Aurore Dal Mas – Irrespirable ?

Thomas Le Goff

Il faut que je vous parle d’Aurore. Vois-tu, ce n’est pas forcément si simple. Je la connais peu. Je la connais un peu. Si je m’étais pris pour un autre, j’aurais dit « deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle ». Elle ne se livre pas. Non pas qu’il y ait, à fréquenter les autres, une « menace potentielle », notion qu’elle accole volontiers à son travail. Mais il y a comme une résistance, vois-tu.

Il faut que je vous parle d’Aurore. Elle pratique le Systema. C’est un art martial russe, qui remonte au Xe siècle, et a été développé pour les forces spéciales russes. Les coups, ils sont portés. Je digresse, mais tu regarderas un court extrait de la performance créée par Aurore, As long as : les coups ils sont portés. Et donc chez Aurore, s’il n’y a pas de coup porté, il y a cette résistance, cette distance maintenue coûte que coûte. Ce qu’on apprend d’ailleurs avec le Systema : maintenir l’adversaire à distance, garder la maîtrise de la situation.

Il faut que je vous parle d’Aurore. Du coup il y a un jeu qui se met en place. On avance, on recule, on va un peu sur le côté. Je parle avec elle. On aborde un thème. C’est assez direct : le nu, les autoportraits, les garçons aux corps offerts. Il peut y avoir de la provocation, ça fait partie du jeu : « Don’t love me, I’m your toy ». Ce qui était inscrit sur une carte noire, offerte à moi par Aurore, la première fois où nous avons vraiment parlé. Vois-tu, c’est aussi une technique : maintenir la distance, mais aussi se mettre en scène. Je parle avec elle. Sa série Figures : son dos, encore son dos, toujours son dos, jusqu’à être celui de quelqu’un d’autre. C’est la pudeur.

Il faut que je vous parle d’Aurore. Tu peux regarder les corps, chercher à (la) mettre à nu. Elle esquive, ce n’est pas elle. Tout est représentation. Tu es conduit sur un chemin. Ce n’est pas forcément le bon. Tu as des sensations. Ce sont les tiennes. Voilà. Je parle avec elle. Elle reconnaît les paradoxes. Tu penses à Deserts, les corps de garçons, les textes : crus, froids. Organiques et cliniques. Une forme de violence. Elle le sait. Destructrice. Pour mieux renaître ?

Il faut que je vous parle d’Aurore. Elle se détourne un peu des images, ces derniers temps. S’en va vers l’écriture. De manière forte. Les phrases, comme préparées à être dites voire scandées, sont affichées en grand sur le mur, dans son atelier. C’est du concret. C’est ce qu’Aurore souhaite, je crois. Elle tâtonne avec méthode : c’est un peu l’art de l’improvisation. C’est un peu une quête. Laquelle ? Etre soi ou hors de soi ? Vois-tu, tout est question de contrôle, Aurore.

Plus d’infos :

http://www.auroredalmas.com

https://www.facebook.com/adm.auroredalmas/

Ce petit questionnaire à la mode de Proust a été réalisé via Skype, dans les conditions du live pour Aurore Dal Mas – et pour moi aussi, tant certaines de ses réponses me surprirent !

Sur le désir

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La fête est finie

Il me guide vers la sortie. Je l’ai évité toute la soirée. Je pense que personne n’a remarqué. En descendant les escaliers, avant de reprendre la route ensemble, il glisse une main sur ma gorge et m’étrangle lentement. L’autre main fouille ma bouche, sentant chaque texture, comme pour chercher les mots que je n’ai pas dits. Les yeux révulsés, j’esquisse un sourire et souffle I want you anyway, avant de tomber inconsciente. Premier son d’os qui craquent quand il me laisse retomber. Mes genoux bronzés tremblent un peu sur le sol ciré quand il s’enfonce dans mon cul. Il reste là sans bouger, attendant qu’elle respire à nouveau. I want you too est ce qui sorti de son souffle à lui.

