Sometimes, whatever the damage, a body never dies.
It responds to what wounds it, endangers it, with an increased presence. In fact, does not its disappearance actually make it more alive? From the moment it ceas- es to be, we never stop looking for it. The body moves before and after death. There is no body without this, which is what dreams tell us. The more it is threatened with forgetting, the more we draw from the forces of dream a vitality that metamorphoses and reinstates it. In the period we are currently living through, when the body is under interrogation, when we are told of its emptying, its vanishing, its dematerialisation, dreams and utopias are constantly reminding us that it remains and will long remain centre-stage. Centre-stage, or rather, on one of the multiple stages where it goes from one to another. Never immobile, always calling for movement, a dance like a respiration jump-starting the beats of the heart. By this impulsion it asserts itself at the centre but, strangely, this race, by its speed, erases it by its very manifestation, by the simple light that dazzles us. Through this situation, the body doubts itself. It appears, takes shape in space but the luminous intensity is not its ally. It calls it into question. It struggles against a shadow that threatens it and in which it cannot see itself. If it identifies primarily with the lines that delineate it, that enable it to exist, to say “I,” the world, which plays with luminous multitudes, troubles and defeats it. If it is the coming being, it is also the fugacious one. Initially a blot on the earth, it is liquified in a dilation or evaporates in an expansion whose confines are lost to us. Our body is dispersed, disseminated, and we would be naïve to believe in its physical or lexical definitions. For a while, it is obvious, but this obviousness gives way to the unknown, in which salvation is found in the hiding of appearances. It takes refuge in a “darkness” that invades space and covers, clothing itself in the shadows of the night until light, necessary to all life, revives the quest for an elusive being through the renascent image. On this point, Junichiro Tanizaki asks us this question: “I wonder if my readers know the colour of that ‘darkness seen by candlelight’. It was different in quality from darkness on the road at night. It was a repletion, a pregnancy of tiny particles like fine ashes, each particle luminous as a rainbow.” Experiencing the works in Panorama 2 3 , I have that sensation of a composite territory of ashes turned by art into a suite of colours, refracted through water and light. Responding to the world’s disintegration with a multicoloured explosion, traversing and speculating with what illuminates or erases it, from black to white, is not a matter of solitude. Feeling the variability of this to and fro, of this metaphor, implies otherness, invokes the other who invites change, the fusion of different substances. This other is insistently present in this Panorama 23; it is the source and the flux of the current that runs between the works. To move through the paths of the exhibition is to plunge into a universe whose principle is crossover, mixture, a joining as of ocean currents, sea depths. The creatures assembled here question the body and language, they remind me of the introduction to Moby Dick in which Herman Melville defines his hero as swimming through libraries. Yes, they are divers who carry us into fluxes that are the nature of the world in which bodies bathe, to the point of becoming the flux itself, seeking to melt into the other’s body. They dream of a possible body in which fragmentation, breaking and division are erased by ebb and flow, the reflections of a wave, breathing rhythm into the world. This rhythm engenders infinite series of shifts, projections, cross-fades where gender differences are abandoned, where different kingdoms couple to bring forth suspended bodies, real subjects, constantly agitated by the virtuality of mythologies or science fiction. They are blocks of stone as much as phantoms, swimmers as well as the drowned. They speak the truth while whispering that they are only actors and artifices. One of their states is like that of abandoned objects, of “leftovers” that become sacred, idealised spaces, haloed by enigmas that turn our perception into an initiatory quest. Here, bodies can be subjected to reification only in the next moment to shatter it with the power of dream thinking. Here, the heroes are also sleepers, or those to whom sleep is a lesson. To sleep, nowadays, is heroic. Blessed are those who, in order to know the world, choose to be its active sleepers. “To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream,” writes Shakespeare in the heart of Hamlet’s soliloquy, in words that reveal his secret. This trilogy, these three inseparable acts, form but one principle, a single state, a single thought trying to liberate itself and gain a chance of imagining a new world.
A world where we observe the work of abolishing the barrier between the human, the vegetable and the animal. Georges Bataille would be happy to see himself embodied in the presence and prowling of a black panther that is a vector of knowledge through its mysterious expenditure of energy, a dashing race.
