Kindergarten Antonio Sant’ Elia, 1932, 1998



David Claerbout. Disturbing Time. Multiplying the Instant

Saretto Cincinelli


'David Claerbout', MART Museuo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto/Electa Publishers, 2012 (exh.cat.)


I feel that my job is to keep breaking the ice formation on the surface of the still or moving image. But if I merely add movement to the still, the picture will collapse under the pressure of it. Instead I prefer to think of alterations as “caresses” on the surface, in order to stay in contact with both the picture’s past and present.

David Claerbout


I feel the need to broaden my gaze and and time is my instrument in this.

David Claerbout


The story of David Claerbout begins with a group of works that set out to re-animate stock photos. Thus his research seems to have started with the coupling of fixed and animated, and so not to have started at all. Beginning with the re-animation of something that already exists signifies in fact starting from re-starting, doing away with the very idea of origin. For Claerbout the origin is fundamentally contingent. It does not refer to any before, it is neither one nor simple, it does not coincide with a source but with a folding, an original duplication and complication. For Claerbout, as for Benjamin, the term origin is not intended to describe the process by which “the existent came into being” but, on the contrary, “that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance”. “Origin is an eddy in the stream of becoming, and in its current it swallows the material involved in the process of genesis”.1

In the artist’s early works, in fact, it is not photography that conceptually comes first and video after, or video first and then photography. Rather, what comes first is the idea, incubated for a long time, of modifying and transforming images of sentimental value.But the accent should not fall on the word re-animate, for this too needs to be understood in a particular sense: the artist does not set out to resurrect tout-court but almost...

It seems possible to say that the intention behind these early works was not so much that of bringing the photo back to life as the desire to stimulate and make vibrate, to caress,3 its that-has-been.4 Claerbout is neither a magician nor a conjuror. Rather than the success of the reanimation, what interests him, moreover, is his necessary failure to hit the target: the bringing in of an almost capable of bearing witness to the inescapable difference that separates the captivation of the photo from the permutation of the video image. In question, here, is above all the (im)possibility of rectifying an anachronism, the paradoxical attempt to erase the original delay between the pose and its rendering, that differential gap which, separating movement and stillness, puts off the epiphany of a resurrection ad infinitum.
Compared to the photo, a Medusa’s gaze that captures every presence, turning it immediately into icon, the video appears to be a sort of antidote, capable of restoring the latter to its dynamism: it is by superimposing these divergent characteristics within the single body of a plural image that Claerbout creates that impasse between movement and stillness, that simultaneous presence of not now and now, which constitutes the core of many of his early works, such as Kindergarten Antonio Sant’Elia, 1932 (1998), Untitled (Single-Channel View) (1998-2000), Retrospection (2000) and Vietnam, 1967. Near Duc Pho. Reconstruction after Hiromichi Mine (2001), which present themselves as a sort of tableau vivant of movement and tromp-l’oeil of time.

Untitled (Single-Channel View) shows the classroom of a secondary school with the pupils at their desks, during a break in lessons. All, except one, seem to be looking out of the classroom’s large glass window. We have the impression that what is attracting their attention is not so much something happening outside, but its possibility. The only movement visible in this framing of the shot that cuts out the teacher’s desk is the shadow cast on the back wall of the classroom by two trees, out of frame, whose leaves stir slightly in the winds.
At first sight the frame looks frozen, like the projection of a black-and-white photo. Only afterwards does the eye discern the slight waving of the leaves that seems to give back a throb of life to an image which appeared to be sealed within itself; a waving that, with its mere appearance, immediately renders porous the boundary between past and present, undermining any concept of linear time in the face of the incongruous coexistence of here and now and there and then in relation to the same image.
Re-animating a photo from the archives, while maintaining intact its verisimilitude signifies making the border between what is photography and what appears to be photography undecidable, creating a short-circuit that ends up, inevitably, throwing the viewer’s expectations into confusion.
Working on the individual pixels that make up the shadows of the trees in the original analogue photo one by one, Claerbout establishes an arrested dialectic between the photograph’s has been and the video’s always now, introducing an imperceptible vibration into the image that surprises viewers: they witness, in fact, the fusion without confusion of two incompossible images that produce the unprecedented sensation of a coexistence of real and virtual in connection with the same event.

While the dynamism of the video lays claim, in fact, to an anchorage in the present, the stillness of the photograph seems to opt out, to inhabit a gap in time, an a-chronological precedence that resonates ambiguously both as echo and as matrix of the moving image.
This is what provokes the almost hypnotic effect that disrupts the immediate hic et nunc of our perception.
Playing entirely on the elimination of the boundary separating image of reality and reality of the image, Untitled does not set out to deceive viewers by means of an excess of verisimilitude but, on the contrary, to seduce them with the introduction of a homeopathic dose of unreality.

Although the paradoxical nature of the slight movement, concentrated in just one portion of the image, explicitly declares its artifice, this does not dispel the fascination that emanates from the extremely slow vision of a moving image that seems to have been captured by the phantom of the photograph. The spell cast by Claerbout’s works does not derive from an extra dimension but, if we can put it like that, from a missing dimension of the image. “Behind every image”, wrote Baudrillard, “something has disappeared”, but “that is the source of its fascination”. This seems to be the road taken by the artist’s “immobile” video animations.

Like Untitled, some other works from the early phase of Claerbout’s research, from Ruurlo, Bocurloscheweg, 1910 (1997) to Kindergarten Antonio Sant’Elia, 1932 (1998) seem to be “generated” from the fixed framing of a stock photo, generally dating from the first half of the 20th century; slightly different on the other hand appear Retrospection (2000) and Vietnam, 1967. Near Duc Pho. Reconstruction after Hiromichi Mine (2001). The first of these – an anonymous souvenir photo of a grammar- school class of the 1930s – because, in addition to sound, which declares its temporal dimension, it introduces zooms (like point-of-view shots) that from time to time isolate the face of a youth which, through a subtle work of animation, appears to come back to life for a few instants under the gaze that has brought it into the foreground; the second – a photo of an American plane breaking up in the sky above Vietnam – because while presented as a silent image, it introduces colour, dissolving the patina of time that cloaks the earlier works, and above all because it “spreads” the animation over the whole of the landscape in the background, with the apparently paradoxical result of camouflaging even more the movement introduced surreptitiously into the image. On this occasion in fact the effect of animation, more imperceptible and diffuse, and thus less easy to detect, seems to have been deliberately reduced to hold the image in the counterpoint of time, in a “vibrato” that appears to be going nowhere.
Verbal descriptions of these works are tricky because they end up bringing into the open the minimal events that are concealed within them, exposing them to oversight. In the face-to-face with the work, rather than the clear perception of the induced animation, what emerges is in fact the aura of an excess or a deficiency that, not immediately locatable, disturbs the vision on the quiet. It is this disturbance, rather than the blunt immobility or imperceptible movement of the image, that in-forms, over and over, the horizon of tableaux vivants of movement which deliberately shun the eloquence and predictability that characterise the current use of audio-visual language.
Claerbout’s research is not in any case limited to in-stalling (in the dual sense of stalling and putting on display) the image conveyed by the video. In parallel, he attempts to stir up and break down the static quality of the photo as such. A constituent ambiguity over the genesis of the image can also be discerned, in fact, in the Venice Lightboxes series (2000), which the artist not coincidentally calls “conditional photographs”, in which the time required to perceive clearly images glimpsed in the dark and based on gradations of black seems to produce a sort of oscillation within the vision, tending to make the photo lose its characteristic of immutable fixity.

