This excellent new DVD of short experimental videos by Pierre-Yves Cruaud is a recent release from lowave. The collection allows us to appreciate Cruaud’s exploration of memory, perception, and the gaps in both, and how, over time, he develops an increasingly sophisticated visual vocabulary for expressing these concerns. Lowave’s DVD authoring and overall production have improved greatly since their earlier releases; I had no trouble playing the videos, accessing subtitles or other features, despite the fact that I am still using the same antiquated version of Apple DVD player I have had for 4 years. The accompanying documentation, interviews, etc. are beautifully done, only marred by a few typos and mistranslations.
FAUSSE SOLITUDE ^ This video image centers on the filmmaker himself, who remains steadily in the middle of the frame as the background cityscapes whirl in faster and faster circles, barely recognizable. The pace of this circular motion is quite fast at the beginning of the film, making it is difficult to distinguish individual features of the 360 degree panorama behind Cruaud, but allowing one to get an overall sense of the colors and textures of that particular setting. The pace continues to get faster and faster, so that soon no individual features whatsoever are discernible, only an overwhelming and disturbing feeling of motion going nowhere. The film functions by having one visual feature which remains relatively stable as the rest of the frame erupts into greater and greater chaos. As the stable feature, Cruaud’s face is an interesting thing to watch, since he looks like a French Elvis Costello (but more handsome.) He maintains an expression of utterly focused calm throughout, even as his hair tosses about with the motion, and his glasses reflect the rapidly changing light caused by the whirling. “Fausse Solitude” exhilaratingly transforms a city into a whirlwind.
THE HOTEL OF REPRODUCIBLE LIVES ^ This video is derived from images of a man and a woman in a hotel room, as if seen by a surveillance camera. The images are first presented in a vast grid, with each individual image about the size of four pixels, so that the video at first has the totally abstract appearance of a complex, always changing textile. Over the course of three minutes the individual frames become larger, and the images become easier to decipher. The couple don’t do anything special; they just hang out and occasionally lie on the bed or read a newspaper, but they seem irritated by the awareness that they are being watched by a camera. At the very end, the grid has expanded so that a single image fills the screen, and the man (Cruaud) places his hand defiantly in front of the camera’s lens. The soundtrack is a rhythmic collage of fax and copy machine sounds.
Everything in our culture is mass produced into endless carbon copies (for example: hotel rooms and everything in them). The corporate, capitalist structures which govern our economic and creative lives have the cumulative effect of encouraging conformism. At the same time, the increased surveillance of public life is symptomatic of an expectation that we will all think and live in similar ways. The visual structure of the video, moving from a rather beautiful abstract pattern to a concrete image of the anxiety of contemporary consciousness, embodies this idea in a witty and original way.
IMAGES ^ Two side by side squares on a black background show footage of statues: a bearded man, rather like Poseidon, and a woman hiding her face in her hands. These are interspersed with shots of a real woman’s face. The footage flickers constantly and is covered with jagged scan lines. The sealike ambient electronic score is punctuated by a woman’s voice, saying single words in English (“doubt,” “image,” “question”).
Cruaud’s camerawork creates an uncanny illusion that not only are the statues alive, but they are enacting an emotional drama. The statue of the woman seems to be hiding her face in reaction to the bearded man. The constant visual interruptions by black frames and interfering horizontal lines seem to encourage the viewer’s visual imagination to become more active, to fill in the missing information, and thereby creating the illusion that the statues are moving. This, of course, is the same mechanism that allows us to interpret the still frames in all film and video as “moving,” but Cruaud makes the process more conscious. The sound of a film projector in the background is an added reminder. (The sculptor’s technique also has it’s own way of powerfully suggesting movement.) The video effectively raises the question of how much of what we perceive arises from our own imaginations.
SILENCE IN MOTION ^ 5 pairs of white horizontal lines on a black background. A sound loop of LP surface noise. Occasional loud, sudden electronic sounds, which make the pairs of lines contract or expand. Oddly shaped blobs, also outlined in white, travel occasionally from one pair of lines to another. These blobs might be one celled animals, or even electrons traveling from one orbit to the next. There is a sound of shoes walking on a polished floor. It gradually becomes clearer that the blobs are actually people, blurrily visible from above, travelling to and fro in a public space.
