Project Arts Centre, Dublin, 2015 (photo Ros Kavanagh)


Giving Time

Thierry Davila


Davila, Thierry, 'Shadow Pieces. David Claerbout', mamco: Geneva, 2015, ill.



I can’t show everything. Countless are the shadows, countless the categories of shadows.

Henri Michaux1

Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte, the short tale by Adelbert von Chamisso published first in Germany and then throughout Europe in 1814 (in English, The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl2), enjoyed phenomenal success. In German, it went through no less than eighty editions between 1814 and 1919 while in French there were thirty-three reprints. The “wonderful” or “marvellous” story in question tells how one Peter Schlemihl sells his shadow to a grey man—an image of the devil—in exchange for unlimited wealth. But having no shadow would prove a torment. Isolated from his fellow men because of this singular absence, this singular solitude that produces solitude, unable to go out except at night so as not to expose what has become an infirmity, a flaw, a curse, Schlemihl tragically embodies the wretchedness of losing one’s shadow, a kind of irremediable dehumanisation that afflicts anyone who leaves nothing behind them, who carries nothing in their wake. For decades to come, the theme impressed and even fascinated readers and writers. Hans Christian Andersen followed Chamisso’s example and wrote his tale “The Shadow”3 while Hugo von Hofmannsthal wrote the libretto for a Richard Strauss opera, The Woman without a Shadow, and then turned it into a short story with the same title in 1919.4

Such an infirmity is unlikely to affect the figures in David Claerbout’s works, for if one thing is palpable and explored in his films with remarkable consistency it is the absolute bond between bodies and their cast shadows, as if the two were inevitably tied together within the law of a common appearance—their common presence—that is at once luminous and nocturnal. A programmatically titled work from 2005, Shadow Piece, exhibits this condition in a direct way. This thirty-minute black-and-white film began with an uncredited archive photo found by Claerbout, taken on the stairs inside what may well be an example of the glass architecture celebrated by Paul Scheerbart.5 It shows the entrance to the building with closed glass doors. People on the other side of this transparent barrier come and go, trying unsuccessfully to open it. The light source behind them projects their shadows inside the building, which are thus the only forms, the only shadowy materials that succeed in entering the transparent box.

These patches of grey are what give these successive figures their full presence, their singularity, like fluid and impalpable signatures but real enough to shatter spatial demarcations. If the upper part of the projection shows the continuous movement of the figures, like something out of an American film from the 1950s, the lower part is static, strictly photographic. When the work is installed in an exhibition space, we are free to watch, move away and then come back and look again—it doesn’t matter, because, like many of Claerbout’s works, this sequence has no beginning or end; it is a pure visual and temporal experience, and what it shows is a scene and not a story—a historia, a narrative.

What does this Shadow Piece tell us, and what is Claerbout telling us through it? First of all, it bestows ontological dignity on phenomena, on appearances, that a commentator on Chamisso described as “something rather contemptible,”6 and that one historian deemed “lesser entities” because “they are a diminution of the objects that project them,” but also as “absences, negative things. A shadow is a lack of light.”7 Such depre- cation does not apply here, since what is celebrated in this work is the plasticity of shadow and—I shall come back to this—the chromatic variations that accompany it (white, black, grey). The work also confirms that the identity of the figures is inseparable from the active presence of their flat, shadowy projection in the space, and that, filmed by Claerbout, no living creature can exist without the spectral trace of its shadowy other, of its cast shadow, so that here the thought of inventing a character like Peter Schlemihl seems more incongruous than ever, if not impossible: because shadow is fully and unfailingly part of what makes the subject a subject, what makes a body a body (is Claerbout thinking back to what was one of the major advances of Renaissance art—Masaccio, Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer—in which the cast shadow becomes “evidence of the ‘reality’ of all bodies obstructing a source of light”8); it manifestly contributes, too, to the fact that an image is an image, which is why it is a recurrent visual feature.9 It gives human beings full and complete presence in the work, and gives the work its weight of reality and visual density and, to a certain extent, conditions the manifestation of its visual duration, so much so, indeed, that, more than ever in this universe, “the power of the image […] is light and its inseparable and transcendental underside, shadow, the invisible of light in light itself.”10 Hence the fact, too, that it plays the rule of a “genuine inner support of any scene.”11 Which is why many of the central figures in Claerbout’s works, and many of the actual scenes in these films, are shadowy, almost nocturnal. In Rocking Chair (2003), for example, a woman dressed in white who has dozed off in a rocking chair is shown in a two-channel projection. One of the images is frontal, with the shadow from a pergola hiding the upper part of her face, this being annexed by its covering darkness, as she rocks insistently to and fro. The other is filmed from behind, through an open door, and we see only the night-time silhouette of her seated figure, her cast shadow forming a black pool which establishes the scene in front of us in a way that would surely have chimed with Tanizaki in his advocacy of Japanese tradition, In Praise of Shadows (“Our ancestors made of woman an object inseparable from darkness, like lacquerware decorated in gold or mother- of-pearl. They hid as much of her as they could in shadows.”12) Rocking Chair combines shadows and the rhythm of time (metaphorically represented by the rocking of the chair, making the first the context for the appearance of the second. The six figures (two children and four adults) who enact the main scene of Sections of a Happy Moment (2007), are captured not so much in black and white as in shades of grey and, like the passers-by, have shadows that follow them faithfully during the projection. This spectral double heightens their presence on the screen as non-heroic, unexceptional individuals. In Study for a Portrait (Violetta) (2001), the face of a young woman filmed in close-up is sculpted by the shadows created by the light coming from the right of the image and turning the face into a modelled, graphic surface. In Kindergarten Antonio Sant’Elia, 1932 (1998), the shadows of the children playing in their school garden become extremely long in the cold, almost crepuscular light, thereby un- derscoring their smallness and the fragility of their forms. Piano Player (2001) is conceived as a veritable nocturnal shadow theatre set outside (the city in the rain with a woman followed by her cast shadow) and inside (an apartment room with a pianist shrouded in darkness). And in Bordeaux Piece (2004), a film lasting nearly fourteen hours, the shadows of three figures follow the same ten-minute scene, repeated all day long, that is, from dawn to dusk. The work consists of the same sequence with the same actors, filmed again and again throughout the day. Each sequence takes place inside and outside the house at different times, which means that the changing nature of the shadows accompanies the changing light and marks the passage of time (“The real point of Bordeaux Piece […] is to give form to duration by means of natural light,” says Claerbout13). Thus, the repeatedly reaffirmed bond between a body and its shadowed projection, and the choice of tenebrous ambiences, is one of Claerbout’s ways of ensuring that his films generally have the same general visual tone; a similar finish. This grisaille-dominated identity could be described as graphic. It also helps make the works truly time-based objects, for shadows are a representation of passing time, even if this is sometimes frozen, even if everything seems to take place, as in Shadow Piece, within an immobile duration. For in this work, as Claerbout himself says, “Actions follow on from one another but the shadows indicate a time that does not pass,” that is there, visually palpable, as if eternally treading water. “It is,” he adds, “a frozen digital composition, an autonomous photographic image, within which shadows are like the fixed skeleton of the composition, in contrast to their usual status as markers of the passing of time.”14 If it is certain that, in this film especially, shadows become the actual structure of the projected image, its skeleton, and, as Claerbout says, they no long measure the passing of time, and if they do not exhibit its running-off while showing temporality itself, that is because they belong to an eternal present, a static time, a petrified duration.

We can therefore argue that if Pamela M. Lee diagnosed a time phobia in the visual (plastic) arts of the 1960s—and we should recall that Claerbout started his career a painter and took a special diploma in lithography at the art school in Antwerp in the early 1990s before switching towards the moving image, towards a “cinematic” universe that remains, nevertheless highly “plastic”15 (and he continues to draw)—then the reso- nance of shadow in Claerbout’s work is also a way of expressing (again following Lee) a basic passion for time and its visual manifestations, making it quite different from the art produced several decades earlier (Jean Tinguely, Andy Warhol, Bridget Riley, etc.)16. And this dominant passion for duration exhibited as such—even if, as in Shadow Piece, it is immobile or, as in Bordeaux Piece, to be viewed in terms of the forms taken by its physical progress—is constantly describing the silent life of darkness and its spectres.

The lesson of darkness

Shadow Piece, the title of which could apply to a good number of Claerbout’s photos, films and installations, and by extension to all shadow-works, is a kind of continuation, using specific visual tools, of Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows: there is the same belief in the moving image (Tanizaki was a great champion of Japanese cinema) as a way of producing a play of shadows with its own, fully developed plastic sin- gularity (which Tanizaki overdetermines in national terms),17 to which Claerbout adds the use of the still image; the same discovery of “beauty in shadows” prompting him to “use shadow as a way of obtaining aesthetic effects”;18 the same “propensity to seek beauty in darkness;19 and finally, the same aesthetic credo, according to which “we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”20 The passion for shadow, for chiaroscuro, leads to a veritable journey through the darkness, that state of the visible in which shadow is only just perceptible, or even disappears completely. This is a truly seminal attraction which, in 1999, at the very beginning of Claerbout’s oeuvre, produced two almost black images shown in a state verging on darkness: Nocturnal Landscape (8 February 1999) and Nocturnal Landscape (9 February). These are photos taken after sunset during the winter months in the Hautes Fagnes region of eastern Belgium. Both show a snowy landscape bathed in moonlight, which re- flects off the snow. But the darkness is such that we need to look long and hard before seeing what little there is to see. Presented in a fairly large format (100 x 160 x 20 cm), the two images are mounted on lightboxes (light coming through from behind each representation), then presented in an unlit, almost totally dark room. Night on night, black on black,

