In this scintillating, provocative piece – originally printed as a chapter in Raymond Bellour’s monumental work La Querelle des dispositifs (P.O.L., 2012), a collection of texts focusing on the “fatal syntagma” of cinema and contemporary art” – the author argues in favour of a clear distinction between the cinematic dispositif (a term French film theory uses to refer not only to the apparatus of filmic recording and projection, but to the system of viewing practices as a whole), and the multiple, ceaselessly re-invented dispositifs of moving images as displayed in galleries, and he uses the Thai filmmaker-artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work across both cinematic and gallery-based viewing environments as paradigmatic for what he dubs “the quarrel of the dispositifs”.

In spite of all the infringements imaginable between the two, the gulf separating the cinema-film per se and the installation remains clear: the former is based on a dispositif that is a priori singular (even if it can now be modulated according to multiple interpretative modalities); the other invents, in each of its manifestations, its own specific dispositif (which can also vary widely according to the context and the location). This dispositif must therefore, above all, be designated on each occasion, to the extent that it induces an experience that is invariably unexpected, comparable to no other, thereby giving rise to new forms of behaviour. I am not so concerned with their generality from the point of view of what has been called “relational aesthetics” with the mixture of utopia and ideology it implies, in the the global context of so-called contemporary art. On this issue, Rancière has spelt out the essential issues.1 Across the wide range of works and configurations of image-thinking that they open up, I am above all interested in the possibility of approaching the mutable creature that I have never really known what to call (the reader may find traces of this hesitation in several other essays in La Querelle des dispositifs, which I have intentionally left uncorrected): namely, the visitor (visiteur), who seems rather to warrant, in the best of cases, being called a watcher (regardeur), which assumes a greater degree of attention. This is to create a diction from the spectator that he is not and never will be: the cinema spectator. For if we know or think we know what a cinema spectator is (I have tried to define it in Le Corps du cinéma), then we have much less of an idea what this visitor, who is no longer simply someone who visits a museum or art gallery, is: a watcher of installations. We have little idea because he is proteiform, and his identity is primarily based on the disparity of experiences (it would be an error to reduce them to an average) that installations and exhibitions invite.

We must therefore follow the twists and turns of this spatialisation of the idea that Rancière pinpointed. It is modified according to the manifold spaces that implicate multiple temporalities, multiple modalities of time that appear as so many variables that are more or less remote or proximate from the time that is by nature uniformly prescribed, across a diverse range of films, by the ideally single site of the cinema auditorium. The difficulty, beyond the delicate rendering of such a variety, is that the visitor-watcher only has a single body, his own, to be able to respond to these temporal modalities. But this mind-body tells him at least one thing: no general formulation that would pose as a model has any meaning here. It is therefore with the perpetual recommencement of unique evocations – we could try to place them in order, but it is virtually endless – that we find ourselves driven to situate the proximity and the gap that each and every installation has with the art of cinema.

Such an evaluation becomes all the more necessary given that, in many ways, all these works – films and installations – have never appeared so close to one another, as a result of the unprecedented unifying effect provoked by the rise of information technology. On the one hand, there is the confusion to which they have both become prey thanks to the Internet. On the other hand, the surfeit, sometimes to the point of indistinctness, of passages treating l’entre-images (between-the-images): variations specific to the moving and the still image,2 transformations of photographic analogy, interpenetrations between language and image. The more the passages between cinema-films and museum art operating on these three levels (and many others) tend to accumulate and coalesce, the more they find themselves banalised and exalted. The more these works end up approaching each other through the similarity of their formal procedures and material identities, the more it becomes important to specify the range of gaps between the dispositifs within which these forms and materials are incarnated. In this sense, l’entre-images and modification through the dispositif are two very different things, no matter how intermingled they may appear to be. What I once felt justified to occasionally label an aesthetics of confusion, given the extent to which the passages between all the different image modalities continuously multiplied, the only principle of differentiation and clarity seems to me, today, to be based on the specific model of the cinema-situation. It is in the difference from this situation that all the various image experiences and configurations proposed by so many installations can be situated and understood.

We can muse about how little distinction there is, sometimes, between a film used in an installation and an installation-film. And yet it was Michael Snow – an artist of almost daily inspiration – who once best summed up this difference. This is how the intransigent maker of Wavelength and La Région centrale presented The Corner of Braque and Picasso Streets (2009):

Since the creation of the cinema in the 1890s, projecting a film on a flat surface, usually a “screen”, has become a convention.

During the screening, the flat surfaces disappears from our perception. It is fascinating (but so banal that we cease to notice it) to see the extent to which the representation of space and movement becomes convincing.

