Vivid memory

Anne-Lou Vicente

  • U+1F453-000

    Glasses

  • 👓 VOTRE OPTICIEN brétigny optique

    Logotype

  • w.n.

    Print, 4,4 × 9 cm

  • Brétigny, Bulletin municipal, №11

    1972

Nothing is true, everything is alive.
Edouard Glissant

As flowers turn toward the sun, by dint of a secret heliotropism the past strives to turn toward that sun which is rising in the sky of history.
Walter Benjamin

 

To perform (and invent) the archive

While she continues to work from documents and archives, Angélique Buisson has over the past few years been moving away from the printed and edited support of the book-object, which once formed her preferred medium. Besides her “walls,” it produced the increasingly varied forms that create an intimate dialogue with language and are activated/embodied through performances that imply an expression, whether verbal or not. Thus, among her most recent works, there is, for example, an actor’s reading of the 1953 trial of André Breton, who was accused of having partially rubbed out a rock drawing in the caves of Pech-Merle (Rupestre à mort, Salon du Salon, Marseille, 2017); or a dancer’s performance of the reading of an LMA (Laban movement analysis) score, imagined from the artist’s reading gestures in her studio (Lecture d’une partition de lecture, Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, Paris, 2017). Buisson’s “Mémoire double” (Double Memory) was presented at CAC Brétigny following a yearlong research residency that focused on memory and the transmission of conflicts, while working with the local association of veterans and victims of war (Union locale des associations d’anciens combattants et victimes de guerre, ULAACVG); the second regiment of the volunteer army (Service militaire volontaire, SMV); and finally the youth services of the region (Service jeunesse de Brétigny-sur-Orge). “Mémoire double” is clearly one with the above continuity in the artist’s work while at the same time it represents – if only because of its singularity and its very polyphony – a case that is altogether unique when seen against Buisson’s usual working “methods.”

It was not at all archival. Only a few “educational plates” existed.[1] So it was a question of forming or inventing the archive according to a point of view and a process that are obviously not in this case those of the historian, strictly speaking. Buisson set about recording all those people, gathering their words, songs, stories, knowledge, memories, and other anecdotes in order to form a sound library, like a sound cloud, played in the show via a directional speaker under which two benches were an open invitation to visitors to sit down and lend an ear, for a more or less long stretch of time, to the artist’s archive-saga. Visitors could also read the program at the same time, which was divided into “sequences,” following a timeline that went from 00: 00: 00 to 02: 21: 30. Like an enlarged gallery information sheet, a sign fitted with two drawing clips and placed edgewise enabled visitor-listeners to know who was speaking, what they were speaking about and for how long.

Whereas the speakers make speech, Buisson makes a document through this operation of collecting, harvesting, and offering to visitors’ ears these (un)said words and repetitions which were the subject of her recording and, to a lesser degree here, her editing. The listening installation, Celui qui se souvient, constitutes a document which, via the “label” that provides a detailed program of it, makes an image by means of a text connected with the sounds, which in turn refer to people whose presence proves both scattered throughout the space and ghostly. The bodies have disappeared and the voice speaks for them and, although dissociated, in a way contains as much as it preserves them. Intrinsically linked to the voices that it quotes and comes to (re)materialize in a way, the label looks like a monument here to a certain degree (even to excess), a monument to the living and the survivors to whom visitors were invited to lend an ear, if only in bits and pieces. It is a monument, too, that is liable to say and recall things (to us), to speak (to us), and sooner or later to make one (and us) talk after (in the broad sense of the preposition) these shared individual experiences, provided to others via their being broadcast and heard at CAC Brétigny.

 

Document/Monument/Statement

In the absence of “manipulating” existing documents, Buisson constructed and molded this sound archive transformed into the site and vector of a psychological and collective individuation.[2] While its content is frozen in a way because of the techniques of recording and reading that insure its transmission, the document/monument refers here to the fundamentally shifting character – changeable and flexible – of what makes it up. Partaking of language and memory, the words and recollections borrow the organic random metamorphic traits of the living, inscribed in a present that is endlessly moving forward and leaving indicative and germinal traces along the way.