shadows in shadows: such are these photos which are far from isolated examples in Claerbout’s work. There have been about a dozen to date, including the Venice Lightboxes (2000) and the Nightscape Lightboxes (2002/2003).  Most show landscapes  photographed  at  night.  Conceived along the same lines, Orchestra (2011) is, however, a view of a concert hall in darkness where the musicians, conductor and audience all seem to be staring out at the viewer. All are exhibited in spaces transformed into “black boxes.” These images, with their deliberate intertwining of visi- bility and invisibility, elude the gaze just as they are put before us. They represent genuine perceptual thresholds, where seeing depends on our becoming doubly accustomed to darkness—to that of the image and to that of the exhibition room—so that seeing darkness in darkness—“seeing black”21—becomes possible. Here, more than ever, “we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty,”22 and this experience, this revelation, requires an incompressible time of seeing on the part of the viewer; it requires that we take our time so that the body can adjust its optical capacities to the image and to the room housing it. As real “‘conditional’ photographs, that necessitate real darkness for the representation to be discernible,”23 and therefore truly paradoxical photographs—impossible photographs—which appear only when the very conditions for the manifestation of the visible are taken apart, for Claerbout, who also describes them as “stubborn images,”24 capable of doggedly imposing silence, they are the closest equivalent of the picture format.25 Their connection with the history of painting goes beyond their strict physical delimitation. Thus, in 2000 the Venice Lightboxes presented four views of Venice (Ca’ d’Oro, Isola San Michele, Santa Maria della Salute, Isola San Giorgio) taken, without the slightest trick of lighting, between four and six in the morning, or just before or just after sunset. For an artist familiar not only with pictorial practice but also with the history of painting, taking pictures of Venice is a historically overdetermined act. It means linking one’s artistic universe with the 18th-century tradition of vedute, those views of the Serenissima elaborated by Canaletto, Francesco Guardi and Bernardo Bellotto, all of whom produced several representations of the church of Santa Maria della Salute and the island of San Giorgio. But in contrast to the clarity and distinctness of, say, Canaletto, who also painted Venice at night, but in conditions of lighting that did not withhold it from the gaze, and to the views by Guardi (who, in The Grey Lagoon (1765), immerses Venice seen from the sea in a luminosity that makes forms uncertain, the light being like a huge shadow coming from who knows where, at once the sky and the water, both native and crepuscular, whereas in his View of the Piazzetta San Marco Giving onto San Giorgio Maggiore (1745/1760),  he  spreads  thick  shadow  over  two thirds of the flooring), Claerbout prefers to bury the whole subject in layers of darkness. He thus produces anti-vedute that totally avoid over exposure of this lagoon landscape and this urban architecture that are among the most photographed sites in the world. This visual silence (shadow encloses “complete and utter silence” said Tanizaki,26 and the night that extends it is one more stage in the muffled elision of all noises, including visual noises) and the slowing of the gaze is a way of loosening the grip of the spectacular in what has become one of the tourist and culture industry’s most prized destinations and theatres of cliché and, subtly but surely, becomes a way of giving images a political content (silence and slowness, standing in such contrast to the agitation and noise of the spectacle, are the lineaments of another possible way of dwelling and another vision of the socius). Creating zones of escape, inconsistency and indeterminacy in the visible,27 zones of resistance to the permanent and complete making available of the real, this is the programme in which this “visible darkness”28 is so fruitfully positioned.

We can already draw a few conclusions from this journey through darkness. It limns the profile of the artist as an inventor of thresholds of perception (thresholds between the visible and the invisible, light and darkness, shadow and darkness, movement and immobility, event and incident) that systematically bring into play the subject’s powers of discernment. The work is explicitly there to make us aware of the concentration, presence and dispossession—but also distraction—implied in the act of perception. It makes us feel that we distinguish, or that our perception is inconstant at the very moment when we are looking. This vision of the act of creation was described by Victor Shklovsky in the late 1910s, when he wrote that “the device of impeded form […] augments the difficulty and duration of perception.”29 It was explored, above all, by Marcel Duchamp, notably in his notes on the idea of the infrathin 30 where he articulates a veritable heuristics of the imperceptible structured by the testing of the limits of perception.31 But it is also a vision of the role of art put forward by Marshall McLuhan when he distinguishes artists, along with children, as the only ones capable of detecting those “sensory thresholds” where great metamorphoses are generated.32 Claerbout makes a threefold contribution to this genuine phenomenology of nuances: he places it at the heart of the life of both still and moving images; he spatialises it through a mineralisation of duration which makes the work an object with a twofold temporal rhythm: the gift of time inasmuch as it is exhibited, and a taking of time insofar as it is watched; he founds it firmly on a phenomenological observation that is visually stated and temporally explored by the Lightboxes. Maurice Merleau-Ponty has formalised the philosophical dimension of this: “When I say that every visible is invisible, that perception is imperception, that consciousness has a ‘punctum caecum,’ that to see is always to see more than one sees—this must not be under- stood in the sense of a contradiction—it must not be imagined that I add to the visible, perfectly defined in-itself, a non-visible (that would be only objective absence) (that is to say, an objective presence elsewhere, in an elsewhere in-itself)—One has to understand that it is the visibility itself, that involves a non-visibility.”33 And that visibility is also a matter of blindness, that it is manifested, also, as blindness, that the visible, that which sovereignly eludes the subject, is here the very condition, explicit and heuristic, of the works’ existence.34

Ars magna lucis et umbrae

To enter the night in order to see, create visions whose silent density tests the meaning of perceiving, and therefore of being in the world—this is one of the main thrusts of Claerbout’s art. But his shadowy if not dark photos and films—though they do not exclude the use of colour, a polychromy that also often shows shadows, whose spectral presence and floating contours are spread durably over the real, as in the 2007 film Long Goodbye, where, at dusk, a woman standing in front of a house swept by the strangely fleet and shifting shadows cast by an exhausted sun, bids her farewell—also refer to the history of art and, more precisely, its foundation myth, as articulated by Pliny the Elder in the first century of our era in the 35th book of his famous and monumental Natural History. We know that the historian traced the origins of art to the action of a potter’s daughter, drawing an outline round the shadowed profile of her lover as it was projected onto the wall.35 Shadow is thus a primary form in that, as Pliny tells us, it enabled the emergence of painting and sculpture, both of which therefore originated in a projection. But it is also primary because it is produced by all bodies. From the beginning of its existence, each body has a shadow, like a consubstantial double of its singularity, a spontaneous double that, despite the situation imagined by Adelbert von Chamisso, we cannot dispense with. In a word, it is an originary configuration with regard to the chronology of art history—and here Pliny’s mythical account of this archaeology should be enriched by a consideration of the key, historic role that “the dialectic of shadow and light” and their mise-en-scène play in Palaeolithic art.36 It is also a phenomenologically originary form as regards the laws of appearance, the laws of visibility, to the extent that, at the turn of the 20th century, Jean Piaget postulated the existence of four “shadow stages” in a child’s perceptual and psychological maturation.37 This is surely why it is also a founding entity from the viewpoint of the history of cinema, from the viewpoint of the invention of projection. For, as we know, it was in the first optical play on darkness and light, in shadow theatres, that the ar- chaeology of the seventh art was anchored, making it a modern incarnation of the ars magna lucis et umbrae that was the subject of Athanasius Kircher’s treatise in the mid-17th century. Here is another way of qualifying not only the ontological validity of shadow but also its primary, primitive and regulatory character in the history of the moving image.38 In short, from the point of view of the plastic arts (to use, for once, the restrictive categories of the fine arts) and from that of the moving image, of cine-plastic arts (films seen in cinemas, films shown in exhibition spaces, installations with projected moving images), shadow is an archaic form, that is, a founding principle, if we refer back to the ancient Greek etymology of arkhé, which signifies a principle or, more precisely, if we follow to the letter the definition given by Aristotle in his Metaphysics, that which begins and commands.39 To put a shadow in an image is therefore, in a certain way and to a certain extent, to archaicise it, to give it an origi- nary and essential character, native and archaeologically freighted, and consequently endowed with an ancient and still active and activated memory. And even if Claerbout uses digital technologies, his work con- tinues to be informed by forms that make the image an object that in its way is anachronous and the artist the figure who dwells in or, more plausibly, moves around in this exploratory space where the extremely contemporary encounters distant pasts.

This is another dimension characteristic of a number of contemporary cinematic works noted by critics, who have observed the existence of an “insistent relation between the primitive works of the early days of cinema and the practice of a certain number of contemporary filmmakers and artists,” including Claerbout himself.40 And, no doubt, the images in his work that are most explicitly concerned by this conjunction of temporalities, which is a coming-together of the primitive and the technological (bringing today’s work closer to its ancestors), are the animated photos projected in space in the manner of films. This ensemble of pho- tographic and cine-plastic works includes Shadow Piece but also earlier pieces such as Ruurlo, Bocurloscheweg, 1910 (1997), Untitled (Single Channel View) (1998/2000) and Kindergarten Antonio Sant’Elia, 1932 (1998). On each occasion the starting point was a found photo, a still image that Claerbout came across in a library during his long and frequent periods of research into visual documents, or in the documentation that he has accumulated in his studio. The artist has a real “passion for archives”41 which, to take one example, led him to put together a collection of images of pathologies, of medical images, in the 1980s. In these visual “promenades” which are “ways of letting yourself be surprised” by what comes before your gaze, and for which you “gather images with as little strategy as possible,” Claerbout, who, especially when in Berlin, is a kind of “library tourist,” is concerned to “collect images so as not to have to paint them,”42 to gain access to representation without needing to go to the tableau, or, more precisely, without having to bring in pictorial technique. Indeed, it is the enlargements of fifteen photographs taken from fitness magazines, images that showed in a solo show at the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, that Claerbout now considers his first works—the works that came immediately after he gave up painting.43 Other collections followed, amplifying and structuring this relation to visual memory, this relation to a photographic source that is already there, readymade and fixed, which allows the works to exist, but at a later phase, in the time of the moving image. The source document for Ruurlo was a black-and-white postcard produced at the turn of the 20th century showing a tree with, in the background to the left, a windmill and several figures. If one looks closely at this tree, itself a frequent feature of Claerbout’s works, we see that its leaves are almost imperceptibly moving, to the degree that we might easily not have noticed this animation of the image—an atmospheric quivering digitally introduced into this old scene—if we walked past it too quickly. Once again here we find this heuristics of thresholds of perception, thresholds of distinction (or non-distinctness) of the sensible, which is like the very basis of this art, one of its regulatory operations, implying that resting one’s gaze on the world necessarily implies a certain abandon to time in order to be able to truly see what is happening. This projection has been analysed as an echo of an old image from the history of photography, Flemish Windmill Taken near Lille by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Évrard, published in 1855 in La Lumière, the weekly publication of the Société Héliographique.44 It is clear, in any case, that this kind of piece posits the past as a starting point for the present, if only by its title, which gives the actual date of the source document (Ruurlo, Bocurloscheweg, 1910), this being inscribed on the label next to the year when the film was made, thereby visibly dialecticising the irruption of the present in memory. But this memory, this archive used by Claerbout in what is a very widespread practice in art today, where archives generally are treated as visual material in their own right,45 is not founded on a reification of what took place: if this art shows a pas- sion for the archive, it is insofar as this expresses a passion for time, and not for the past. The visual treatment of this postcard is all about reani- mating the document, taking care of traces (Claerbout describes himself as a “nurse” in his use of old photographs 46), trying “to give the image another life,”47 and therefore the desire not to abandon the old image in its frozen moment of appearance, to take it away from its condition as a past that has been documented and filed away.48 To do this, the idea is to delicately bring it into the present, to look at it from today’s perspective so that what comes together in it is the “that-has-been” of the photographic and the investment of its memory in the present time, the current becoming of the already there. Here it is as if the idea was to put time (back) into the representation of the world by introducing movement into what was recorded and fixed, by an action that also consists in subtly making memory quiver. In Untitled (Single Channel View) this reanimation—these “alterations that are like ‘caresses’” as Claerbout puts it 49—is wholly dependent on the play of shadows. The black-and-white image projected in the exhibition space shows a classroom where some fifteen students sitting at their worktables are looking towards an invisible blackboard. Behind them, coming from the right of the photo, passing through a window, the shadows of two trees fall on the wall at the back of the room. A slight movement like a furtive breeze moves the grisaille projection of the foliage in the room, while the whole scene is frozen in a silent immobility. We are faced with an indistinct breath in the image and passing time is linked to a simple or even banal moment of waiting held in suspense, eternised, accompanied by the attention required of the students, who are probably looking towards a teacher that the viewer cannot see, and from the viewer, attracted by this quasi-movement which is also a quasi-immobility. In Kindergarten Antonio Sant’Elia, 1932, the starting point is, as the work’s title indicates, a photo (author unknown) from 1932 taken at the opening of the eponymous school designed by the Italian functionalist architect Giuseppe Terragni for the town of Como. Seen in the garden, the children look petrified, and this statuesque quality is heightened by their long shadows on the ground, cast by what one might imagine to be artificial light. The grey atmosphere of this scene and the grain of the image tell us clearly that this is an old archive document, that we are looking at a photographic record of the past. Here too, the barely moving foliage of two trees transforms the source photograph into a moving composition, but the artist has declined to confuse things completely. For, if we take the time to consider it properly in the exhibition space, it becomes clear that this projection is at once a photograph and a film, and that it gives us duration in two different forms: as a past that we have in front of us, and as a now that unostentatiously, mezzo voce, agitates what took place, that makes it tremble, and that this trembling of time brings the old duration forward towards us, so that its sign can work on us more directly. There is thus time that freezes and time that makes things move, and the two come together to produce an archaic and digital shadow scene.

