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He Faced Me With His Ears
“And yet there was something a bit odd. He faced me as he spoke, was oriented towards me, and yet there was something the matter – it was difficult to formulate. He faced me with his ears, I came to think but not with his eyes. These, instead of looking, gazing at me, ‘taking me in,’ in the normal way, made sudden strange fixations – on my nose, on my right ear, down to my chin, up to my right eye – as if noting (even studying) these individual features, but not seeing my whole face, its changing expressions, ‘me’ as a whole.”
Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat describes a pathological case: Dr. P is incapable of seeing things in their totality and identifying them. His eyes circle the room and stop at each detail of an object, a face without ever being able to connect them to each other, finding himself “visually lost in a world of inert abstractions.” This type of modification of vision seems particularly fertile to me for questioning the real and its perception. I have appropriated it as a posture involving a series of gestures and experiments: description, transcription, coding, fragmentation, enlargement, etc. I explore the perception of speech and movement through experiences putting into play and testing different aspects of the “speaking body,” following the example of Robert Bresson, who looked for, through an excessive repetition of his actors, an automatism closer to real life than to its representation.
In Prosodie (2013), two actors attempt to reproduce live with their mouth the beginning of the soundtrack of the film Once Upon a Time in the West by Sergio Leone, famous for the complexity of its sound texture. Paradoxically, it is by making it become a machine, by making it elude the intellect, that a body and a language are incarnated, that all their discrete phenomena are revealed. Stuttering and hesitation show how hard it is for the actors to transcribe what they hear and are similar to babble, that imitation of the prosodic contours of the language by the infant. Prosody designates the flow, rhythm and intonation of the spoken language. It can go beyond its linguistic function when a situation overrides syntax, like the voice on the radio of a sportscaster miming the invisible action or the vocal accompaniment of the midwife who follows the mother’s contractions and breathing to encourage her.
The video installation Chorea (2014) shows the mouths of dancers filmed in close-up, camera in hand. Here, it is the attempt at synchronizing the camera’s movement that becomes a full-fledged performance, close to the idea of the “cinema-trance” described by Jean Rouch: “that bizarre state of transformation of the person of the cameraman/director who is no longer himself but a mechanical eye accompanied by an electronic ear that follows and enters the subject.”
The recordings of these performances then takes the form of sound and video installations that coexist in the installation space (Second, Centre d’art de Vénissieux, 2014). The position of the different elements plays on the postures and trajectories of the spectator in a space that is both filled with images and sounds and almost empty, apart from the few screens in levitation. The spectral nature of the mouths, faces and noises, which seem to be speaking a foreign language, is directed more at the spectator’s nerves than at his intellect as Beckett expressed for the mouth of Not I. The exhibition’s title (Second) recalls the idea of the secondary details of Giovanni Morelli, an art historian able to identify master paintings by observing details that have no interest: earlobes, nails, the shape of the fingers… A way of proceeding that transforms “any given art museum into a museum of crime.” Like the involuntary movements sketched by climbers who mentally visualize their path before a climbing competition, these forms reveal a gestuality of thought in moments of extreme attention that modify our perception and our awareness of things, like the feeling of time slowing down.
“At times, and with increasing frequency now, I experience a kind of clarity […] time seems to slow way down, in an uncanny way, as if everyone were moving in slow motion. It seems as if I have all the time in the world to watch the receivers run their patterns, and yet I know the defensive line is coming at me just as fast as ever. I know perfectly well how hard and fast those guys are coming and yet the whole thing seems like a movie or a dance in slow motion. It’s beautiful.”
John Brodie, former quarter back of the San Francisco American football team interviewed by Michael Murphy dans « Intellectual Digest », janvier 1973, p.19-20