This universe is shot through with transparency, in the manner of Sebastiano Mazzoni, Francis Picabia and François Rouan. The vegetal invades the architectural, then the animal, and merges, finally, into human anatomies irrigated by humours, liquids, the water that composes our tears, recalling our fluid, volatile nature, between memory and outpouring.
If part of life is contained in our bones, as imagined by Edgar Allan Poe and the artist Roy Adzak, these bones have no weight, do not immobilise, for they secrete dreams, as true players in the upheavals that determine us. Are they the most reliable identity of our body, as proposed by these works, one of which originates in the philosophical and poetic theme of change in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, while others present the “monstrous form” or the electric bodies of Lovecraft.
What is the reality of these bodies? That of a paradox in which the most physical, the most material is manifested by the most elusively virtual. That of Wim Wenders’ wings of desire, or that of T.S. Eliot trying to formulate his desire to embody writing in words not spoken, in silent speech. One of the artists in Panorama notes: “I would like to be able to say, to seek for silence in speech.” Writing can be a house that leaves its foundations and turns into a boat in order to follow its paths towards the sea, along the river, towards the figures of dream. A house? A boat? Singular anima? I remember, today, a question put by a Dervish dancer, constantly evoking the soul.
“But what is the soul?” I remember, even better, in Tourcoing in 2021, his answer: “Why, the body of course!”
Soul and body, the frontiers the fractures between, material and immaterial, the games that offer to abolish them. Here, the real and the virtual are together on a high wire. The empiricist philosopher David Hume wrote: “all the materials of thinking are derived either from our outward senses or from our inward feelings: all that the mind and will do is to mix and combine these materials.”3 In Panorama 23, there is not the choice of a fervent idealism or a marked taste for the magic of illusions but, rather, a response to the reality of the world through experience. The question here is how to support our creative power over what enables us to conceive this response, neglecting none of its dimensions, and especially not dream. This does not satisfy itself with the physical accomplishment of flight, though this is so close to oneiric legends. What is not possible with this rising sign, this elevation?
An aeroplane, a glider, present in one of the works, are no longer the assemblages of Icarus or simple mechanisms but mental vehicles, translations, from one nature to another, telling us a great deal about our ability to live “elsewhere,” above a horizon, giving another illumination to the connection of the synapses in our cerebral lives.
The transformative energy projects us beyond. Overflowing the ecosystem between heaven and earth, it generates the consciousness of a body, henceforth a living parcel of the cosmos. This cosmic body is solidly attached to the days and hours of our lives, led by a permanent ambulation within space, comprising unstable territories of memory and forces impelled to who knows what shore. If we do not control them, it is because we are between the choreographies that tie and untie them. We belong to a history of our bodies but we are constantly exceeding it for universes that we seek to inhabit or in which we project ourselves on visible or invisible screens. In these films, human beings are born or expire. I can barely hear their breath. Their eyes are closed. They are sleeping. Are they immersed deep within themselves, fascinated by humoral tones, blood circulation, the secretions that they are the only ones to secretly see, like so many solitary spectators? Are they contemplating their abstract nature, their internal territories, their colourful ballets, their multiplications or disappearances?
We must, then, let go the codes of reality and go for the real itself and its multiple manifestations, away from the lexicons. The body is no longer before us. It has been transformed into an obscure handful, a terra incognita or a tree, Terence Malick’s Tree of Life, whose lines we imagine being traced from the interlacing of its roots to the blue of the sky. A strange genealogy whose central character is birth.