Document/monument is, moreover, the title of another element that was shown in the artist’s research-exhibition and it resonated with this programmatic matrix-like sound archive, like a black box of the whole project. On a black granite stele set directly on the floor was engraved the following quotation, “The document is never innocent. It is above all the result of a conscious or unconscious editing of history, of the society that produced it, but also of the succeeding ages during which it continued to live, perhaps forgotten, during which it continued to be manipulated, perhaps in silence. The document is a thing that remains, that lasts, and the testimony and teaching it conveys must be above all analyzed by demystifying their apparent meaning. The document is monument. It is the result of historical societies’ effort to impose – voluntarily or involuntarily – this or that image of themselves on the future. There isn’t any, verging on the document-truth. It is up to the historian… in the first place [to] take apart, demolish this instance of editing, to disassemble this construction and analyze the conditions for producing document-monuments.”[3]

The quotation resonates like a reminder, a warning,[4] if not a statement, and through it Buisson, borrowing its voice, announces (and denounces) the so-called real and faithful character of the artifact that is “informed” by the construction of an official historical narrative, while at the same time she signaled between the lines albeit clearly the false, speculative, inventive, and already fictional nature of both becoming a document and, even more, her own undertaking, even though it is anchored in facts, objects, and people that are very much real. Firm and clear cut, this position indicates a direction, a meaning, while leaving the point of view of the reading and the interpretation, the reception and the translation, quite open.

“In his Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault distinguished between two ways of managing documents and monuments,” Jean-Philippe Antoine reminds us.[5] “That of ‘history, in its traditional form’ aims to transform the mass of monuments indifferently bequeathed by the passage of time into documents, which we learn to both decipher and make speak so that they yield the positive statements they convey. The second way proceeds inversely: it is based on the massive existence in modern societies of documents that are from the outset viewed as such, which it is then a matter of (re)transforming into monuments… What enables the Foucaldian distinction is rather two distinct modes thanks to which objects and events achieve meaning, i.e., a policy of documentary recording, which imitation governs, and a policy of remembering, which implies invention… Access to the advertising of experiences that are otherwise condemned to remain confined to an individual conscience is conditioned by their passing over into the documentary state. From this point of view, there is no condemning the modern proliferation of documents, and even less the invention of recording techniques which allow the circumstances to become reproducible in turn. But this access, as authentic transmission, is conditioned by going beyond the documentary state.”

This dual policy of documentary recording, on the one hand, and remembering, on the other, is precisely what Buisson has set at odds here, and along with it, imitation and invention, reproduction and creation, repetition and construction, reality and fiction, past and future. By having the other remember and speak, she produces forms themselves which are addressed to others, pointed towards a future which, like a sun, will come to illuminate (or erase) them retroactively.

 

Handing over the lead (and the baton)

Implanted in the Brétigny region and involved with serval categories of the people living there, “Mémoire double” was the chance to put – indirectly – in touch and in resonance various space-times and conflicts, but also, first and foremost, various categories and generations of people, notably veterans of ULAACVG and young volunteers of the second regiment of the SMV, sketching out between the lines as it were a form of “combat” genealogy along with its projection into the future.[6] In a video called Le passé ne passe pas (Can’t Get Past the Past), we see the hands of young soldiers filmed from above who, on either side of a table, face to face and two by two, manipulate handmade objects from the trenches of World War I one after another.[7] Showing in turn a certain inventiveness, the soldiers try to imagine the history and function of these curious objects, which had been knocked together once with whatever was available and display the inventive art of making.[8] From these vestiges literally taken in hand, the young recruits, like archeologists of the future, recreate, drawing on their own means and knowledge, through language and by handling the objects, a history that is also manufactured – more or less fitted to history. These shards of the past, the result of the ingenuity of idle soldiers, are conjugated in the present, that of a youth that is itself possibly facing a war, if only symbolically or mentally, a war that is endlessly reinvented or (re)produced in accordance with the evolution of techniques and ideologies. While it makes it possible to delve into a history that is thus reinterpreted and relinked to the present, the almost divinatory operation carried out by these soldiers handling the objects and relating their possible earlier life gives us a glimpse of the future both in reserve and backwards, the future of a war that is latent, on standby, in the process of becoming. Always out there. Already here, on your screens or “in real life.”