In comparison with his earlier works, Venice Lightboxes creates a resonance between the phantom of the photo and that of the video, which appear to be a permanent part of the artist’s research.

In both cases, caught by a feeling of astonishment, we find ourselves inopportunely hesitant about the nature of the object of our contemplation. A hesitation that undermines the mechanism of vision under way: what we thought to be a fixed image has to be completely reassessed as stasis of an animated image or vice versa; a static image appears to move slightly, with the result that the characteristics proper to the two different systems of representation are both brought into question, along with the horizon of our expectations.

“I avoid”, declares Claerbout, “the confinement of the work in an invariable duration, as in the cinema, but I also avoid the work turning into a constant object, like a picture or an image. The two terms are in tension: it is not cinema, not a montage that has something to say, but there is more possibility of a flight, and of projection, more room for indeterminacy than in painting”.5

In all the artist’s works, therefore, some dimension typical of the “cinematic” or the “photographic”, to a greater or lesser degree, tends to dissolve but, as in a game in which the loser wins, they appear to gain from the fertile ambiguity that characterises them.

I don’t subscribe to the hegemony of montage, to its eroticisation of time and place. What I am interested in is finding a way of looking at a surface that moves without the viewer being passive.

David Claerbout

While the majority of films or videos seem to be made to get us to forget the passing of time and our condition as viewers, Claerbout’s appear to exist, on the contrary, to make us perceive them. The whole force of these works lies in the improper allure of an immobility manqué or of an apparent reiteration of the same that helps to immerse us in a vision rather than hope in an action that will resolve the scene. When, finally, we are no longer expecting it, we suddenly become aware, after the event, of what had always been exposed to oversight and the plane of the image turns into a sort of mirror that reflects the uncertainty of our own disorientation.

It may have been to focus on this kind of minimal, but constituent disorientation, that Claerbout realized, in the early years of the 21st century, several works like Untitled (Carl & Julie) (2000), Study for a Portrait (Violetta) (2001) and Rocking Chair (2003), that imply minimal elements of interactivity.

Untitled (Carl & Julie) shows a man and a little girl seated in the shade of the patio of a modernist house. The girl is busy drawing, and has her back to the viewer, while the man seated opposite her is looking in the direction of the camera. Every time a visitor enters the room in which the video is being shown, he unwittingly triggers a sensor and the girl turns round, as if becoming aware of the presence of an intruder, and then goes back to her drawing. This simple action, which cannot help but surprise, tends to involve the viewer in the pre-recorded “moment” of the image, and thus to weaken, once again, although from a different perspective, the boundary between the here and now and the there and then. As it does so, however, it aims to make us experience the fact of that time being past and its irreducibility to the present.

A not too dissimilar spatiotemporal short-circuit is at work in Study for a Portrait (Violetta) too: in a small room, immersed in darkness, a rear projection onto a screen of modest size shows the face of a young woman whose fixed expression contrasts strongly with the movement of her hair, stirred by a constant breeze; the viewer feels the same breeze on the back of his neck when he enters the room, as if the place he is in were in communication with that of the video. Installed in the dimly lit space of the projection, there is in fact a fan that blows almost imperceptibly over his head, so that he can, in a certain sense, experience directly the effect of what he sees.

The interactivity of these works, as is evident from the description, is extremely moderate. Once again Claerbout does not want to amaze but simply to insinuate into our vision a hitch intended to suspend, for a very brief period, the assimilation of what we are seeing, as indicates the paradoxical Four Persons Standing (1999), a “single-frame film6 that, unlike all the previous ones, is utterly immobile and can perhaps only be compared with these works by defect. Precisely because it lacks any effect of disturbance of the original image, Four Persons Standing ends up arousing in the viewer, accustomed to Claerbout’s earlier works, the expectation of a minimal event that will justify the artist’s choice of medium.

The black-and-white image, of large format, shows four people (two men and two women) standing on the pavement outside a building of clearly modernist design. In their obstinate fixity the figures become human prototypes, similar to actors immortalized while performing a part, so it is natural to linger in front of the projection, waiting, in vain, for something to happen: this waiting, while wondering why nothing is moving, becomes an integral part of the work, a sort of completion of it, the task that the artist, with subtle trickery, has prepared for us.

Even though a strange non-verbal relationship, constructed by means of silent glances of understanding between the individual figures, bestows an implicit narrative dynamism on the scene, it is hard to tell whether, when faced with a work that makes a single static image eternal, it is still possible to call it a video.

Is not the immutable persistence of an image the traditional characteristic of a photograph or painting?

Rather than venturing on an answer to this question, made even more difficult by the development of digital technologies, what interests us here is simply to point how, in spite of everything, the immobility of a video or cinematic image continues to make us uneasy, to appear to us, in a certain sense, unnatural, inappropriate by excess: as if the stillness, conveyed by means that are in a manner of speaking improper, produces a deficit in the fabric of meaning, introducing a lack into the communication, capable paradoxically of giving the image a surplus of presence that undermines it as image-icon. This is what Jean Cocteau seems to be saying, however indirectly, when he writes: “a photograph of a building and a film of a building do not resemble each other at all.

Even if nothing happens the film records the time that courses through it”.

In fact Deleuze argues that “cinema does not give us an image to which movement is added, it immediately gives us a movement-image”.7

So what happens when, as in Claerbout’s early videos, and especially in Four Persons Standing, camera and filmed subject immobilize one another in mutual bewitchment?

What happens is that the movement-image, stubbornly brought back to the captivation typical of the photographic image, displays a static quality manqué, a precarious and vibratile stillness that, for this very reason, tends to shift the attention to the temporal, aural and structural dimension of the image.

If Barthes was able to declare that “this explains why Photography’s noeme deteriorates when this photograph is animated”, perhaps we are justified in paraphrasing this statement by asserting that, in the same way, the noeme of film (or video) deteriorates when the image is immobilized?

A frame of a film, however fixed and flat it may appear, will never be the condensation of a single moment, but always the trace of a duration. A framing, in fact, but this, as we will see further on, is precisely the problem, or rather one of the problems that are raised when we deal with the digital image.

Just like Four Persons Standing, which according to the instructions of the artist should be projected on the back of a wall placed at the centre of a space, so that it will serve both as a support for the projection and as an architectural element, Rocking Chair, is a video installation that is supposed to be visible from both sides, although in this case, unlike the other, it is preferable for the projection screen to be perfectly flat, in order to eliminate any rivalry between “the space represented” in the video and the physical one of the room in which the work is presented.