There is indeed another relation to history that is being constructed in these works (or pieces, as Claerbout tends to say), one that is different from the iconographic one that is immediately perceptible in photographs whose origin is dated. Thus, a kind of archaeological link connects these projections which, again, do not choose between photography and cinema, to the technological memory of photography and of the moving image. We know that the first photographic animations appeared in the first half of the 19th century. The invention of the stereoscope—an “optical box” that “gives a slight sensation of relief” to what it shows50—by the English physicist Charles Wheatstone played a galvanising role in this evolution. It was quickly followed in 1868 by the stereoscope-phenakistiscope, also devised by Wheatstone. As an article in the Moniteur de la photographie published on 1 December 1873 noted, “In this apparatus, when one is looking through the two eyeholes, a handle turns the stereoscopic images placed inside a round box, bringing all the photographs before the viewer’s eyes in quick succession. […] The result is truly surprising, when you see the image of a very solid locomotive with its moving parts work- ing.”51 In the meantime, in 1852, Jules Duboscq had come out with his bioscope. “As its name suggests,” this gave “the sensation of relief and movement, or the sensation of life,” by combining “moving photography” and stereoscopy.52 Another Frenchman who sought to impart movement to fixed images was Antoine François Jean Claudet. On 7 September 1865 he presented a paper on “Moving Photographic Figures” to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Birmingham, in which he confirmed that he had produced “moving figures with all the exactitude and precision of photography.”53 These moments from what we could call archi-cinema (another of the many examples could be the Polish pho- tographer and cameraman Boleslaw Matuszewski, who in 1898 spoke of “animated photography” and “cinematographic photography” when evoking the possible future of the cinematographer and the filmmaker 54) seem to live on the archives brought (back) to life by Claerbout: these are like a nostalgia-free echo of that time, bestowing an enchanting primi- tivism on the contemporary image. Likewise, the presence of trees with moving leaves in several of his projections encourages the kind of recol- lections and associations that link the now of the projected work to the technological and iconographic past of the moving image. As we know, the first films by the Lumière brothers—which they called “views”—were shown in the Salon indien at the Grand Café, Paris, on 28 December 1895. Several screenings were held. “The young Léopold Maurice” Lumière came “in the evening with his comrades from the Collège Chaptal and had them enter “through a hidden door to show them the ‘photographs that move’.”55 Among these films were Le Repas or Repas de bébé (The Meal/Baby’s Meal), a forty-second sequence filmed by Louis Lumière in which Auguste Lumière and his wife Marguerite take breakfast and feed their young daughter Andrée. In the background of this scene shot in spring 1895 at the villa Monplaisir, the family property near Lyon, the leaves are clearly moving. And this movement was one of the things that impressed the first spectators of this view. Gorky, too, was struck by the moving foliage. Recalling his first experience of moving pictures, in a screening which featured Repas de bébé, he observed that “Silently the ash-grey of the foliage sways in the wind,”56 that “the foliage of the trees quivers,”57 prompting some of the spectators to exclaim, “Oh! The leaves are moving!”58 We can imagine that the wonder felt by those who reacted in this way is shared by those who, before Claerbout’s “moving photographic figures” see what links their trees and moving shadows to cinema and its memory.

Through this conjunction of the fixed and the mobile what Claerbout is also exhibiting is the visual situation in which he has chosen to locate his work: inventing floating objects which are not absolutely like films, nor absolutely like photos—and the life of the image finds its way into this intermediary space—or that are images in movement constantly seeking to distance themselves from cinema, or fixed and/or mobile images whose quality is more often graphic than pictorial. These spatialise the deterritorialisation of the visual and the cine-plastic arts (a distinction that I use here for strictly logical reasons). Shadow is a key tool in this operation because it is a truly crucial form, in other words, one that is situated where different paths meet: as a principle of reference, one that is archaic in the sense stated above, for the fine arts and for cinema itself, its relation to any other aesthetic category or other visual genre is no more absolute, in the sense that it excludes any other, than that of any other visual component of the image.

This situation, this fluctuation, are not specific to this work, nor are they new. In 1965 Dick Higgins, a co-founder of Fluxus, started using the term intermedia,59 which he went on to analyse in an article published in the Something Else Press Newsletter the following year.60 He took it from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who coined it in 1816, using it as a way of designating the new working space explored by the art of the day, between traditional artistic media and historically established genres and, ultimately, “between all things that could be conceived as supports for expression.” The objects proposed by Duchamp, he wrote, were “fascinating” because they “are truly between media, between sculpture and something else,” because “The ready-made or found object, in a sense an intermedium since it was not intended to conform to the pure medium, usually suggests this, and therefore suggests a location in the field between the general area of art media and those of life.” And if John Heartfield “produced what are probably the greatest graphics of our century,” he did so “by invading the land between collage and photography.”61 For Higgins, the main forms of intermedium he saw around him were the happening, Rauschenberg’s combine paintings and certain works by Claes Oldenburg and Robert Filliou, among others. The term intermedia and the theme of intermediality were taken up by Gene Youngblood in his study of Expanded Cinema, published in the US in 1970. Although he never mentions Higgins, Youngblood bases his argument on a formulation of this problematic put forward by a group of researchers and artists working with Harvard University, the Intermedia System Corporation, one that gives it a more fully visual and environmental dimension.62 He naturalises the question, and many of the examples he uses to illustrate his idea of expanded cinema could have been used by Higgins.63 More recently, Hans Belting has analysed intermedial images (that is, images that recall an original, traditional medium, but without using it) and shown that they are untimely, or anachronous, by setting them against the long- duration of the history of art itself. He describes how, in 1608; Rubens created a “kind of installation” with his painting on slate of a large altarpiece for the Chiesa Nuova church in Rome. This was positioned in front of an old “miracle-working picture” and a mechanism “opened a window onto the old icon set in the center of his painting.”64

These few historical moments show that the deterritorialisation of artistic genres and mediums is something that has happened recurrently at very different moments in the history of art, even if it is particularly and, perhaps, more than ever a focus today. Claerbout’s work belongs to this history, that of visual operations which contradict the aesthetics of specificity (the specificity of the medium, the autonomy of artistic genres) associated in the modern period with the formalism represented, particularly, by Clement Greenberg. His moving photographs undermine the idealisation of categories. Adorno is no doubt another of the observers who, at the time when Higgins was publishing his thoughts on intermedia, responded most perceptively to this state of affairs. In a talk given at the Berlin Academy of Arts in July 1966, he spoke of the “erosion” taking place in the arts and affecting artistic genres. He traced this back to Cubist collage. “In recent times the boundaries between the different arts have become fluid, or, more accurately, their demarcation lines have been eroded.”65 And if, according to Adorno, “The artistic genres appear to reveal in a kind of promiscuity,”66 then in Claerbout’s work this positive fluctuation has become a sign of health.