I am interested in what would happen if we projected images on a screen whose surface would be constantly modified in a visible manner. The work The Corner of Braque and Picasso Streets utilises flat surfaces of plinths and pedestals which are generally used for exhibitions. I have piled them on top of each other so as to make a screen-wall. Images filmed in real-time (truly captured “live”) from the street outside the building that contains the work exhibited are projected on this surface.

The filmed scenes become “abstract”, they are modified by their passage from one surface to the other of the screening wall, recalling cubism.

The inauguration of this work adapted to its presentation context took place in May-June 2009 in the Angels Barcelona gallery in Barcelona. Some of the first cubist painting were made in this city and its surrounds in the 1900s, when the cinema itself was just being born.3

Two things strike us about Snow’s remarks. In a simple frontal projection, as close as possible to the cinema situation, it suffices to warp time, to disguise it as space, in order to open up a space-time that is no longer that of the cinema (even though it mimes a TV/video effect through “liveness”). But also, in a more delicate, even metaphoric fashion, this spatialisation of vision can materialise what is always destined to disrupt the projection of any moving image in the exhibition-situation: all the various events (spatial stagings, variable levels of darkness, aleatory durations, the entries and exits of the visitors, who stand, sit down, lie down, etc.) that constitute a sort of volumisation, in contrast to the flatness of the cinema screen, with, Snow underscores, its perfectly simple illusion. In this sense, 3D cinema would be, within the cinema-situation itself, a kind of installation proposed to a body whose vision is modified. This explains both its recurrence throughout the history of the cinema and the fatal destiny that pursues it: every time that it seems on the cusp of imposing itself, it is almost immediately threatened with passing out of favour.4

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

Phantoms of Nabua (Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, 2009)

Even one and the same work can vary, sometimes in toto, from one mode of installation to another. Thus, the two presentations, very different from one another (and there have no doubt been many others) of Phantoms of Nabua by Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, one of the elements of his major exhibition “Primitive” in the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2009-2010, which was also shown a few months later in isolation at the 29th São Paulo Biennale. In Paris, this film (or video) of around ten minutes length was projected on loop on a wall, at the entry to the exhibition, across from the exhibition’s introductory blurb. The visitor who gave it the required attention was seized by the central motif bringing together adolescent bodies in the night, anonymous effigies of this parable on repression that afflicted the rural regions of north-east Thailand up to the 1980s: a fiery ball which the players take turns shooting, miming a kind of match, and whose variable glimmer pierces holes in the darkness by tracing out incandescent lines. But the visitor stood there, in the half-light of the museum, too close, too far, bothered by all those who wanted to enter the exhibition without even noticing this work. In São Paulo, by contrast, a very dark black box had been set up in order to project the piece in isolation, with a large screen and a couple of benches to sit down on.

The evocative quality of the lights piercing the darkness is almost impossible to relate. From the first shots of trees, our gaze must find the patience to habituate itself to the darkness, soon pierced by the violent flashes of light, at a distance from a strange firework which persists, in a more or less intermittent fashion, in the background of the ball game occupying the foreground of the scene. The most astonishing aspect, in the long passionate exchanges of the fiery ball by these ghostly players, is the presence of a frame, in the middle of the field, holding up a white sheet, and which is soon attacked by the fire: this figure evokes both the goal frame in football that the players have fun crossing like a mirror, and a screen whose gradually diminishing light infinitely replicates the black screen of projected image within which the scene unfolds. While the posts of the frame burn down, once the adolescents have disappeared, a point of light, in the distance, glimpsed since the beginning through the fireworks, and then within the frame-screen, gains autonomy, grows in size, becoming a kind of iridescent bubble diffusing its aura at the heart of the lines of light which radiate out from it. It will soon figure alone at the centre of the black screen, from which all other elements have disappeared, in such a fashion that, constantly increasing and decreasing in size, the intense abstract pulsation of this projector that dramatises the noise of the firework soon incarnates the pure idea of the relationship between darkness and light inherent to the cinema.

It is clear that in São Paulo the visitor, having been destined to enter more or less by chance in this reserved space (the looped projection always has its advantages and its unpleasant aspects), could, if he so wanted, wait for the beginning of the work in order to watch it in whole. In spite of the background noise of the Biennale which, in the superb glass and concrete building designed by Oskar Niemeyer, uniformly affected all the works and the sound projections in particular, this visitor became an attentive watcher, as close as possible to the cinema spectator. He fully experienced this appearance-disappearance of the “spectral light emitted by the projector.”5 Which is precisely what the visitors at the Musée d’Art moderne could only gain furtive glimpses of in the dispositif adopted in Paris.