The video installation shows the large-scale image of a woman, dozing on a chair on the veranda of a house in the country. As we approach we realize that the figure is slowly rocking back and forth. Her body is brightly lit by the sun while her face, partially obscured by the dark and refreshing shade of a roof, seems to be observing us. Since nothing, except the slight rocking move on, but, going past the screen, we cannot contain a feeling of amazement when we notice, on its back, a reverse shot of the previous image: a take, made now from inside the house, shows the dark silhouette of the woman standing out against the dazzling light of the sun-drenched countryside. If we stop for a moment to look, the woman immediately stops rocking and raises her head slightly without turning as if – the artist suggests – “to listen [...] as if she had just noticed the presence of somebody about to leave”.8 The moment of our passage is detected by sensors that cause the woman’s head to move, creating the fantasy of an encounter between real and virtual that can only be resolved in the imagination of the viewer. The latter, surprised by the possibility of interaction with the image, cannot resist the temptation to walk around the screen as if around a real space reduced to the thickness of a few centimetres.

By presenting unexpectedly to our view the “rear” of a two-dimensional projection, traditionally lacking a “back”, Rocking Chair becomes a sort of implicit diptych, which instead of being formed by spatially juxtaposed projections, offers one as the reverse of the other. Hence a diptych that appears to depend on a temporal rather than a spatial dimension, a temporality that requires a simultaneous presence but excludes the possibility of a simultaneous vision. Perhaps it was here that he embarked on the dialectical interplay of interior/exterior, inside/outside, that was to return insistently in many later works successive. But we can also see, although in embryo, the bent for showing the infinite possibility of different points of view of a single image, which was to find expression on a colossal scale in Sections of a Happy Moment (2007). 

I use the cinema as an obsolete mode of narration and I empty it of its narrative function, of the promises that this contains, while retaining the elements of which it is made up. 
[...] I do not deconstruct formally, I introduce disjunctions in order to invent temporalities

David Claerbout

The role of shadows, to which we referred in connection with Untitled (Single-Channel View), appears decisive right from the title in Shadow Piece (2005). The single-channel video installation with stereo audio “shows a street scene, filmed from within a vast entrance hall of an office building looking out to a sunlit street/place. Only the cast shadows of the passers-by penetrate the huge glass doors of the closed building as they approach it and try to open the doors. The view is directed from a spiral metal staircase onto the entrance hall and the exterior. The architecture is modernist, with huge frontal glass doors, a polished marble entrance in the hall and a metal staircase. The idea of seclusion in the impossibility of entering is linked with the extreme neatness and harmony of the composition which is taken from a sort of ideal. It is an image of a past time, a kind of closure. This closure in time is made apparent in the closure of the framed image, which divides the image in two.”9

If it were not for the sound of the traffic in the background we would really think (misled in part by the use of black and white) that we are looking, as in one of the early works, at the projection of a photo. Here, however, the ambiguity tends to dissipate quickly, because every so often a succession of figures, alone or in pairs, enter the field of view from the right or left side of the frame and approach the large glass door of the building, of the people are perfectly consistent with the style of the building, dating from the 1950s. But the longer we look, the more we realize that we are watching a film that, in its architecture and situations, seems to be distantly reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s Playtime; an impression that begins to crumble and give way to a sensation of artificiality. The setting of the narration to zero, reduced to a single continually repeated action, focuses all the attention on the ambiguity of the image and although nothing incongruous mars its surface, something like a faint atmosphere of unreality seems to pervade it: the scene looks too immobile, too empty, not as if someone had abandoned it a short time before but as if no one had ever entered it. Thus a justified suspicion of artificiality worms its way into the viewer, now caught by the impossibility of telling whether he is observing the fixed shot of a CCTV camera that is filming the glazed entrance of a building from inside and from a slightly raised angle, perhaps even – given the period dress of the figures – for the scene of a feature film, or whether he is looking instead, as seems to be growing increasingly apparent, at the film of a static image (the image of an image) whose movements, relegated to the lower half of the frame, have been cunningly added in post-production. This at least is what the stability of the shadows cast inside the building, which despite the passing of time do not undergo any variation, seems to indicate: “Within it”, observes Claerbout, “the shadows appear as the fixed framework for the composition, that wis, for the unfolding of the narrative, rather than as an index of the passage of time”.10

So the phantom of the photo also returns to trouble, unexpectedly and backwards, Shadow Piece, a work that by dividing its scene into two impermeable halves metaphorically brings up the invisible boundary that separates static image and moving image, showing the impossible access to a building that, perpetually sealed in the has been of the photograph, blocks any attempt at penetration. An impenetrability that is due to the different rules that govern the lower part of the image but that, under certain conditions, appears, as the upper half demonstrates, easy to break down.

Analysing Shadow Piece, Druta Veaceslav 11 observes: “The fact of knowing that the image in front of us is created by the superimposition of an old photograph and a video filmed in the studio and processed in post-production alters our perception of this image”. The explicit movement of the figures, which at first seems to dissolve the fertile ambiguity that characterises the earlier works, will later contribute to increasing it, allowing us to understand the operation conducted by the artist: the first blow dealt by Claerbout to the analogue photographic image he starts out from is the introduction into it of a typically cinematic notion of off-screen that is wholly extraneous to it. Not that the “off-screen”,or rather “out-of-frame”, has no part to play in photography: as the result of a twofold action, of exclusion and choice at one and the same time, this implies, by its very nature, a remainder, a space “off”. Yet, as Philippe Dubois notes “we have to be careful not to confuse the relationship in-frame/out-of-frame in photography with its [...] cinematic equivalent [...]. Cinema establishes its ‘off-screen’ through ‘continuity’ and ‘narrativity’ [...] on the contrary the photographic out-of-frame [...] is always attained in suspension, in a sharp temporal cut [...]. A ‘character’ [...] will never be able to exit the space of the photograph, nor of necessity return to it ‘later’.

When he is in frame he is there, captured once and for all [...] outside any duration [...]: in photography the out-of-frame is literal, in cinema the off-screen is metaphorical”.12 This passage provides us with everything we need to understand, however indirectly, how Shadow Piece works. The different role of the photographic out-of-frame is also at the centre of Veaceslav’s analysis. He writes: “So long as there is no one in the frame, you can look at the image as a photograph, but as soon as you have seen someone pass through it, you wait for the next intervention. From then on there are lengths of time between each intervention and we imagine, we construct in our mind, the off-screen. Thus what was photography here becomes cinema”. The continual oscillation of the work between two different categories of the image leads the writer to ask if we cannot speak of photography again when no movement appears on the screen. Knowing, in fact, that the image in Shadow Piece is a photograph into which video footage of people has been inserted modifies our conception of the temporality of the work: to our awareness of the two times of the photograph, the time it is taken and the time it is seen, is added an extra dimension. “Time is not perceived as a line, but as a volume with several surfaces”. According to Veaceslav what emerges in Shadow Piece and in many of Claerbout’s works is the hybridising of two media: “the overlay of a fluid material, video, on a solid material, the photograph”, although this effect becomes apparent “only on the screen”. In fact, and it is a qualification that should not be taken lightly, “on the computer, at the moment of their encounter, the photograph and the video have already both been converted into code, flux, current”.