Of course, critics have noted this intermedial power and, on several occasions they have shown, above all, the ability of these works, these films, to shake the classic historical context of cinema. The works have been described as “films or semblances of films,”67 or as partaking of a “post-cinema approach,”68 or of “extended cinema,”69 or, again, on the subject of Bordeaux Piece (which “dissociates and displaces the elementary units of the medium”) as cinema that has “become unhinged, like time” in a “heuristic opening of the cinematographic experience.” Bordeaux Piece is described, thus, as “allegorically” embodying the “exit from cinema” by exhibiting a film “that has become a plastic and crystalline mobile.”70 Sections of a Happy Moment, of Arena and of The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment, which I analyse below, have prompted remarks about Claerbout’s ability to “place himself with an unprecedented exactitude between photography and cinema”71 so as to organise “their simultaneous explosion”72 by means of “photo-video” installations.73 The observation that “when cinema ceases to be defined on the basis of its technical ap- paratus, at the extreme point of its deconstruction […] there occurs a phenomenon of ‘generic alteration’ (what Aristotle calls a metabasis eis allo genos),”74 a change in the separation of genres, could be taken as a useful summary of these analyses which, in the specific domain of cine-plasticity, concern a deterritorialisation of practices that structure the life of images over the long term.75


An athleticism of duration

Shadow is a form of time, a form of passing time, elapsing in front of our eyes. In this sense, the shadows that impart their rhythm to Claerbout’s work are not those “short shadows” evoked by Walter Benjamin, the ones that, appearing at noon, “are no more than the sharp, black edges at the feet of things, preparing to retreat silently, unnoticed, into their burrow, into their secret.”76 On the contrary, they are forms that extend and dwell in the real; crepuscular shadows whose darkness seems capable of annex- ing the whole world, with all its creatures and objects. Shadows that take their time as they appear. The last part of the film in Long Goodbye con- sists entirely of shadows, those of the vegetation surrounding a mansion. These fill, devour the screen, then open onto the night. The projection begins and ends with a dark screen, a way of framing the work with a moment of latency, expectation, visual silence, a visual break that is also a way of putting the viewer in a certain state. The combination of tranquillity and concentration is like a visual and sensorial cleansing before the projection starts.77 The black screen is more surprising after the scene has taken place—after the shadows. It is as if this optical sanctuarisation of Long Goodbye was designed to heighten its resonance in the visitor’s imaginary, to highlight the film’s presence in their memory by cordoning it off from ordinary cinema and everyday experience. Between these two black screens there will have been these shadows, which signal the spectral presence of nature and its projection, leading to a dissolving of the visible world, of its elision in darkness, or even its pure and simple disappearance, its permanent obliteration. These are forms at the end of the day, and in reality forms at the end of time, the covering of the visible, having done with it once and for all. Terminally tenebrous, shadows delineating the face of the world after light. But there is no dirge here, no lamentation, no psychology or mood music, just life itself. No fancy formulations, just the phenomena. This restraint, which is not coldness, but more an elegant economy, also introduces a touch of strangeness into this vision of nature in shadow or as shadow. By condensing eight hours of filming into forty-five minutes of screen time, Claerbout slightly accelerates the movement of the foliage, in contrast to which the rest of the scene is filmed in a slow-motion zoom-out. The shadows of the vegetation belong to a different temporal rhythm different from that of the rest of the scene, as if several different times and spaces coexisted in the same world. This disparity creates a strange im- pression of fiction within reality, an unreality in the scene. Deleuze argued that shadow helps create a particular kind of spatiality: “a space full of shadows, covered with shadows, becomes any space whatever,” he said, because shadow “determines the virtual conjunctions which do not coincide with the state of things or the position of characters which produce it,”78 thereby creating “deconnected or emptied spaces.79 That is how the scene of Long Goodbye appears to us: the shadows of the vegetation engender a non-Euclidian, homogenous and differentiated world. And it is from this very greyish temporal and spatial strangeness that the figure looks out at us, up to the end, signals towards us, stares at us so as not to lose sight of us, registering what is happening, welcoming it and calling for it with his gaze.

For it is quite clearly possible to start with shadows and then con- struct a point of view onto the world, to look at what is happening, to see it coming. In Untitled (Carl and Julie) (2000), a man in a shadowy setting—a section of black light within a modernist building, a thick and geometrical shadow, a single block of night—sits in an armchair and looks out fixedly at the viewer examining him. From the blackness, a real observation post, he takes up a distance and opens the image to what it cannot control, which here is welcomed: the gaze of the other, what is outside the projection, the circulation of encounters. Also in shadow, a young blond girl is drawing at a table. Filmed at first from behind, she turns round to see us passing by, to see us coming, for a sensor system picks up the viewer entering the room and triggers movement in the figure, who later returns to her original position. This openness of the projection, its interaction with viewers, confirms that everything in this scene is about the gaze soliciting gazes. It is up to the person passing before it to become part of the image by stopping in front of it, giving themselves up to its unfolding: the time of the work is the time of vision.

What these works often involve is dilated, or even extreme duration, a veritable gift of time—nearly fourteen hours in Bordeaux Piece. There is an obvious contrast here with much other contemporary work, for example that of Claude Lévêque, who considers an installation suc- cessful if visitors spend only a few seconds in it.80 Bordeaux Piece can never be viewed in its entirety (the projection lasts thirteen hours and forty-three minutes exactly), for practical reasons (no public or private venue anywhere stays open that long) and for physiological ones (no individual is capable of spending that long in front of a screen with their eyes open). And yet Claerbout, and the space that shows this piece, play the game of this impossible visibility that, in a different technical format (lightboxes), was first explored and implemented at the end of the 1990s.

That, in this precise case, is the nature of the gift: it is essentially inexhaustible and, in fact, can never be answered—a gift in exchange—in a way that would match what it sets in train. And that is what this work exposes us to: we can never respond in full measure to its gift of duration. This is an exorbitant, monumental way of no longer counting time, but of offering it, of “making it available in world where [it] has been atomised and where it has become an instrument of control.”81 So that temporality is no longer the means of a strictly commercial relation to what is around us and we construct a means of resistance to the hours bought and sold, counted, uniformised, thanks to the invention, by means of moving images, of a duration that has no price, in which each individual can find a place. That is one aspect of the programme. The immersive dimension of the work goes hand in hand with the gift that structures it: to really be there, facing the projection, to experience seeing, we must become pensive, meditative viewers, viewers who are in this time free of calculation, who abandon themselves without counting to its fluidity. Bordeaux Piece goes far into these relations between the gift, the non-atomisation of duration, making duration available; the contemplation, loss and taking of time. And this spatialisation—what everyone experiences in all Claerbout’s works, but exponentially so in Bordeaux Piece, “is a space that has be- come time”82—is also in the film itself, in the motif of its scenes. Claerbout first thought of setting the work in the houses designed by Pierre Koenig in Los Angeles on the sundial principle, but in the end he chose a house built by Rem Koolhaas in Bordeaux in 1998, a sculptural dwelling “made essentially as a vessel for light,”83 for its changes over time, its passing. “This is how I proceeded: we shot each sequence from 5.30 am, when one could begin to see, up to 10 pm, the time when one can no longer see everything. The shoot went on from mid-July to mid-August. We filmed exactly the same sequence every ten minutes, in the successive light conditions of a single day—in all, seventy a day. After that I edited together all the scenes of the narrative shot at 5.30, then those shot ten minutes later, etc. In the final edit, the scenario is played out seventy times, identically, and each time in constant light, the light corresponding to that time of day, but shot on a different day. Each scenario lasts between ten and twelve minutes, and the whole film—I use the word film for simplicity’s sake—lasts thirteen hours and forty-three minutes.”84 The schema of Bordeaux Piece was inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt): a young woman torn between two men—a father and his son—spends time with both and decides to stay with the son. But the real subject of the work is the passing of time materialised by light and the shadows it produces, the different qualities of lighting it creates, with the consequence that what is at work behind the primary narrative is a deep structure made up of light and darkness, which is what remains of the work after one has watched it. Bordeaux Piece, a study of light in a narrative framework wherein the presence of nature becomes more prominent than the contents of the story,85 is a kind of sundial plotting the course of the sun from 5.30 am to 10 pm. The sun itself is always as- sociated with the march of time in this work,86 with a grounding in reality as such 87—in temporal reality. It is often treated as a visual sequence related to the natural deployment of light, to the progress of day. Witness The Stack (2002), a 36-minute film showing a sunset filmed through pillars supporting traffic lanes, or in Reflecting Sunset (2003), a 38-minute piece showing the reflection of the setting sun on the façade of a modernist building from the 1930s, the Stazione Maritima in Naples. In these two works, the progress of light is slightly speeded-up but does not seem artificial. In Bordeaux Piece, though, the viewer follows, almost in real time, the unfolding of a day, and the sundial 88—the succession of shadows— thus obtained consequently confronts us with duration as such, with pure duration considered for itself. The repetition of the same scene played by the same actors speaking the same lines, seventy times, cancels the privileged status of editing in cinema. The narrative structure dissolves through excess of repetition, ceasing to be immediately obvious so that what becomes visible instead is the passing of time.

By making such a long piece, followed by this other challenge in duration that is White House (2006)—a projection of thirteen hours and twenty-eight minutes constructed around the same principle as Bordeaux Piece, of repeating a scene through a whole day, but this time in winter light, which is also conducive to the play of shadows—Claerbout is placing him- self alongside a number of elders and contemporaries: Warhol, of course, whose Sleep (1963) and Empire (1964) are exceptionally long film works (the first lasts five hours and twenty-one minutes, the second, eight hours and five minutes); Anthony McCall, who, in Long Film for Ambient Light (1975) proposed a work lasting twenty-four hours; Douglas Gordon, who, with 24 Hour Psycho (1993), slows down the eponymous Hitchcock film so that its running time extends to a whole day; James Benning and even Christian Marclay, whose The Clock (2010) is another film that lasts the full twenty-four hours. What distinguishes all these works is their availability, which sets them apart from traditional films and the usual conditions of visibility in a cinema: one can look at them for a moment, move along, and then come back to the projection place (a cinema, an art space) to contemplate them again, because the narrative, insofar as there is any, is always undercut by time and has neither beginning nor end. The comparison between Bordeaux Piece and The Clock comes up almost naturally, in that Marclay’s work explicitly expounds and exhibits the question of time. Both works are rooted in the history of cinema, but they mobilise it in quite different ways. In Bordeaux Piece the reference to a scene from Le Mépris is an understated pretext which does not so much structure the work as a famous narrative sequence as serve as a support for the repetition, as the filmic raw material for the implementation of a process. It is therefore inevitable that, as time goes by, we lose sight of the narrative. The Clock, a virtuoso montage of excerpts from films and TV series (Marclay and his assistants chose between two and three thousand of these over a period of three years), in each of which the time is clearly displayed—on a wristwatch, on a factory clock, on a station clock, on digital watches, on a village church, is a deliberate and impassioned journey through cinema. It is a cinematic clock that tells us the exact time at the moment when it is being shown on the screen, the time at which everyone in front of the screen is watching the time being displayed.89 The Clock attests to an unshakeable love for cinema, for every kind of cinema, whereas we get no such overt and activist cinephilia from Claerbout. In fact, he says that he makes works that speak more to “the flâneur, who has a memory of cinema, than the cinephile.”90 It is also a projection based on the “method of collage which constitutes the base of all [Marclay’s] work,”91 a virtuoso montage made using new softwares on which you can process “sound and image at the same time, as if they were just one entity,”92 making this work one huge collage with visual and aural transitions that are thoroughly and subtly handled. Claerbout does not seek this kind of hypostasis of montage 93 and Bordeaux Piece is, as we have already seen, a piece structured by repetition, by a systematicity which is, ultimately, antithetical to montage, which here is reduced to the simplest form of editing, an automatic process required by protocol. Finally, these two works, which are both shown in highly specific conditions (a projec- tion room set out in an exhibition space, and not a cinema theatre, for The Clock, with comfortable white sofas suitable for spending a long time in front of the screen, and for Bordeaux Piece a screening space also laid out in an art space but with no special comfort, with headphones on which the dialogues can be listened to, while the ambient sound played in the room is the natural sound of the site where the scenes were shot), both exhibit time in a way that is explicit and even illustrative. But where The Clock shows mechanical, horological time, the mechanical measurement of hours, minutes and seconds, the time of tekhné, Bordeaux Piece is an exhibition of the time of nature, in which shadows are indices: the time of phusis. This difference sums up the gap between two visions of temporality: The Clock tells the time, Bordeaux Piece shows time.94

