Work in progress initiated in 2008
Series of diptychs presenting together a page from a newspaper or a magazine and an object visible in the photo this media reproduces. The work consists in a collection of various kinds of objects.
Témoin #1 (Glove of an American cowboy), page of the National Geographic and glove, 2009
"Témoin" is a French word with a rich polysemy. In English, its various accepted meanings cannot be translated in a single word. First, a "témoin" is a witness (someone who witnesses something or someone who testifies in a trial). But it is not necessarily a person. A "témoin" can also be a signal (like a warning light on a dashboard) or an object. In a more specific situation, "témoin" also designates the baton sprinters pass on in a relay. My use of the word "témoin" as a title combines these different meanings: Les témoins are objects that witness some events and then can be used as evidences after someone passed them on.The project called Les témoins, quite a bit like the project Place Franz Liszt, proceeds according to a well-defined procedure, the "rules of the game" that make it look like a treasure hunt. It starts from a selection of photographs I collect when reading newspapers and magazines. Sometimes a detail in these images catches my eye. Usually it is just a small object that could easily go unnoticed but that, for an obvious or mysterious reason, appears like the keystone of the picture after one start paying attention to it. In a way, these ordinary objects play the part of the "punctum" according to Roland Barthes. This can be a placard held by a protester, a framed picture hanging on the wall of a fast food in Kansas City, the worn glove of a cowboy in Colorado. After I selected these objects from newspaper's photographs, the treasure hunt begins. It consists in a long and difficult investigation I hold for the purpose of finding the owners of these objects and to get them to let me add their object to my collection. This transaction can be made by the mean of a donation, a purchase or a swap but this far, the people who answered my request positively usually gave me the coveted object for free. First, I study every little details of the image, trying to find clues that could help me identify the precise location of the scene as well as the persons that appear in the picture. Sometimes, there are enough clues in the image itself but usually I am to contact a great number of go-betweens, including the photographer, before I can finally get in touch with the owner of the object. For me, this long search is not just an intermediate step. On the contrary, that's during this investigation that I actually go into the image in greater depth, probing a reality the photography only partially give an account of. Discussing with all these different persons, I learn more about some aspects that remained off-screen in the photography. That's why I methodically write down the stories that add up during the investigation. In fact, one can consider the search as an excuse for an exciting digression. During this journey, a body of narrations takes the place of the simplistic content of the original article. In the course of the investigations, my logbook is enriched with a wide range of narrative forms: investigation's account in form of a detective novel, long correspondence with Michel Houellebecq, art historian's style iconographic lecture of an image, detailed biography of a citizen of Houma (Texas). This text, which is mean to be published in a near future, is dissociated from the objects. When the collection in shown, only the diptychs made up of the pages from a newspapers or a magazines and the objects I acquired at the end of my investigations are exhibited in some binary confrontations. In between is an ellipsis that makes this union sparks off a sort of dizzy feeling. The viewer sees the object twice; first as an image, then as a real, concrete object. Unless he prefers to doubt the authenticity of this object, he is to make an intellectual effort in order to reconstruct the missing step and to imagine how this thing that once was but a detail in a picture can now be just here, within reach. Paradoxically, the banality of the object itself (that's just, for example, a dirty glove hanging on a hook) makes its presence more mysterious. This project can be considered the outcome of a corpus that includes previous works like Anaglyphs, Oval office or the video Diary. All these projects are caused by my experience as a reader and by my dissatisfaction with this position. They deal with what we could call the "mediate knowledge" issue. In the past, people used to be preoccupied by the events that concern them directly. They were in the dark about the global situation of the world but they were in close touch with their limited reality. On the opposite, we know a lot about the world but almost everything we know about it we learnt second-hand. Consequently, the reality we deal with is purely intellectual, like disembodied. Through the various works of this corpus, I try to invent means to intensify this mediate knowledge, to make the distant events I hear about part of my own direct experience again. My previous works used the matter of the images themselves as a sort of substitute and created ersatz of reality. The project les témoins offers a more radical solution. Instead of building a simulacrum, it probes the reality the images alluded to and extract an object that can seem banal-looking at first but that allow us to feel the concrete reality of the distant event the newspaper told us about.
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