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Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster

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m.m.m. (moments.microcosms.modernities)

by Stéphanie Moisdon Trembley

Robert Bresson has just expired and so has a certain idea of modernity. Yet one must keep on being modern, living, traveling and thinking with modernity. Between Bresson and Antonioni, seeing something lingering in their trail, a common attitude, an obvious kinship. Other films dealing with itineraries and wanderings, open works on which time has engraved its mark, in which landscape has become a concentric theatre, an area of the world to inventory again and again as many times as it can be walked through, in reality and in mind, as long as the meeting point between horizontality and verticality has not made an appearance. Ipanema Theories is one of those passenger-movies pervaded with the modern conception of the image, of the landscape, of cinema, of projection, of the city, of duration, of writing; a movie working with Antonioni and Sarraute. Ipanema is a long beach in Rio, a widespread zone that does not point out a border between the city (vertical) and the sea (horizontal). In those places, times breaks free, hours and minutes fall into oblivion although they are close to a fast and swarming production zone. The way time is handled in this film echoes a tropical sensation, its clichés (The Girl from Ipanema, a song sung in and translated into many languages), the languidness and sultriness of the bodies, the colors and lights. The image of this beach, absent from the film, gives birth to an axis, a paradigm, a theoretic side.

First, I.T. is spurred by a desire to map out and be acknowledged (been there, seen this figure, filmed this architectural piece), an attempt to explore a foreign space (Hong Kong, Kyoto, London, Bangkok...) where our language and gestures are not understandable and where we cannot settle down. Filming and watching the landscape does not come down to colonizing it, designating it, reducing it to something known or defining it with our own words and shapes, on the contrary it allows one to let it outside, in front of oneself.

To do so, one needs time, enough time for the subject and the object to slip away. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster does not fulfill a reporter’s duties, he does not produce images but endeavors to see how they come to life at the border of the visible, in the trouble, confusion and free flow of signs, where information gets lost and fades away. As in every movie dealing with roaming and exploration, one never knows what the filmmaker is looking for nor what is really happening. The film is a construction game tantalizing the viewer’s expectations, his/her longing for a denouement, a purpose; an eternally hindered longing during which things grow fainter without completely disappearing.

The character issue is central to this narrative. The images are always related to a character’s point of view, a point of view tipped over if one agrees that it can stand both in front of oneself and outside, inside the frame and outside the frame (right at the border). This character internalizes the landscape (1) and takes us into a space riddled with sound, visual, referential breaches. The soundtrack (2) follows the image according to the frequency and refers to a common, technological and contemporary vision. Each time the sound enters the image, the present rises even more. Those holes are like inputs and outputs through which the filmmaker enters using music and cinema as an influence, a faraway reference, a skyline. D.G.F. does not borrow anything from cinema, she just remembers what has already been projected, superimposed: neat or flickering visions of the world, of its utopias and its architectural forms, its micro-fictions, its micro-deserts, adolescent dreams, nightmares behind a purple curtain, oscillation and abstraction effects, end of shots. Those cinematic entries (never named nor even visible) shape the structure of the film, that is, its editing, thus leaving only traces, “cinema sensations” in the end (or “art sensations” as she also likes to call them). The cinema sensation comes from a post-television world and intensifies our awareness of an environment populated by entries, other references, elements of reality, strangeness or topicality. Through a contamination effect, getting connected to cinema means getting in touch with foreign parts of the world. The indirect path of this link allows the perceptive dimension to expand even further thus creating a connection guaranteeing more reality, more emotion and more experience.

D.G.F.’s research focuses for the most part on re-centering devices on the place where lies perception, that of the viewer-character who inhabits the place and the moment with his/her accessories, prostheses, with his/her memory too, with his/her imperfect memories. This way to inhabit an urban moment already constituted the theoretic and sensitive center around which revolved “Moment Ginza”, an exhibition designed as a series of exploratory situations, encounters, as a relational architecture (3). Today, passengers travel with walkmans, digital cameras, mobile phones looking for their network, technological and biological clocks in out-of-order mode at each transition. The movie takes this state of things - the traveling and disturbance of communication and permanent creation - into account. Images and sounds pierce through those filters, screens, those extensions of the body and mind. They become elements of a reality both current and virtual, constantly in tune with the present. Here the character is made into a user of those vehicles and those apparatuses. The movie fathoms his/her personality, his/her ways of interacting, his/her intuitions, his/her moves and emotions; it also fathoms his/her relationship with the frame; that is to say, with the shot. This shot is not that of a single man but of a community, a people, of machines, sounds and image users. D.G.F. is well aware that in each object, each material production matérielle there is an unsuspected narrative possibility, the possibility to generate other social, relationship-oriented, aesthetic and ethical experiments.