The party is over

He guides me to the exit. I avoided him all the evening. I think nobody noticed. Going down the stairs, before taking the road together, he approaches a hand on my throat and slowly strangle, the other hand in my mouth, like to feel the texture, looking for the words I didn’t say. Eyes revulsed, trying a little smile, I breathe out I want you anyway, before falling unconscious. First sound of bones cracking when he let me fall. My knees shake a little on the waxed floor when he comes deep down in my ass. He stays there without moving, waiting for her to breathe again. I want you too was what came out of his breath.

Extraits audio de la performance sonore Deserts

Sur la vie – et la violence

Extrait de la performance As long as

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Fire is a sound installation based on the lyrics of the popular love song Wicked Game, which is re-interpretated to give a new sense to the words, letting go of the originally inoffensive pop aspect of it. This installation was created during a residency on a small island in Italy. The whole place was burned and deserted by its inhabitants a long time ago.
Fire aims to throw light on the persistence, strenght and effect of some historic events in specific places, the human distress during certain catastrophes, and the power of the feelings provoked. For the installation, the house was closed, the sound was heard from outside only. There is a woman’s voice, yelling and screaming, like an SOS that puts the viewer in a helpless position, attracted by the sound but with no possibility of stopping that drama. The impossibility of entering the space and reacting to the call of the woman makes the visitor face its own imagination and its incapacity to save someone. This is also a metaphor for someone locked in themself, and therefore with no possibility of exchange, of being helped or loved, as the song suggests it. Finally, Fire is a call, a recall and a protection at the same time for this haunted woman.

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Sur la mort

Lorsque tu qualifies ton travail, tu évoques souvent le concept de « menace potentielle ». Que signifient pour toi ces termes?

Il se passe peu de choses dans mes images, pourtant il me semble qu’elles contiennent souvent une tension qui est une forme d’énergie accumulée. On y voit souvent de la noirceur, ou alors les muscles tendus sont soulignés, il y a du mouvement, ou au contraire une étrange fixité dans certains paysages, il y a une œuvre électrique (Miracle), une installation où une femme crie dans une maison close de toute part (Fire), un rapace en liberté (As long as)… A chaque fois, il y a quelque chose de contenu prêt à exploser, un calme qui est plutôt celui d’avant la tempête, une dissolution dont on pressent la logique finale : la destruction. C’est ça, cette menace potentielle. Et c’est une question qui me paraît très actuelle. Dans les images cela crée selon moi une attente, un temps de lecture plus lent, une attraction. La tension dans l’image n’est peut-être qu’un moyen de retenir, de captiver. Et en même temps, c’est le fond même d’une image, c’est son rôle. C’est cette menace d’absorption ou de dissolution, ce qui fait peur ou rebute, la vulnérabilité, les rapports entre oppresseur et oppressé qui m’intéressent pour le moment ; la peur qui évoque également la notion de survie. Toute menace fait appel à cette forme d’instinct.

Par ailleurs, on constate dans ton processus créatif une évolution, l’apparition de la violence, du passage à l’acte, notamment dans tes derniers écrits ou dans la performance As long as.

C’est peut-être lié aux années de pratique ou à mon âge, ou aux évolutions du monde actuel, mais effectivement, il y a une envie de plus de concret, de plus d’action, d’une incidence. Comme l’envie de percer quelque chose – une condition restreinte peut-être – pour revivre, en quelque sorte. Mais je ne vois pas cet intérêt pour une forme de violence comme une fin en soi. C’est plutôt l’idée de renaître de ses cendres.

Par ailleurs, j’ai sans doute toujours eu un goût et un attrait personnel pour la violence, mais je ne l’avais pas exploré jusqu’à présent. Enfant, mes rêves étaient très violents, et il doit sans doute en rester quelque chose. Je m’intéresse donc à ce qui fait peur, tout en restant dans la provocation figée – par exemple, je ne ferai pas le premier pas pour pousser l’autre à se déclarer –, tout du moins c’est ce que j’ai souvent essayé de susciter chez le spectateur… Dorénavant j’ai envie de choses plus directes et un peu plus ancrées dans le monde extérieur.