The liquidity of the visible

Very often with Claerbout, as we have seen, the work consists in the alliance on the same surface, on the same screen, of movement and im- mobility, of movement as immobility—for example, when the quivering of leaves is introduced into photographic archives. In Sections of a Happy Moment, in Arena, and in The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment, the immobility is that of the multiple images, the multiple photographs that comprise each film, conceived as a slide show (a slide show that has be- come a film thanks to the digital format), like an especially fluid sequence of fixed views (one thinks of Chris Marker’s The Jetty, even if narration is absent from these pieces). All the works are based on the same principle: a single scene is photographed from a great variety of viewpoints, which follow on from each other as if to visually exhaust all the different aspects of the action. Taken in the studio, these photographs lead to the recom- position of a moment—a second—in the life of men, which is dilated and comes before the viewer with a duration of minutes. In Sections of a Happy Moment and The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment (both black-and-white), this instant which becomes endless 95 (the first work lasts 26 minutes, the second, 37, but they are looped and therefore have neither beginning nor end) is in reality a grey moment: the omnipresence of shadows, the interplay between luminosity and penumbra makes these films grey works with a very graphic texture. Here, black and white are transcended by the use of a colour with a complex historical status, said to be the colour of cinema: grey.96 As we recall, Gorky, who attended some of the earliest film projections, and saw cinema as a world of shadows,97 was struck by the “uniform grey colour,” “that grey, silent life” that appeared before him,98 and Jerry Lewis affirms that, in fact “there has never been a black-and-white picture. It comes out in shades of grey.” Jacques Aumont states that “in cinema (as, before it, in certain engraving techniques and, of course, photography), ‘black and white’ does not designate the co-presence of black and white, but a grey tone, with all its values.”99 Sections of a Happy Moment and The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment explore the different possible modulations of grey in the image, the use of shadow in these plays on shades, which gesture at once towards photography and film but also towards to drawing and engraving, players in the long history of grisaille of which Western art remains the theatre, even today.100 In this way, Claerbout performs, once again, a crucial operation—situated at the intersection of paths, categories, disciplines and techniques, which one can also detect in other, luminously grey bodies of work—which gives his work a profound chromatic unity, a shadowy chromatism, to a whole part of his world.

If the visual power of these two films has to do with the way in which they bring before our eyes the inexhaustible shadowy modulations that structure them, it also has to do with the way in which, with and on the basis of these nuances, they give time. The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment, for example, one of Claerbout’s greatest achievements to date, is a particularly virtuoso exercise in producing a temporal object. The scene is set in the kasbah in Algiers: young boys are playing football on a strip of outdoor land while, in the middle, a man holds out a piece of bread for the seagulls flying around him, attracted by the food. The ver- tiginous multiplication of viewpoints, the capture of viewpoints and statures, the empathetic yet unsparing rendering of their expressions, the dance of the seagulls in the air—everything comes together to make this film the dazzling exhibition of a second in the of the protagonists’ lives, to the extent that we have an overriding impression that the real could be exhaustively covered by the image. This almost inexhaustible sequence of photographs and views, this exposure of the moment, are without rupture, without abrasion, in which they are helped by the expansive music which Claerbout tries to make as unsophisticated as possible.101 For time is given in an almost organic form which seems to have been engendered en bloc, that is to say, in a filmic continuity that deliberately erases the jolts and possible rhythmic and visual ruptures produced by the editing. For noth- ing could be further from Claerbout’s visual universe than the aesthetic of strong contrasts characteristic of certain avant-garde artists of the early 20th century. Walter Benjamin analysed this not only in the work of the Dadaists, in which the artwork became a “bullet,” thereby acquiring a “tactile quality,” but also in cinema, which in this regard was a direct heir of Dadaism, which was also “primarily tactile, being based on changes of place and focus which periodically assail the spectator.” 

Hence the “shock effect of the film, which, like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind.”102 This physical shock was due to technology operating on its own, free of any of the moral judgements still affecting Dada. Now, with Claerbout, film, and especially The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment, is quite different from cinema as analysed by Benjamin: rather than assailing the spectator with the succession of shots and spaces, Claerbout gives us a fluid transition from one image to another, a shift without visual jolts or starts, which gives the impression that it could go on endlessly flowing and never end, radicalising the immersiveness of the projection. Here we are a long way not only from the first avant-gardes but also from any kind of hysterization of the camera, and also any expressionism—the expressionist use of shadows, that “ostentatious, over-expressive demonstration of ‘Caligarism.’”103 Instead of that, his work generally embodies a systematic calm, an Arcadian calm.104 If Claerbout is not interested in these visual effusions, that is primarily, as we have already seen, because he has no particular fascination with editing (“I do not subscribe to the hegemony of montage, to its erotization of time and places,” he avers. “What interests me is finding a way of looking at a moving surface without the spectator being passive.”105 For some of his works, indeed, he says that this is “secondary.”106) This is a way of bluntly distancing himself from cinema, from its history and theory, and the role generally assigned to montage in its practice—montage, is the “principal act of cinema,” argues Deleuze, who speaks of the “montage king.”107 Not that The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment is not a fully worked-out film, precisely constructed and therefore truly edited. But the unfolding of the sequences, their succession, which is so fluent it seems quite undeliberate, unmade, not there—but then, might not the great strength of editing be that it goes unnoticed?—leads us to note and take pleasure in the organic nature of the constructed film, the naturalness of its rhythm rather than the real technicality of its structure, which is not immediately obvious and does not weigh on us. It is in this sense that editing is not hypostasised—that is, over exposed—here; it is present as if intended to disappear. Indeed, this work, originally comprised of fifty thousand views and gradually reduced to the five hundred used in the screening, was edited in a single day,108 which is no doubt proof that the piece was not produced by a powerful construction that would condition the flow of images constituting it. If there are no visual jolts, their absence is not due to a thoroughly thought-through and controlled relation be- tween each view.

Let us note that, among the processes invented to explore the aesthetic of the shock (as made possible by montage), the flicker, that repeated flashing on the screen, capable of creating a stroboscopic effect, is like the negative embodiment of the unceasing fluidity, devoid of jolts or physical and optical shocks, of these projections among which The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment represents a kind of assumption. Claerbout criticises it for tiring the eyes,109 whereas his works are characterised by a systematic absence of optical aggressiveness, especially when they use modulations of grey, shadowy shades that are incompatible with blinding contrasts: “The spectrum of effects engendered by the flicker extends from discontinuity by heightening the contrasts in the fusion of images by juxtaposition. Between these two poles, from glimmering to flickering and blinking, and on to flashing, the full range of luminous intensities is deployed, depending on the length of the segments of identi- cal images and the tone of the successive colours.”110 This catalogue of optical shocks engendered by flickering draws up an inventory of what Claerbout’s works, haunted by a pedagogy of attention and not hallucination, do not offer the visitor: visual stimulations capable of carrying them towards zones where their gaze, and consciousness, can never pull themselves away from a frenetic, unceasing stimulation, zones where the subject’s consciousness cannot be soothed, poised.

With this fluid extension of duration, with these grey images that, with seeming effortlessness, “naturally” exhibit the unabrupt logic of their association, thus offering the sight of a kind of visual and sensorial continuum in which no one moment is dominant, in which no image dominates another, it is as if Claerbout wanted to emphasise what it is that makes a film an authentic temporal object, the one that Edmund Husserl, who for the purposes of his demonstration uses only the example of the sound universe, defined in his famous On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time. In this text, where he sets out to di- rectly describe the way “time as such” appears,111 Husserl argues that “temporal being appears in some ‘running-off’ mode that changes con- tinuously.” This running-off of the temporal object, or, more precisely, “the object in its mode of ‘running-off’” is what is discovered by the phenomenology of the personal consciousness of time 112—a Zeitobjekt that here is pure duration. Husserl specifies that “We know that the running-off phenomenon is a continuity of constant changes. This continuity forms an inseparable unity, inseparable into extended sections that could exist by themselves and inseparable into phases that could exist by them- selves.”113 It is as if Claerbout has set out to illustrate this running-off, to illustrate the existence of time as a pure and simple continuum, as a pure and simple flowing in his films. This process is particularly magnified in The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment. A running-off that lasts, a continuum as exhibited time, consubstantial with the modulated exploration of a world in tones of grey.

A short journey through shadow

The presence of shadow in Western art is far from linear in its chronology. Thus, “many of the artists of the Cinquecento withheld their attention from cast shadows,”114 whereas in the 17th century, shadow became a major device in the “tenebroso style” of painting.115 These historical oscillations may seem strange if we bear in mind that in De pictura (1435) Alberti posited the painting of shadows as a major aspect of the painter’s skills: “I will consider insignificant or mediocre that painter who does not understand clearly how much power every shadow and light produce[s] on each surface.” In this treatise which does more than present a method for painting, he continues: “Therefore, in order that [painters] avoid blame and deserve praise light and shadows, first of all, must be noted with great diligence, and one must remember that a color itself is more vivid and clear in a surface in which bright rays strike.” Which is tantamount to making the study and invention of shadowed forms one of the founda- tions of the art of painting.116 With Claerbout, Alberti’s recommendations are perfectly integrated into a world of moving images, installations and still images in which projected shadows are authentic plastic, cine-plastic carriers. How, then, can one describe even more precisely the singularity of these visually structuring forms, of these active, spectral substances?

