eric rondepierre – couple, passant (1996-1998)

Eric Rondepierre, “Couple, Passant” (1996-98)

‘Cinema was born in 1895. In 2015, the original device has disappeared – such is the world, techniques vanish and others emerge: “There is no doubt that death is the youth of the world” [said Georges Bataille, in L’Histoire de l’érotisme]. I initiated my cinematic research at a transitional moment, in 1990, and started to present it in 1992. In 1993 in Washington (USA), I started a series of photographs figuring photograms of films corroded by the passing of time and storage condition, which was exhibited in New York two years later at MoMA. Since then, I have been watching films in Western film libraries and private collections, harvesting “decomposed” images affected by the passing of time. Without retouching them, I select the improbable and rare ones, those on which the marks of time enter in dialogue with the image to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the actual image and its destruction process. Jean Cocteau claimed that cinema filmed “death at work”. It seemed interesting to identify death at work at the core of the medium, within the material and invisible layer allowing us access to the film: the reel. So I ventured through cinema, with great patience – it takes fifteen days, eight hours a day, to watch a feature film frame-by-frame –, reflecting upon the instability of film archives, their support, the conditions of their appearance and disappearance (I was far from imagining that the proper reel could vanish!). I fancy the idea that figures and locations filmed a century ago resurface differently at other times and that I was able to capture this hazardous encounter with the ills affecting the medium. Furthemore, the fact that these images exhale beauty, strangeness and intensity is a nice complement: grace befalls anywhere.’

– Eric Rondepierre, The Mark of Time.

That impossible photogram, as Roland Barthes said. An object which is not (even) an object, but at the same time is actually two objects. It doesn’t (really) belong to the cinema or (simply) to photography ; it is more than a photograph yet less than a film. It is, therefore, a sort of axis or fold, the precise crossing point (punctum) between cinema and photography. Eminently paradoxical, the photogram is the touchstone of Eric Rondepierre’s work which is acutely conscious of the delicate balance on the razor’s edge where cinema meets photography in their most intimate specificity.

Eric Rondepierre’s work always starts with a film, or more precisely with the image-matter of a film. Rondepierre is not interested in cinema as the reflection-projection of a film on a screen, in a consumer relation to what is watchable, with its imposed length and speed, uninterrupted flow, impression of movement, perceptive fiction, transitory illusion – in other words the magic of the large cinema-body on the screen. What interests him is the film as actual film strip, a material sequence of fixed images intimately and appropriatively related to its object. Film images that you can not only see but also touch, hold, manipulate and collect.

In other words, Rondepierre aims at what is most authentically photographic at the very heart of cinema. This is of course profoundly contradictory. The photogram is an impossible object : it is both film’s condition of existence and its total negation. Obviously a film consists only of photograms, yet seeing a photogram for what it is (the frozen image of a film) necessarily means not seeing the film, which can only exist fully as movement. Seeing a film flow past automatically implies not seeing photograms, nevertheless the very essence of a film since they disappear, absorbed into the projection process. Photograms are the only real images and the only invisible images in a film. This is the ontological paradox which makes photograms into cinema’s blind «spots».

Don’t believe too much in what you can see. Learn to not see what is displayed (and therefore which hides). Learn to see beyond, beside, across and beneath. Look for the spot in the image, texture in the surface, negatives in positives and latent images in the negative ground. Follow once more the route mapped out by the psychic photographic apparatus, shifting from eye to memory, from appearance to unrepresentable. Dig down through the layers and levels like an archaeologist. Photographs are only surfaces, they have no depth, only a fantastic density. Behind it, beneath it or around it, one photo always hides (at least) another photograph, or a film. It is a question of screens, and here you enter in a singular universe, the one of an individual by the name of Eric Rondepierre.

Read this whole essay by Philippe Dubois, and visit Eric Rondepierre’s website. And, if you can read French, there’s a piece which discusses Georges Bataille’s influence on the artist here.


jean cocteau addresses the year 2000 (1962)

Compelling stuff.

Jean Cocteau began his career as a poet, publishing his first collection, Aladdin’s Lamp, at the age of 19. By 1963, at the age of 73, he had lived one of the richest artistic lives imaginable, transforming every genre he touched. Deciding to leave one last artefact to posterity, Cocteau sat down and recorded the film above, a message to the year 2000, intending it as a time capsule only to be opened in that year (though it was discovered, and viewed a few years earlier). Biographer James S. Williams describes the documentary testament as “Cocteau’s final gift to his fellow human beings.”

Portraying himself as “a living anachronism” in a “phantom-like state,” Cocteau, seated before his own artwork, quotes St. Augustine, makes parables of events in his life, and addresses, primarily, the youth of the future. The uses and misuses of technology comprise a central theme of his discourse: “I certainly hope that you have not become robots,” Cocteau says, “but on the contrary that you have become very humanized: that’s my hope.” The people of his time, he claims, “remain apprentice robots.”

Among Cocteau’s concerns is the dominance of an “architectural Esperanto, which remains our time’s great mistake.” By this phrase he means that “the same house is being built everywhere and no attention is paid to climate, atmospherical conditions or landscape.” Whether we take this as a literal statement or a metaphor for social engineering, or both, Cocteau sees the condition as one in which these monotonous repeating houses are “prisons which lock you up or barracks which fence you in.” The modern condition, as he frames it, is one “straddling contradictions” between humanity and machinery. Nonetheless, he is impressed with scientific advancement, a realm of “men who do extraordinary things.”

cocteau 1961And yet, “the real man of genius,” for Cocteau, is the poet, and he hopes for us that the genius of poetry “hasn’t become something like a shameful and contagious sickness against which you wish to be immunized.” He has very much more of interest to communicate, about his own time, and his hopes for ours. Cocteau recorded this transmission from the past in August of 1963. On October 11 of that same year, he died of a heart attack, supposedly shocked to death by news of his friend Edith Piaf’s death that same day in the same manner.

His final film, and final communication to a public yet to be born, accords with one of the great themes of his life’s work—“the tug of war between the old and the new and the paradoxical disparities that surface because of that tension.” Should we attend to his messages to our time, we may find that he anticipated many of our 21st century dilemmas between technology and humanity, and between history and myth. It’s interesting to imagine how we might describe our own age to a later generation, and, like Cocteau, what we might hope for them.

Via Open Culture.