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Anne Lou Vicente,
Text for the exhibition Idiolecte, Galerie Florence Loewy, Paris, 2019
If, to emit the complex and singular language that is babble, the baby reproduces the prosodic contours of the language of those who surround and feed him, the latter, in a form of sympathetic reciprocity, speak and produce, in return, similar sounds, intensifying in a certain way this imitation and repetition game through which this pre-linguistic, affective and affected relationship is woven, between two human beings who mutually call out to and answer each other, subsequently learning to know (and recognize) each other and ideally, to understand each other. “ Do the languages of the adult retain something of the infinitely varied babble from which they were born one day?” Daniel Heller-Roazen wonders (1). “Were this the case, it would only be a question of an echo, since, where there is language, the baby’s babble has long disappeared, at least in the form that it had taken for a time in the mouth of the child who was not talking yet. It would only be the echo of another language, that isn’t one: an echolalia, a vestige of this indistinct and age-old babble whose disappearance made speech possible.”
Fading to give way to speech, babble has left traces, in that we replay, without even being aware of it, a part of this preliminary language, buried in our own limbo.
In her video Majelich (2018), Camille Llobet in a certain way has the spectator see and hear the (elliptical) mise en abyme of this “primary” echo and listening system and, as though through an anachronistic reversal of the situation, has the adult babble. In it, the soprano Magali Léger reproduces chosen pieces of recordings babble “sessions” of the artist’s daughter listened to in a loop, with headphones, in such a way that we can’t perceive them, if only through the intermediary of the soprano’s voice who sets aside here all her talent as an opera singer to work more on a form of ventriloquial performance. By diffusing, in this anechoic dark room that is the rehearsal studio, this infantile language whose use and memory she has long lost, does Magali Léger also make the child in her resonate (2)?
Without knowing what it is ahead of time, it is difficult to identify, according to those who “leave,” the origin of the (therefore inaudible) sounds that “enter” through the headphones and repeatedly function as stimuli with a hypnotic power. So babble makes itself —once again— be forgotten. Unknown languages that come from an unknown place where, strange loops, obscure rumblings, spellbinding litanies…: so much speech eluding understanding that we could imagine being able to be offered on the occasion of some trance or mystical possession ritual, following the example of “speaking in tongues” (or glossolalia). Words —or rather sounds produced by the human voice— that are accompanied here by facial expressions, blinking of eyes, gestures, breaths, sighs, etc. show an almost second state of concentration and intense effort.
If the exercise consists in a certain fashion of saying what is heard, Camille Llobet has, on different occasions, designed and filmed experiences consisting in saying what is seen according to this system that is both descriptive and in that, already narrative. What does the perceptive experience do to language (and vice versa)? This is undoubtedly one of the questions that the artist asked in giving herself over —just this once— to a sensational performance that is the subject of the video Revers (2018). Seated with her eyes closed on the passenger seat of a car driving along a tree-lined road on a sunny day, she attempts to describe the “fleeting impressions”(3) that strike, through her closed eyelids, her retina stimulated by the visions that this ambulatory dreamachine provides (4).
“[…] black puffed-up masses on the bottom push project white scratches sucked up into the red that swell turn yellow on the immaculate yellow top […]”
The panting and syncopated, sometimes stuttering rhythm of this improvised gushing speech(5) that “overcome” by the speed and profusion of the apparitions, pauses here and there, bears witness to the impossibility of capturing and describing all the colored sensations randomly and irregularly generated by the combination of the movement of the vehicle and the light that pours into it. Although completely singular and distinct from the cut-up(6), this poetic trance with psychedelic accents in some ways brings to mind that literary technique which initially attempted to reproduce through (sound) poetry the modified visions and other states of awareness under the influence of psychoactive and hallucinogenic substances. The viewer of Revers is the witness of a expanded cinema experience of which he only perceives the external signs and in which he can, on the basis of the artist’s descriptions, project himself inside the images, worthy of an experimental 1960s film strewn with flicker effects and colors merging in every direction, the retina and brain acting respectively as a (photo)sensitive movie screen.
For weeks, the artist relived this experience in bits and pieces when she closed her eyes, as a persistence reflex phenomenon that, from the retina, spread to the brain. One proof among so many others of the amazing plasticity of our brain that athletes notably use to mentally repeat the itinerary of their “race” with a view to a competition. In Faire la musique (2017), we thus see men and women in succession giving themselves over, each in his or her own way, to an unknown (and incongruous) dance turning their hands into feet, totally transported out of the place and time in which they really find themselves and which they ignore.
Pillars of the “Idiolecte” exhibition, the three filmed experiences evoked, all featuring the plural motif of repletion, a genuine backbone of Camille Llobet’s work, reveal unusual states of concentration combining a tension and a vibration that circulate in the mind in the same way as through the body. A disturbance whose communicative nature might tend to make us reflect on the way that these works could activate, in we others who look at them, the “mirror neurons” principle (7) according to which the fact of observing or imagining an action could activate the same areas of the brain as undertaking this same action.
Whether it is a question of videos, photographs, drawings or objects, Camille Llobet puts before us singularly and relatively performative, strong and more or less “raw” images, that express the expanse of communication and transmission modes at the same time as they explore, by passing from one medium to the other, the ways in which images and languages mutually inform (and deform) each other, to the point of wedding the limits of the readable and the expressible. Re-presented by other ways/voices, the real, as though absent, is cut off and acquires a strangeness toward which we are irrepressibly called.
(1) Daniel Heller-Roazen is professor of comparative literature at Princeton University. See Écholalies. Essai sur l’oubli des langues, Paris, Seuil, 2007, p. 14.
(2) If she reproduces the infant’s babble, Magali Léger, at a point in the film, reproduces the prosodic contours of her own speech recorded during an interview and diffused in the headphones, consequently giving herself over more directly to a babbling exercise.
(3) See Clément Rosset, Impressions fugitives. L’ombre, le reflet, l’écho, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 2004.
(4) The performance contains the key ingredients of an experience undergone by Brion Gysin in 1958. It inspired his creation of the Dreamachine: “Had a transcendental storm of color visions today, in the bus, going to Marseille. We ran through a long avenue of trees and I close my eyes against the setting sun. An overwhelming flood of intensely bright colors exploded behind my eyelids: a multidimensional kaleidoscope whirling through space. I was swept out of time. I was out in a world of infinite color. The vision stopped abruptly as we left the trees.”
(5) If the experience isn’t written in advance, the artist prepared for it by notably doing semantic research concerning impressions, images, memories.
(6) Also developed by Brion Gysin and quickly adopted by his Beat Generation acolyte, the writer William Burroughs, the technique consists in fragmenting a text to produce a new one.
(7) “[The mirror neurons] are promoters of language, they explain why we talk with our hands. They give an account of the expression of the emotions; they are the mechanism of our comprehension of the other,” in Les neurones miroirs, by Giacomo Rizzolatti and Corrado Sinigaglia, Paris, Éditions Odile Jacob, 2007.