Resituating these Shadow Pieces in the historical context of 20th and 21st-century art, even briefly, will certainly help us go deeper into how they work. From Duchamp to Kara Walker, Paul Chan and Mark Lewis (Rush Hour. Morning and Evening. Cheapside (2005)), via Dennis Oppenheim’s Shadow Projection (1972), Warhol’s shadow works (notably the  Shadows series  (1978/1979, Dia  Foundation)  consisting of 102 pictures forming a continuous frieze), Shadow Play (1970) by Vito Acconci, and the shadow theatres that Christian Boltanski began making in 1984, and those of Hans-Peter Feldmann, shadow clearly occupies a major po- sition in this chronology, reflecting the enduring nature of the mental and visual fascination exerted by its capacity to simply double the volume of being and things.117 Duchamp, as we know, conceived a number of works involving shadow. In Tu m’, the purportedly conventional painting he made in 1918 for the library of Katherine S. Dreier, we note the presence of several shadows of readymades (the Bicycle Wheel and Hat Rack) alongside an enigmatic corkscrew. That Duchamp should have chosen to sign off as a proponent of the most “traditional” practice of painting with a painting of shadows, of cast shadows, speaks volumes about the impor- tance he attributed to them in the history of that art. A photograph of readymades in his New York studio also shows that shadows were an integral part of their identity, while his Self-portrait in Profile (1958) con- sists of a paper silhouette which echoes the outlined cast shadow in Pliny’s Natural History. Duchamp defined these shadows as part of what he called the infrathin (a term he coined), a category to which he devoted 46 notes written between 1935 and 1945. In these reflections on the al- most-imperceptible—for the infrathin is what is only just manifest, what our senses can only just locate or apprehend—he inserted a photograph of the cast shadows of several of his works (the Bicycle Wheel, the Hat Rack, the Sculpture for Travelling) taken in his studio, one of the only documents in this set of notes to actually mention any works.118 Here, then, shadow is quite clearly, and more than ever, a manifestation of the infrathin, a form of the imperceptible, one of its versions (“infra thin cast shadow,” Duchamp confirms 119), and it is for the artist to concern himself with these kinds of spectral phenomena, shadowy projections, because he is himself like those “shadow bearers […] who work within the infra thin.”120 In other words, these projected forms are another possible name for the barely perceptible, for barely affirmed appearance, the imperceptibility of phenomena or what is imperceptible within phenomena, meaning that they are closer to non-appearance than to emphatic manifestation. The shadow worlds of Boltanski and Feldmann are, on the other hand, completely different, at the opposite end of the spectrum to Duchamp’s silent, discreet pieces. In their works we are dealing with authentic shadow theatres (such as the former’s Théâtre d’ombres (1984–1997) and latter’s Shadow Play installation shown at the Venice Biennale in 2009) that accompany the lives of objects and tangible forms. Here, grisaille configurations projected on walls heighten the source reality (modest figurines for Boltanski, and for Feldmann, twelve groups of toys forming miniature theatre scenes placed on revolving bases, all set on a table twenty metres long) and give it greater scope, making it spectacular and monumental in order to render it by turns fantastic and troubling. Claerbout’s work is akin neither to infrathin manifestations of shadowy phenomena nor to their theatralization. Rather, it explores a kind of temporal inflection introduced by shadow that goes hand in hand with the sort of graphic materiality granted to it: the shadow is a concrete form of time, precisely drawn and also projected, and Shadow Piece owes its visual impact to this immobile procession of shadows that takes time, taking time along with it.

This duration is systematically physical, if we take this adjective

in terms of its relation to its etymological origin, the Greek term phusis (nature). Many of Claerbout’s works effectively take their rhythm and structure from the course of the sun and the shadows that accompany it. They thus exhibit a time that is in no sense measured by an industrious logic—the monetizable time to which Claerbout prefers “non-productive” time, that is, time that for he considers “free,”121—for these pieces are woven from a natural, worldly duration, by the time of the world and by the shadow play that signals it, a time indifferent to the laws of the economy. The Stack (2002), for example, is a single shot that shows, as we have seen, the course of the sun at the end of the day, seen through the pillars supporting several urban traffic lanes. The exhibition and obscuring of the site, corresponding to the appearance and disappearance of light following the position of its source, allows us to glimpse the fleet- ing presence of a man in the background—a homeless person—at a certain moment in the projection. The unedited 38 minutes of Reflecting Sunset (2003) exhibit the reflection—again, without montage—of the sunset, and therefore, again, of the alternation of dazzling light and shadow, on the glass surface of the Naples port terminal (built, as we have seen, in the 1930s). As with Bordeaux Piece, these works each invent a kind of sundial, placing us before a duration measured in stone and steel, offered up for contemplation, truly given to the extent that it impels the viewer to mobilise their consciousness to a greater degree than usual and to look actively, as if to increase their visual and mnesic capacities. Strictly speaking, however, there is no event structuring these pieces: nothing happens, or almost nothing (the appearance of a man lying on the ground in The Stack lasts a minute and a half out of the total projection time of thirtysix minutes; in other words, the moment is well nigh invisible), and for Claerbout the work consists entirely in attracting our attention without resorting to anecdote,122 in countersigning the work’s power to combust the event,123 by means of projections without beginning or end that proceed hieratically before us, through views that are therefore static, and yet at the same time are constantly animated. These non-events leave us before the pure and simple running-off of duration, an exhibition of the elapsing of the temporal object, of its flux, which occupies the whole surface of the screen. In this disappearance of the story, of classical narrative, in favour of a non-spectacular, unemphatic scene, what reaches the viewer is thus the pure real—duration in and for itself: exhibited time dissolves the historia and transforms the work into the witness of what passes,124 which is none other than the passing of time itself, the running of its shadows, so that the rendering of duration is conditioned by the implementation of a skiagraphia, by the existence of a shadow, if not tenebrous writing. And if “it is not movement that most deeply defines cinema […] but time,”125 if “cinema is the only experience in which time is given to me as a perception,”126 then what Claerbout takes from the seventh art and deterritorialises, is not the hypostasis of editing, then, but its identity as a Zeitobjekt (in the sense that we could say that he produces a supercinema, a cinema par excellence). 

The fact remains that this exhibited time is not exhibited in a theatre, in cinemas: rather, the context in which these films are shown is always the exhibition space. In this cine-plastic occupation of the gallery or museum, the relation to duration that is played out is always a singular one. Here, transformed into flâneurs,127 visitors abandon themselves to a non-static visibility, to a mobile encounter with the moving image, far from the delimited and framed time of the cinema screening. This is another way for us to inhabit duration, to take our time. Outside the constraints of the calculated time of the movie format, we can now go from one installation to another, from one projection to another, turning back then leaving again as we move around a given place, or stay in front of the work as long as we want, until tomorrow perhaps.128 For Claerbout, this condition of the viewer, which stems from another kind of spatialisation of the moving image, places us before a “fragmented ‘cinema’ in which the spectator moves from work to work.”129 As for several of his contemporaries—Mark Lewis, for example, describes his films and exhibitions as “cinema in parts,” while Mélik Ohanian says that his works are “bits of cinema,”130—the museum becomes the place of possible pulverisation of cine-plasticity, where it is taken apart. And if “cinema belongs to everyone who, in one way or another, has explored the system of gaps that its name arranges,”131 it is to this ownership that Claerbout is indebted because it is the intervals of cinema—cinema as interval, as a “play of intervals and improprieties,”132 going all the way to its dismantling in space—that represent the resource for his spatialising of film and his vision of the image. What we might call their virtue.

Black night

Let us come back, in conclusion, to the opacity of night, the moment when all shadow disappears, but also the stage when the slightest ray of light can set in motion the phenomenon of the play between light and dark, a moment of the world which thus also conditions the birth of shadows, tenebrous projections, which for Claerbout is manifestly a working tool. Could such an inclination be due to the fact that night “is a pure depth without planes, without surfaces, and without any distance from it to me,” which immerses us in a blind intimacy with things? Can it be explained by the fact that it represents that moment when “the world of clear and articulated objects is abolished, our perceptual being, now cut off from its world, sketches out a spatiality without things” and thus proposes an experience that is simultaneously enveloping and devoid of visual depth? Or does it come from the fact that “It is not an object in front of me, it envelops me, it penetrates through all my senses, it suffocates my memories, it almost erases my personal identity” and pulls me out of my “observation post” to make me one with space and things, highlighting the extreme contingency of my presence amongst them?133 In any case, night induces another kind of sensorial relation to what surrounds us, another “distribution of the sensible,” and Claerbout, an inventor of perceptual thresholds, was bound to see night as a way to reinvigorate our way of looking, our way of being in the world, to question, again and again, the limits of our perception. In doing so, he considers darkness, and the shadows often linked with it, which elements are eminently positive here,134 as a moment of a reality that is not symbolic, metaphorical or fantastic, and that is aesthetically not-expressionist. In Man Under Arches (2000), two arches in an industrial building delineate an absolutely black space in which shadows and darkness are inseparable. It is a thick and exactly delimited night, clearly drawn, which faces us and on which, as before a black screen, we can all project the figures of a show that will never take place. When visitors enter the room where the work is installed, and stand before it, they find themselves facing a building that seems to be there to welcome them, that they can enter. It is then that their arrival in the exhibition space causes a motion detector to trigger the activation of the scene, and a man dressed in black, with his back to us, emerges from this night on the left of the image, and moves behind the building in a handful of seconds. He is followed by his cast shadow and seems to break free of the darkness only to be lost again in a thick silence that is without light, and to be even more perfectly hidden from the gaze. There is no fantastical element in this simple, fleeting and strange sequence, nothing that partakes of a spiritualist metaphysics of night and shadow: Edgar Allan Poe and his shadow of death, his shadow from beyond the tomb, coming from the “dim plains of Helusion,” through whom a “a multitude of beings,” lost familiar beings, express themselves, are far from this universe,135 as is the Latin umbra, a synonym of revenant and ghost, or again, the shadow as bearer of multiple taboos and beliefs described by anthropology.136 There is, then, nothing in this sequence—although it lets us imagine everything—nothing that points to something beyond the night, to a world after the shadows, hidden behind their density, that might hold its secret meaning, for night and shadow are not endowe here with any special, that is to say, superhuman power—in contrast to the classical Biblical scene painted by Masaccio, one of the most famous images in Western painting, Saint Peter Healing with His Shadow (1426– 27). Simply, Man Under Arches exhibits the deep material density of black and requires our attention if the brief appearance that traverses this scene is to apprehended for what it is: as the sensorial experience of forms devoid of colour—an opaque play of forms—set in motion by the person coming before them, which are exhibited for a short moment during which this person passing through is given the falsely trivial possibility of looking up.



