in catalog Jean-François Guiton - Hinters Licht – Videoarbeiten 1982-2008, Weserburg - Museum für Modern Kunst, Bremen 2008
Although Jean-Francois Guiton’s acoustic and visual installations present narrative elements, characters, scenes, and identiﬁable noises—in short: lead through representations—they produce a strong power of abstraction. They separate the visual and the audible, make recurring movements of form and non-existent spaces and surface effects visible. This tension is all the higher, as the power of abstraction of the mimetic elements that disrupt it seems to be inseparable in his works. Their effects correspond neither to a formal aesthetic program, nor to a cancellation of the implicitness of sensuous awareness.
Viewed philosophically, abstraction describes the reality of entities without temporal-spatial qualities, with mathematics at the top of the list—numbers, amounts, relations, geometric ﬁgures—followed by those of Platonic ideas. Today, abstract art suggests a wide ﬁeld of experimentation, but its modern invention repeats various traits of its philosophical designation. It emerged out of a break with the common sense of what is visible, with our ability to recognize and recreate the things around us. This break, however, is already ambiguous in its initial gesture, brings several systems of logic to bear. When abstraction is born, two simultaneous tendencies can be distinguished. The one leads reality back to geometric ﬁgures. The essential core of what is perceptible is revealed in them and through them; the visibility of the world is released under their mathematic aspect. The other tendency further aggravates the turning away from imitation, radicalizes it by means of a complete separation that aspires to an invisible dimension. By turning away from the ordinary world, the work of art leads back to the intelligibility of a pure feeling 1.
Jean-François Guiton’s work deviates from these variations of classic abstraction. Instead of logically contrasting intelligibility and imitation, instead of tracing the perceptible back to its geometric form, his works produce a real contrast of abstraction and imitation within common sense. They separate all processes of recognition from one another: the identity of vision and understanding, contemplating and listening, of temporal and narrative chain 2. The power of abstraction isolates the sensuous elements by means of a kind of odd, negative awareness; it disconnects them, forces open the unifying and regular process of meaning. It is just these elements, which are normally subject to a logic of identifying, that are “individualized” in Guiton’s work, wrested away from their regularity; they disperse and transform into contradictions. Hence, a ﬁrst observation: here, the power of abstraction is not sensuousness’ Other, but a power that separates every element, every perceptible form from the synthesizing coherence of sense. It is the power that causes contradictions in that it confronts the elements with its outwardness, an outwardness between visible and audible, perception and interpretation, motion and motionlessness. Abstraction neither abandons common sense, nor does it reconstruct it under the dominance of mathematics; it produces its “derailment,” its manifold divergences.
A second observation suggests itself: to gain access to these installations means gaining access to the gaps and separations inscribed in their relations. Both the viewer’s gaze as well as his or her listening and movements are addressed by this simultaneity of contradictions. His or her attention is not drawn outside the installations, but is itself the “power of outside” that releases their differences, visualizes them. The most obvious separation that ﬁrst attracts one’s attention is the one between the visible and the acoustic, which characterizes practically all of the works. But this breach does not produce a dichotomic inconsistency between hearing and seeing. On the contrary: it presses them apart. Thus the shared separating boundary between each process of seeing and hearing, reading and deciphering, perceiving and feeling, pushes it to its in each case own extremity, a new area. The narrative can depict itself as an acoustic element, perception turns into deciphering, the image makes silence audible. By separating the power of abstraction of our senses, it dissolves their combined functioning; it forces us to create singular combinations that perceive and articulate heterogeneity. Thus the variations of this power of abstraction can only be brought out by penetrating the works as well as in their “asensuous similarities”—by disrupting the narrative, the surface, the earnestness.
Le Fardeau takes up a special position in Jean-François Guiton’s oeuvre. He noiselessly attenuates the serious tone of the overall work. With elegant simplicity, this installation subtly suggests a move toward Minimalism. A large linen cloth, weighted down in the middle by a monitor resting on it, is suspended, like a hammock, in a light well. The back side of the monitor is clearly apparent through the fabric. At ﬁrst glance, the economy of the means seems to agree with the artistic economy: what you see is what you see. But beyond it, how can one not notice the emulating effect and, above all, ﬁnd no pleasure in it? The Minimalist arrangement produces an absurd similarity: a lazing monitor in a hammock. Weary after having been reduced to literality, it releases itself a bit from its existence as a speciﬁc object. As if its idleness was not enough, its presence in the well obstructs the trap door through which oversized works are brought into or taken out of the museum. While it neglects its laborious and vertical existence as an image support, the monitor’s surface shows the movement of the linen cloth on which it is lying: one literally hears the cloth beat against the wind. Contemplation, white noise, tautology—it has become unclear whether the image is directing itself toward us or whether the monitor is projecting the image into the sky. The mimetic appeal of this work is that it mitigates the Minimalist prejudice of the seriousness of art. Exchanging the concrete for the abstract, the minus for plus. By subtracting the ascetic ideal from Minimalism, the installation releases a humoristic vibrancy 3. In some of Jean-François Guiton’s installations, the mimetic dimension is directly linked to a narrative dimension in that they are based on commonly known stories. Pour Dulcinée III, for example, makes reference to a famous scene in the ﬁrst modern novel, Don Quixote, and Der Rattenfänger to a story about musical abduction that was turned into a fairy-tale. One need not to have read Don Quixote or the Piped Piper of Hamelin in order to immediately “realize” this. These stories are modern myths: we are not reading them, but their recurring presence forms a truism. What kind of recurrence is this? Although only few people have actually read them, almost everyone can attach names, scenes, main characters, attributes, unreal situations, and magical enchantment to them. Narrative images are associated with the names of the stories.