Lors de nos dernières discussions, tu as mis l’accent sur la question des sensations, celles que tu entends faire naître chez les personnes qui regardent tes images, lisent tes textes, écoutent ou voient tes installations sonores ou visuelles. Tu dis vouloir « questionner la nature humaine », mais ce questionnement n’est-il pas avant tout personnel ?

Toute œuvre questionne sans doute toujours la nature humaine. Et je ne peux partir que de moi, de mon interprétation des choses, donc, en ce sens, c’est certainement personnel. Mais l’idée n’est jamais, même quand je réalise un autoportrait ou quelque chose qui s’en approche, de parler de moi, de dire qui je suis. Ce que je suis vraiment se résume à trois mots, et cela reste du domaine personnel. Par contre, je me dis humblement que mes questionnements peuvent nourrir ceux des autres… Si quelqu’un croit devoir chercher à me comprendre ou comprendre ce que j’ai voulu dire, c’est le mauvais chemin. On est seul face à une image. Ça me plait de chercher à voir ce qui nous anime. On a une personne devant une image, c’est le calme plat et c’est chiant comme tout, mais dans le fond qu’est-ce qui se passe ? Est-ce qu’il y a des mouvements invisibles qui sont à l’œuvre ? On fait une sortie « culturelle », on assiste par exemple à ma dernière performance, on croit qu’on va voir quelque chose – dont il ne restera plus rien de tangible dès la seconde où c’est passé (voilà pourquoi j’adore les choses qui se passent en live, et notamment le chant) – mais en fait l’interrogation demeure : est-ce que les gens
se rendent bien compte qu’ils ne verront que ce qu’ils sont capables de voir (et je ne parle pas de capacités intellectuelles, bien sûr, mais de sensations, d’intuitions, tout ce magma de vagues idées qui nous constitue) ? Comme le disait Cesare Pavese dans Le métier de vivre : « “Voir les choses pour la première fois” n’existe pas. Celle que nous nous rappelons, que nous notons, est toujours une seconde fois. » Il n’y a rien à voir, seulement à reconnaître. Et à travers ça je crois qu’on n’apprend qu’à se (re)connaître soi-même… C’est un questionnement philosophique personnel, en effet, mais tout à fait universel aussi. Ce qui est vu, je n’en sais rien. Chercher à me voir ou à comprendre ce qui moi m’anime a peu d’intérêt. Chercher à voir qui on est à travers une image, par contre, oui. La porte est ouverte mais il est impossible de forcer qui que ce soit à y mettre un pied, évidemment ; c’est un chemin solitaire. Cela dit, j’avoue que j’aime utiliser des aspects tactiles comme incitant, peut-être par pur esprit de séduction. Ça me semble être un premier pas vers l’appropriation de quelque chose, les sensations.

Tu m’as dit un jour : « A la fin, je n’en ai rien à faire de la photo. » Ce qui est attesté par ton récent travail centré sur l’écrit. Par ailleurs, tu m’as dit très récemment vouloir « prendre de nouveau des photos ». Qu’en est-il ?

Je ne sais pas ! J’ai envie, mais je ne vois rien à photographier. Peut-être parce que j’estime photographier des choses qui n’existent pas, qui se créent pour la photo et par la photo. Et que pour le moment je suis coincée entre «voir ce qui se passe à l’intérieur » et « voir ce qui se passe à l’extérieur ». Et puis j’en suis toujours à tenter de distinguer image et photo ; une image se crée, une photo se prend… Enfin, si tant est qu’on puisse « créer » quoi que ce soit. Ce sont les images qui m’intéressent, mais elles prennent toutes sortes de formes. J’aime le côté rapide de la photographie, mais parfois le résultat me semble trop « mort », trop inutile, trop bidimensionnel, pas assez physique, trop facile et pas assez dangereux, justement. Je suis un peu plus attirée par l’instant présent quand il s’agit de montrer un travail, et un peu moins par la collecte de photographies destinées à être montrées plus tard. Du coup, même l’écriture devient voix en ce moment. Par ailleurs, cette phrase que tu as reprise vient de loin : à l’examen d’entrée de la Cambre en Photographie, on nous demandait : « Comment tu te vois dans cinq ans ? », et j’ai très clairement dit : « En tout cas pas photographe ! ». Cela dit, ils m’ont prise quand même ! En fait, j’ai envie de tout, je ne vais pas me limiter, ce serait d’un ennui… Je tire le fil et j’ai l’impression de seulement commencer à comprendre le monde.