Once turned into a digital signal, the photographic image has already gone beyond the traditional antagonism that, in the analogue system, opposes still and moving image, recorded and processed image; the digital signal has already, as it were, crossed the threshold of the modernist building in Shadow Piece.13

I am first of all a negotiator, I take elements from several worlds. What interests me is something that runs under words and under speech, in images, something that is not visible and that inhabits representations. I’m trying to see to it that, whether there is an unfolding of narrative or not, it is not possible to find conclusion, to end up in certainty [...]. By putting a story into a loop I neutralise the idea of a progression and dénouement typical of the cinema. In Bordeaux Piece, the montage is no longer the support of attention as it does not vary, it no longer promises anything to the gaze. The unambiguous conclusion, the teleology of “the end”, cannot work: anything can commence.

David Claerbout

We have brought forward the analysis of Shadow Piece, even though it was made after Bordeaux Piece (2004), because, despite the undoubted and significant variations introduced with respect to previous works, it maintains many links with them, while Bordeaux Piece seems to usher in a new type of research, of a more markedly cinematic structure, that took its first steps with Piano Player (2002).

Claerbout’s works in which dialogues are present, Bordeaux Piece is also the one in which montage is explicitly introduced, and therefore a sort of micro-narration. The distinction that André Gaudreault makes between monstration and narration in the cinema of the origins is well-known:14 to a monstrative level, which is embodied in the isolated shot, he contrasts a narrative level proper, which stems from the activity of assembling the shots into a sequence. Gaudreault does not argue that the shot of the film tells no story. In his view, the shot possesses a degree of narrative with the exception of Piano Player, presented as a short, comparable to a fragment of a feature film. An evaluation that can potentially also be extended to Bordeaux Piece once the inescapable and gruelling repetition of its narrative core has been set aside: a sort of apparent loop that is not a loop but as it were its uneconomic mise-en-scène.

“With Bordeaux Piece I have for the first time written dialogues, with the help of the actor Josse de Pauw, who plays the role of the father. Each shot lasts between two and three minutes, and there are seven shots forming the story, a bit like in a fiction short. The plot did not matter to me, I neededa succession of photographs, quickly seen situations, and I chose the story of Le Mépris by Jean-Luc Godard. It could have been a different story. I wanted a fairly tense dramatic action evoked by very flat dialogue. And I filmed it so that it doesn’t really work. This is how I proceeded: we filmed each shot from 5.30 am, just as there is light enough to see, until 10 pm, just after dusk, when you can no longer see anything. The filming took place between mid-July and mid-August. We took exactly the same shot every ten minutes as the light changed over a single day, 70 shots a day in all. Then I edited all the scenes of the story filmed at 5.30, then those filmed ten minutes later, and so on. In the final edit the script is enacted 70 times, identically each time, and each time in a constant light: a light that corresponds to the same time of day, but that is taken from different days. Each script lasts between ten and 12 minutes, and the work as a whole lasts 13 hours 40 minutes. Thus with Bordeaux Piece I didn’t make any attempt to extend or reinterpret the field of cinematographic fiction. I pretended to make a short, a work of fiction, and an edit against a background structured by light. This ‘background’ gradually moves to the forefront, and cancels out the story, the opposite of what happens in the cinema.”16

At the centre of this monumental work, which unfolds without any progress, it is possible to recognize the plot of a drama of relationships involving two male rivals (father and son) and a young woman. The three are planning the shooting of a film. The father’s telephone call with references to Capri underlines the unspoken connection between Bordeaux Piece and Godard’s Le mépris: this too has at its heart the making of a film and a not very clear relationship between two men (screenwriter and producer) and a woman. Even the architecture of Rem Koolhaas’s villa, where Claerbout’s film was shot, plays a similar role to that of Malaparte’s villa on Capri, built to a design by Adalberto Libera, that acts as the set of Le mépris.17 But it is evident from the start that the artist’s interest is not focused on the plot. The characters are too schematic, the dialogues too superficial. To dispel any doubt about this, it suffices to know that the work has a separated sound track, utilizing stereo speakers and headphones: the former carry solely natural or ambient noise (the wind, the twittering of birds, the chirping of insects...), so to listen to the dialogue the audience has to put on the headphones with which the seats are equipped. It is as if in order to grasp the cinematic aspect of the work, which is in a certain sense optional, it were necessary to recreate the conditions of immobility and individual isolation typical of the film experience. In point of fact, while all the rules of the language of cinema have apparently been respected in Claerbout’s film, the repetitive and utterly unpromising structure of the work can only lead it to an implosion. Roughly every 10 minutes, in fact, the film is reborn from its ashes and presents us with the repetition of a gesture or a camera movement with slight, inessential variations: a total of 70 times, every 10 minutes, a teacup falls and shatters or bounces on the floor; 70 times a slowly rising tracking shot takes us from the ground floor to the first floor of the villa; 70 times a phone call is made in a more or less angry tone of voice...; 70 times everyday actions suspended in their interminable reiteration force the narration into an endless drift. Bordeaux Piece mimes, and at the same time undermines, every dimension of narrative, introducing within it a time in default, lacking any dimension of going beyond, which therefore never really passes but opens the narration to the out-of-time, to what Blanchot calls the “vertigo of spacing” and, but not secondarily, to the enormous amount of time that the work requires to be seen in its entirety.

In fact Claerbout declares: “If you stay in front of Bordeaux Piece during several scenes you notice an atmosphere established itself. And this atmosphere comes from real time”.18 It is the natural light “that organises everything. You can be interested in the story the first time, perhaps the second, but already it becomes a highly deceptive sort of framework, a motif lending rhythm to the real issue of Bordeaux Piece, which is to give form to duration by means of natural light”.19 “Therefore the sunlight evolves slowly and forms the characteristics of the work, as does the temperature of the colour. Essentially Bordeaux Piece is an ‘Impressionist work’ which uses the traditional interface of fiction [...]. Nature as the background canvas becomes the principal element of the installation, surpassing the narrative”.20 This is a bit like what happens, to change context, in the series of pictures of “haystacks” or of Rouen Cathedral painted by Claude Monet, in which the capture of the light or of the moment en plein air leads the subject almost to the verge of dissolution.21

A few cunning takes treat the villa as a sculpture. Playing with its open structure that connects the interior and exterior, Claerbout stages a dialectic between inside and outside that serves to distance, to estrange the story, and as it were to place the actions of the figures under glass. The mirror-like character of the beginning and end of the fragment of narrative, which starts and finishes on the landscape, tends to frame and underline the reiteration of the shots and, consequently, to give rise to the false sensation of a loop, subsequently belied by the change in the light and the progressive emptying of the actor’s performance of all meaning.

By setting an action that is indefatigably replicated in an almost identical manner within a time that instead silently moves from dawn to nightfall, Bordeaux Piece shows, in its monumental persistence, not so much the deconstruction of a narrative situation as a sort of temporal enchantment, one that imperceptibly shifts the accent of the work from the duration of the event to the event of the duration.

Something similar was to happen, two years later, in White House (2006), which apart from the differences in the plot, in this case decidedly more violent (a fight that ends in a murder), essentially echoes the structural characteristics of Bordeaux Piece. The work also leads, in a way that is certainly less obvious, to an apparently completely different work like Sections of a Happy Moment.

