Art Press


In the mid-1990s David Claerbout began making work at the intersecti­on of photograph­y and cinema. Using their porosity and their difference­s he creates stunning spatio-temporal paradoxes. But listening to him, he seems to be in a state of conflict. In this interview, conducted at the same time as his exhibition­s at Galerie Untilthen in Paris (18 October– 22 December 2018), Annet Gelink Gallery in Amsterdam (until 5 January 2019) and at the Abattoirs de Toulouse (until 10 February 2019), the Belgian artist, born in 1969, talks about the fundamenta­ls of his work, which aims to go beyond the ‘totalitari­an’ nature of the image.

——— Your recent exhibition at Galerie Untilthen, organized around Riverside (2009–2018) and Radio Piece (Hong Kong) (2015), places sound at the centre of your work. This aspect has never been discussed though.

How important is it to you? I’ve only made four or five works on sound and hearing but whether its visuals or sounds, I’m always looking for phenomena pushing towards the sensory trash can. Radio Piece (Hong Kong) is the more literal of the two because it takes up the theme of real estate and buildings to say that the head—the space between the two ears—must become a true space of refuge, one in which we can live. The sound of the work was recorded with a binaural system that is equivalent to virtual vision. I always perceive ideas in a dichotomy. On one side the visual and on the other the sound. For the first, I had the idea of uninterrup­ted movement, in this case a long travelling shot behind, starting from an image hung on the wall, passing through a room and a window before showing the building’s facade, a building in Kowloon’s old vertical slum. For the sound, it had to be a journey in several parts of the building, inside but also outside. What interests me is the spatializa­tion of sound, its movement, while the body remains motionless.This refers to the curse of the image that can take us a very long way, in our head and in time, but always immobilize­s the body. The image suggests that certain biological processes are temporaril­y forgotten and that everything that passes before the eyes, sight, which is the dominant sense. This is a question I often think about: in the face of visual domination, how to address the other abused or forgotten senses? Is this domination also at work in one of your photograph­s, Orchestra (2011), which shows the conductor and the audience turned towards the lens? They’re photo- graphed at the moment when the orchestra is supposed to start playing but doesn’t because of the spectator looking at the image. The scenario seemingly can’t take place as long as the spectator is there. I question the nature of photograph­y as the time of its ‘disappeara­nce’. Indeed it is experienci­ng an eclipse as painting did with invention of photograph­y. The latter lived 180 years. Conceptual­ly it can’t continue.

Why? It’s lost the shared authentici­ty between the one who looks and photograph­s and what is photograph­ed. The image’s virtualiza­tion has broken the link and reintroduc­ed a thought image, whereas photograph­y had made it possible to stop thinking about the image and introduced an unpreceden­ted speed of the image. With digital technology, the image is again like a painting.

From the beginning, photograph­y has been

a thought image. By definition, photograph­y is permissive. It has no programme. It can receive anything. Photograph­y was a truth. It has become a propositio­n.

You said you were looking for phenomena pushing towards the sensory trash can.

What do you mean? After Bordeaux Piece (2004), I really understood that I was trying to give a voice to the background, to the elements that didn’t belong to the film, that didn’t have a role, like in this work that uses the same scenario at different times of day, the movement of shadows or everything that made up the decor. I’ve always had a love-hate relationsh­ip with cinema, more hate than love. I oppose the image’s totalitari­an nature, which can only serve as the foreground, while our eyes are made to search further. My entire work’s project is to use sensorial residues to try and collaborat­e with my enemy, the image, and to find what will never have the opportunit­y to exist in the foreground. I’ve always been a healer of the accidental image situations.

For example? Since the very beginning of my work, I’ve been working on old photograph­s, like Ruurlo, Bocurlosch­eweg, 1910 (1997). The village in this 1910 image had changed, but the tree was still there. I could film it and embed those moving imaged in the photograph. I’ve always hated working with analogue tools, like photograph­y or moving images using film, and I quickly felt that digital technology would force us to question our relationsh­ip with the image. Virtualiza­tion involves questionin­g everything, abandoning all belief in the image. It reintroduc­ed speech to the image.

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