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Extrait sonore du texte du projet Sans Issue

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Extrait du work in progress Enemies

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Celebration – Antonio Jiménez Saiz

Thomas Le Goff

Antonio est photographe. Il vit à Bruxelles. Tu ne le croiseras pas au bar. Antonio est photographe. Il crée des images. Il n’a pas d’ordinateur chez lui.
Antonio est photographe. Parfois il se cache. Il aligne les images et les ordonne. Il doute.

Antonio est photographe. Ne cherche pas, il n’a pas de page Facebook. Antonio est photographe. Ses pellicules, utilisées notamment pour photographier Carmen, sont rangées dans une boîte en bois, à l’intérieur de laquelle est fixée une plaque : « Corps Diplomatique. »

Antonio est photographe. Il vient de lire ce que je dis de lui. Il est furieux. C’est beau à voir.

Invité par Vincen Beeckman, je participe au Musée de la Photographie de Bruxelles qui ouvre ses grandes portes [et ses petites boîtes] à Recyclart. Pour sa deuxième exposition, le musée hors les murs prendra place dans la Gare de la Chapelle avec une installation autour d’images d’auteurs de notre plat pays.

Cet événement éphémère trouvera son prolongement dans d’autres installations temporaires, à Bruxelles et ailleurs en Belgique.

http://www.recyclart.be/fr/agenda/musee-de-la-photographie-de-bruxelles

Récemment, nous avons eu une conversation sur ta difficulté à te considérer photographe. D’où cela vient-il ?

Le manque d’école peut-être, la privation d’apprendre, sur les bancs face aux professeurs, de recevoir afin, plus tard, de pouvoir déconstruire, une réappropriation qui marquerait une forme d’identité.

Mais voilà, avec le temps on se dit qu’une vie d’autodidacte c’est riche, on fréquente d’autres écoles, d’autres lieux, ici c’est de construction qu’il s’agit, vivre aux contraintes de la liberté, sans trop de fioriture. A ta question, non, je ne sais pas si je suis photographe, cela m’importe peu en fait, je ne veux pas mais elle fait doucement partie intégrante de ma vie.

Antonio, tu revendiques dans ton travail une forme de violence. J’y vois plutôt une sorte de « fureur de vivre », et donc de produire. D’accord ou pas ?

D’accord avec toi mais je maintiens aussi la présence d’une certaine
« violence », mais pas dans l’image – mes images sont dépouillées de toutes formes d’agressivité, je les trouve plutôt sereines : la violence dans mon regard, c’est le silence de nos vies. Le silence fait à ceux, à nous, qui pour mille raisons, conventions, se (re)trouvent en marge, quid d’une bonne santé, de jeunesse, de repères qui peuvent, qui entraînent le retrait/repli sur soi. « Fureur de vivre », oui, depuis toujours, dans un excès contenu, exception faite aujourd’hui pour la photographie, car elle me permet de cadrer le sujet, en l’occurrence moi-même. La photographie, cette photographie me procure une douce sensation d’équilibre ; la fureur de vivre est le fuel de ma production.

Peu de gens le savent, mais tu écris depuis fort longtemps. As-tu déjà envisagé de mettre en rapport l’écriture et les images ?

Non, pas encore, un jour viendra, je prendrai le temps de me lire, on verra !

Dernièrement, tu t’es intéressé à la représentation des chats, que tu nommes les « sphinx ». Que pasa, hombre ? Ton sujet photographique premier, ce sont quand même les femmes, non ?