But the Parisian visitors, by contrast, after having lingered a while, in a long space and in semi-darkness, in front of several screens pinned to walls or hanging from the ceiling evoking life in the village of Nabua and the preparation of the installation Primitive, had been able to reach the centre of the exhibition before this very installation with its two adjoined screens.

Its dispositif resembles that of the cinema: the spectator, plunged in a dark space, sits down on a bench before the screens to see this half-hour long “film”, longer and, from the point of view of its sound and visual form, more intense than the other videos. […] On the one hand, in a crepuscular light, Weerasethakul transforms the agitations of the adolescents into a nocturnal play of light, fire and masks. On the other hand, he draws us into the interior light of a spatial vessel, a futurist, pleasurable object that we saw the villagers construct in an earlier video. These are moments where the adolescents gather to drink, play again or even sleep, their gestures and poses are fictionalised by a narrative voiceover that attributes to the light, in the forest clearing, animistic qualities and imagistic powers. The red cave of the boys is both the setting for their game and the projection space. It figures as a machine for winding back time, along the lines of Chris Marker’s La Jetée.6

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)

We can see the nearly unique value of such an example. Primitive, an installation and exhibition, leads straight to Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Palme d’or winner at Cannes in 2010, one of the present day cinema-films that best incarnate what we can expect from the experience of a film screening. This cinema of slowness, sometimes extreme slowness, soliciting our attention like little else, introduces metamorphosis by its very subject matter: the haunting hallucination to which its main character is prone becomes that of the spectator accomplishing memory circuits whose strata the film slowly unfolds, in the irruption of events as much as in the connections between shots. Weerasethakul said of Boonmee, the hero of the book which inspired him with its tale of a visionary monk: “He didn’t need the cinema. In fact, we wouldn’t need the cinema, if we could lead our spirits to ‘see’ like he did.”7 The cinema requires this vision spread out over time, in the course of which the work of the spectator’s own memory is affirmed as a unique experience, and even more so if the film has chosen to make memory its subject. In Uncle Boonmee, the installation Primitive is completed, or rather converted, in the gap that is created from one projection or one experience to another, which the similarity of the material brings out. Weerasethakul has correctly situated this gap:

The space of the museum can be compared to a very particular cinema, in which you are your own character. I do not conceive of my short films as autonomous pieces, but more as the documentation of a performance. They need an audience. It’s the audience which completes their “postproduction”. The audience imagines different scenarios, as if each individual was a character who could remember their different lives. The cinema is another experience which is inscribed in a more linear theme.8

This character who we become in the museum-situation is the body of the visitor (or watcher) remaining present to himself in the greater or lesser mobility that is theoretically demanded of him: namely, there where the cinema spectator is this body that absents itself in the specific experience of constrained time which leads him to think differently; there where “time is given to me as a perception.”9 But it still must be highlighted the extent to which – without asking ourselves whether it was the curator or the filmmaker-artist who chose the option adopted in São Paulo for Phantoms of Nabua – this format attested to an autonomy that was much closer to that of the cinema.

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, 2009)

This example also solicits me because Dork Zabunyan used it in his detailed review of Le Corps du cinéma (I apologise if this example strikes the reader as rather indulgent, but it is too useful for this debate to do without it). Focusing on two exhibitions (the other is Godard’s Voyage(s) en utopie), Zabunyan attempts, at the end of his text, “to operate a displacement of the usage of cinema-hypnosis from the movie-theatre to the museum.”10 I have long sought to construct this cinema-hypnosis in reality through a term-by-term comparison between the two dispositifs of hypnosis and the cinema. To carry out the displacement he desires, Zabunyan relies, in particular, on the prevalence, within numerous films, of a set of traits whose importance I highlighted in this respect: they inscribe, in both their visual form and their narrative, either in a direct or a metaphoric manner, the specific reality of the cinema-dispositif and the modalities according to which the gaze of the spectator is captured. Without even delving into the cinema’s representation of itself, we are essentially dealing with self-reflexive elements (frames inside the frame, beams of light, etc.) often favoured by the presence of machines substituting themselves for the cinema-machine (the train, above all, and others that induce comparable assemblages of images), as well modalities that evoke the succession of still images (freeze-frames, for instance). The importance of all these elements is that they contribute to prolonging, within films, the pressure of the cinema-dispositif as such, and by extension the propensity of the spectator to being hypnotised. Comparable elements in Primitive, essentially relating to the multiplication of screens and the intense play of light and colour, are highlighted by Zabunyan in order to establish the analogy with hypnosis that he seeks in the displacement from the movie-theatre to the museum. In my view, however, such elements, like all those which in a more general manner compose the matter of films, only acquire their full effectiveness, in terms of inducing the hypnotic state (both metaphorical and real) that we suppose they do, within a specific dispositif where they are able to have an effect, on the condition of a series of coordinated constraints: immobility, darkness, duration, etc. – everything, that is, that forms the “blocked vision” of the cinema spectator. Such is the condition that supports the continual reversibility between what I have labelled the film-hypnosis and the cinema-hypnosis. To put it again, as simply as possible: between the movie-theatre and the museum, it is no longer the same body that is subject to the two experiences.11

