Assis (Seated) selected in moving images are still images, Los Angeles
Assis (Seated) selected in "moving images are still images", curated by Greg Jenkins
Saturday, July 29 Heavy Manners Library Produced by The New Arts Foundation
Part of the Gallery Association of Los Angeles' LA Art Week
Los Angeles, CA, USA
"Pierre Yves Clouin's films are delicate, patient, and private. He finds frames that withhold everything that is. An imagination activation." - Greg Jenkins, The New Arts Foundation
"Les films de Pierre Yves Clouin sont délicats, patients et privés. Il trouve des cadres qui retiennent tout ce qui est. Une activation de l’imagination." - Greg Jenkins, The New Arts Foundation
"and so, now, in 2023, there's a feeling that we’re actually in the constant present. We'd be closer only if it were literally us, ourselves, in the content we consume (and, in the algorithmic sense, increasingly: It is).
(Note: there's a difference between living « in the constant present" and something like being "in the moment." When you're in the moment, you're here- the senses are on, time expands. When you're in the constant present, though, you're just not there. Time collapses.)
The constant present is bolstered by things like daily tedium, hyper-specialization, professionalization of play, predictive models, predatory advertising, "superior orders," institutional deference, and bureaucratic dogma. No matter how we feel about these things, we can't really resist them. That's history. Even if we could, we're greatly outpaced: today's resistance is tomorrow's data.
Really what we're after, then, is a fissure. A way to evade the constant present. A way to turn things on. In moving images are still images, the artists find that fissure with active and intentional absence. In fact, many of them physically construct absence - or at least the conditions that produce it - to open channels for poetry, romance,surprise, and critique… all whose salience has been eroded by the irresistibility fothe constant present.
Quickly and incompletely: there is precedent for this type of work... work that engages absence as a concept. We've seen it in Art with David Hammons, Lee Lozano, Bas Jan Ader, and Tehching Hseih; and in Film with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Chantal Akerman, TsaI Ming-Liang, and Pedro Costa. There are more, of course. These names are familiar, and they are old. They also take a markedly different tack than some artists today who can be seen making a re-turn toward absence.
What distinguishes the two approaches to absence is naturalism. Though there are certainly exceptions, artists like Hammons, Lozano, and Costa trade in an absence that tells us, "something happened here, it just didn't happen now" or "something happened here, you just can't see what it is." In other words, naturally, once something's over (or withheld) it’s absent. This is a staid and real absence, documentary-like in its presentation (see the realism of Hammons Bliz-aard Ball Sale documentation... Akerman's fixed frame in Jeanne Dielman...). Almost always, these works occur in the "natural world." They are typified by being Serious, structurally sound, conceptually precise, formal artworks.
In cinema, one aim of this type of work is to achieve some sort of transcendence. Paul Schrader wrotea whole book on it in 1972. More recently, Weerasethakul argued - albeit aspirationally - in favor of a cinema of nothing: no plot, no movement, no cuts... making cinema "closerto real life, in real time... [with] no fillers nor destination. »
So, that's the aim of their absence. For the sake of this essay, we can call ti "Old Absence." Old Absence wants the natural nothing, undisturbed by our presence. There is a "New Absence" though, and it builds off the Old. Or, in fact, it builds in the wake of the Old. And this absence wants something. Imagine a car speeding along a dusty road. Hollywood would make a movie about that car. Old Absence would make a movie about the dust that car left behind - slow, patient, formal. New Absence would do it a bit differently, though. New Absence would wait and, then, when the time is right, jump into the dust, playing and creating with it. In that way - using the world as a sort of readymade- New Absence tells us "something happened here, andit's actually still happening, and if you look at it juuuuust right, you can see it right here... and here... and right there... oh, and over there, too." Just like that, our imaginations make time a bit more elastic, a bit less constant present.
Each film in moving images are still images has elements of New Absence in it. Some engage with absence through a sort of reanimated inanimacy (Silvester's You Won't Ever Get Me On That Plane); some activate absence by physically, virtually, or sonically building worlds within our natural world (Meyer’s Scenic Jogging, Goldner’s Swimming Lesson, Harper’s DOGS pt. 1 Otradek), or even by scavenging ournatural world (Zhao's Om); and others completely manufacture spaces absent of almost all natural referents (Shavers' Summerscents, Wilcox's Nobody Wants to Fix Things Anymore, Finkelstein's A Collection of Eccentricities). No matter, each filmmaker takes a step into the absence to play, to imagine, to explore. Ultimately, it connects.
And it's a tragic impulse right from the start. In creating with/in absence, the maker tacitly acknowledges to themselves and to the audience that they are, in fact, in nothing. The jump, then, to create with that nothing is a gesture of optimism and hope, but also one that's prone to fail, pronet o futility. What else can be done with nothing, especially when it's all gone? Much of that play, too, is "Unnatural » - it involves projections, manmade objects, artificial intelligence, mannequins, and ghosts. This "Unnatural" isn't so much uncanny as it is simply removed from the Natural. And it's not just one step removed either. It's two or even three steps removed from the Platonic ideal, creating at once a hyper-familiarity with and an overwhelming distance from the object we desire. This is the crux of romance, of tragedy, of empathy. It is very affective.
These films, and others, are important because they actively build within absence instead of passively observing it. In doing so, they tap into rich wells of sincerity and surprise in places where many other artists see (and regenerate) chaos, pessimism, and plain old "nothing. »
moving images are still images is not a catalogue, or even an exemplary sample. There are others doing similar work, and through more mainstream channels. Most notably, Leos Carax's Annette (2021) is shot entirely and apparently on sound stages, and features a marionette doll as the main character. Lowery's A Ghost Story(2017), Anderson's Asteroid City (2023), and Weerasethakul's own Memoria (2021) also come to mind. There are elements from the cinéma du look movement in the' 80s and '90s that mesh well with some of the ideas about New Absence, as does Coppola's One From the Heart (1981). These are al films that linger in the residue of inanimacy, that point to absence through construction.
For these works, and many others, and even us: nothing matters. But not in the nihilist sense, and hot even in the observational sense. For us, nothing matters in the positive, affirmative, even desperate sense: "Nothing does matter!" Our entire lives we've been fed fedfed more more more- a surplus of everything- over-booked, overstimmed, overwrought. Nothing matters not because we've never known it, but because we’ve neverhad it to enjoy. The slight shift, then, comes into view: Old Absence (slow cinema) might've let us look at the world, but New Absence lets us live in it.The former created a point in space to notice nothing (we are external, separate... nothing is over there), the latter is an expansion of that point into a three-dimensional playground (we are inside of what isn't there).
In Spielberg's Hook, Peter Pan sits with the Lost Boys at a table full of seemingly empty plates, empty bowls, and empty glasses. Tinkerbell tells him to eat, to which Pan says, "Eat what? There's nothing here, Gandhi ate more than this." Everyone seems to see the food- and be eating it - except for Peter. It isn't until he’s challenged by the Lost Boys, and flicks a spoonful of nothing at Rufio, that Peter can see the colorful feast in front of him. "You're doing it," onekid says to him. "Doing what?" asks Peter.Another boyreplies: « Using your imagination…" Maybe this is the secret ingredient that's laid bare in this pattern of New Absence. Imagination is on display. The films explode with it.This is how we evadethe constant present." - Greg Jenkins, The New Arts Foundation