With the digital, the spectre of the evidential value of the image is driven a little further away: the recording of events, whether in the journalistic sense or not, is no longer proof of reality. It invents a memory of the real.

David Claerbout

Sections of a Happy Moment backs away from the “cinematic” structure of Bordeaux Piece to move closer again to previous experiences, as is indicated by the use of black and white and still images and by the structure of the slideshow that, with the progress of the vision, will end up revealing all its paradoxicality. In reality the work, which, given its structure, also harks back to a milestone of the photo film and of cinema in general like Chris Marker’s La jetée,22 marks a step forwards that builds on the artist’s previous experiences. It is as if Sections of a Happy Moment introduced a “narrative” structure that was conceptually and formally very different, but capable of producing a similar effect to the one created by the mock loop that structures Bordeaux Piece.

In Sections too, in fact, the infinite points of view provided on a single event that, at first, seem intended to bear witness to the progressive unfolding of a story, end up cancelling each other out. This is because, while not being repeated in an identical manner, they all refer indiscriminately to a single instant whose duration is equivalent to zero. The effect is similar to the one that in Bordeaux Piece produces the interminable rewinding of the story on itself; if what came into the foreground there, at the expense of the narration, was the natural unfolding of the day from dawn to dusk, which imperturbably continued in its course heedless of human affairs, what emerges here is a sort of Zenonian fantasy on movement that risks turning every step forward into a step back. Thus the work seems to present something like a celibate movement, “a void”, that as it leads nowhere appears to become fixed in the incipit, always the same and always varied, of a story that lacks progress.

The disclosure of the point-like instant of Sections, precisely because it has no duration and internal progression, seems practically interminable. Despite this, or perhaps precisely because of this, the image acquires such a density and thickness that it reminds us, continually, of our condition as viewers.

We should not be deceived by the duration of the work, relatively brief if compared with the 13/14 hours of Bordeaux Piece or White House, because in this case too, despite appearances, we are dealing with an operation of reiteration and “abnormal” dilatation: in fact, if we consider that the 10-12 minutes of Bordeaux Piece are replicated until they reach the length of an entire passage of the sun across the sky, here a single instant is dilated to a length of around 25 minutes, and to this is added a complex and titanic operation of post-production.

To understand the work fully, therefore, it is necessary to take a closer look at how it was made.

As often happens, everything is articulated with a photo: the artist looks for an image in the archives relating to a housing development of the sixties, and he finds one designed by the architect Renaat Braem. After going there to photograph it again and restore as much as possible the image of the place to its original appearance, Claerbout photographed a number of people who were to be inserted in the new image against a blue screen in the studio, in various poses and attitudes. For this purpose he used, as we are told by Raymond Bellour, “fifteen cameras simultaneously, concentrated each time on one or two people, and repeated the shots ad nauseam, recording around 16,000 images per session. It took four sessions to ‘film’ Sections of a Happy Moment in this way, so that there were over 50,000 images from which he then had to choose which to overlay on the backdrops of the buildings selected and arrive at the 180 photo-shots that make up the film”.23

The result is a closely knit sequence of still images in black and white that shows a group of Chinese people (children, youths and adults) arranged in a semi-circular pattern and playing with a ball in the sunlit square of a modern housing estate. The succession of photos shows us, through numerous wide-angle and close-up shots, the six people playing the game and the architectural setting, in which are visible, in several shots, other chance presences (two girls “crossing” the square, two old people and an adult “strolling” alone). The more shots we see the clearer it becomes that each of them offers a different perspective on a single instant, as is indicated unequivocally by the ball suspended in the air, which does not move for the entire duration of the work.

By making us perceive the multiplicity of points of view implicit in a moment that has been opened up, Claerbout creates a “narration” that, while it lasts for over twenty minutes, is in reality the dissection of a single instant. The same scene, the same moment, the same people with the same expressions, keep on returning to the screen from ever- changing perspectives. The different repetition of the same thing gives the sense of a potential three-dimensionality achieved through a composition of two-dimensional images.
 
Thus by varying the viewpoint on a precise event continually, Sections of a Happy Moment induces us to perceive spatial simultaneity as a false progression in time.

In fact the action appears to take place outside time, to be declined in the depersonalizing manner of the infinite. The reiteration of the shots produces a sort of enchantment of the event, frozen in a mo(ve)ment that, never ceasing to end, never finishing to begin, falls back interminably into itself, continuing to take place in a temporal gap that implies a chronology that does not accumulate, does not inscribe, does not add up, an in-finite time that imperceptibly transforms a suspension of the narration into the narration of a suspension.

The proliferation of perspectives and different camera angles creates in the viewer a paradoxical and disquieting sense of omnipresence that is reminiscent of a panoptic survey. As Claerbout himself points out: “As the slideshow progresses the playfulness of the moment becomes like heavy, cast matter. Indeed the scene exchanges its initial feeling of momentary lightness for a feeling of being controlled like propaganda. As often in my work, duration is an important tool for altering what we see, unlocking the flow of time from a fixed situation. [...] The solo piano soundtrack, no doubt creates a soothing feeling, such as one can find in home made family album-videos, recognisable internationally from China to the West.”24

For its extreme slowing down, its perpetuation, of a simple gesture caught in its duration, his following work, Long Goodbye (2007), seems to act as a counterpoint to the never-ending variation of Sections of a Happy Moment. The video shows a female figure coming out of the door of a villa onto a terrace that opens onto a park, carrying a tray in her hands. After putting it down on a table she seems to catch sight of someone outside who is moving away. She then takes a few steps forward, looking in the direction of the camera, and smiles, waving her hand in farewell. The simple gesture, shown in slow motion within the progressive reframing of the scene resulting from a slow retreat of the camera, assumes a strong narrative potential. “As the camera slowly moves backward, the spectator will sense time passing slowly, which is reinforced more strongly by the time of the day, when the last rays of sunlight fade into the total darkness of a night on the countryside. The more the camera retreats while seeking shelter, the more it reveals the splendour of the house, the terrace, the trees, the darker it gets, thus creating a deep yearning for this beautiful place that will remain out of reach for the beholder, as the night falls.”25

The pictorial qualities of the beginning are indisputable. The appearance of the female presence in the dark opening of the door seems to come straight from the canvas of a modern Chardin. The slow semi-circular motion of the camera around the figure, which takes place contemporaneously with the imperceptible enlargement of the frame, due to the backward movement of the camera, creates an oscillation within the image, a sort of divarication between ground and figure that negates the negative view of the use of slow motion in the cinema expressed by Merleau-Ponty in L’oeil et l’esprit, turning it inside out like a glove.