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

<–> Back and Forth (Michael Snow, 1968-1969)

This problem is all the more noticeable given that Zabunyan, who writes in his review of a “spatialised cinema-hypnosis” to specify the gap that nonetheless remains between the movie-theatre and the museum, has also sought to subsume it through the mediating notion of “critical hypnosis”.12 The term is borrowed from Gilles Deleuze in the philosopher’s description, in two notes from Cinema 2: The Time-Image, of the method proper to the films of Alain Resnais. It is a powerful term, but one that remains suspended in Deleuze’s vision, given that he generally refers quite rarely to hypnosis in the course of his two books on the cinema, and that he sums up the essence of his thinking on Resnais in a formula contained in the table of contents: “From feelings to thought: hypnosis.”13 From this, we can infer that, since Cinema 2 is generally attached to a cinema of thought as such (the chapter in question is titled: “Cinema, body and brain, thought”), hypnosis can contribute to delineating the time-image. Hypnosis is a waking state sensitive to the forms and forces of thought (such as it becomes in François Roustang’s “paradoxical vigil”14). But this hypnosis is still felt within the temporality proper to the cinema. Here, however, is where Zabunyan proposes a quick yet meaningful escape-route towards “all cinemas […] including those which do not figure in Deleuze’s taxonomy, or are only present in the margins”: experimental cinema, with the example of the film <–> Back and Forth (1968-1969, 16min) by Michael Snow; fiction cinema, in its close links with documentary and the new spaces of the Internet, with Redacted (Brian de Palma, 2007) as a privileged example; and the expanded cinema of works such as Overture (1986) by Stan Douglas, an installation that joins the looped projection of seven minutes from an early American film dedicated to a train with the musings on falling asleep in the opening lines of In Search of Lost Time. The choice is adroit, since these three example have the same trait in common: the self-reflexivity of their own viewing dispositifs, as Zabunyan had already highlighted in Primitive. But we can see that, on the one hand, it proposes a radical break within the cinema, by limiting, to the exclusive benefit of an explication of the dispositif inside the work, the experience of the time of thought that the cinema never ceases to accomplish in a much more extensive fashion, in the global body of its films and within its own projection-dispositif, and that, on the other hand, it reduces this experience of time to that of space, which is always proper to the installation, regardless of the temporal dimension that it is affected by.

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

Inland (Tariq Teguia, 2008)

While I was pondering these texts and arguments, I re-watched one after the other three long films, whose reflection on the dispositif is present but not central: Inland by Tariq Teguia (2008), where the hero, a topographer, frames distances within the countryside before furiously hurling himself into them, Val Abraham (1993) by Manoel de Oliveira, where the fugitive alliance of trains and mirrors hollows out the space-time of the image; and Mysteries of Lisbon by Raoul Ruiz (2010), in which a crucial and recurrent motif is the portable chamber theatre offered by the mother to her son, through which the intrigue is progressively refracted. In these three films, captive memory never ceases, in various ways, to construct and reconstruct itself while forgetting itself, seized in the lines of flight of its landscapes and events. They are three films of the purest time-images, in their excessive duration and in their circuits of reactivated shots. I find it difficult to compare the mental and physical experience that they open in time and as time to that of the Stan Douglas installation, with its captivating shots of a train advancing into the darkness of a tunnel from which it re-emerges, thus exemplifying to our perceptive capacities what the magnificent lines of Proust about sleep and waking sought to convey. What, indeed, does the installation transmit to us through its image, draped across the back of a half-lit cube, before which we stand upright, the noise of the 16mm projector that has been inserted into the space thrumming in our ears. It delivers to us flickers of sensation and flashes of an idea, born from this connection between two heterogeneous realities. And even if we remain there for enough time to take in several loops, so as to better capture the nuances of Proust’s text, it is a varied intensification of sensation and ideas that is confirmed, with all its epistemological contexts on the twin inventions of the train and the cinema, as well as psychoanalysis, at the end of the 19th century. Others, labelling this museum work as a “ready-made”,15 have spoken about the effect of a formula which, presupposes the contrast that such works produce with the experience of time internal to the cinema. And this applies to those long films that I mentioned above just as much as it does to the sequence of incessant back and forth movements of the camera in <–> Back and Forth, on the basis of which a somatic experience of rhythm and fascination concentrating on the components of the cinema is constructed in the restricted time of a projection.