There is in Panorama 23 a dream that spreads from the inductions of nature. They are at once the actors, their dreams and the stages that host them. What matters is that between the lines, each slip, each gap, each absence, each tempest, each eclipse, sets the rhythm going again. What is essential is confidence in a continual genesis that the music accompanies ostinato, a sonorous spiral that, abandoning itself to its own movement, fills all the space and offers us a slow marvelling. The blooming of a flower, of writing, of a creation, magnifies this space by virtue of the surprise and the beauty of their growth. The fascinating growth of a rose, of a full colour. Rosy-fingered dawn, the pink of flesh, Goethe’s pink, Guston’s pink. Gertrude Stein’s: “ A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose…”
This desire, this pleasure, this jouissance offer our body the chance to be bigger than itself, animated by the oceanic feeling or the infinity of a sky without limits, of a summit, of a colour, without an attribute. This colour may be the blue of the sky, as per Georges Bataille, or Franck Venaille, the white of the cosmos or again the secret green of a blade of grass, infinitesimal in the universe. This secret is what artists invite us to discover. The secret as source of emotion and poetry. Is it hidden in the carpet, does it move through the tangles of Panorama, this labyrinth of works? It is what bestows power on art, as Anne Dufourmantelle points out: “It is a motive force whose creativity we struggle to explain. Its connections to memory and language, particularly in its relation to dream, are the subject of investigations and experiments that lead us to rethink the imagination. […] The secret that is revealed in the imaginary is never a sacking or a wresting, it is a world of light and shadows where we move like an animal,4 by instinct […] The secret remains the feature that effectively links the life of desire and the possibility of receiving it offered by the real. We therefore suppose the real to reveal a desire to which it offers a possibility of fixation and repetition. By linking different moments of our life, by day and by night, the secret life of our desires puts its face on our pleasure. Is it not that extra-verbal fixation of an image? How then can we reveal it without imperilling it, the fragile edifice of a freeze-frame and therefore the freezing of time on which it rests.
The installations and films in Panorama reveal this, by “linking the different moments of our life by day and by night.” They are seeking an image and, at the same time, dismantling it, freeing themselves from it in order to touch a non-grammatical and therefore all the more mobile material. I perceive it but I cannot translate it. Rather than looking through its statements, I dwell on blanks in discourse, its blind spots, its erasures, in truth, once more on its utter-ance, whose staccato rhythm says more than the illu-sion of a narrative. That is why, in this Panorama, the most advanced technologies nod to the rudimentary, “basic” or vernacular techniques of art brut. That, I believe, is where we can find proof of the creative power of the secret. It prevents us from saying and thus allows us to create by taking routes off-piste.
On this subject, Anne Dufourmantelle writes: “What constitutes its power is also being beyond good and evil. Constructing itself at the very beginning of our relation to language, it is not unfamiliar with moral consciousness but it exceeds it. It imposes within us its key value, that is to say, what it barters, what it increases in contact with the real, and spreads through the interfaces of lack, frustration, expectations, in the delights of dream, of the first touch, of the first sensations, first visions.”
Eclipses, distractions, but also the presence of a space-time inserted between two worlds, of a hybrid body or a body escaping like the wolf’s body. In these “marginal” territories everyone is confronted with the void, with disorders of the wind that blows over, with mirages and the siren songs of the Odyssey. More than on the road or signposted routes, we are “in the middle of the crossroads,” seeking “what is to come.” In art it is never the programme but always the archipelago of experiences that matters, the pre-sentiment of consciousness of a choice. Some works reassure us by giving us the certitude of seeing, until the feeling that what is close is edging away, that meaning is becoming obscure. Sight that is raised in this way no longer catches the motif but becomes blurred, deliberately blind in order to return to the real “differently,” not in direct apprehension but in the mazes of the secret we are looking for. From now on, it is not about seeing but the liberation of a mental energy that detaches itself from the object and puts into play a polymorphous, sensual approach.
And now, art allows us to “touch” the heart, the skin of the real, in the knowledge that both will vanish into the night of images where, between heaven and earth, we set off, feeling our way, seeking them out: the heart, the skin…
My first surprise is to see that most of the works in Panorama 23 do not present political discourses, at a time when ideological rhetoric is making a powerful comeback.
After this first surprise, I am also happy to ob-serve that this does not denote a lack of interest in society and the tragedies of our planet—immigration, dictatorship, ecological disasters, massacres, macho violence, to mention but the most recurrent—but that the artists here have chosen responses that are specifically artistic.
If my first reaction is surprise, the second is happiness at seeing that these artists are not de-serting their territory, their own language. They speak out, analyse and invent by recalling that their mode of expression, their method, engender other attitudes, other compositions, other formulations of meaning.