Filmed with a group of teens from Brétigny’s Youth Services using drones,[9] the video called Alpha Bravo features the former military air base of Brétigny-sur-Orge, which was very active during World War II and around which the city has grown up. Inaccessible and beyond our view, the site is seen just the same thanks to the new technologies for recording images and surveillance.[10] Already sowing terror “artisanally” in certain conflict zones,[11] it is quite possible that these flying creatures will one day mutate into true war machines,[12] translating into acts and reality – anything but virtual – the maddest projections of the psychic veins of science fiction, from literature and film to video games.

 

His master’s voice (bis repetita placent)

While at first glance it may seem a very far cry from the “Mémoire double” project, whose context and production process, we should once again stress here, were quite uncommon and fundamentally collective, another project that is underway is also weaving subliminal links with it, against a background of history and politics, of relationships of domination and violence, war and control, language and memory. There is no drone in this instance but another species of flying creature, a parrot and not just any parrot, Koki, the pet of Marshal Tito. Over sixty years old, the sulphur-crested cockatoo shared the day-to-day life of the man who had once headed the former Yugoslavia and died in 1980. The bird has therefore survived him by many years… In its cage, Koki lives in a national park on the Brijuni archipelago in Croatia where Tito had his summer residence and kept the unlikely offerings (often animal or vegetable) of the personalities he summoned there. The animal is the subject of a very special attention and audience whereas already the feathered talker, whose talents for imitating human speech and exceptional cognitive abilities are well known, has always sparked interest, even fascination, both scientifically and in terms of simple showmanship.[13] The subject of studies and occasionally a circus sideshow attraction, the parrot, the one animal seemingly endowed with speech (by imitation), shares with man a logically singular interspecies connection which too often remains under the yoke of an “anthropomorphization” bordering on a teacher/pupil dialectics and thereby generating ties of not only knowledge but also power. Koki proves doubly special because through this feathered vestige people come to see Tito and get him to speak again, the pet having replaced its master in a way.

In the summer 2017, Angélique Buisson went to the Brijuni islands to meet Koki, escorted by the fowl’s keeper and an interpreter. Equipped with a camera that was filming continuously, she mingled with the visitors to record their behavior and talk, their attempts at deciphering, and other interpretations of the poses, words, and sounds produced by the parrot. Whereas Koki speaks in a way on the behalf of the chief, visitors tend to speak for the animal and project on it qualities and mental activities, as if it were a (real) person, a familiar companion with whom they share a common history and language.[14]

Koki, a natural biological species or historical cultural object? Odd bird, living thing in the process of change: a posthuman creature, a mythical – almost mystical – hybrid.[15] A living sound archive in reserve, unexpected black box of history… What would Koki say if the right questions were put to it?[16] What would it recount, recite, repeat? What would it say about and predict for history? Is the bird-witness, in its cage, only free to speak and yield up its secrets to us, or is it in the grip of an invisible manipulator? Would the spirit of Tito be mastering its speech at a distance via remote control? Like a ventriloquistic automaton condemned to stupidly parrot others, has the half-man half-machine pet swallowed his master’s voice, displaying in this way both high fidelity to the covering power and an anticipated submission to human domination (wholly masculine in this instance)? Has it become the broadcast mechanism of an LP from beyond the grave, already scratched and soon inaudible?

Almost all hypotheses are possible, however speculative, given that Angélique Buisson’s work, freed of historical and scientific instances, sows the seeds of (science)fiction in her rereadings of and variations on a history that is reinvented through the living, speaking, moving, nearly mutant character of an archive that is revived and re-presented, a metastable milieu and a zone of activity of a memory in the process of evolving that travels in time through the filter of its interconnected witnesses: humans, animals, machines.