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

Mysteries of Lisbon (Raoul Ruiz, 2010)

More exact might be the articulation formulated by Dork Zabunyan on the basis of two intersecting experiences of film and installation in the work of Avi Mograbi. The two works are the film Avenge But One of My Two Eyes (2005), and the installation The Details, shown in the Galerie Art et Essais of the Université de Rennes-2 in the autumn of 2009. This installation is composed of eight screens each showing two fragments of film, a “detail” and an extract drawn from various of Mograbi’s films, the whole organised in such a way as to compose a “sonic chaos” in which all the sources mingle together. This is all the more striking for the fact that a video, Relief, is placed on a two-sided screen at the centre of the exhibition: it shows a confrontation between the Israeli police and Palestinians, filmed such that at one point the bodies accumulated in the frame create an effect by means of which the film, slowed down, can pass in both directions, imposing a fiction of immobile movement that aptly symbolises the paralysis afflicting the two peoples. Here, Zabunyan recounts and analyses how the lived experience of this exhibition has helped him to better understand the relations between several moments of Avenge But One of My Two Eyes nourished by diverse configurations of sound (for example, a telephone conversation, a tourist visit, a checkpoint), which each express an aspect of the chaos and rigidity affecting both communities. So much so that the complementary nature of the film and installation allow us to conceive what Zabunyan names “a soundscape of the Palestine-Israeli conflict”, coming and going from the film to the installation and from the installation to the film. This rebounding in no way disrupts the specificity of each of the two experiences and instead brings them together in the same mental space.

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

Avenge But One of My Two Eyes (Avi Mograbi, 2005)

*          *          *

In the fifth lecture of the series “Flux et Nexus: la coexistence des images”,16 Élie During, characterising “expanded cinema” on the basis of the “interface image” (that is, a spacing out of images according to which their intervals are more spatial than temporal), made the passing remark that if the body of the cinema could be defined by hypnosis, then that of the installation visitor should be defined by somnambulism. As absurd as the distinction may be with respect to the historical and medical reality of the terms, it at least has the advantage of creating a vivid image: the subject of hypnosis has a transfixed gaze, while the sleepwalker walks around. But if the hypnotised cinema spectator is supposed to always be more or less equal to himself (variation occurs primarily on the level of the films), the museum sleepwalker can also be constrained to walk around or sit down, following an unlimited variation which freely multiplies the experiential modalities of the work.

We are thus confronted with an evaluation, which is in reality difficult to carry out in practice since it supposes tangled, contradictory and often confused criteria in order to subsume the inexhaustible variety of dispositifs and works. It becomes all the more delicate to establish in conceptual terms. In order to suggest its virtuality, we can only invoke a floating theorisation of degrees. Degrees of hypnosis, if you will, or of fascination, which is more sudden, more discontinuous, less enveloping, less developed than it is in the cinema in the temporal continuity prescribed by the film screening. Degrees proportional to the attention both permitted and solicited, up to relying on the temperamental uniqueness of each one of us, since the museum body is by nature free and independent. Let us also think of the experience that seizes the installation visitor once he is transformed into a watcher, as he seeks to assuage the distraction brought about by so many moving images projected in the exhibition space. In these circumstances, an over-concentration can often be produced, born of an astonishment that seeks to be maintained in time and thereby confirmed. I can recall having this feeling when watching Phantoms of Nabua at the Musée d’Art Moderne: annoyed by the dispositif chosen to show it, aware of being unable to fully feel the effectiveness of this image-story, I concentrated even more on the idea that I thought was being conveyed by the scintillating ball of fire. So I allowed the idea to take hold, in such a fashion that I was led to seek it out again, with a more intensely developed presence, in the São Paulo projection, which, as we have seen, was so much closer to a cinema-situation. It is true, however, that individual attitudes are variable: a friend of mine confided to me that she had remained attentive and transfixed in Paris while standing before this semblance of a projection.