In fact Claerbout’s shooting admirably exploits all the expressive potentialities of a vision that the philosopher describes as that of a “body [...] floating among objects like seaweed, but not moving itself”,26 a sensation that seems to positively pervade, from top to bottom, the whole of the initial part of Long Goodbye and that persists at least until the figure attains its complete spatial coordinates. At the outset one has the impression that the slowing down is due not only to the camera but also the performance of an actress who seems to want to hold back the motion within herself, or that it derives not so much from a very slow gait as from the movement induced by a mobile platform. The slowing down of the woman’s gestures is accompanied by the imperceptible moving back of the video camera and the scene changes very slightly: slowly a table appears, slowly the woman’s half-length figure becomes a full-length one, slowly the villa reveals its façade. When the protagonist is at last visible in her entirety, the shadows of the clouds and trees, subjected to a sort of acceleration that contrasts with the slow motion of the figure, begin to move, before our eyes, sliding over the front of the house. The figure then advances towards the camera, which has not ceased to move away, and as she makes a prolonged wave of her hand, the light suddenly begins to fade visibly, reducing, in line with the movements of a strange speeded-up slowness, the duration of the sunset. Thus what we see is a dual temporal artifice: a slowing down that is added to an acceleration, an incompossible but explicit concurrence between two contradictory movements within what is presented as a single take. An incompatibility that finds an echo in the progressive darkening of the view, owing to a sky that seems to want inappropriately to maintain its brightness while everything advances inexorably towards the night. A conclusion that calls to mind the Empire of Light:27 just as in Magritte’s picture, in Long Goodbye something like an invisible seam within the image (the superimposition of two takes, one speeded up and the other slowed down), revealing itself afterwards, intervenes to disturb the realistic effect of the video, although without destroying it. Out of this comes a disturbance that does not present itself as the interruption of a system of coherences but as an internal folding. Time and space appear slightly out of kilter, like two sections that fit together almost perfectly but not quite: into this almost seems to be inserted the pas de deux of an incongruous temporal dimension, which appears to banish the unitary nature of the instant. A temporality based on a time (too slow or too fast), captured more for its effects than for its duration, a time that is not outside but inside an image that seems no longer in need of any reference outside itself.

The pictorial qualities of the movement of perpetual re-framing of the initial tracking shot (that presents successively as a portrait, a figure and a landscape) and the complex temporality that sets in in the finale of the video, clearly emerge from processes of superimposition, digital animation and post-production that imply a greater freedom and flexibility with respect to the reference at the start. With digital processing, or the conversion of an analogue image into a digital one, the dimension of the photographic index tends in fact to grow ever weaker. We have definitively entered another time of the image: as if the malleability that the digital signal permits in and of itself rendered inevitable the redefinition of a relationship between moving picture and painting. In the digital video the framing – and Claerbout’s work seems a demonstration of this – is no longer characterised solely as a fraction of the space-time continuum cut out by the camera, as happened in analogue cinema, but also as an image that is produced by putting something else in it; this difference in the starting-point tends to weaken and in some cases cancel out, along with the notion of the pro-filmic, also that of the out-of-frame, thereby breaking down the persistent analogy, made since the early days of cinema, between the camera lens and the human gaze. For the isomorphism and indexicality of analogue cinema is substituted the discontinuity of an image that is no longer uniform, but composed of discrete elements – pixels (“picture elements”), and thus there cannot help but emerge a relationship between video and the painterly practice of the literal filling of a picture, through the procedure of composition of the image.

What has changed, radically, today is not so much the possibility of altering the image – the manipulations made possible by techniques of digital intervention could already be achieved through chemical and mechanical processes – as the willingness on the part of viewers to accept this intrinsic malleability, to accept that a contemporary film or video can construct its own time, its own space and its own movement. We have once and for all entered an age marked by the overcoming of the distinctions and specific characteristics that separated the different media in the modernist era.

A different disturbance of the image to the one captured in Long Goodbye shapes in its entirety The American Room (2009-2010), a work that tends to bring into question, at one and the same time, the fixity of the photograph, the movement of the film and spatial distance, producing in the viewer the sensation of being able to move freely in the congealed time of a photo.

The video shows a group of elegantly dressed people in a formal setting. A singer on her feet, a piano and several star-spangled banners indicate that the audience seated in what we can conclude is likely to be a room in an American embassy is there to attend a concert. But the scene appears paralysed in a disturbing and paradoxically mobile freeze-frame. While the onlookers seem to hold their breath, the camera glides slowly around a scene from which every quiver of life seems to have been sucked out: a scene, as it were, under glass, a sort of hyper-real diorama.

The video, which is made up of a sequence of pictures of the same instant taken from different points of view, is related to Sections of a Happy Moment, but, unlike the latter, is not presented as a series of still images.

In fact The American Room introduces into the section of the immobile fragment of space-time that has been chosen an important and apparently incongruous variation: the movement of the camera. The successive views of the singer, the audience or the members of the security staff do not follow one another as static images, but take the form of short sequences, and thus of imperceptible and extremely slow shifts of a gaze within a suspended scene. Alternating master shots with close-ups and details of an undeniably painterly flavour (the positions of the hands, the earrings...), the work creates a movement that brings us close to the individual members of the audience, caught invariably with bated breath, in confirmation of the imperturbable “perfection” of this reality. Unaffected by this sort of spell cast over time and faithful to its own flow, the music goes ahead.

The constant movement of The American Room leads us to think that the images of the figures have been recorded simultaneously by a number of telecameras, but in reality the video, just like Sections..., is constructed out of photographs of each member of the audience, taken while posed in front of a blue screen, by a still camera that, making a circular orbit around them, leaves no possible point of view uncovered, and subsequently incorporated into a virtual three-dimensional space that makes possible the creation of the camera movements.

The sensation is that of a take which by providing us with a series of successive “moving portraits” of viewers frozen into fixed poses and expressions offers us an almost stereoscopic experience of the single instant.

In contrast with the immobility of the people attending the recital, the soundtrack, stripped of any background noise and reduced purely to a recording of the music, is subject an intrinsic mobility and seems to follow the successive movements of the camera, producing a highly accentuated spatial effect that connects the viewer of the video with the audience of the concert, as if he were hearing the music not with his own ears but with those of the person in the room. Each camera movement is in fact underlined by a soundtrack that reflects every retreat of the viewpoint, as when we hear a progressive muffling of the sound at the moment that the camera crosses the threshold of the room to show us some listeners standing outside, guarding the room in the gloom of the corridor. As each sequence ends with a fade-out, we wait in vain from one moment to another for one of the members of the audience, as in Retrospection, to give a sign of life.

The strange effect that arises from the fusion of the continuous slight movement of the camera with the statuary fixity of the figures seems to probe the two-dimensional space of photography, bringing out a hyper-real and disturbing three-dimensionality.

This overlap between interruption and movement and between two- and three-dimensionality “faces us with a semiotic hybrid, because”, as Sérgio Mah points out, “it complicates the terms of our understanding of what we believe to be a two-dimensional image. The manipulation raises the question of the indexical character of the image and gives rise to a semiotic uncertainty that can only be resolved through a different expectation with regard to the still image, in particular as far as its perceptual and experiential potential is concerned”.28

A further episode of this repeated investigation of the opening up of an instant is provided by The Quiet Shore (2011), a single-channel video that shows us a beach in Brittany at low tide on which several pools of water, left behind by the retreating sea, reflect the surrounding scenery and scanty groups of bathers, as if in a mirror. The photographic quality of the black-and-white pictures, which from infinite points of view re-frame the same place and the same instant in a different way each time, appears, despite the heat of the summer months, to invent a cold light that, enhanced by the crystal-clear reflection of the water, seems to recall the silver treatments used in old photographs.