Seeing this, I thought back to the radicalism sented, at the Fondation Maeght, a life’s work on the archetypal form of the mastaba, based on the use of industrial forms such as tin cans, jerricans and barrels. Seeing these barrels, many commentators proffered considerations about oil, the economy and ecology in relation to this fossil fuel. If Christo naturally left journalists free to make their interpre-tations, he did point out that it was not the subject of his work and that having had the cruel experience of the destructive power of ideology in Bulgaria, he had no wish to discuss this issue in his work. Without wishing to offend anyone, if his questioner insisted on the theme, he broke off the exchange, asking them to understand his wariness of that way of thinking which, in his view, suffocated the singular space of art and its signifying process.
I believe, indeed, that an artist has no interest in letting himself be taken over, colonised by these reductive approaches. If there is a “general ethics” there is also an ethics of art which determines its own field.
I can remember a journalist asking him at the time, “But who are you militating for?” Christo an-swered with a smile: “As always, I am militating for art, quite simply.” He meant that with the forms he invented, that he chose, he was constructing an “art effect,” that is to say, an “encounter” with an artistic event. He added, somewhat provocatively: “I create artworks that are completely irrational, irresponsible, without justification.” It was up to each person to enter into a very free, very singular form of contact with this universe in order to understand it differ-ently. Whether it is nature, the city, social or personal ambits, this encounter occurs via art, which uses its own geographies and its own paths. This feeling is what I am experiencing now when I see or respond to the works in Panorama, which clearly state their disagreement with certain social structures, with their workings, their inadequacies, their injustices, their mistakes or absurdities, but that never yield their arms to politicians or to some authority in so-cial sciences.
This does not imply an absence of dialogue but emphasises that they do not have the same economy, or the same imaginary. It is no coincidence if the memory of that experience with Christo is coming back to me now, because the approaches I have observed at Le Fresnoy are deeply similar.
I am happy to see society being de-bated in this way and the position that art-ists assign themselves there, deliberately choosing to ensure that their language cannot be reduced to others, thereby pre-venting a confusion of reality and the real.
Which brings back another memory, that of Jean-Luc Godard at the Verger Urbain V in Avignon, in 1967, after the screening of La Chinoise. Mobbed with questions about current events and political theories, with demands for analyses, he replied that he was a filmmaker, that we must first watch the film, the assemblage of images, speeds and sounds in order to understand his ideas. The meaning was there and could not be reduced to any argument or rhetoric.
Or again, these words by Leos Carax in an in-terview with Jean Michel Frodon : “My projects never start with an original idea, an intention. Just two or three images, plus two or three feelings. If I find correspondences between these images and these feelings, I edit them together.” 7 And, “I don’t make overtly political films, but I still believe that cinema is here to change us and change our angles of vision.”
Christo, Jean-Luc Godard, Leos Carax—each his own way of saying that art, cinema and poetry each has its space, its own enigma in which to seek out the singularity and autonomy of their “languages.” Ideas, sensations and reasons have another weight here, another purpose, another form. That is the choice which the works in Panorama are constantly activating when they meld their voices with those of the times, and of time.
When it comes to expressing the pain inflicted by racism, its low-volume work, then fiction takes over, bringing back to life the Hottentot Venus, her fragmented body. It reverses the extreme alienation of those poor limbs to make them radiant with a won-derful “pink” through the slightest of those torn-up fragments. These become sacred forms raising up a shrine, preserving them from the manipulations that they were and still are subjected to.
Confronted with the confusion of feelings, stereotypes of the day, submission to the order of technologies, artists have recourse to the powers of surprise, of childhood, to the dreams and veils of the imaginary that swell and invite our lives, in a way sometimes unexpected, sometimes “twisted,” to sub-vert order and rules, to sound the voices of humour and irony which twist those straight lines obliging us to be “the follower of a follower.” “Next!” as Jacques Brel would have said. Pigeons; Eggheads after egg-heads. They are also veritable detonators against cer-tain figures on the #MeToo scene. Like the Pantalone of commedia dell’arte, they exist from Antiquity to the grotesques of the Renaissance. They have the sometimes pitiless features of art brut or wear the grimaces of digital morphing by Joan Fontcuberta. Their bodies buckle from the pleasures of power and the Other’s body.