It is precisely this similarity that stands at the start of both of the following installations: Pour Dulcinée III: Here, a monitor faces a corner; the image of this monitor and a second image, which is being projected directly into this corner and shows the beating of windmill sails. One sees the surface of the cloth on the surface of the image; it folds and unfolds itself in the fold of the corner’s reality. The battle also takes place in this fold, that is to say, in the shift of our attention from one image to the next. One ﬁrst sees the movement of a sail on the wall—the monotonous repetition of a motif—and then turns toward the monitor on which hands are turning a lance. The image that assembles itself in our minds does not result from the comparison with the narrative image, but from the interplay of our gaze—physical “ﬂickering” that interconnects all of the installation’s elements. The mimetic features, the wind-mill and Don Quixote’s lance, seem to be oversized; the installation shows them at the verge of recognizability, abstracts the narrative chain, structures the image by means of the “back and forth” of perceptions that suspend each other.
In Rattenfänger, the similarity is produced through acoustic imitation. There are several speakers on the ﬂoor connected by cables—small oval boxes with a rounded corner, all facing in one direction. From the very beginning, the viewer hears cheeping, the sounds of paws, and hurried pattering. Here, “one no longer sees what it means”: what one hears is what one sees. This pack of speakers depicts an indivisible mass of rodents. It approaches another sound, is inexorably attracted by the act of swallowing being performed by a massive red opening being emanated from a video projection: a gigantic vulva prepared to devour everything with a subterrestrial rumble. The musical bewitchment —robbed of its power of seduction— is in a spatial contradiction to the animal noises and the gurgling coming up out of the tectonic depth. One experiences it as a gap by overcoming the distance that separates both sounds. The image of the piper is disclosed as an image; it disperses in its acoustic effects.
When we walk through a dark wood, we sometimes sense that our ability to distinguish perceptions and feelings breaks down: every noise, every movement of a branch, every shadow magniﬁes the vague dimension of our own fear: Im Walde. The projection extends from the ﬂoor to the ceiling, spanning one corner of the space and thus keeping the viewer from facing the image. It is a confusion of roots and trunks, a moving and motionless tension. The image nearly retreats, hesitates, and then advances further. The movement develops, intensiﬁes as soon as we enter the space: the wood is reacting to our presence. A root momentarily reaches out in a threatening way, immediately after which a branch anxiously sinks ward. The more people in the space, the darker the wood becomes, as if the increase of human presence brings about its retreat. The meshing of close and far isolates the affect from the viewer and projects it onto the entire surface: the wood itself is afraid, the wood itself is attacking us. This affect is inextricable, it knows no distinction between human and unhuman.
Disrupted and discernible imitation overlap, melt away, disperse—are transformed into contradictions. Their immanent confusion penetrates technology, matter, and intelligibility. Beyond all inner spirituality, beyond all geometry, the soul of the world pulsates in these gestures of abstraction.
Toulouse, août 2008
(1) The Russian avant-garde in particular pointed out the geometric connotation of abstraction; they took common sense apart in order to bring about new sense, for example the functionalities and utopias devised by Constructivism. Kandinsky inscribes his work in an inner quest, traces art back to himself, situates his work outside of the everyday world. His abstraction of colors and forms aims at an encounter between the human soul and its spirituality.
(2) According to a logical contradiction, a thing cannot simultaneously be in motion and in an idle state; these two predicates cannot simultaneously be used for the same thing. According to a real contradiction—if, e.g., the force of the westerly wind corresponds exactly with the force of the easterly wind—the thing (a ship) remains immobile, and this immobility results from movement. Cf. Immanuel Kant’s Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy (1763).
(3) With gentle humor, Le Fardeau condenses mottos such as “less is more” and “what you see is what you see,” to the point of “less is less, more is more, that’s all” (Présence Panchounette).