Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, 2008 (photo Kunstmuseum St. Gallen)

White House

2006, single-channel wide-screen video projection, colour, dual mono over headphones and speakers, 13 hours 27 min 53 sec

White House is an approximately 13-and-a-half-hour video work which is made up from 73 almost identical – but individually filmed – short films, each about 10 minutes in length. The video installation has a similar structure to Bordeaux Piece (2004).
Unlike Bordeaux Piece – which was filmed during the summer – White House was filmed in late winter, therefore the light is hard and contrasted. And so is the story.
Whereas the storytelling in Bordeaux Piece bathes in an atmosphere of luxury and warmth, this scene in a white house is difficult to look at. I was consciously attempting to construct a moment that would hurt. Or a moment in which the surface of the video projection is being hit – by a stone.
I also wanted to see what duration – the actual time passing between sunrise to sunset – does to the gaze, whether this gaze either stays focused on the film’s narrative (which I call ‘film foreground’ for convenience), or wanders off into the details of the background (literally the architecture). More generally one could exchange the term ‘film narrative’ for ‘history telling’, and ‘duration’ for ‘memory’ (the point from which time recedes from trauma).
The excessive attention to sunlight explains why in general the compositions for the shots were selected first, only later on to be contemptuously ‘filled’ in with some story and two black actors (in front of a house with an architectural style reminiscent of the time of the young Western colonial powers.)
The building is, admittedly, a ruin, but when lit up in the right way by the sun it’s still capable of showing a glimpse of its past glory. This adds to the uncomfortable narrative, in which the background eventually becomes visually more powerful than the actors that occupy it in their rather old-fashioned theatrical way. 

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David Claerbout ©2024