Many role plays speak out to us here, from one scene to another. Some of the violence is inspired by mises en scène, war “games” parodying biographies of killers who have become B movie producers, re-placing the duels of valiant samurais.
From one fiction to another, figures aplenty emerge and are handled, not for their bodies now, but as abstract “composition-combinations” within allegories or lived experiences or experiences re-played in the theatre of installations.
Sometimes, too, whatever the mask or skin for the role, the figures, despite voluntary distancing, cannot be kept from mnemonic emotions that are often melancholy or tragic. “Persona—Person—Personage” all combine.
Dora García evokes the deception of women who are always hoping for a world to come that does not come, the impossible authentic recognition of their identity. The world, withdrawing into itself, offers only the dismal repetition of the same exits. “Getting out of the space” now becomes an adventure driven by dream.
EXIT, extricate, extract—that is what migrant peoples embody. These people who cross the land to reach the sea. They cross deserts, repair their sandals in order to go on walking, abandon their baggage, their clothes, and then their lives. They leave nothing, except perhaps, thanks to one or two who respect their dreams, a nameless tomb, in the hope that one day a family, a community will recognise them. Where are they, today, these ghosts and these possibilities of imaginary isles to be reached? A song says that this refuge is always alive for those who follow them and sign anew.
Most of these works have no formal narrations but “complex,” unexpected elaborations that keep us awake, seeking out a virtual egress from the maze. I think of John Cassavetes’ words about Love Streams: “Making a film has nothing to do with the action, the story, the continuity, it’s how you stick to the subject. Whenever someone thinks something is going to happen in the film, something else happens. Well, it could have had a better plot, but you are making a film and you say to yourself, this could be my last film. So why would I tie myself down with a plot?”
This is where oneiric thought takes flight. It projects us into a private diary or a legend, offering us the felicitous perspective of heading towards the “Elsewhere.”
Nothing is affirmed or stable. Art, music, friend-ship, the autonomous life of objects work together to neglect the exclusively material dimension of our lives. What I see is transcended by “another sight,” a new knowledge of genders and kingdoms. Nature incites us to wager on the presence of the invisible, on the uncertainty principle. The world is a suppo-sition, potentially verifiable, as quantum physics regularly tells us.
Rejection of a tyrannic system of perception and interpretation is the guarantor of this effec-tive liberty. It does not confront politics, it avoids, it neutralises it. The hypothesis is clearly to choose Elsewhere as analyser of our situation. Here, the works strive to reach that place by mixing dream, science, utopia, the displacements of thought, and movement, which is paradoxically more concrete than any foundation.
Imagine a city. It is not its buildings that make it alive, for the city is a fabric embroidered with in-habitants, with trees, with time, with memory, with circulations and tremors. Its network is a system of blood vessels. It is constantly making and unmaking the map. An epidermis dreaming a fiction between science and animism.
Our lives place us opposite the other, face and body. This experience produces a social space to which we both belong. That of the cosmos, of the energy we exchange. This energy is pure expenditure, a “joining” with the world.
It enables us to penetrate a universe which can-not be reduced to what we see, to what we touch. We know it by the effects of its substance and through the hypotheses that it allows.
Matter is there, inhabited by the virtual which determines it, sometimes to the point of occupying the whole place, giving us over to the ver-tigo of play and metamorphoses. Is it purely elusive, disembodied, a concept worked through in bunches of ideas and systemic structures? No, for in taking over these hypotheses, dream sets us straight. It is a support, for a “suspended” exploration, from one space to another. The use of words can distance em-bodiment but let us not forget Icarus and his double nature, between ascent and gravity. This ambiguity leads us deep into the territories of art. They are the equivalent of the painting by Brueghel the Elder,9 of the one by Daniel Pommereulle, interpreting it, or of poesis, as recalled by Yves Bonnefoy.
in his Entretiens,10 from which I take the quotations for an article, in their regard.11 For Yves Bonnefoy poetry makes “a place and a moment appear and live.” This appearing is not easy; “however much we may hope to free words of their conceptual content, which reduces the world to in-complete, abstract figures, we will always remain outside what Rimbaud called true life.”