  1. “L’espace aux ombres,” Face aux verrous, trans. David Balls, “Facing the Locks,” in Darkness Moves, An Henri Michaux Anthology, 1927–1984, Oakland: University of California Press, 1994, p. 186.
  2. Adelbert von Chamisso, The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl, trans. William Howitt, New York: Burgess and Stringer, 1842.
  3. See Hans Christian Andersen, The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, trans. Maria Tatar, New York: Norton, 2007, p. 263.
  4. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, The Woman without a Shadow, 1993 by Edwin Mellen Press. For a commentary on Chamisso’s text, followed by a historical overview of the representations it inspired, see Victor I. Stoichita, A Short History of the Shadow, London: Reaktion Books, 1997, pp. 179–202.
  5. Paul Scheerbart, The Gray Cloth: A Novel on Glass Architecture, trans. John A. Stuart, Cambridge (Mass.): The MIT Press, 2001. 
  6. Denis de Rougemont, “Chamisso et le mythe de l’om- bre perdue,” Albert Béguin (ed.), Les Cahiers du Sud. Le romantisme allemand, 1949, p. 277. 
  7. Roberto Casati, Shadows: Unlocking Their Secrets, from Plato to Our Time, New York: Vintage, 2004, p. 6. This “negativity of the dark” and of the shadow, is par- ticularly obvious in the platonic tradition. On this point, see Max Milner, L’Envers du visible. Essai sur l’ombre, Paris: Seuil, 2005, p. 12.
  8. Victor I. Stoichita, A Short History of the Shadow, op. cit., p. 67. For a short history of the theories of sha- dow projection in art, see Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, “The Perspective of Shadows. The History of the Theory of Shadow Projection,” The Mastery of Nature. Aspects of Art, Science, and Humanism in the Renaissance, Prince- ton (N. J.): Princeton University Press, 1993, pp. 49–78. 
  9. This was not always the case in art history. The figures in Giotto paintings never have cast shadows, and Ernst Gombrich notes that these are “strangely exceptional” in Western art (Shadows: The Depiction of Cast Shadows in Western Art [1995], new edition, New Haven: Yale Uni- versity, 1997, Press, p. 44). The opposite is true, however, in most of modern photography. See, for one, Clément Chéroux, Ombres portées, Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2011. A classification of the different kinds of shadows can be found in the article “Ombrain Vocabolario toscano dell’arte del disegno by Filippo Baldinucci, published in Florence in 1681. Baldinucci distinguishes three kinds: shadow (ombra), half-shadow or penumbra (mezz’om- bra), and cast shadow (sbattimento). See also Michael Baxandall, Shadows and Enlightenment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), and Leonardo da Vinci, who distinguishes between “simple shadows [which are…] are simply darkness” and “compound shadows […] a mixture of light and shade” (Notebooks, 183, 185.). 
  10. Louis Marin, Des pouvoirs de l’image, Paris: Seuil, 1993, p. 19. 
  11. Jean Louis Schefer, “Ombres,” L’Homme ordinaire du cinéma, Paris: Gallimard/Cahiers du cinéma, 1980, p. 85. 
  12. Tanizaki Junichirô, In Praise of Shadows, trans. Thomas
    J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, Sedgwick: Leete’s Island Books, 1977, p. 30.
  13. Marie Muracciole, “Le bruit des images. Conver- sation avec David Claerbout,” Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, 94 (winter 2005/2006), p. 126. 
  14. Ibid., pp. 134–135. 
  15. From Élie Faure (“Le cinéma est plastique d’abord,”, in De la cinéplastique, Paris: Séguier, 1995, p. 20) to Henri Langlois (“the art of silent [cinema] is essentially a plastic art”) to Dominique Païni (Le Cinéma, un art plas- tique, Paris: Yellow Now, 2013, p. 43 for the Langlois quote), this plasticity of cinema is an established notion. When I asked him which contemporary artists he found impressive, he spontaneously mentioned just one, the Belgian painter Walter Swennen (conversation with Claerbout at his home in Antwerp, 8 March 2014). 
  16. Pamela M. Lee, Chronophobia. On Time in the Art of the 1960s, Cambridge (Mass.)/London: The MIT Press, 2006. 
  17. Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, op. cit., p. 32. 
  18. Ibid., p. 51.
  19. Ibid., p. 30.
  20. Ibid., p. 30.
  21. “Le bruit des images. Conversation avec David Claerbout,” loc. cit., p. 126. 
  22. Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, op. cit., p. 31. 
  23. “Le bruit des images. Conversation avec David Claerbout,” loc. cit., p. 126. 
  24. Conversation with David Claerbout in his home in Antwerp, 5 November 2014. 
  25. “Le bruit des images. Conversation avec David Claerbout,” loc. cit., p. 126. 
  26. Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, op. cit., p. 20. 
  27. “Le bruit des images. Conversation avec David Claerbout,” loc. cit., p. 126. 
  28. Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, op. cit., p. 53. 
  29. Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Device,” Theory of Prose, Champaign (Il.)/London/Dublin: Dalkey Archive Press, 1991. 
  30. Marcel Duchamp, Duchamp du signe, Paris: Flam- marion, 2008, pp. 278–292. 
  31. On this aspect of Duchamp’s work, I take the liberty of referring readers to my study, De l’inframince. Brève histoire de l’imperceptible, de Marcel Duchamp à nos jours, Paris: Regard, 2010, pp. 29–126. See The Writings Of Marcel Duchamp, New York: Da Capo, 1989 (in this volume the term is translated as “infra-slim”). 
  32. Marshall McLuhan, Media Research. Technology, Art and Communication, Michel A. Moos (ed.), Amsterdam: G+B Arts International, 1997, pp. 119–120. 
  33. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Le Visible et l’Invisible, Paris: Gallimard, 1964, p. 300. Trans. The Visible and the Invisible, Noyes St. Evanston (Il.): Northwestern University Press, 1973 . 
  34. On this theme, see Jacques Derrida, Mémoires d’aveugle. L’autoportrait et autres ruines, Paris: Louvre/ RMN, 1990. Trans. Memoirs of the Blind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 
  35. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, edited by John F. Healey, Penguin Classics, 1991, p. 336. 
  36. Marc Groenen, Ombre et Lumière dans l’art des grottes, Brussels: Université Libre de Bruxelles, 1997, pp. 83–87. 
  37. Jean Piaget, The Child’s Conception of Physical Causality (1927), Piscataway (N. J.): Transaction Publi- shers, 2001. Section II, chapter 8. 
  38. Laurent Mannoni and Donata Pesenti Campagnoni, Lanterne magique et film peint. 400 ans de cinéma, Paris: Cinémathèque Française/Éditions de La Martinière, 2009; Laurent Mannoni, Le Grand Art de la lumière et de l’ombre. Archéologie du cinéma, Paris: Nathan, 1994, which describes Kircher’s work as “veritable monument in the history of pre-cinema” (ibid., p. 30). On shadow theatres in general, see Denis Bordat and Francis Boucrot, Les Théâtres d’ombres. Histoire et techniques, Paris: L’Arche, 1981. Jacques Aumont recently analysed cinema as “an art of shadow, and perhaps the art of shadow par excellence,” in Le Montreur d’ombre, Paris: Vrin, 2012, p. 13. Writing about the first cinema screen- ing he attended, in 1896, Maxim Gorky explains that “Last night I was in the Kingdom of Shadows” when he saw the Lumière projection. “It is not life but its shadow. It is not motion, but its soundless spectre. ” 
  39. Aristotle, The Metaphysics. “Book Delta.” Translated and edited by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, London: Penguin Books, 1998, pp. 21–23. 
  40. Raymond Bellour, La Querelle des dispositifs, Paris: P.O.L, 2012, p. 382. 
  41. Ibid., p. 220.
  42. Conversation with David Claerbout in his studio in Antwerp, loc. cit. 
  43. http://www.edit-revue.com/?Article=196, p. 1. 
  44. Corinne Rondeau, David Claerbout. L’œil infini, Paris: Éditions Nicolas Chaudun, 2013, p. 45. 
  45. For a possible synthesis of this question, from Marcel Duchamp to Walid Raad, see Sven Spieker, The Big Archive. Art From Bureaucracy, London/Cambridge (Mass.): The MIT Press, 2008. 
  46. Conversation between Lynne Cooke and David Claerbout, David Claerbout, Brussels/Hannover: Prior/ Hannover Kunstverein, 2002, p. 53. 
  47. Claerbout quoted in Corinne Rondeau, op. cit., p. 19. 
  48. Conversation between Lynne Cooke and David Claerbout, op. cit., p. 53. 
  49. Conversation between David Claerbout and Christine Van Assche, David Claerbout. The Shape of Time, Zurich: JRP/Ringier, 2008, p. 9. 
  50. Laurent Mannoni, Le Grand Art de la lumière et de l’ombre, op. cit., p. 222.
  51. Ibid., p. 225.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Ibid., p. 230.
  54. Daniel Banda and José Moure, Le Cinéma : nais- sance d’un art, op. cit., pp. 60–67. 
  55. Jacques Rittaud-Hutinet, Les Frères Lumière. L’in- vention du cinéma, Paris: Flammarion, 1995, p. 374. 
  56. Maxim Gorky, “The Lumière Cinematograph,” ex- cerpts published in Ian Christie (ed.), The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents 1896–1939, New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 25.
  57. Ibid., p. 56.
  58. See http://fresques.ina.fr/reperes-mediterraneens/ fiche-media/Repmed00677/un-jour-un-train-arriva-en- gare-de-la-ciotat.html
  59. Commentary on Dick Higgins’s text “Intermedia” by Nicolas Feuillie in Nicolas Feuillie (ed.), Fluxus dixit. Une anthologie vol. I, Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2005, p. 201. 
  60. Ibid., p. 201. 
  61. Text by Dick Higgins, ibid., p. 203. 
  62. Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, introduction by R. Buckminster Fuller, New York: Dutton & Co., 1970, pp. 347–348.
  63. Ibid., pp. 54–56.
  64. Hans Belting, An Anthropology of Images [2001], trans. Thomas Dunlap, Princeton (N. J.): Princeton University Press, 2014, p. 30. See also Chapter 6. 
