then he came back to France car­rying images from Wes­tern art ma­ga­zines whose sta­tus as art ob­jects was to be res­to­red when dis­played in an art space, af­ter ha­ving been de­cla­red obs­cene by the Japanese cen­sors, who al­lo­wed them to be im­por­ted on­ly af­ter the scrat­ching out ( bo­ka­shi) of de­tails that “un­ne­ces­sa­ri­ly ex­cite or sti­mu­late sexual de­sire.” ( Of Signs & Senses, 2009). Bau­de­laire’s re­flec­tion on ana­ba­sis soon led him to the fate of Ma­sao Ada­chi, Fu­sa­ko Shi­ge­no­bu and May, the lat­ter’s daugh­ter. Ada­chi and Shi­ge­no­bu were

mem­bers of the Japanese Red Ar­my who fought in Le­ba­non along­side the Po­pu­lar Front for the Li­be­ra­tion of Pa­les­tine. They were ar­res­ted and brought back to Ja­pan; May came back on her own. This en­coun­ter gave birth to the film L’Ana­base de May et Fu­sa­ko Shi­ge­no­bu, Ma­sao Ada­chi et 27 an­nées sans images,( 2011) which weaves to­ge­ther the nar­ra­tives of Ada­chi, a script wri­ter and ex­pe­ri­men­tal film­ma­ker who went over to the ar­med struggle and conti­nued to make mo­vies about it, and May Shi­ge­no­bu, who had li­ved clan­des­ti­ne­ly un­til the age of 27 ("27 years wi­thout images"). Her life was com­pri­sed of a suc­ces­sion of iden­ti­ties (for a long time she didn’t know her real name) and co­ver sto­ries, so that her ve­ry exis­tence was al­most fic­tio­nal. The fee­ling of un­cer­tain­ty is rein­for­ced by the re­la­tion­ship bet­ween the nar­ra­tives and the images, a cen­tral ques­tion in Bau­de­laire’s films that here gives rise to a double am­bi­gui­ty, tem­po­ral and geo­gra­phic. So­me­times out of sync and so­me­times not, the off-screen voices of May and Ada­chi (whose ac­counts were re­cor­ded se­ve­ral years apart), ac­com­pa­ny ar­chive images and pho­tos ta­ken years af­ter the re­cor­ding. Shot in Su­per-8, they seem to re­call a dis­tant past and thus make up for the ab­sence of images of May’s un­der­ground life and the loss (due to bom­bard­ments) of the films Ada­chi made in Le­ba­non. This tem­po­ral in­ter­wea­ving, cha­rac­te­ris­tic of Bau­de­laire’s other mo­vies, goes along with geo­gra­phic un­cer­tain­ty. The al­ter­na­ting mon­tage of foo­tage shot in Le­ba­non and Ja­pan ends up blur­ring the dif­fe­rence and leaves vie­wers in an in­ter­me­dia­ry space.


By brin­ging to­ge­ther the speech of two clo­se­ly as­so­cia­ted but dif­ferent people, this film al­so in­di­cates that on­ly mul­tiple points of view can make it pos­sible to grasp the com­plexi­ty of rea­li­ty. This is ano­ther re­cur­ring cha­rac­te­ris­tic of Bau­de­laire’s work, as can be seen in the ex­hi­bi­tion The Se­ces­sion Ses­sions. His let­ters, which did reach their ad­dres­see, were shown at the Bé­ton­sa­lon, and the film Let­ters to Max was pro­jec­ted. But vi- si­tors could short-cir­cuit the ar­tist, by­pas­sing his point of view, by tal­king di­rect­ly with Max, who was in­vi­ted to the show to meet with them in what was cal­led the “Ab­kha­zia Anam­bas­sade. “Al­so as part of the ex­hi­bi­tion, vi­si­tors could at­tend talks gi­ven by prac­ti­tio­ners of va­rious dis­ci­plines. There is not much dis­tance bet­ween this kind of in­vi­ta­tion and ta­king part in the ma­king of the art­work it­self. With his taste for al­te­ri­ty and in­ter­est in the po­ten­tial fer­ti­li­ty of constraints, this is a step that Bau­de­laire likes to take. Thus he has de­ve­lo­ped a pro­to­col for sha­ring the sta­tus of au­thor. While in re­si­dence in Cler­mont-Fer­rand, Bau­de­laire heard that a Mi­che­lin factory was being mo­ved to In­dia. He as­ked In­dian pho­to­gra­pher Anay Mann to make pho­tos si­mi­lar to his own ( Site Dis­pla­ce­ment / Dé­pla­ce­ment de site, 2007). More re­cent­ly, for The Ugly One (2013), a fea­ture film about the frag­men­ted me­mo­ry of a ter­ro­rist in­ci­dent in Bei­rut, an echo of L’Ana­base..., Bau­de­laire came to an agree­ment with Ada­chi, once again tur­ned script wri­ter for the oc­ca­sion, about the star­ting point for a sce­na­rio, but re­frai­ned from rea­ding the fi­nal ver­sion un­til a few days be­fore the shoot. Since Ada­chi’s sce­na­rio was im­pos­sible to film, the pro­to­col obli­ged him to take li­te­ral­ly Fran­çois Truf­faut’s axiom about shoo­ting against the script then edi­ting against the foo­tage. Conse­quent­ly, Ada­chi’s voi­ceo­ver, ve­ry much present at the be­gin­ning of the mo­vie, fades out and the cha­rac­ters are al­lo­wed to move bet­ween the script wri­ter and the di­rec­tor in their quest for an im­pos­sible cla­ri­ty. Af­ter the past de­cade, ha­ving com­ple­ted the two cycles Cir­cu­mam­bu­la­tion andL’Ana­base and left open the Ab­kha­zia se­ries, Bau­de­laire seems to want to ar­ti­cu­late his prac­tice bet­ween two op­po­site poles. On the one hand, com­plex fea­ture films that are dif­fi­cult to make (he is wor­king on dra­ma in Ab­kha­zia) and meant to be shown in a thea­ter as well as a mo­ni­tor. At Kas­sel, for example, the pro­jec­tions of L'Ana­base... and The Ugly One will be ac­com­pa­nied by ins­tal­la­tions. On the other, au­to­no­mous pieces that re­quire few re­sources to make but whose spi­rit, like Ro­bert Filliou’s work, is high­ly char­ged poe­ti­cal­ly and po­li­ti­cal­ly. Bau­de­laire has al­rea­dy made a num­ber of such works, in­clu­ding Re

fu­sons le monde de ceux qui ont (Re­ject the world of those who have, 2010), a pho­to of graf­fi­ti whose ra­di­ca­lism re­sides in its un­fi­ni­shed­ness, and Eve­ry­thing is Po­li­ti­cal (2011), a pile of books all bea­ring the title “Un­fi­ni­shed Bu­si­ness,” a me­ta­phor for the state of the world, and this ar­tist’s prac­tice as well.

Trans­la­tion, L-S Tor­goff

(1) Eric Bau­de­laire, “Puis­sances du faux (jour­nal),” “Que peut une image?,” Les car­nets du BAL, no. 4.

« Eve­ry­thing is Po­li­ti­cal ». 2011. Livres et en­re­gis­tre­ment de la der­nière phrase de chaque livre. (Court. de l’ar­tiste). Books with re­cor­dings of the last sen­tence

« Let­ters to Max ». 2014. Film, 103’. (Court. de l’ar­tiste)

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