The video is one of Cruaud’s best realized explorations of a liminal space, hovering between complete abstraction and recognizable imagery, helping us to see the behavior of individuals in public as similar to other natural phenomenon such as the flow of liquids. It is also beautiful and mesmerizing.
IN CONSTRUCTION ^ This video is based on footage of construction at Gaudi’s great Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona. The footage does not show the magnificence of the completed part of the building; but rather scaffolding and cranes from the sections which are still being worked on.
These images are cut down into smaller rectangles of various sizes which are arranged on a black background. The rectangles sometimes overlap each other. The rectangles do not actually move in space, but because of the rapid changing of rectangles over the black background, and the camera movement in the shots, they give an appearance of constant, dynamic movement. The soundtrack, also made from construction sounds, is in exact rhythmic sync with the appearance and disappearance of the rectangles, and so it helps the eye to follow the complex patterns.
Cruaud has a wonderful eye for creating dynamically balanced compositions, and a good ear for creating rhythmic excitement. He has used the raw material of the construction footage to create his own construction, although his is more Modernist in spirit than Gaudi’s. (It is more like a Mondrian.)
A STONE’S GAZE ^ This video is made from black and white still images of statues: a Pieta, a Discus Thrower, and other classical figures. The frames are offset vertically, as if viewed on a monitor where the Vertical Hold needs to be adjusted. Some of the frames are blurred, is if from a moving camera. The soundtrack is a moody, ambient electronic score.
By using stills taken from various angles around the statues, Cruaud once again (as in “Images”) creates a remarkable illusion that the statues are turning and making gestures. The Discus Thrower really looks like he is throwing his discus. Again, I got the feeling that the visual interference caused by the vertically displaced images and the blur encouraged my imagination to kick in and supply the missing information, completing the illusion of movement. After all, we often see experimental films and music videos that slow down the frame rate of footage taken of real people in motion; we are somewhat used to seeing images which are chopped up in this way and mentally recreating the “motion.” As in “Images,” this video highlights some of the ways in which the sculptors carved an illusion of movement into the stone, but also the way that our own mode of perception creates a large part of what we perceive.
LIVING LIGHTS ^ We see a small whitish blob in the middle of a black screen. As in “A Stone’s Gaze,” the image jumps around vertically, as if the Vertical Hold needs to be adjusted. It also shimmers and shakes in a jerky, uncomfortable rhythm, which reminded me of my own vision when my eyes are extremely tired and the eye muscles are spasming. The soundtrack is scratchy electronic sounds with a similar rhythm to the spasming blob. Over the course of 10 minutes, the jumping blobs get bigger and bigger. It becomes
increasingly apparent that they contain images of faces, although it is remains difficult to perceive the individual facial features. The sound, as well, becomes less electronically distorted and is more clearly heard as the sound of overlapping voices, whispering.
In the now familiar Cruaudian manner, the video proceeds from greater abstraction to more recognizable images and sounds. For me, it was significant that as the images became more clearly seen as faces they also became darker. As the sounds become more clearly heard as voices they also become quieter. This video speaks in subtle nuances, not in shouts. It is as if someone were trying as hard as possible to remember something or someone, but the memory was so disturbing or painful that the images are blocked. Greater relaxation leads to clearer memory, but the image must still be softened and cannot be absorbed unmitigated. Noise is the surrounding ocean in which the Signal floats. The effect is fascinating, disturbing, and moving.
UNDER THE EYELIDS OF SAM F. ^ Grainy white blobs flicker quickly on a black background. They indeed resemble what you might see with your eyes closed, just before dropping off to sleep. A shimmering electronic score has a similar rhythm. Gradually the flickering blobs seem to reveal specific, if elusive images: the crosshairs that might be seen in a radar screen, the lines of a runway. The frame rate slows down so that we can see actual black and white images that might be taken from a plane. At the very last minute, video snow and white noise once again interfere with the images.
A postscript title tells us that the video is inspired by the life of Sam Francis, an artist who decided to become a painter while recovering from a plane accident in the Second World War.
The video takes the ideas of “Living Lights” in another direction. Again we take a journey from abstraction to almost recognizable images. Here, it is explicit that the images are from a traumatic memory, and, just before the memory of the accident itself, they must again be wiped out. Once again, the result is evocative, subtle, and powerful.