Dialogue Between Ismaïl Bahri and Olivier Marboeuf | Part 1

08 June 2013

© Copyright 2013 Olivier Marboeuf | FID Marseille International Cinema Festival | Translated by Liz Young

In 2013 Ismaïl Bahri is in creative residence with the Fabrique Phantom. During this period of research, he maintains a written dialogue with Olivier Marboeuf, on subjects concerning his work and thematic interests.

Magic Again

Olivier Marboeuf : What seems magical to me in the pieces you propose for the exhibition Mandrake a disparu (Mandrake disappeared) is the sensation that revelation does not diminish the illusion. The image, the film, progressively allow us to understand what is happening. This is the case with Dénouement – the title itself plays on the polysemy of the term. Film is a bit different perhaps because the protocol disappears almost completely from the final video : the rolled up newspapers unroll towards us as if by magic, navigating in a mysterious space. And yet, even if we learn tangentially « how it works » (by reading the program notes, for example), the trick can be repeated again and again…

I find extremely interesting this notion that touches on language and what is said in the margins of works—it’s a pivotal concern for mediation in particular. How do a work and its commentary function and who takes charge of them? Commentary is able to effect a sense of displacement in what we see ; in itself that’s not a problem for me, but rather an additional trail—a trail as in musical editing, like an additional layer in the sensitive register and not as we’re often inclined to consider it – and practice it – as an intrusion of a language obsessed by understanding. Why couldn’t commentary, on the contrary, be unclear, or troubled ?

In the case of Film, there is a specific phenomenon that I find very interesting : the description of the procedure in no way nullifies the magical process that animates the image. At most, it is transformed into a fable, as was the case with Claire Malrieux’s work Lunar Far Side. Are we really looking at the cartography of the dark side of the moon, engraved on the marble ? This data doesn’t exist in terms of information as much as it does as fable, that is to say as « word that permits vision » and that engages itself in a form.

Ismaïl Bahri : In Dénouement, the image develops to the rhythm of a gesture that takes a long time to appear. A gesture that at the end of the video reveals everything, or almost, about the making of the film. That is to say that we understand after several minutes the nature of the line that divides the white, abstract surface and the cause of its vibrations. I also realized that when they began to understand what was happening onscreen, some people started to invent the scene of the making of the film. The identity of the figure coming towards us remains mysterious, but supposing that it is the operator coming towards the camera could reactivate certain speculations : how can you film and frame from a distance ? It then becomes possible to presume that the arrival of the silhouette replays, but in a very elementary fashion, certain movements of the person filming : to arrive is to view and frame, to arrive is to adjust and try, as here, to move towards greater clarification and, finally, to arrive up against the lens of the camera is to act as a natural shutter. Making so many suppositions is part of the pleasure of fabulation.

Claire Malraux’s Lunar far side is indeed interesting in its capacity to active speculation. When I visited the exhibition, it took me a while to understand what was going on in the block, what process was being woven. And it’s true that it was the program notes as much as your explications that allowed me to see a path towards understanding what was proposed. The slab of marble has the potential to activate thought and speech ; it questions knowledge. This massive block is haloed by a precise confusion. In the sense that we don’t really know what we’re regarding while at the same realizing that this confusion is, precisely, what the work is about.

And here we come to something that interests me a lot : the tension that can exist between confusion and precision, and especially the possible ways to compress these two opposing elements into one object or one space. In this sense, Mandrake a disparu interests me because the exhibition is articulated, in part, around this idea. It seems to me that it is the ambiguity between precision and confusions that contribute to the succes of magic. If we revisit the exhibition, almost all the pieces support the idea of a real precision, whether we’re talking about Alexander Schellow, Julien Previeux or Maider Fortuné. This can take the form of diagrams, by gestures or figures of precision that activate, not a fixed or codified form of knowledge, but on the contrary a form of confusion/ambiguity and speculation. And to convoke the figure of the Mandrake, what fascinates me with magicians or mimes is their way of manipulating with an extreme dexterity an effect of confusion. When you watch them, there is always a moment when you’re no longer completely sure what you see before your eyes. Which, as you suggest in this exhibition, in no way prevents us from believing what we see. A nebulous operation (Maider Fortuné), a punctuation of the absent (Alexander Schellow), a dose of reflection and shadow (Badr el Hammami) : each time it’s a question of moving closer to something that escapes us.

Maider Fortuné’s Carroussel convokes this. The films situates us in a myopic relation to space. We are associated with the objects that pass before us and the image intensifies a very sharp optic relation to them. In Carroussel, we feel the lens, we sense that we’re passing through an optical filter and are carried by a continuous movement, whose trajectory we couldn’t trace on the floor. We think of microscopes, telescopes, of all these instruments of precision that bring the observed object closer as much as they drown what remains to be known in nebulosity. There is the obsession of the potential ‘out of range’ and, here again, the speculative. Alexander Schellow’s video explores the finer points of the forms of memory. It is a way of maintaining direction even as one drifts. An attempt at limiting the undefined, to retain omission between the infinity of abscissas and fictive coordinates.

In these pieces, precision is always embodied in a sensitive and concrete form. You speak of « engaging with a form » and it’s true that we feel this in the exhibition. And we’re constantly seeking a moment of shift or swing : where form, by its very presence, convokes mystery. It is notably this that can sollicit, in return, the spectator’s engagement. Observing the enigma that hides in the form can lead to engagement by thought. And there, the disposition of the space and the exhibition can eventually trigger the activation of such thought.

What motivates me in your proposition of written correspondence is the idea of not contenting ourselves with exhibiting or working on pieces, but trying to produce a form of thought concerning our respective research. I can feel this in what you write. You evoke your obsessions, you rethink the exhibition, the works, the space ; you also reveal, in a certain manner, the wires that hold together the ongoing processes of fabrication at the Espace Khiasma. In the sense that what is also at stake in Mandrake a disparu overflows the strict form of the exhibited works. The space, as it has been thought out, as it is constantly evolving, itself becomes an operator of magic.

In any event, you sensitize me to your obsession for creating the necessary conditions to promote the emergeance of words and thoughts concerning the works. Hearing you evoke this makes me realize that we don’t usually think enough about the way in which a site functions as a conduit for words and an activator of fabulations. I recall what you said on Radio France Culture, when you rather maliciously remarked that the Espace Khiasma is a « magical » space because it is constantly changing, one day in one form, the next another ; like a magician, so as to stimulate the spectator’s belief. It’s true that what is striking about this place is that it is in constant redeployment. I experienced this personally with the Phantom Mondays, for example : the site develops in synergy with what is proposed and tends toward the fabrication of images but also commentary and word. The space functions in the interstices of what is proposed there.

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