Mécaniques Discursives is an ongoing collaborative installation project between Belgian engraver/printmaker Fred Penelle, and Swiss French media artist Yannick Jacquet, now fully represented by Antivj. After 20 site specific exhibitions across Europe and Asia, among which it was awarded prizes at the Milan Design Week and Brussels Slick Art fair, the artists wanted to take a stock at their collaborative process. The documentary presents the project from behind the scenes and explains, in part, the thought processes and research that underpin it.
Fred Penelle and Yannick Jacquet wanted to offer a pause from the increasingly accelerated passage of time. Their installation envisons a strange mechanism that stretches across the wall, populated with shawdowy chimaeras depicting mysterious and yet somehow familiar moments. On the edge of a laboratory experiment and an imaginary blueprint for a future network, Mécaniques Discursives is a minutely constructed installation resembling the fine clock mechanisms. It traces connections, routes, genuinely-false, looping itineraries, inviting the viewer to espace and a dreamy state. The deconstruction of the narrative takes place by way of fragmented film scripts, thus shredding and decomposing time while everything continues to reference it. What the artists tried to create in their work and reveal in their documentary resembles an imaginary parenthesis between two epochs: Gutenberg’s and Big Data’s. By contrasting the oldest form of image reproduction (woodcutting) with the most recent digital technologies, the installation straddles centuries and contracts time.
anti-utopias curator and editor-in-chief Sabin Bors discussed with the artists and Antivj manager Nicolas Boritch about their work and the documentary in an exclusive interview you can read below.
The next exhibition of Mécaniques Discursives will be a very large version spread over two floors at LUX, Valence, France, December 10, 2014 – March 14, 2015.
Sabin Bors: How does Mécaniques Discursives fit in your overall activities with Antivj as an artistic practice? What is it that sets this project apart from your other projects?
Nicolas Boritch: I think Mécaniques Discursives is a good example of what we have always tried to do at Antivj: explore new formats, new techniques, and tell stories through immersive installations. Antivj artists have always explored different things, in terms of formats but also aesthetics, and like a lot of people today I guess we’re a little tired of the saturation of soulless polygons and white lines. As with all the projects we develop, Mécaniques Discursives opens doors to the imagination, and gives people an opportunity to enter a space and create their own stories.
Fred Penelle: Maybe because we bring together radically opposed techniques and despite that opposition, have managed to find a way to make them coexist as a coherent and unclassifiable work, quite far removed from what “digital art” is often perceived as.
Yannick Jacquet: The Antivj label started about seven years ago, around a group of visual artists: Olivier Ratsi, Joanie Lemercier, Romain Tardy, Yannick Jacquet and composer Thomas Vaquié. Simon Geilfus joined a little later. At first, we did quite a bit of collaborative work (mainly on architectural mapping projection projects) but for about four years now, most artists have developed more personal projects and different formats. There are also expanded collaborations with new artists. Mécaniques Discursives started three years ago and has now reached maturity. Fred Penelle and I wanted to make a documentary to explain the project’s “backstage.” It seemed quite logical that the label Antivj should produce this documentary and fully represent it.
Sabin Bors: What is the story behind the project and what does the narration tell the visitor?
Yannick Jacquet: We kind of work like a jazz band, improvising around a theme. Our notes, scales and chords are prints, videos and objects. The way we assemble these elements is always different and unknown beforehand. Each version of Mécaniques Discursives is the result of that visual improvisation. While setting up, we tell each other our own stories in order to assemble and connect elements. However, no keys are given to the audience to understand these stories. It is up to everyone to create their own connections, their own interpretations. A question that is often asked is: “What is this machine for?” but there are as many answers as there are people watching the installation.
Sabin Bors: You rely on a sort of “poetic machinery” to create a bridge between various forms of image reproduction, from woodcutting to digital technologies. While this brings into mind the question of time contraction, it is also a practice reminiscent of Dada or the Futurists. How do you see Mécaniques Discursives in such an art historical context?