Les chats, oui, ceux qui se retrouvent affichés sur les poteaux des grandes villes, chats perdus, chats trouvés, affiches transformées par les intempéries en vrais petits chefs-d’œuvre d’abstraction. Il y a dans cet effacement, cette transformation, une similitude que je recherche dans mon travail.

C’est vrai, une grande partie de mon sujet se concentre autour de ma relation aux femmes, et Dieu sait si je ne suis pas un séducteur, justement. J’ai vécu entouré de femmes et le mystère reste complet, c’est une attirance qui dépasse le désir, ma timidité me donne beaucoup d’aisance (sic) et c’est rassurant pour l’autre personne, enfin, je crois… Prendre en photographie les femmes telles qu’elles aimeraient pouvoir se voir, sans le filtre du déjà-vu, c’est très fort comme partage, et puis, il y a les secrets qui nous lient, tout ce dont je traite à la troisième question.

 

Moins de 1% des personnes infectées par le VIH contrôlent naturellement la multiplication de l’infection en l’absence de thérapie. Chez ces séropositifs, le virus, bien que présent, est indétectable. De plus, leur système immunitaire reste suffisamment résistant pour protéger leur organisme des maladies opportunistes. Cependant, on ne peut en aucun cas considérer ces résistances comme un acquis définitif.

Elite Controllers – 2016

 

Un grand merci à Andrea Copetti pour l’élaboration de cette vidéo.

Se procurer le livre Elite Controllers

Who We Are

Bert Danckaert

This is Bert Danckaert’s last post for Democratic Jungle. There are 10 more chapters to go. Read them in the book THE EXTRAS. Order here, only 15 €: https://www.japsambooks.nl/collections/nieuwe-titels/products/the-extras

Together with the other extras, the photographer and the actor returned to the dimly lit conference room where in the meantime dozens of empty water bottles had accumulated across the table. In the background the photographer could hear Priyadarshan lethargically calling his troops to resume position. Slowly the machine came back into action. Professionally, the actors slid their tongues across their teeth, checking for any misplaced pieces of lunch. Hair was brushed, cables laid, and cameras clicked onto tripods.

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (Beijing) 2007-2011

The photographer could feel the extras looking at him; they said nothing. Willem, the Dutchman, was making jokes with the two French women, and although the photographer couldn’t hear him, he knew it was about him and his defeat.
“I was so close!” said the photographer frustratedly to Diane, with whom, out of his clone-colleagues, he had the most contact. She couldn’t manage more than an empathetic “I know …”

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (Berlin) 2010
Bert Danckaert – IKEA (Dresden) 2010

Mansoor asked Diane, Willem, the actor, and the two French women to follow him to the next scene. The photographer tagged along briefly just to see what would take place next. The scene was relatively complex. Everything had to be perfectly synchronized. While Anil Kapoor argued with Boman Irani about a difference of opinion concerning the lights on the control panel, Kangna Ranaut entered the frame with more bad news. The photographer couldn’t understand anything from their Hindi, but it all looked very dramatic. At exactly the same moment that Kangna appeared, in the background the actor had to give information to Willem who would then immediately exit the frame. In the foreground Diane was assiduously typing at the keyboard of a computer that wasn’t plugged in. The two French women had to pass one another in the far background; of all the extras they were the most expendable. The scene was rehearsed briefly first, and then during takes it continually went wrong. There was always someone stumbling over their lines, or entering the frame too soon or too late.

