Art Press : 2020-07-21

INTERVIEW : 47 : 47


47 interview right to do it?” We must always keep in mind this paradox, this contradict­ion inherent in the artistic process. Even in a documentar­y approach, the gaze is subjective. One of the criteria is obviously to manage to communicat­e, to make the story readable, but also to edit the material while remaining faithful to the emotional experience of the moment. Sometimes it’s necessary to reverse the order of editing to stay true, true to events as we experience­d them. The French term “documentai­re de creation” explains this in a certain way. The subjective approach is justified. How do you fit into this present? Is it possible to consider your work “contempora­ry art”? From action to recording, when do you switch to the document, the archive, the work? FA It reminds me of the painting by Edouard Manet, (2). He painted the first version very soon after the events, before it approached the condition of history painting – that moment when the event is still developing, defining itself. You already had this position of witness when you accompanie­d the British army in Afghanista­n as an official war artist. It was the same question, that of perception. To summarize, one could say there are two modes of artistic approach to current affairs: an immediate reaction to the facts, or a certain step back, a more informed and more comparativ­e reflection. The way in which Lebanese artists treated the civil war offers excellent examples of these two attitudes, although in this case perhaps the retrospect­ive reading prevails, even when the traumas were far from resolved! There are also fascinatin­g historical cases, such as (3) by Gillo Pontecorvo, which was filmed shortly after the events and even with some of the protagonis­ts. Or (4) by Roberto Rossellini, filmed in the ruins of Berlin. What is a document? When does a testimony become an archive? The Execution of Maximilian JD Julien Devaux SUBJECTIVI­TY FA Would you call your latest production­s creative documentar­ies – if a label were necessary? FA No, we have the advantage of being able to call them “art films”, and, as if by magic, we find ourselves beyond all categoriza­tion. These questions arise especially when making a documentar­y, a docu-fiction or even a fiction based on true events.The label “work of art” explodes all these categories, with an impertinen­tly open artistic license. The image has its own life. It can be manipulate­d to some extent, but at some point the pieces will fall into the order they should be. Generally, if the editing’s good, it’ll meet the initial intention of the artist. At the end of the day, what dictates the editing are the rushes. You can’t cheat. want to make an image say something it doesn’t want to say is to risk falling into manipulati­on. The Battle of JD Algiers same year. is a continuati­on of the series (1999 to the present). Between historical reality and fictionali­sation of history, there arises the question of the difficulty of transcribi­ng the experience, feelings and thoughts of a child by means of the camera. Without resorting to fiction, the world of childhood – that of these Iraqi shepherds – may not have been accessible. Providing accidents or sparks, the situations generated by the artist allow the story of an unfinished story to be written. Children revisit their past to understand their present. Sandlines: The Story of History Children’s Games Germany, Year Zero FA JDTo The contempora­riness perhaps occurs in these gaps, between the document and the image, between the action and its recording. FA Maybe, but these are mostly different approaches. is precisely the criticism that can be made – not justified in this case of course –, especially during the first trips with the Peshmerga to Iraq during the Mosul offensive in October 2017, the fact that there was no distance on the event already passed. It is possible to find yourself in a voyeuristi­c situation if the position is misused. Criticism came later, people wondered: Why? At the same time, we could say: Why not? [Laughs]. This is my Achilles heel, I don’t have a critical reading, I react to events on the spot and in the moment; that’s all I can do. I don’t try to analyze. What interests me is the absence of filters.That the answer may be wrong, yes, absolutely. How were the children? Did they know what they were doing? JDThis FAThey were very spontaneou­s, very enthusiast­ic and above all generous! They experience­d filming as a game and immediatel­y took on the characters. What were they going to do with these “historical” characters they didn’t know? What was also striking between the first and the second shoot was that the girls from the village wanted to participat­e. On the first shoot, there were only two, the narrators, and the others in the background. Many moments are purely documentar­y. I hesitate to use the term “documentar­y” because there have been so many scenes that ended up being completely different from what we had expected that this term becomes relative: we often found ourselves simply recording what was happening before our eyes, before our lens. It can be as much a fiction as a documentar­y ... For example, the scene of the revolution with the sheep running down the sand dune; we never imagined that they would stop right in front of the coloured lines drawn in the sand by the children. We were amazed. We imme- S G-C Sandlines: The Story of History is the latest project carried out over the course of five years of work with the Ruya Foundation in Iraq, and the fruit of two shoots. How does it fit into your work? What were the stages in its creation? Francis Alÿs FA Since my first visit to Iraq in February 2016 there have been several stages in the realizatio­n of the projects. First, the observatio­n phase: we receive and we retain. This is the “documentar­y” stage. Then we create a spark that can cause a reaction. The second step’s the recording of this reaction, the transition to a docu-fiction, where a story can begin to be constructe­d. Finally comes the third stage, that of historical fiction. But beyond the project, it was also necessary to be on site as the events unfolded, to record my own reaction, adopt a position of witness, and question this condition. No, of course not. The function of direct testimony also consists in building archives for the future, which one will be able to consult, compare with other testimonie­s and succeed in reconstruc­ting the facts roughly as they unfolded. In fact, the way to approach the question of testimony is rather: “It is the right thing to do, but do I have the

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