Fred Penelle: Dada and Futurism were avant-garde artistic movements embedded in the present of their eras. It was their ambition to invent a new form of art by making a clean break from the past. The Futurists by determinedly pursuing an aesthetic of machines and movement, and by inventing performance art, and the Dadaists by offering absurdist art that rejected logic and reason.
Our project does not seek to revolutionize the world and does not set itself up against “questionable” or “contemptible” art. However, it can be linked to these artistic movements in the way in which it offers a different reading of the codes and images that make up our daily lives. Like them, we are playing a game of reappropriation. For example, just as the Futurists and the Dadaists used typography as a poetic vehicle, we reappropriate the codes of data design and information. Similarly, we offer work for which the interpretation is not obvious and which appeals to the viewer’s subconscious.
Sabin Bors: What is different between the poetics of Gutenberg and the poetics of Big Data? If things changed in terms of image reproduction, did the image as such and the way we perceive it change as well? In what way?
Fred Penelle: With the invention of the printing press, Gutenberg revolutionized the Western world by allowing the spread of ideas. It was a major revolution that shook our world during the Renaissance and would impact on the whole society by allowing wide access to knowledge and art. The arrival of the big data era is a different kind of revolution. The quantity of data is constantly increasing and its use through algorithms gives access to another form of knowledge. We can now analyse and foresee behaviour not through observation but through crosschecking data. The same goes for pictures: a keyword allows access to thousands of images chosen to correspond to a request. This mass of information dilutes images and our brains are getting more and more used to sorting through the flow of data rather than analysing or watching attentively.
Sabin Bors: While the project evolves around image reproduction, its emphasis lies on a different understanding of language itself. Do you think images can be contained inside words, concepts, narratives or a discourse? And can words, concepts, narratives or discourses be contained inside images?
Yannick Jacquet: Images can be interpreted in even more ways than words can. Each image can contain within itself many different meanings that can change depending on who looks at it, their age, their background, their culture. The meaning of a word is defined by its own history and the language in which it is written. When you build up images, as we do with Mécaniques Discursives, the possibilities of interpretation are multiplied, opening multiple doors to imagination.
In Mécaniques Discursives, Fred Penelle uses many elements that refer to childhood and pop culture, some are quite simple to understand, but others are more mysterious and troubling. The connections between those images create a hidden meaning that would be difficult and simplistic to express with words alone.
Sabin Bors: What I like about your project is that it mirrors the precise, clockwork measurement of time and its narrative decomposition. Where is the limit and how does one perceive it? Where does one draw the limit of time?
Fred Penelle: Mécaniques Discursives is actually a kind of narrative linked to the passage of time, at once the confrontation of meaningful elements linked to the past, to the present and to the future, but also in the reading one can have by letting oneself be guided by the journey woven between the different elements. Time flows by and we make direct and indirect references to this (clocks, scrolling months, turning wheels, etc.) for it’s precisely this flow which creates a narrative between the different characters that people our installations. This totally non-linear and incongruous chain reaction raises the question of time and the absurdity at its limits.
Sabin Bors: How do you understand, translate and use the idea of mechanics in a digital era?
Yannick Jacquet: Since the industrial revolution, machines have been the keystone of Western society. These machines have inspired many artists such as Charlie Chaplin in his film Modern Times or Jean Tinguely, to name just a few famous ones. In the 21st century, “data” is the new keystone of our digital society, it underlies all modern economies. Yet unlike machines, data is invisible, even though the infrastructure necessary to run the networks is huge. There are no gears, no pistons, no factories, everything happens inside computers, in anonymous data centres, connected by underground or submarine cables that tend to make us mistakenly believe that digital is free of all physical constraints (cloud computing). While the presence of machines was pervasive, data is invisible and only the work of the (data)designer can reveal its presence.
I like to collect graphical representations of data. They inspire Mécaniques Discursives. I create mechanisms, movements that may resemble those of a gear, piston etc. but which, by using graphical codes of data design, create a sort of anachronistic machinery.