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (Amsterdam) 2011

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (Guangzhou) 2011

The photographer went back to the conference room where in the dim light Herman was sitting on the floor in a corner. His head was leant back against the wall and he gazed upwards—without really looking—towards the ceiling. His knees pulled towards his chest, exposing his blue socks. A strip of his pale, hairy shin seemed to undermine his “British” image. The photographer propped himself beside him and offered him a cold bottle of water, wet with condensation. Unintentionally he assumed the same posture. They bonded instantaneously.
“Do you think it will work out, your photo shoot?” he asked, with concern and skepticism. “It’s going to have to, even if I have to move heaven and earth!” replied the photographer with more confidence than he really had. “I think Mansoor was bothered by how it went just now, I have the feeling he’ll organize it better this time round, he promised me it’d work out.” “Yeah, no doubt it will,” Herman responded.
There was a short pause; they drank from their bottles.
“You know, I used to be a photographer?” Herman started up a new conversation. “I was a real fanatic, I had a darkroom installed up in the loft. I had a Durst enlarger with a Schneider lens. In the mid nineties I bought a Nikon f4 and a couple of lenses. Not long after that the digital cameras starting coming out. I’ve actually hardly used the Nikon. What do you work with?” “I’ve also always been Nikon.” The photographer heard himself say he was Nikon, you don’t use a brand, you are one. “I had an f3,” continued the photographer in the same jargon. This conversation was very familiar. “My first serious digital camera was also a Nikon, the d70. Then I swapped over to Canon, they were a bit faster with the digital developments and, moreover, a bit cheaper. The lenses weren’t as good. I bought a 50-mm lens for over a thousand euros, an f 1.2 from the professional series, you know the sort with the red ring, and I still had to correct the barrel distortion. Due mainly to the nature of my subjects, I have a lot of horizontal and vertical lines in my photographs.”
“How come? What do you photograph when you are traveling?”
This was usually the point at which these kinds of conversations stagnated, so a bit hesitantly he replied: “Well, walls actually, facades. In short: small details of our everyday surroundings, I refer to them as ‘inadvertent spaces.’” To his surprise this seemed spark Herman’s interest. “And why then only everyday places. There’s so much to be seen in foreign places?” “I photograph what we have in common,” the photographer tried to clarify, “the places where we park our cars, leave the trash out, places we continually pass but never give attention to. I try to capture these places as precisely as possible, over-aestheticized and often reduced to little more than their form, and so creating a stage for the exasperating banality and meaninglessness of my subject. A bit like we are ourselves … After all, see how we are sitting here. We are in Mumbai, thousands of miles from home and we’re sitting in a dark, stuffy studio, propped against the wall, drinking water out of plastic bottles. That’s what we do. We have a drink, eat a sandwich. It’s not a constant crisis … ” (Without saying so, this was a reference to a quote from Anton Chekhov that had always stayed with him: “Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out”.) “And then I’ve not even started on what we do when we’re just at home. The farcical television programs we waste our time with, the ridiculous products we buy in even more ridiculous supermarkets. I find thinking about it simultaneously funny and frightening. We are creating our own demise while we stand by and watch, apparently indifferent and even bored by it!”