A diverse group of adolescents at the water’s edge, maintaining a constant pose, acts as the pivot for the whole of the apparent “narration”, like the suspended ball in Sections of a Happy Moment or Arena. In this case, however, the focalization appears less centred. While keeping the focus on the adolescents, The Quiet Shore continually provides new information and points of view on the context that surrounds them: the surfer, the girls on the bench, the couple on the beach, the woman looking through binoculars from the terrace...: characters that are not characters in stories that are not stories, that can be associated with one another only because, as a sort of equivalent of the viewers, they are inexplicably looking, in an expansion in all directions, towards the group at the water’s edge. The diversification of the shots, with successive focuses on figures involved in the same framing or with shifts from angle to reverse angle, serves, in the absence of a soundtrack, to render the non-narration more fluid, and to sustain its continuity. “In spite of the fragmentation, there is also a continuity, or is it rather that in spite of the continuity everything is fragmented?”.29 If in Sections it was the music that helped to unite different images with its melody, here it is the continual modulation of the scene that provides a sort of disjunctive binding of the fixing of an instant; a modulation due not just to the progressive introduction of new figures and the retreats of the point of view, but also to the occasional appearance of “deframings” (decadrages) or empty framings, containing only rocks and pools. The latter, in particular, play a central role, as in them the water, acting as a mirror, becomes a clear metaphor for “photography” (“a mirror with memory”30) that supports the entire work. The majority of the shots, as in Sections of a Happy Moment, are produced by digital overlays of the figures on the background; a background that can also, notwithstanding appearances, and as in Sections again, can be the result of editing or innumerable retouches.

The reflections of the “world upside-down” that create a sort of virtual movement within a still image seem here to perform a function of animation similar to the one Michel Butor assigns to the liquid mirroring in Monet’s paintings. In fact Butor writes: “Even when we see a house with its roof at the bottom, we still imagine it with its roof at the top, and so we animate this figure; we go on turning it the right way up and our eyes goes on showing us it upside-down [...] in order for the animation to last it is necessary to combine upside-down figures and normal figures”.31 This what happens repeatedly in The Quiet Shore. An animation that is similar in some ways is also produced when some images appear to be cut out from broader views, “in order to act”, declares Claerbout, “as if I had had a camera in my hands”, and that are therefore explicitly transformed into a sort of detail-indicator of the eternal return of an instant, or into a “memory concentrated and diffracted time within an elliptical moment”.32

While in the earlier works what acts as a background to the frozen instant is an easily recognizable situation, of which it is possible to foresee the developments (the basketball game, the wait before a concert...) the “arrested” situation in The Quiet Shore seems much harder to identify... What is really happening at the water’s edge? A child “splashing about” and “striking” the surface of the water... Why should this simple gesture stir, in a sort of domino effect, so much curiosity? Can we speculate that the action of striking the still water, disturbing its capacity for reflection, is equivalent to a metaphorical breaking of the mirror? It is hard to avoid the temptation to imagine that the only gesture “in movement”, however virtual, in the whole work, to which a total of eight close-up shots are devoted (along with those not centred solely on the figure and the ones that, interpolated in the action, show the reactions of the onlookers), produces a sort of virtual noise that induces the bathers to turn around. It seems unlikely that splashes, sprays and waves could be produced without any sound, without encroaching on the muteness of the image, in part because the image of the child’s gesture, as in a silent film, returns repeatedly, taking the form of a refrain shot, often utilized in cinema before the introduction of sound, not just as a reminder of the continuity of the action but also to evoke the production of a constant noise, to underline a visual effect that conjured up a sound suggesting and translating the abruptness, energy and violence of a gesture.

As usual, the work seems not to offer an answer. As usual Claerbout suspends not only the event narrated but also its suspension. He does not limits himself to crystallizing time but temporalizes the crystallization.

[...] if such transparency of intelligibility were ensured, it would destroy the text, it would show that the text has no future, that it does not overflow the present, that it is consumed immediately; [...] therefore a certain area of misunderstanding is also a reserve and an excessive possibility and a way of generating new contexts.

Jacques Derrida

Many of the artist’s works reflect, as we have seen, his interest in what does not happen, in the non-event, in what has no resolution; an interest that is clear from these statements: “The static and projected video image has a strong potential with regard to movement, and it is precisely ‘what doesn’t happen’ that is an internalised energy and not an externalised energy”; or again: “I’m trying to see to it that, whether there is an unfolding of narrative or not, it is not possible to find conclusion, to end up in certainty. I like to defer the resolution of questions. At that moment, the viewer has a place. He has little information, little editing to structure what he has seen. He has to complete it himself”. Even the works of the Sections... series and the related ones, like The Quiet Shore, with their dissecting and freezing of an instant, continue to bear witness to the artist’s interest in what we could call the threshold of vision and narration, a threshold that seems to make the image and story go back to the very beginning, when it still seems capable of keeping all its potentialities intact.

On the basis of some suggestions made by Giorgio Agamben, we seem to be able to hypothesise that David Claerbout’s image on the spot is, in its underlying intention, “the resolute avowal of an experience of the possible”. In the artist’s almost static videos, it is not in fact so much a question of opposing stillness to movement as of shifting the centre of gravity of the work “from the assertive level to the inchoative one, from that of the image which predicates something to that of the harbinger, which predicates nothing at all”. Remaining in suspense, in a sort of interval, Claerbout’s image seems to bring the datum, the act or the narration back to its potentiality: thus what is revealed on the threshold between movement and stillness is not the attraction for stasis (of photographic origin) but “the luminous phantom of the possible” or, to put it another way, “the restitutio in integrum of possibility”, which keeps happening and non-happening in balance. A situation in which what might not-be shades, continually, into what might be.33

David Claerbout invites us to think about his work as an event that implicates our capacities for reception. Yet we should not be fooled by the almost minimal dimension of his work: it is proposed not as a point of arrival but of departure. It is from the stubborn lingering of a gaze on a place where nothing seems to happen that stems the constructive/ deconstructive element that informs his research.

With the possibility of any resolution eliminated, the withdrawal from the spectacle is transformed, without a break, into spectacle of withdrawal: then we start to listen to what happens when nothing happens, to perceive the small movements, that, free of any emphasis, animate the image. Everything seems liberated by the exemplary economy of a gaze that shows and does not recount, by an event that does not take place: an immobile dynamism in which the work guards its secret.

In front of Claerbout’s videos, therefore, we find ourselves at a distance from the work precisely because of our expectation about its meaning.

Its showing is in fact proposed as an upheaval of the donner à voir, an attempt to make us see things while maintaining their distance, preserving their partial invisibility.