That is the issue for artists, for nowadays the real is manifested in the form of image banks, ar-chives and data, of processes of decrypting and encoding. The real is elaborated in series of sup-positions and compositions. The problematics of a programme, a drawing or a set of symbols struggle with the self-generation of a form “in itself.” The fig-ures of this contradiction can be read in installations, scenarios, performances and films: the figures of an impalpable presence. Those of the “will-o’-the-wisp” evoked by Vladimir Jankélévitch: “We should therefore not be criticised for the ungraspable na-ture of this will-o’-the-wisp, as we have made it our profession of faith! We profess that bareness. Our stripped science deprives us of any fixed point, of any system of reference, of contents that are easy to decipher or delegate that would enable us to epilogue, to feed discourse and open up a long future of reflection Our nescient science is more an aim, a horizon, it has kissed goodbye to substantial consistency in general.”
The use of an aim, the search for a horizon —that is what we are seeing in Panorama 23. At its heart, a twostep between “place and moment” and a principle of displacement, generated by a movement that has kissed goodbye to a substantial consistency. This productive twostep denotes this elusiveness through the scrolls of the “skin.”
What is this “skin” made of? I could say, of that “fabric” which is not the result of a weaving of ideas. Is it a flying carpet?
It is made of assembled spaces, of maps that are so many screens which, for a moment, I retain.
There we follow craft akin to Herman Melville’s Pequod, to machines in the air, vehicles of thought or passing clouds.
What do they offer us? Frontiers transcended, blind spots and reversals—in a word, the mental di-mensions of the universe. The future infiltrates the past, it breaks in. Our environment is a planetarium and our words and images multiply in astonishing kaleidoscopes.
The works at Le Fresnoy are tremendous accel-erators of our circumnavigations within the nature of the world. They call for the freedom to feel and think.
These words used by Emanuele Coccia about his film offer a kind of ideal entry into the works: “To orient ourselves in the sky hidden in each object, we must build astral maps, like the ancients. Learn to read in matter as we read in the sky.” And, “It [the sky] is the flesh of all that exists.”
Thus, using artificial intelligence, a work ex-plores the intensity and violence attaching to the word god in holy scripture.
Others point the finger at the “little reality” of our lexicons and syntaxes, at their interrelations without an object, like contemporary, mechanical prolongations of the mechanics in Kafka’s The Trial.
Yet another leads us to the North, where day and night are endlessly one, based on a cartography, a reconstituted territory that cannot be approached but is re-established by the archives. A pure mental construction, it gives us the magic of ruins, that of military buildings imagined for strategies of coun-ter-espionage, of defence of the “free world.” Sic transit gloria mundi. They are no more than dreams of a forgotten omnipotence, displaced into other theatres of operation.
In the sequence, a minimal “cube” allows us to play with the life of bacteria in a closed milieu, sublimated by a projected surface. An invisible and fascinating ecosystem inside bodies.
On another stage, thanks to post-digital tech-nology, objects evaporate and change substance. Using all the contemporary resources of image and sound, our words crystallised, language becomes transparent to itself. We pass through it and in the space sustained by lines of choirs, it is a volatile rhythm, fluidifying the linguistic matrix.
The real here is this “fabric” which is sometimes diaphanous, sometimes phantomatic, the promise of a sky turned back, buried, a treasure within a field where our five senses can disappear, as in that film where spaceships vanish in ultra-abyssal, inacces-sible ocean depths.
The maker of this film12 offers these words, which describe the poetics of the works present at Panorama 23: “It is about observing the world as it does not appear to us and inventing the possibility of rediscovering it.” Or discovering it again.
By the grace of art, more alive than nature itself, this “elusive skin,” this veil provoke dream, a dream that wrenches and surpasses them. It is not a matter of passing through mirrors but of going towards “the other”—an other who, this time, has no face and is constantly appearing, an “other,” between the darkness of the cave and the light of the sky. The other truth, is that not the name of art? Art does not say what is going to happen, it is a space, without beginning or end, without top or bottom, but this time, for an Orpheus who has the right to look back.