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (HongKong) 2011

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (Istanbul) 2011

Herman smiled and nodded in agreement. “You know,” he went on, “I understand exactly what you mean, in the past I used to get really stressed about it too. I would often get into arguments about it with my wife. Sometimes right in the middle of a holiday, in some or another resort where we were supposed to be perfectly happy, I’d just get completely overwhelmed. It would have the total opposite effect on me. The all you can eat buffets, the activities, the artificial waves in the swimming pool would all drive me completely crazy.” Herman laughed, this time the photographer nodded in agreement. “I have a different take on things since being ill, I think. Without warning you’re suddenly met with the start of the next chapter. You don’t want to be there, certainly not yet.” Herman took the last sip and crushed his empty water bottle, screwing the cap back on whereby the bottle froze in its new crumpled form. “In any case, I no longer have the luxury to think about things in this way. Every moment is a very conscious one, for me.
I refuse to let my last seconds be consumed by ‘The Wheel of Fortune!’”
A silence fell, the photographer looked around the darkened room where the non-acting extras were sitting talking with one another in small groups. There was a resigned atmosphere in the room. Everyone was waiting patiently; no one rebelled. Besides, Mansoor was really very friendly and everyone was given as much coffee and water as they wanted. All the same, it seemed they had been taken hostage by this disaster movie and its successful actors. The photographer was doubtlessly the only one with an ulterior motive, with a plan for the end of this endless day.
“It hadn’t been going well with my wife,” Herman continued, “and then, when I got ill, it became untenable, I just felt I no longer had the time to question whether things would get better, or resign myself to the fact that everyone has problems and I just had to accept it. Once I had been given the all clear—which remains relative in my condition, my health is reassessed every six months—I rented a studio and left my wife. She wasn’t at all surprised.”
The photographer wanted to ask Herman what kind of cancer he had overcome, but given they had only just met and actually he had no idea whether liver cancer, for instance, was more life-threatening than throat cancer, he decided to refrain from asking. He also took the last swig from his bottle and placed it against the wall beside him.
“What kind of camera would you recommend I buy?” Herman went on, as though they’d been talking about photography equipment the whole time. “I have a small pocket Nikon at the moment, but it’s pretty limited.
I’d actually really like to pick up photography again.”
The question caught the photographer unawares, moreover, he didn’t have the knowledge of a salesman. “It depends what you want,” he cautiously began. “I assume you’d like to replace it with an slr?”
“I think so,” said the German in his English suit.
“As long as you stick with Canon or Nikon you can’t really go wrong. Of course, within those ranges the prices vary massively. You could opt for a full-frame, that’s a camera with a chip as large as the old 35-mm films. That doesn’t only offer a better technical result, it also gives you more creative flexibility to play with the depth of field.”

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (Lisbon) 2010

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (London) 2010

“I understand what you’re saying,” Herman affirmed, “I used to have a medium format camera, an old Hasselblad from an uncle, and because of its larger format it had a much smaller depth of field. I loved how you could accentuate just one element—an insect or what have you—by leaving the rest unsharp. What kind of camera do you use these days?” asked the German for the second time.
“A Canon 5d Mark ii. Within its price range it’s probably the best on the market.”
“How much does it cost?” Herman wanted to know.
“The body is about two thousand euros, a bit cheaper than the top line from Nikon, and far below the real professional digital backs from Phase One or Hasselblad.”
The photographer had had this conversation over a hundred times, but for one or the other reason he was happy to oblige Herman, he seemed sympathetic and sincere, although it remained difficult to detect who the man really was behind this British mask. The photographer heard his voice, his English with German accent, listened to his particularly personal story, interchanged with trivial thoughts about the technical aspects of photography, but had no idea how this man was usually “presented.” In fact the photographer struggled to imagine him in anything other than a suit with a side parting.
“Why is it you want to capture the things we have in common, and why travel to Mumbai, for example, to do that?” Herman moved on to the content of his work (he was evidently conscientious that the conversation had become somewhat one-sided).
“My starting point for this project was the idea that so many places on the planet are interchangeable with one another, as though there’s no longer space for cultural identity in our globalized world. So I started traveling, to Beijing to photograph the parking lot of Ikea, then Cape Town to photograph the preparations for the World Cup reflected in the building site of the Green Point Stadium, or here to the Mumbai film studios to capture the ultimate fictional construction and the image of decadence just a stone’s throw from the world’s most notorious slums. Mumbai is also the most heavily populated city on the planet and within the city there are both the richest and the poorest people in the world. I also went to Havana, to test my resistance in view of such a picturesque setting as the context for the endless communist revolution and isolation, through which equality manifests in the bitterest form of extreme poverty. I wanted to investigate how I could play with the demise of the exotic painterly image without falling into its trap. Each of them is a loaded location, owing to their political or social situations. It was in Havana that I really discovered that my concept didn’t add up, that not every place on the planet has been saturated by Ikeas, Toyota garages, and gigantic shopping malls.”
“If I understand rightly, in your opinion globalization—and the subsequent visual monotony—is then largely the result of neo-liberalism. In other words, that would mean that so-called cultural identity is related to isolation and poverty and an unrelenting grip on failed political ideologies,” remarked Herman. “With that in mind, I think you should really go to North Korea!”
“I’m afraid you’re most probably right, and North Korea is certainly on my list, although I’m nervous I wouldn’t get the same amount of freedom of movement as I had there in Havana.”