  65. Theodor W. Adorno, “Art and the Arts,” in Can One Live after Auschwitz, Redwood City (CA): Stanford Univer- sity Press, 2003, ff. 368.
  66. Ibid., p. 371.
  67. Raymond Bellour, La Querelle des dispositifs, op. cit., p. 75. 
  68. Françoise Parfait on Bordeaux Piece http://www.newmedia-art.org/cgi-bin/f2oeu.asp?ID=150000000043856&LG=FRA&DOC=&na=CLAERBOUT&p na=DAVID&TEST= 
  69. Pascale Cassagnau, Future amnesia. Enquêtes sur un troisième cinéma, Paris: Isthme Éditions, 2007, pp. 96–97. 
  70. Érik Bullot, Sortir du cinéma. Histoire virtuelle des relations de l’art et du cinéma, Geneva: Mamco, 2013, p. 252. 
  71. Raymond Bellour, La Querelle des dispositifs, op. cit., p. 219.
  72. Ibid., p. 225.
  73. Ibid., p. 372.
  74. Philippe-Alain Michaud, Le Mouvement des images, Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2006, pp. 27–28. 
  75. Claerbout’s work has also fed into the debate on the future of cinema with regard to the deterritorialisation of cine-plasticity. This boils down to two positions: the essentialist one which considers that there is cinema only when the traditional context of the film’s presen- tation is maintained (film theatre, viewers in darkness, pre-defined duration), and the “cinema in general” view, as one might call it, borrowing from Thierry de Duve, who himself followed Duchamp in talking about “art in general.” This considers that cinema is still present when the films are shown in exhibition spaces, in other words, are spatialised in places where the spectator can move around them. For a summary of the French take on this debate, see Raymond Bellour, La Querelle des disposi- tifs, op. cit., pp. 26–35. 
  76. Walter Benjamin, “Short Shadows,” Selected Writ- ings, Volume 2 . 1927–1934, Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard Belknap Press, 1999, p. 272. 
  77. Discussing black screens, Jacques Aumont describes an attempt to help the viewer “to wash their gaze so that they can approach the spectacle offered by the film with an open mind,” Le Montreur d’ombre, op. cit., p. 69. 
  78. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1. The Movement Image (1983), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, p. 112.
  79. Ibid., p. 121.
  80. “To me, a work is successful when the visitor doesn’t stay more than three seconds in it”, Claude Lévêque quoted by Eric Troncy, Carcasses et émotions, http:// claudeleveque.com/fr/article/ecrits/articles-selection. I thank Aurélie Gélis who gave me this reference. 
  81. “Le bruit des images. Conversation avec David Claerbout,” loc. cit., p. 129. One of Claerbout’s ongoing projects is a work that will last a thousand years: an ab- solute gift of duration. 
  82. Corinne Rondeau, op. cit., p. 50. 
  83. “Le bruit des images. Conversation avec David Claerbout,” loc. cit., p. 125.
  84. Ibid., pp. 125–126.
  85. Interview between David Claerbout and Christine Van Assche, op. cit., p. 14.
  86. Ibid., p. 12.
  87. Conversation between Lynne Cooke and David Claerbout, op. cit., p. 42. 
  88. This is a term used by Érik Bullot in his discussion of the work in Sortir du cinéma. Histoire virtuelle des relations de l’art et du cinéma, op. cit., p. 250. 
  89. For a detailed analysis of this work, see Olivier Schefer, “Christian Marclay, The Clock : 24 heures (syn)chrono,” Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art Moderne, 120 (summer 2012), pp. 92–117 and Valérie Mavridorakis and Christian Bernard, “Rush Hours. Christian Marclay, The Clock,” Art Press 2, “21st-Century Masterpieces” November 2011–January 2012, pp. 8–15, who speak of a “cinematographic clock.” 
  90. http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/37753/ david-claerbout/, p. 2. 
  91. Christian Marclay interviewed by Henri-François Debailleux, Libération, 18 June 2014. 
  92. Ibid. 
  93. “Le bruit des images...,” loc. cit., p. 133. In this respect he is close to a whole family of filmmakers, including Andrey Tarkovsky, who said: “Nor can I accept the notion that editing is the main formative element of a film.” (Andrey Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema,, trans. Kitty Hunter Blair, University of Texas Press, 1989, p. 114). 
  94. David Claerbout has his place in the archeology of cinematic time developed by Mary Ann Doane, in The Emergence of Cinematic Time. Modernity, Contingency, the Archive, Cambridge (Mass.), London: Harvard Univer- sity Press, 2002. 
  95. Raymond Bellour, La Querelle des dispositifs, op. cit., p. 221. 
  96. See Michel Pastoureau, Black, The History of a Colour, Princeton (N. J.): Princeton University Press, 2008. 
  97. See note 38.
  98. Daniel Banda and José Moure, Le Cinéma : naissance d’un art, op. cit., pp. 48–52.
  99. Jacques Aumont, Le Montreur d’ombre, op. cit., p. 73. 
  100. The outlines of a possible history of grisaille can be found in Georges Didi-Huberman, “Grisaille,” Phalènes. Essais sur l’apparition, 2, Paris: Minuit, 2013, pp. 280– 305.
  101. Conversation with David Claerbout at his home in Antwerp, 5 November 2014. 
  102. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations, London: Fontana, 1977, p. 238. 
  103. Dominique Païni, L’Attrait de l’ombre, Crisnée: Yellow Now, 2007, p. 15. 
  104. Dirk Snauwaert has written a very incisive analysis of Claerbout’s work in “Calm,” in David Claerbout. The Time that Remains, exh. cat., Antwerp: Ludion, 2012, pp. 146–153. He uses the very apt term “allegory of attention” to describe Claerbout’s work. 
  105. Le bruit des images,” loc. cit., p. 133. 
  106. “Interview David Claerbout/Christine Van Assche,” David Claerbout. The Shape of Time, op. cit., p. 12.
  107. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2. The Time Image, Min- neapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001, p. 35. 
  108. Conversation with David Claerbout, 5 November, loc. cit. Sections of a Happy Moment was edited in a single day. 
  109. Text by David Claerbout in David Claerbout. The Time that Remains, op. cit., p. 13. 
  110. Philippe-Alain Michaud, “Flicker. Le ruban insta- ble,” Sketches. Histoire de l’art, cinéma, Paris: Kargo & L’éclat, 2006, p. 123. 
  111. Paul Ricœur, Time and Narrative, vol. III, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 23. 
  112. Edmund Husserl, On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Time, trans. John Barnett Brough, Heidelberg: Springer, 2008, p. 28. 
  113. Ibid., p. 29. For a commentary on this passage and an analysis of Husserl’s Zeitobjekte, see Gérard Granel, Le Sens du temps et de la perception chez Edmund Husserl, Paris: Gallimard, 1968, pp. 44–53.  
  114. Ernst H. Gombrich, Shadows, op. cit., p. 38.
  115. Ibid., p. 52. On this question, see also note 9.
  116. Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting, tr. Rocco Sinisgalli, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 68.
  117. For a synthetic history of the question of shadow in the 20th century, see Victor I. Stoichita, A Short History of the Shadow, op. cit., pp. 203–259 and, for example, the catalogue of the exhibition Shadow Play. Shadow and Light in Contemporary Art. A Homage to Hans Christian Andersen, put on in 2005 and 2006 at Odense (Denmark), Kiel (Germany) and Linz (Austria).
  118. Marcel Duchamp, Duchamp du signe followed by Notes, edited by Michel Sanouillet and Paul Matisse, new edition revised and augmented by Anne Sanouillet and Paul B. Franklin, Paris: Flammarion, 2008, p. 283.  
  119. Ibid., p. 282.
  120. Ibid., p. 279. “The quarrel of the cast shadow in its relation to the infrathin,” says Duchamp (ibid., p. 290). 
  121. Text by David Claerbout in David Claerbout. The Time that Remains, op. cit., p. 64. 
  122. “Conversation Lynne Cook/David Claerbout,” in David Claerbout, loc. cit., p. 42.
  123. Text by Claerbout in David Claerbout. The Time that Remains, op. cit., p. 207.
  124. Ibid., p. 124.
  125. Raymond Bellour, L’Entre-Images. Photo, cinéma, vidéo, Paris: Editions de la Différence, 2002, p. 79.
  126. Jean Louis Schefer, L’Homme ordinaire du cinéma, op. cit., back cover.
  127. This theme is explored by Dominique Païni in Le Temps exposé. Le cinéma de la salle au musée, Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, 2002, pp. 65–78.
  128. Text by Claerbout in David Claerbout. The Time that Remains, op. cit., p. 131.
  129. “Interview David Claerbout/Christine Van Assche,” David Claerbout. The Shape of Time, op. cit., p. 10.
  130.  Fabien Faure, “Des bouts de cin”ma. A propos des dispositifs de Mélik Ohanian,” Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, 127 (spring 2014), pp. 80–103.
  131. Jacques Rancière, The Intervals of Cinema, London: Verso, 2014, p. 14. 
  132. Ibid., p. 18.
  133. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception [1945], London: Routledge, 1996, p. 269.
  134. Here Claerbout is connecting to a whole tradition that runs counter to the Platoncic vision and, from the Greeks (see Clémence Ramnoux, La Nuit et les enfants de la nuit dans la tradition grecque, Paris: Flammarion, 1986) to the moderns (we need think only of Hymns to the Night by Novalis), and beyond (see Max Milner, L’Envers du visible, op. cit., pp. 203–429) considers the night and its spectres as a very fertile dimension of our relation to the world. As we know, Edmund Burke sees night as an element of the sublime (A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful [1757], introduction and notes by Adam Philips, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. See for example ff. Section III, “Obscurity” and ff. section XV, “Darkness.”
  135. 135. Edgar Allan Poe, “Shadow. A Parable,” Complete Tales and Poems, Castle Books, 2009, 1974, pp. 409– 410.
  136. 136. James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 2009, pp. 529–542.






























David Claerbout ©2021