Last night when leaving A.’s, I see a dozen police officers running and bustling along the Seine. They throw a long rope to the water. Two of the police officers undress. People are already watching from atop a bridge. A bateau-mouche surfaces, fully lit, and at a signal from the police officers, changes course and brakes. The boat suddenly catches in the beams of its spotlights a bound body that is dragged to the surface of the water, along one of the banks, to the next stairway, then as if out of discretion, the whole boat goes dark. I am leaning on the bridge, and I am looking at the drowned man. To my right a young boy with thick leather gloves is leaned over, sitting on a motorbike. We are looking at the same thing and this common spectacle creates a sort of electric current between us, which immediately turns to discomfort: the shame of being on the side of life and of catching oneself having an erection while looking toward death.
There’s the big screen of cinema and there are the small household screens. Television teeters between them. And we should really see television as a particular (and hybrid) case of a general screenisation which is changing our relation with images.
If the channel hopper was honest, he’d say this: as soon as his eyes leave the television screen, they dive into the greenish darkness of the electronic type writer, where what he will write will inevitably appear. In other words, he moves from a screen to another, from one with flickering images to another with scintillating letters. Television is not only a smaller cinema, it is the intermediary stage between the theatre screen and the household (and now utilitarian) screen. Yes it shows images, but it also shows many written things, which can be read. The succession of all the logos, jingles, subtitles and program titles occupies a good chunk of viewing time, and, without them, without their constant punctuation, the viewers would be lost in front of images which are rarely capable of existing by themselves.
It may be worse than that. For everything on television tends to become ritual, to settle in its own being and its own code, to be a sign and nothing else. There are very few human actions (actions which can be executed by a human body) that have been domesticated by the small screen of television. Ways to look, to read, to stand or sit, to stay in the camera field, to clap or merely to occupy space, are in incredibly small numbers. We discuss a lot the small differences between legless newsreaders, but we don’t often mention how similarly they stand and speak. We should really consider them like a modern heraldry, a gallery of living shields, which ought to be read before they are even seen.
Strangely, we talk a lot about ‘images’ when we spend most of our time listening and decoding. It took many years of semiology in the 60s to learn how to ‘read’ and ‘decrypt’ films in order not to be credulous of the effects they generate, but the era of decoding is truly starting 20 years later. The number of things that each of us effortlessly ‘decodes’ (from advertising to quotation, from small hints to second degree) has become greater than the things we simply accept to ‘look at’ (at best, we binge on special effects at some Imax cinema). And this gain of intelligence is perhaps becoming sickening. It’s as if we had been given a bad hand, and, instead of bringing us closer – more lucid – to the cinema pictures which deceived our parents, this know-how of the codes had unknowingly prepared us to look at all types of screens, including screens with letters. Reading ‘acts as a screen’ to vision, rapid decoding acts as a screen to raw sensations, and regular occurrences of familiar codes act as a screen to the encounter with the not-yet-coded. Yet, a true image is defined by the challenge it will always throw down to the reading that simply attempts to decode it.
Besides, it’s absolutely possible that, to the contrary, we witness a certain return of the image onto these other screens (like the one this article is typed on) – a perverse return where the imaginary is claiming its due. Letters are also images. And if we hadn’t lost the art of calligraphy, we wouldn’t oppose so strongly images to writing. And then there is language, this language common to all which we had gotten used to make ours on the pretext that, whether handwriting or typewriting, we had put the materiality of writing in-between us (blackened ribbons, typos and blotches, strikeouts and annotations, carbon paper, etc). Between the hand, typing the text, and the gaze, sustaining the sentence, from a no man’s land full of all possible enunciations, the language works without us, like the image of a memory that we would merely draw into.
In order to understand the adventures/avatars of the contemporary image (which only a few filmmakers are trying to salvage from the mannerist decoding), it is useful to have typed on keyboards and chatted with unnamed others on the Minitel. Sexy chat-lines are, you guessed it, the most instructive, since their interactive game (and we know how much television, in its desire to stick to the public, wishes to be ever more interactive) relies precisely on the lack of images, which is the condition of imaginary abundance. To communicate with another via these two unknown elements: the way the other uses the (French) language and the way he/she (will) use his/her body (sexually) is like a technological horizon, both hot and cold, of a world where there wouldn’t be time to go via the mediation of images. And this gain of time ushers us even faster towards greater opaqueness.
ROTOR is an ensemble of performances, sound, installations and artworks. Based on a simple original choreography using a moving radius (‘The Score’ presented in 2009 at Victoria Miro Gallery and Ikon Gallery Eastside), Siobhan Davies has asked nine other artists, many of whom she hadn’t previously met, to each re-interpret it in their own way. The resulting works have been brought together in an exhibition at her dance studios in Central London and include a metal sculpture, a series of photographs placed around the building, a scene from a Hitchcock film refracted around a room, and an installation of unfired pots which collapse on having water poured into them. (2010)
On the basis of a series of telephone conversations in which ensemble member Kristin Worrall forays into the memories of her life, experiences and emotions from birth to early adulthood, The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma continue a project which translates these verbatim transcripts onto the stage. Episode 1 is a musical, Episode 2 develops this into a dance, Episode 3 & 4 are based around the conventions of a murder mystery play. In the short Episode 4.5, Worrall’s memories are dissected in an animated film. With a medieval illuminated manuscript, Episode 5 expands into graphic territory, with the girls first sexual experiences, in which the company founders (Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska) have made a 140-page hand calligraphed book that includes drawings of the two having sexual intercourse, and invites the audience into a joint reading experience accompanied by a performance on the organ by the musician Daniel Gower. Episode 6 is a late night alternative radio program, with the audio material generated by talking to the locals during open rehearsals in Berlin. For Episode 7, Liska and Cooper return to the original recorded phone conversation with Worrall, now dealing with studying in Europe, and university graduation. This Episode is filmed entirely outdoors in the natural setting of the upstate New York Hudson River region.