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

The “invisible cinema” at the Anthology Film Archives

If we begin with the fixed point constituted by the cinema-situation in its ideal sense – somewhere between the local movie-theatre and Peter Kubelka’s “invisible cinema”17 – then we can, on the other end of the spectrum, posit a perambulatory model for the installation: Electric Earth by Doug Aitken, which During invoked to oppose the physical simultaneity of spatialised images to their successive temporal alternation in the cinema. In this work based on a proposed trajectory, across several rooms, along eight screens, a variable number of which can be viewed depending on one’s physical position and choice of focalisation, the visitor-watcher is confronted with moving images naturally defined by the principle of a variation in their internal intervals (the succession of frames or their digital equivalents) and by possible changes of shots. That is to say, he is, literally, confronted with time, both invisible and visible, but always sensible, and whose chosen dispositif assures its continuous conversion into space, according to a tension that During seeks to render by the terms volume-image and interface-image. This conversion is always relative, it is radical all the same, if only by a kind of indifference towards its duration, which is well rendered by the idea of “floating time” defined by During as the “new regime of temporal coexistence between images.” This crucial tension between time and space, open to the indefinite diversity of its potentialities, was very precociously situated by Godard when, in Here and Elsewhere (Ici et ailleurs, 1974), he “installed”, following the model of the film itself, five figures in space, each one holding a photograph up to the camera. As Godard insisted, the five photos, filmed and linked together, became time and thus cinema.

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

Here and Elsewhere (Jean-Luc Godard, 1974)

We should emphasise the extent to which a number of installations present themselves in the form of frontal projections, in spaces that are more or less closed and darkened, thereby presupposing, by contrast, a variable and often exacerbated insistence on time. Either these works continue the heritage of video by transforming it (including by installing as a projection what used to be seen on monitors), or they seek to present themselves as films, in a more or less ambivalent desire to compete with the cinema (a distinction that, on the technical level at least, the uniformity introduced by the digital image has begun to render outdated).18 This insistence on time is essentially correlative with the prevalence (or not, depending on the work) of two major traits that have created a large number of possibilities, but that have primarily made explicit the works’ own value as art. The first thing that can be noticed, usually, is the absence of any organic fiction and, more particularly, the absence of any dialogue, even when there are protagonists, (since they turn out to be bodies or functions more than protagonists per se), an absence that sometimes extends to the lack of any sound whatsoever. On the other hand, the duration, always variable, becomes all the more loaded with meaning because the image is offered fully for itself. We thus see the establishment of a very different type of floating time, and another kind of somnambulism or hypnosis, which is much less fickle and volatile than that which emanates from architecturised images and perambulatory pathways, and which is evidently much closer to that of the cinema, but still, in the end, very different from it. It lies somewhere between sub-hypnosis and a kind of super-concentration produced by flashes of hypnosis – and tailored in each case to the dispositif, the work and the inclination of every spectator. One distinction remains, however: having necessarily entered at random in the black box or its equivalents (unless there is a prescribed schedule, as, for example, Eija-Liisa Ahtila has done, following an ambiguous desire to compete with the cinema), we leave them much more easily than we do from a film screening, for which we have generally had to pay for a ticket. In order to stay in the black box (and perhaps to begin the loop over from the beginning, which in many cases makes more sense than the mode of exhibition would have us believe), we must be particularly seized by the power of the work and our own determination.

The habitué of Biennales and exhibitions will, after all, have noticed the allergy shown by the bulk of the contemporary art public towards anything that insists on duration. This is the vulgar version of the creative theory of the glance dear to Smithson: you enter, you size up the work with a distracted eye, you look for an idea, or even a concept, wherever an unfolding of sensations and thoughts spread out over time is offered;19 in short, you see nothing, and then you leave, before hurrying over, perhaps, to another black box, or reassuring yourself with an aleatory construction. This is doubtless why so few artists and curators have consented to the necessity of furnishing the projection spaces with chairs or benches (even if this is beginning to happen here and there). Not everyone has the luxury (or the desire) to provide the plush rugs furnished by James Coleman inside his well-ensconced spaces, in such a way that you can, if you are strongly seized by the desire, lie out on them and follow with the requisite attention the improbable temporal orchestration of an artist who has knowledgeably played with all the vacillations that his “slide projections” maintain with the necessity of duration (the necessity of having to follow the work from beginning to end in order to deserve it,), vacillations that his “Film”, shown in documenta 12 in 2007, has taken to the extreme. As for the vast majority of other works, Jacques Aumont has rightly pointed to the observation made by Didier Semin, who was astonished by “the flood of moving images that the major international exhibitions and museums force their visitors to watch while standing up – and these visitors refrain from protesting, content, perhaps, that they are not required to balance on one leg.”20

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

Tornado (Francis Alÿs, 2000-2010)

