Dry Lights is Xavier Chassaing’s first full computer generated project and took a long and solitary experience. Following the 2013 invitation for Antivj to create a groundbreaking work in the unique setting of the ethnobotanical garden of Oaxaca, in Mexico, the artist group created four site specific installations, among which Onion Skin and The Ark, that were inspired by the specific sights of the garden’s vast spaces. Using the dense and varied vegetation as a living canvas, the artists created an imaginary journey the audience experienced by moving actively and physically through the different artworks installed in the garden. A one hour walk through the pitch black garden of cacti, illuminating the visitors’ journey as if in a dream, it was purposefully created to loose everyone inside the garden and let them be taken over by the different artworks. Invited to join the artistic group, Chassaing has spent a week filming in the garden and came up with a vast 3D world of his own, inspired by a combination of footage and 3D and the repeated attempts to catch the sensibility of the environment.
Chassaing’s sensible observation, as previously shown in his 2009 debut Scintillation, resulted a year and a half, and millions of polygons later, in a four-minute fantastic trip through an electric desert of cacti, canyons, cliffs, and caves. As the imaginative camera moves from hidden caves to lonely cliffs along pulsating rivers of light and energy, an environmental choreography takes place and lays a fine, luminous bed along the indistinguishable landscapes. Through this experimental gesture, Chassaing brings nature to life only to reveal the borderline dimension between the illuminated and the hidden, the real and the imaginary. “I rely on meditation and self-hypnosis to get visions for my films,” says Chassaing. “It is like trying to sleep when you have a fever: the same dream or nightmare repeats again and again, but eventually a lot comes from that, visions and concepts that our dreams encompass.”
This in-between dimension is characteristic of Chassaing’s work, one that is infused by a sense of imagined universes that cannot exist in real life yet remain closely connected to the physical world. The artist’s attention to keep distinct visual references that do not allow the viewer to perceive the works as psychedelic abstract environments, have inspired him to play on the thin line between surrealist fantasies and the possibility to recreate the same effects in real life. Translated into the language of Clarisse IFX, a new software developed by Isotropix that allows one to render trillions of polygons instantly without knowledge of engineering or mathematics, this has allowed the entire environment in the film to be animated from basic elements into a vibrant 3D canvas that moves away from classic matte painting. Almost fetishistic in its focused attention on objects and their spatial dimension, Chassaing’s construction animates light and makes it come alive to reflect his personal view that it is not the final images that are abstract but perhaps the situation itself.
Like an imaginary, electric city glowing erratic in the dark, the lights become faded moments that shine only to beacon fragments of vague memories, perceptions, and topographies. In a changeable state of erratic development that seems to evade any grasp of clear control, a certain play between flickering lights and the slowness of motion invites to contemplation and constantly alternates the physical and mental landscapes. Chassaing himself has grown up in the countryside and wandered endlessly through the forests in a quest to escape and reimagine reality, before working as an illusionist. “That has influenced a lot of what I do as a visual artist. When you perform a magic trick, magic happens only from the spectator’s perspective. While I do not try to trick anyone, it is something I’ve always kept in mind, because as a visual artist I work with the viewers in mind.” And it is the illuminating magic that Chassaing brings to the desert land, a place we much too often associate with erroneous perceptions of it as a waste land. It is our anxiety of separation from all that is life-sustaining that has made the desert and its unrelenting vastness a convenient metaphor for the absence or negation of life. “I literally spent a year in a cold desert at night trying to illuminate billions of cacti in an intricate choreography. And with 3D rendering nothing exists on its own, there are no happy accidents. Originating with photography and video, I had to navigate through a lot of painfully disappointing images before getting to what I love about 3D – its endless potential for creation.”
Moving without a destination in the dead hours of the night and mesmerising our sight with intermittent, ghost-like apparitions, the sceneries illuminate and spark the viewer’s imagination allowing personal narratives to breed. In spite of its procedural work with 3D software, Dry Lights is nevertheless an immersive documentation of a personal, untouchable experience in the vastness of a magical place. Amplifying personal existential journeys in a place to both lose and rediscover ourselves, Chassaing’s film is installation, footage, a vast 3D array where hidden stories take form and, above all, a sensible light performance that takes place in our mind. An intense journey happening in the imagination, Dry Lights takes us through the array of 3D landscaping only to make us witness the undivided perception of a fascinating encounter where forgotten and surreal sensations reveal the enchantment of the world. Like an immersive canvas that stretches beyond the limits of perception and the artistic medium’s format at the same time, the work inscribes 3D in a living process fusing the motif of light, the documenting footage, along with memories and sensations that become part of personal narratives, inspiring living memories and the vivid imagination. In a modern time when we often feel separated from the natural environment but can still find enough reasons to wander through the forests, Chassaing’s film is an invitation to meditate pn the driving, energetic, and inspiring forces lying hidden amidst the dense arrays of solitary yet august cacti. It is a vibrant recollection that geological landforms have often inspired and shaped the myths and legends waiting for their awakening, and that the natural world continues to infuse our imagination and personal explorations of how new myths and metaphors can come to life when becoming aware of our increasingly distant and oblivious relation to the world’s natural magic.
In the tension created between the repetition of movements and protocols again and again until perfection, and the free wandering across this desert of dreams, Xavier Chassaing’s Dry Lights is an immersive experience that sensibly captures the bursting energy and its imaginary performance as it infiltrates arrays and spaces lying between the real and the unreal.