Anne-Lou Vicente, March 2018.

 

Notes

[1] Used during educational initiatives, these documents were (invisibly) displayed in the show, enclosed in crates posed next to the video Les anciens combattants (The Veterans), in which four war veterans speak about their experiences during the Algerian War.
[2] Cf. http://arsindustrialis.org/individuation.
[3] Jacques Le Goff, “Documento/Monumento,” Enciclopedia, Torino, Einaudi, 1978, vol. V, 38. Quoted by Giuseppe Di Liberti in his article “Fait/événement – Document/monument,” Images Re-vues (11), 2013. http://journals.openedition.org/imagesrevues/3319.
[4] “Monument” comes from the Latin term monumentum, which derives from the verb monere, meaning in particular to warn, make known, remind, bring to mind, as well as inform, instruct, enlighten, advise.
[5] Jean-Philippe Antoine, Farces et attrapes. Inventer les images, Dijon/Geneva, Les presses du réel/Mamco, 2017, 47.
[6] The interviews heard in the sound piece Celui qui se souvient were completely transcribed by the artist, who passed them on to the young people who participated in the project.
[7] The objects employed come from Frédéric Galateau’s private collection.
[8] Referring to the “arts of making” described by Michel de Certeau in L’Invention du quotidien, which Jean-Philippe Antoine describes in turn, “These arts of making do not advance through a stereotype of gestures, but rather by way of ‘tricks,’ of the hand or mind, which govern a determined connection between a situation and the memory of singular gestures.” Antoine, Farces, 48.
[9] The drones that were used come from Cluster Drones, established on the site of the former Air Base 217 of Brétigny-sur-Orge.
[10] And soon perhaps for deliveries. The drone center of Brétigny, as part of its business activities, plans to host Europe’s largest drone delivery center for Amazon.
[11] In this regard, see “A Mossoul, la guerre des drones,” Le Point, 28 February 2017 (http://www.lepoint.fr/editos-du-point/michel-colomes/a-mossoul-la-guerre-des-drones-28-02-2017-2108081_55php).
[12] In this regard, see “La guerre du futur se fera avec des essaims de mini-drones autonomes,” Le Huffington Post, 10 January 2017 (https://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2017/01/10/la-guerre-du-futur-se-fera-avec-des-essaims-de-mini-drones-auton_a_21651522/).
[13] In this regard, readers can listen to the recording of the “famous talking parrots” Jacotte and Ito, made by their “tutor” Raoul Ours, aka “Mon p’tit papa.” Taking the form of a recital, the “method of the world champions,” suffused with a spirit that is infantilizing, paternalistic, even patriarchal, is a textbook demonstration of the way a man makes a parrot say whatever pops into his head more than his speaking or having an exchange with the bird. The synthetic-sounding voice of the animal adds to the mechanical aspect of the exercise, which is based on repetition, and to the almost machinelike character of the creature actually, which is objectified in this way. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28Ku3lRhcbI.
[14] In this regard, see “Le perroquet de Tito,” a text by Angélique Buisson, written as part of “Haunted by Algorithms,” mounted at Galérie Ygrec in 2017. See http://hauntedbyalgorithms.net/.
[15] “Pets bring together in unexpected forms human and nonhuman, organic and technological, carbon and silicon, autonomy and structure, history and myth, rich and poor, state and subject, diversity and disappearance, modernity and postmodernity, nature and culture.” Donna Haraway, Manifeste des espèces de compagnie. Chiens, humains et autres partenaires, Paris, Editions de l’éclat, 2010. See also Delphine Gardey, “Donna Haraway : poétique et politique du vivant,” Cahiers du Genre, 2013/2 (55), 171-194 (https://www.cairn.info/revue-cahiers-du-genre-2013-2-page-171.htm).
[16] A passing nod to Vinciane Despret’s Que diraient les animaux, si… on leur posait les bonnes questions ? Paris, La Découverte, 2012.