But there is also a whole spectrum of frontal projections, from the lone, unadorned large-scale image, to double or triple screens, or even a whole wall of screens. All these projections, one by one, summon just as many modes of viewing: whether more or less concentrated regulated, exploded, disseminated, depending on the relationship induced between the nature of the work and the chosen dispositif. Hence, at one extreme, for example, there is Tornado (2000-2010) by Francis Alÿs, which seems conceived for the black (or nearly black) box,21 in such a way as to trace, for 55 minutes, the path of a tornado, and the efforts of the filmmaker to penetrate it, at the rhythm of a variation of brief and very long shots, denuded of any commentary, and whose rich soundtrack draws our concentration. We can also think of the pensive, almost entirely silent videos of Thierry Kuntzel, in the early 1980s, which are today “installed” in the form of projections. One of them, in particular, La Desserte blanche, was initially conceived as an installation for a white box saturated with an excess of light, where we can follow, while seated, the circular variations of white-on-white motifs returning over themselves at the behest of ghostly duplications. Or we can think of Bill Viola since the 1990s, and his grand frontal projections, animated by the emphatic desire to connive with painting, which have steadily shifted from two to three to x number of screens, both vertical and horizontal: from The Crossing or The Greeting to Nantes Triptych, from the Passions series to Five Angels for the Millennium. Finally, we can think of the walls of screens of such variable sizes and shapes, a replica and beguiling extension of a modality that had long been specific to photography, which have been one of the major figures of video art, and the work of Nam June Paik in particular – for example, the elementary formula adopted by Chris Marker in his first installation in 1978, Quand le siècle a pris formes, on the occasion of the “Paris-Berlin” exhibition, using a montage-compilation of films to evoke the intertwining of World War I and the Russian revolution.

It would, however, be overly simplistic to believe that in frontal projection the choice of the single image is opposed in unequivocal fashion to the multiplication of screens, following a curve leading from concentration to a more or less volatile dispersion. Artists and filmmakers evade such summary antagonisms. One of the clearest examples in this sense is Agnès Varda’s Les Veuves de Noirmoutier (2005), of which Jacques Aumont has rightly said that “a cinematic gaze can be produced in a dispositif that derives from the museum: a small number of spectators (fourteen, the same as the number of screens), each one seated, in the dark, only hearing the sound of one of the fourteen screens but able to hear the thirteen others. This is an exemplary exercise of a filmmaker doing something other than cinema, but still seeking to place her spectators in a relationship with time and the gaze which remains that of the cinema.”22 Almost that of the cinema, since time and the gaze are nevertheless disjointed by the movements that continually happen from one seat to the other, and thus between the screens, but in engendering the invention of an original sociality for the sake of which the quasi-spectators are gathered in the singular experience of a kind of interactive chamber theatre.

Quarrel of the Dispositifs

Les Veuves de Noirmoutier (Agnès Varda, 2005)

This is how, in an entirely different mode, I felt a very peculiar grip take hold of me when faced with Pipilotti Rist’s installation Suburb Brain (“a miniature model of the outer suburbs of Zurich”), during the first Szeemann Biennale in 1999. With its low, circular ramp marking out a kind of stage inside a space confined by benches, the effective construction of her suburban pavilion with its annexes, and the three disparate projections which both surrounded it and seemed to be born from it, this work brought together, in an unusual manner, surfaces and volumes, a multiplicity of spaces and a plurality of times.