  1. See W. Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. by George Osborne, London-New York, Verso 1998, p. 45. See G. Didi-Huberman, “Before the Image, Before Time: The Sovereignty of Anachronism”, in Compelling Visuality: The Work Of Art in and out of History, ed. by C. Farago and R. Zwijnenberg, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 2003, pp. 31 et sqq.
  2. “[...] But during my training as a lithographer, I learned to think in procedures, to picture the result in advance, to be patient [...]. I tried photography, but I found it disappointing. I always wanted to modify the result. At a certain point I decided not to produce anything for a whole year, spending the time observing and ani- mating in my mind what I had found incomplete in a photograph. And that was the moment when I did it [...]”; declaration by Claerbout in
    S. Manganaro, “David Claerbout. L’incredibile essenza del Tempo”, in Drome, no. 17, 2010.
  3. D. Claerbout, Interview, by C. van Assche,in David Claerbout, The Shape of Time, curated by Id., exhibition catalogue (Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, 2 October 2007 -7 January 2008) Editions du Centre Pompidou -JRP/ Ringer, Paris-Zürich 2008, p. 9 (English Edition).
  4. As is well-known, this ça a été is what Roland Barthes sees as the noeme of photography (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, Vintage, London 2000, pp. 76-7).
  5. Cfr. D. Claerbout, Le bruit des images, conversation avec David Claerbout, interview by M. Muracciole, in “Les Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne”, 94, Winter
    2005-2006, p. 126.
  6. Definition coined by Peter Schjeldhal for Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills
  7. G. Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement Image, trans. by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1986. 
  8. David Claerbout, The Shape of Time cit., p. 92.
  9. Ibid., p. 120.
  10. D. Claerbout, Le bruit des images cit., pp. 125-134.
  11. D. Veaceslav, Des transformations de la photographie dans Shadow Piece et autres vidéos de David Claerbout, in “e-AdNM”, 
    26 January 2008. www.arpla.fr/canal20/eadnm/?p=46 (last access December 2010). All the quotations of Veaceslav are drawn from this text and they’ve been translated for this essay.
  12. P. Dubois, L’Acte photographique, Editions Labor, Brussels 1983-Nathan, Paris 1990. The passage has been translated from the Italian edition, L’atto fotografico, ed. by B. Valli, Quattroventi, Urbino 1996, p. 168.
  13. In fact Ingrid Hölzl writes “[...] the still image represents a special case of the moving image. It is a moving image that does not move. As such, it represents an anomaly, if not a risk for the screen that has been made to display moving images. With digital screening, stillness is no longer a medium-immanent quality, but rather an optional display mode of the digital video signal, whose default mode is movement. Put differently: stillness and movement are no longer properties of a given medium, but two modes, changing and repetitive, of an electronic signal [...]” (I. H lzl, The Photographic Now: David Claerbout’s Vietnam, in “Interm dialit s”, 17, primavera 2011, pp. 131-145). Available at: http://uio.academia.edu/IngridHoelzl/Papers/1144555/The_Photographic_Now_David_ Claerbouts_Vietnam (last access 26 August 2012.)
  14. By cinema of the origins we mean the period that preceded the beginning of the age of montage, a fundamental turning-point that according to Gaudreault marked the definitive shift to the modality of narration that would characterise the subsequent period
  15. See J. Aumont, The Image, trans. by Claire Pajackowska, BFI, London 1997 (the text by Gaudreault to which we refer is A. Gaudreault, Du littéraire au filmique. Système du récit, Paris, Méridiens Klincksieck-Quebec, Presses de l’Université Laval, 1988; trans. into English as rom Plato to Lumi re: Narration and Monstration in Literature and Cinema, University of Toronto Press, Toronto).
  16. David Claerbout, The Shape of Time cit., p. 112.
  17. For an analysis of the relationship that is established with the architecture in both films see D. Snauwaert, “David Claerbout, Bordeaux Piece, 2004”, in David Claerbout, The Shape of Time cit., pp. 30-35
  18. D. Claerbout, Interview cit., p. 14.
  19. D. Claerbout, Le bruit des images cit., p. 126.
  20. D. Claerbout, Interview cit., p. 14.
  21. The series of Haystacks, 1889-91, appears to be punctuated by the changing of the seasons and the times of day; increasingly indifferent to the subject, Monet was not concerned that the forms were elementary as long as they gave him an opportunity to express his interest in the radiation of light. Significant in this connection is a comment made by Kandinsky in 1913, after seeing one of the paintings in the series in Moscow: “[...] And suddenly for the first time I saw a picture. It was from the catalogue I learned this was a haystack. I was upset I had not recognized it. I also thought the painter had no right to paint in such an imprecise fashion.Dimly I was aware too that the object did not appear in the picture. And I noticed with astonishment and confusion that not only does the picture enthral one, but also impress itself indelibly on the memory, always quite unexpectedly appearing down to the last detail before one’s eyes. […] Painting took on a fabulous strength and splendour; and at the same time, unconsciously, the object was discredited as an indispensable element of the picture”.
  22. By “photo film” is meant those films based principally on the linking together of photographic images and thus on (non-)movement. Chris Marker’s La jetée (1962) was the first film to show clearly that the specific character of the cinema is not limited to the moving image, but can also be developed satisfactorily through the organization and processing of time.
  23. R. Bellour, “How to see”, in David Claerbout, The Shape of Time cit., pp. 36-40.
  24. David Claerbout, The Shape of Time cit., p. 134
  25. David Claerbout, The Shape of Time cit., p. 144.
  26. “[…] Cinema portrays movement, but how? Is it, as we are inclined to believe, by copying more closely the changes of place? We may presume not, since slow motion shows a body being carried along, floating among objects like seaweed, but not moving itself.” Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” in Id., The Primacy of Perception, ed. by James M. Edie, trans. by Carleton Dallery, Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1964 p. 55 (original edition, L’oeil et l’esprit, Gallimard, Paris 1964).
  27. René Magritte, Empire of Light (L’empire de lumières), oil on canvas, 1954 (although there are numerous slightly different versions of the work). The picture presents a house on the edge of a lake in the foreground, illuminated by a streetlamp. The water reflects not the sky but the darkness of the night that cloaks the building, while in the background we see a blue sky streaked with white clouds. The fascination of the painting stems from the fact that, at first sight, nothing seems out of place in this incongruous and mysterious image.
  28. S. Mah (curated by), Entretiempos, in Entretiempos. Instantes, intervalos, duraciones, exhibition catalogue (Madrid, Centro de Arte
     –Teatro Fern n-G mez, 9 June – 20 July 2010; Nuoro, Man, 15 October 2010 – 16 January 2011; Las Palmas, Centro de Arte La Regenta, 11 February – 10 April 2011) La Fabrica Editorial, Madrid 2010, p. 51.
  29. David Claerbout. The Shape of Time cit., p. 134.
  30. The definition of the daguerreotype given by the American Oliver W. Holmes. See O. Wendell Holmes, “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,” in The Atlantic Monthly, June, 1859.
  31. M. Butor, Les mots dans la peinture, Les Edition de Minuit, Paris 1969. The passage has been translated from the Italian edition. Saggi sulla pittura, SE, Milan 1990, pp. 62-87.
  32. R. Bellour, “How to see” cit., p. 36.
  33. See G. Agamben, “Bartleby o della contingenza”, in Id. and G. Deleuze, La formula della creazione, Quodlibet, Macerata 1993, pp. 49-92.




David Claerbout ©2021