The Return of the Real Reenacted or the Hypothesis of the Expanded Documentary Form
Since the early 2000s, we have been witnessing the gradual amplification of both an artistic and curatorial move developing along the boundaries of documentary film, visual anthropology and contemporary moving-image based art. The visual artistes and the filmmakers who participate in this tendency renovate their approach to reality with no particular claims made with regards to genre specifications. We can trace this development back to the exhibition “Experiments with Truth” curated by Mark Nash at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia in 2004–5. But the real starting point was Documenta 11 in 2002.
In the wake of Hal Foster’s influential Return of the Real (1996), contemporary audiovisual art keeps on reflecting a steadily increasing “Documentary Turn” built upon both the methods of conventional anthropological fieldwork and the will to experiment (Catherine Russell, Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video, 1999). Halfway between artistic research and camera-based observation practices, such documentary imaging rehabilitates the aesthetic dimension of the recording of the real, while at the same time it provides visual evidence for the assessment and analysis of today’s world data.
Within this context, I formulate the hypothesis of an expanded documentary form used as a means to depict, apprehend, and convey information with respect to what Édouard Glissant calls the paradoxes and discrepancies of the “Tout-Monde” (Introduction à une poétique du divers, 1996, Traité du Tout-Monde, 1997). The paper looks at a number of audio-visual works produced in the field of contemporary art. Visual artists such as Fiona Tan, Sharon Lockhart, Clemens von Wedemeyer, Mary Voignier not only renew documentary film-making but moreover they reconsider the environments in which the films are displayed, screened or exposed.
Evgenia Giannouri is Lecturer in Film Theory and Aesthetics at the University of Paris 3 and Paris 8. Current research interests include the appeal of nature in contemporary American film, the study of the “Weird Wave” in Greek cinema as well as the “Documentary Turn” in contemporary visual art. She has published the book chapters “Le Yucatan de S.M. Eisenstein, Robert Smithson et John Lloyd Stephens” (in Que Viva Mexico ! Anthropologie, Archéologie, Modernité, eds Laurence Schifano and Antonio Somaini, Paris, 2014), “D’architecture et de montage” (in Cinéma muséum. Le musée d’après le cinéma, eds Barbara Le Maître and Jennifer Verraes, Paris, 2013), “Souvenirs d’une forme-balade” (in Victor Burgin. Objets Temporels, eds Nathalie Boulouch, Valérie Mavridorakis and David Perreaux, Rennes, 2007). She is cofounder of the Silo, a collective dedicated to the moving image, cinema and the visual arts.
Reflections on Some Ways to Use The Real in Contemporary Artistic Practices.
Recently presented in an Art Center in Paris, Avi Mograbi’s installation Details, seemed to blur all the lines between cinematographic and artistic displays. If many artists document the world, sometimes through a fictional process, some film makers transform the experience of the viewer into an hands-on experience, in exhibiting their movies. New forms for the document and the archive are then invented, a cross between the documentary genre and the very act of documenting. The recording devices, the representation displays, the technological scenographies, produce forms which are explored by artists to renew and blur the borders of our perceptions, standardized by mass medias and slogans. The complexity of the world appears between the short time of event and its transmission and the long time of artistic work, of its reception, and of the imaginary world it deployes. Avi Mograbi’s proposal is especially interesting because it documents a conflict zone whose very form is problematic.
Françoise Parfait is a professor in arts & digital medias at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, member of the l’Institut ACTE-UMR CNRS 8218. She’s also an artist. She has published many papers about the video and the temporal images and their reception (Vidéo: un art contemporain, Regard, 2001; catalogue Collection Nouveaux Médias/Installations, Centre Pompidou / Musée national d’art moderne, 2006; catalogue David Claerbout – The Shape of Time, JRP/Ringier, 2008). She is a co-founding member of the collective Suspended spaces (2007), platform of research in arts which explores some geopolitics spaces inherited from the modernity and for which, history and future are « uncertain ». She has co-directed the three first volumes of this project, which are all bilingual french/english : Suspended spaces # 1 Famagusta, Black Jack éditions, 2011; Suspendedspaces # 2 Une expérience collective, Black Jack éditions, Paris/Bruxelles, 2012; Suspended spaces # 3 Inachever la modernité, Éditions de l’École des Beaux-Arts de Paris.
What Choreographic Art Makes to Documentary Art?
Wagons libres (2012) and Variations orientalistes are two performance projects realized in collaboration with four artistic companions, Mary Chebbah, Renaud Golo, Pascale Schaer, Vincent Weber, each of those bodies on site as a point of view from which to address our concerns. Both pieces use Lebanon as a lever for our questions, preoccupations and fictions: Wagons libres through the story of a Beiruti magazine and the assassination of a Lebanese journalist, and Variations orientalistes through stories of European depictions of Lebanon. Departing from how each work is made, and what is at stake in each piece, I will propose to elaborate two hypotheses: 1) Choreographic art, as a specific operation of bodily layouts, whose historicity is shaped by a variation of choices and positions, by movements (gestures and/or words), trajectories, all in tension with the presently occurring space-time of the “scenic representation”, makes obvious the “fabrication of the present” while embracing the plasticity of our historical experience; 2) The event status of the moving body – already there and still coming – meets the speculative power of fiction (Wagons Libres takes place in 2030 and we find ourselves remembering nowadays ; in Variations orientalistes, we recount our trips in Lebanon with never having been there), conceived not as a theft, a rape, a falsification of the “real” but rather as its extension, the illumination of its/our capacities of metamorphosis : what could have happened, what can still happen. Documenting what « is », yes, but with a verb « to be » meaning a position (here, now), carrying with it the other crossing points passed through before and annunciating the upcoming crossing points, rather than a « to be » determining a closed and impervious identity.
Sandra Iché has studied history and political sciences (Université Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne; she has published in 2009: “L’Orient-Express, chronique d’un magazine libanais des années 1990” IFPO, Beyrouth – http://ifpo.revues.org/631) and was professionnaly trained in dance, choreography and performance (Performing Art Research and Training Studios 2004-2006; permanent performer in the Compagnie Maguy Marin/Centre Chorégraphique National de Rillieux-La-Pape 2006-2010). She works as a choreographer and as a researcher with the association Wagons Libres (www.wagonslibres.org), interrogating the ways of constructing and narrating History (scenic works: Wagons libres, 2012; Variations orientalistes, 2014). In 2013, she was a laureate of the program “Hors les murs” of the Institut français. She is regularly teaching in various contexts, especially at the Académie libanaise des Beaux-arts of Beirut (ALBA) and at the University of Dance and Circus in Stockholm (DOCH – department of New performative practices). She lives between Beirut, where has co-founded Mansion, a collective place for artists, researchers and activists (http://mansionblatt.blogspot.com/), and Lyon, where she is a founding member of LIEUES, experimental space for research and artistic creation (http://lieues.blogspot.fr/), and of rodéo, a pluridisciplinary journal, platform of encounters between academic and artistic practices (http://www.revue-rodeo.fr/).