Translated by Daniel Fairfax


  1. Jacques Rancière, Malaise dans l’esthétique (Paris: Galilée, 2004), esp. pp. 33-37, which extend the scope of his column for Cahiers du cinéma. See also “L’affect indécis”, interview by Patrice Blouin, Élie During and Dork Zabunyan, in Jacques Rancière, Et tant pis pour les gens fatigués (Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2009), pp. 442-460.
  2. This is what Philippe Dubois now prefers to highlight in his many interventions on the general topic of the variable velocity of images.
  3. Michael Snow: Solo Snow, exhibition catalogue, Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains/Galerie de l’UCAM, 2011, p. 68.
  4. See Joachim Lepastier, “Les rêves perdus de la 3D,” Cahiers du cinéma no. 676 (March 2012): 88-92.
  5. As the descriptive note on Phantoms of Nabua in the press dossier of the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris put it. Weerasethakul clarified, in an interview with Angeline Scherf: “Phantoms of Nabua deals with the observation of light. When you see a film in the cinema, the beam of light is projected behind the spectator. In Phantoms of Nabua, I wanted to create a face-to-face situation, like in a football match. The beam of light is directed towards the spectator, who watches it like the sun.”
  6. Christa Blümlinger, “La mémoire, moteur des images. Les variations d’Oncle Boonmee chez Apitchatpong Weerasethakul,” Trafic no. 76 (Winter 2010): 22-30, here p. 26.
  7. Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, “The Memory of Nabua: A Note on the Primitive Project,” in James Quandt (ed.), Apitchatpong Weerasethakul (Vienna: Österreichisches Filmmuseum/Synema, 2009), p. 192.
  8. Weerasethakul to Angeline Scherf.
  9. The cinema, Jean Louis Schefer said, is “the only experience in which time is given to me as a perception.” L’Homme ordinaire du cinéma (Paris: Cahiers du cinéma/Gallimard, 1980), back cover.
  10. Dork Zabunyan, “Solitude du cinéma?”, Critique 763 (December 2010): 1048.
  11. Returning to Weerasethakul in another of his essays (“Dispersion du cinéma et extension du domain filmique”, artpress 2 21 (May-July 2011): 68-72, Zabunyan stresses that in Uncle Boonmee the complex treatment of the soundtrack produces such a sensory envelopment of the spectator that he is made aware of the theatre in the same way the visitor is made aware of an exhibition space. But I struggle to understand why the cinema should be stripped of what it alone permits as sonic concentration internal to the development of a fiction principally dedicated to the imaginative virtualities of the spectator, and thus to the awareness he has of it.
  12. Dork Zabunyan, “Du choc à l’hypnose”, in his book Les Cinémas de Gilles Deleuze (Montrouge: Bayard, 2011), esp. pp. 174-178.
  13. For more on the use of this term in Deleuze, see my Le Corps du cinéma (Paris: P.O.L., 2010), p. 430.
  14. See Le Corps du cinéma, pp. 102-106, and “Du choc à l’hypnose,” p. 174.
  15. Christa Blümlinger, “Remake, Readymade, Reconfiguration: Film as Metahistory”, in Stan Douglas: Past Imperfect: Works 1986-2007, (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2008): “Overture is a relatively pure form of the ready-made: two Edison films, combined into a loop and joined to a soundtrack made up of literary collages, result in a new work” (p. 36).
  16. A cycle of six lectures held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, from November 7, 2009 to July 3, 2010. The fifth lecture (May 15, 2010) was titled “Interfaces”. The quotes I use are drawn from notes taken during this event.
  17. This is the name of the cinema conceived by Kubelka to project the “Essential Cinema” collection of the Anthology Film Archives in New York: “the walls and furnishings were entirely black, the height of the seats was calculated to avoid any disturbance, visors were placed on the sides of each seat to muffle the perception of vision and sound.” See Benoît Turquety, “Portrait de l’artiste en fabricant de canons (le cas Kubelka),” Il canone cinematografico/The Film Canon, Pietro Bianchi, Giulio Bursi, Simone Venturini (eds.) (Udine: Forum, 2010), pp. 141-146, here pp. 142-143.
  18. But there are and will always be exceptions, the most notable of which relate to the presence in the room of the 16mm projector, as in Amadeus (swell consopio) by Tacita Dean (in the Marian Goodman gallery in Paris in September 2008). We also know that Tacita Dean conceived her monumental installation Film (Tate Modern, October 2011-March 2012) when she learned that an English lab had ceased printing 16mm filmstock. See the book conceived for the exhibition, Tacita Dean, Film, collective work organised by the Tate Modern, London, 2011, as well as the short but evocative review of the exhibition, Érik Bullot, “Le dernier film de Tacita Dean,” Cahiers du cinéma no. 676 (March 2012): 94.
  19. A drawing by Jean-Philippe Delhomme in Art contemporain handily illustrates this phenomenon, showing two gallery-goers impatiently fleeing a black cube inside which a few watchers can be glimpsed: “Don’t go watch this video piece, it’s a scandalous confiscation of the spectator’s time!” (p. 67) I can not resist the pleasure of noting the image on the opposite page, in which someone furiously interposes themselves between a screen and some neophyte spectators spread out on the ground: “How can you give up yourselves to the extent that you subject yourselves to screenings that have no other content than the exploitation of your infinitely scrupulous passivity?” (p. 66)
  20. Didier Semin, L’Atlantique à la rame (Geneva: Presses du réel 2008), p. 52, cited in Jacques Aumont, Que reste-t-il du cinéma?, p. 102. In documenta 11 in 2002, the post-new wave feature film by Yang Fudong, An Estranged Paradise (1997-2002, 76min), recounting the difficult relationship between a young intellectual and his fiancée in the city of Hangzhou (in Zhejiang province, 200km south-west of Shanghai), was shown like this, in a semi-dark cube on the first floor of the Fridericanum.
  21. I saw this work at São Paulo (29th Biennale, 2010) in a space that was open at the back, thus favouring the quick glance, but with rows of benches closing this space, inviting the visitor to sit down and stay there a while.
  22. Jacques Aumont, Que reste-t-il du cinéma? (Paris: Vrin, 2012), p. 102.