In a text about Il Deserto rosso (1964), Antonioni relates his halt) at the local bar: “Surprisingly, he relates, no matter how hard I move about the room to try and find the most appropriate angle, I cannot find it. I would be really embarrassed if I had to “frame” what I see. Maybe the difficulty lies in my not having any story to tell and my visual imagination lacking food for thought.” A young girl enters the bar, he watches her. Then, smoothly, “I move until reaching the edge of the bar, behind the girl thus appearing in the foreground. At the back of the room, the leaning window, the dust layered against the glass and running down as if it were liquid. From where I am standing with the girl with her back turned), the relationship between the outside and the inside is just right; the image, full. The white, outside – a seemingly non-existent reality – and inside, the dark stains – including the girl – make sense.” No image without a character even when the latter is away. In Ipanema Theories as in her other movies (Riyo (1999) and Île de Beauté / Beauty Island (1996) with Ange Leccia) and installations (all the rooms), the image is made into the topic of an activity, into a subjective shape, into the narrative of an experiment and into a biography. To create a biographical narrative the protagonist must first be absent so that one can discuss the emergence of a story with or without him/her. In this preparatory work, the relationship of this absent character within the world surrounding him/her is then at stake. He/she then becomes a reader-viewer-mediator, taking on several parts, several positions (inside and outside) and leads fiction towards an investigation-like work, an exploration of the signs, intimacies and forms of life. This world is cankered by an overflow of forms, too much meaning or no meaning at all, blanks, voids, reflections blurring or diffracting our sight, blends between lines and fluids, water and earth, heaven and architecture, the aggravated confusion of a science-fiction film aiming at infinity.

The film revolves around the idea of experience and permanent cinema, not to be confused with the come-back of the same or the circulation of the continuous and which does not exclude the insistent figure of the present. A double present: presence of the cinema and realization of the present. Reality is no longer in opposition to imagination, together they give birth to a dynamic motion. The present rises up, bringing about quite a number of upheavals; landscapes and clocks perpetually keep track of it, showing how much the artist is part of a generation that was not born in such or such country or continent but in a time haunted by the present. Technology, objects are blatant symptoms of the rise of the present. Since the advent of technology, the entire perception is riveted to current affairs, pushed around by disassembled, fragmented, torn to pieces timeframes?. D.G.F. takes this state of perception into account and deciphers modernity, a microcosm within which temporal categories overlap spatial ones.

The point here is not to oppose fiction to experimentation or documentary. Not that there is no fiction: there is, but it is has moved closer to editing (that which is already done and that which needs to be redone, closer to the viewer, closer to working. This work is quite reminiscent of the research linked with traveling, with its linearity and projective aspect. One works out plans, builds a trajectory, draws lines and maps out the world to one’s liking. The matter Ipanema Theories is made of features plans, which means points, as in points of view those reminding us of Zabriskie Point, vanishing lines in a given landscape. The point of view sets up the gaze cast on reality, on its hugeness and lays out a common sense. Though this project cannot be ranked either in the experimental cinema category nor in the narrative one – it lies in-between –, it is constructed like an experience of fiction, of transport, the filming and the editing comprising as many shots as narrative passages (the interval between how I perceive the landscape before filming it and the hypotheses I am left with) and vanishing points. This a theoretical film about the true story of a filming device setting us free from traditional narration and proposing a new kind of narration which requires the viewer not to read films through the only lens of mimetic fiction and which implies spreading the limits of fiction as far as those of technique and of the device itself.

The other issue pervading the whole movie deals with use and users. What kind of uses can be made of this film, indeed? Who are the players? Are they interchangeable? The issue of private or collective use of a work, an image, a movie or another creation is never raised as regards usual critical reading. However, behind this issue of use lies a whole hidden dimension of the work, extensive, likely to amuse and jubilatory. Based on the assumption that the film’s overall structure consists in parts or theories, in big block shots (clock, characters, façade, site, water, neon, streetlamp etc.) then becoming cities, geographies, diverse climates, one can consider those parts as image blocks, chunks of the world from which each one can draw in order to reconstitute his/her city or living area. The film then appears as a bank, not only harboring images but also moments, landscapes, places, perceptions, a bank in which one can appropriate a whole block or just a few details, taking a shape or simply stealing a memory.

Indeed, D.G.F. designed this work as a directory to ensure it would be easily re-interpreted, recomposed, so that it could, as she says herself “be used, for instance, as a background attraction at a party, a concert, an exhibition, it would make one feel like moving, playing and transforming oneself”. The existing sounds that are used for reference only can and must be replaced by new tunes as people used to do with the silent movies and their orchestrations or piano accompaniment. This way the project takes on its whole spatial and temporal dimension. Such an openness of the projection modes, of the uses, unusual collisions, new situations, linguistic shifts. The film is made into an interface, a platform where each can give oneself to his/her editing and his/her narrative. This is precisely wherein lies the stake of the Ipanema user-character’s modernity and reality, freely walking up and down a landscape he/she produced himself, with his/her needs, his/her accessories and his/her cinema entries, floating in the fictitious horizon located between the shots, in front of the beach.

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1. “Interiorisme” is the title of an exhibition by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster held at the Jennifer Flay Gallery in Paris in March 1999.
2. Empruntée par fragments à DJ Gilbert lors d'une partie du tournage/mixage du film, dans le cadre d'une fête à la Salle Wagram à Paris. Les images de l'écran comme certains détails de cet espace spécifique rappellent de façon cyclique ce moment structurel de la présentation du projet.
3. Exhibition held at the Magasin, National Center for Contemporary Arts in Grenoble (France) in 1997. With as a basis a printed picture of an avenue in Tokyo, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster proposed some kinds of interaction, cabling and assembling between different sites, involvement of several artists among whom were Angela Bulloch, Maurizio Cattelan, Anne Frémy, Felix Gonzalez Torres, Liam Gillick, Vidya & Jean-Michel…