What is to be seen?

[Fall 2023]

By Jacques Doyon

These are images that catch our attention and intensify our gaze. What they show us is clear and precise, and yet there is something we can’t place, something that encourages us to look more closely and to question the context of their production. In Nicolas Baier’s work, it is the materials, the fabrication processes, and the subjects addressed that raise questions. Thomas Demand substitutes for the referential details of mediatized events an open, meticulously reconstructed scene. And Adad Hannah includes within his images the traces of the labour underlying his compositions and recompositions.

Vases communicants, the title of Baier’s exhibition, points to the search for homeostasis – equilibrium – in a system. And this system is not mechanical, as evinced by the long video from which the exhibition borrows its title. Rather, it includes natural and cultural hubs in an osmotic process that puts the organic and the living in relation with the technological achievements that have given human beings their hold over the world. It’s this intrinsic interconnection that the exhibition as a whole explores. Here, the forest stands in for the profusion and complexity of the living world, whereas the computer is a distillation of the formidable human capacity to act on and transform the world. All the images and objects, conceived in Baier’s studio, are like fossils of contemporary life, artefacts for an archaeology of present times.

Demand’s images are at once realistic and fabricated. They distance the specifics of the mediatized dramatic events that serve as his source; at the same time, they endow the fictional with strikingly realistic details. His facsimile of a studio model short-circuits a belief in the scene portrayed, but the care taken with the quality of the photographic image once again holds out the impulse toward realism. Indeed, there is reality in the image, but it is a fabricated reality. As a result, the representation is indeterminate; it opens on a scene in which something might happen once more. Unlike the heaps of images that flood us with too much reality, Demand offers us a space in which “what is to come” is yet to be made.

Working on poses and compositions has always been key to Hannah’s exploration of the image, both in his video portraits that play on photographic stillness and in his images that propel the off-screen into the frame via mirrors and in those with present-absent silhouettes that manipulate, like puppeteers, elements of the composition. The image is a fabrication; it is a cultural act in dialogue with important artworks that have refreshed and influenced how we see and represent the world. The image doesn’t show the world; it shapes it. And it does this not by fragmentation and ephemera but, on the contrary, over time and within the broad and complex field of culture in its fullest sense.
Translated by Käthe Roth

[ Complete issue, in print and digital version, available here: Ciel variable 124 – SEEING THROUGH IMAGES ]
[ Complete article, in digital version, available here: What is to be seen? ]