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (Paris) 2010

Bert Danckaert – IKEA (Shanghai) 2010

“I think I more or less agree with your cynical conclusion. But isn’t the new globalized culture precisely our new cultural identity, however impoverished that might be? Isn’t what we’ve become (or who we are becoming) the universal mix, the hybrid of all races? Everything is adulterated in this age. There are no more real flags; everything seems to be the same. More and more often you hear people asserting that they’re left wing, after which they begin a nationalistic appeal and defend the establishment. These days you can easily be against same-sex marriage and for abortion (although you come across the opposite more frequently). Should we oppose headscarves or not? And is nuclear energy not the only realistic alternative?”
“We waver from the one to the other and go with the winds. Everything is made permanently available whereby we don’t know what to choose first. We live in a permanent state of indigestion—a perverted, noncommittal, postmodern mindset. And what we understand as cultural identity has in fact become an exploited cliché: Belgian fries, Venetian gondolas, tango dancers in Argentina. I’m certain that once Cuba moves towards a more liberal society (which seems inevitable and is already underway) the old-timers from the forties and fifties will keep driving, but with environmentally friendly Hyundai motors or something: an icon of cultural identity, that by that point has nothing more to do with its original. It’s precisely for that reason that I photograph everyday spaces, because they are far more tied up with our cultural identity than the Forbidden City or the Moulin Rouge.”
“Cultural identity is who we are and what we do, how we live, build, move, and eat. Cultural identity isn’t something we cherish, it’s an invisible thing we carry in us, which continually fluctuates. And it’s the first thing we let go of in exchange for the delights of the free market; the call of uniformity and its Ikeas. I fear we give up our cultural heritage for the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ all too easily!”
The photographer wanted to add that our society would perhaps benefit from the shock therapy of cancer, but he swallowed his words out of respect for his German companion.

This was Bert Danckaert’s last post for Democratic Jungle. There are 10 more chapters to go. Read them in the book THE EXTRAS. Order here, only 15 €: https://www.japsambooks.nl/collections/nieuwe-titels/products/the-extras

Powerlessness

Bert Danckaert

“I speak of the things that are there, anywhere and everywhere – easily found, not easily selected and interpreted.” Robert Frank

Robert Frank, Santa Fe, 1955

If there’s a photographer with a patent on existential disorientation then without a doubt it’s Robert Frank (born in Zurich, 1924). He emigrated to the United States in the late forties. While the ruins from ww ii were still smoldering and Europe didn’t know where to begin with rebuilding, Frank opted for the call of freedom and opportunity. The myth of “The American Dream,” however, soon got too much for him and he set off to South America and then back to Europe to photograph Paris and London, among other places. With the work he was producing he convinced a Guggenheim committee to give him a grant enabling him to undertake a road trip through the us. Between 1954 and 1957 he would produce the legendary book The Americans. Frank, who first and foremost wanted to be sincere towards himself, created an entirely new photographic style: the autobiographical document, in which the ambiguity between registration, interpretation, and metaphor manifest as a mirror rather than a (window) frame. (11)

“I am always looking outside, trying to look inside, trying to say something that is true.” Robert Frank

Robert Frank, Luncheonette, Butte Montana, 1955-1956

This also brings us back to the aforementioned notion of “invisible contamination.” After all, how can a photographer work introspectively, referring to his deepest impulses, when he simply registers what takes place in front of him (outside him) with a mechanical instrument (the camera)?

It seems as though the photographer has little choice and is entirely dependent on the frame of his camera. Of all the arts, photography might be the most impotent because it is inextricably bound to what is there. And yet …

Robert Frank photographed roadside diners, elevators, gas stations, his wife, his children, in short: he photographed on the move. (12)  He captured everything that crossed his path, and yet at the same time it all seems to escape him; not only the moment he presses the button, which is always and irrevocably in the past (the tragedy of photography and its relation to death), but particularly in the way he surrendered himself to the unfathomable nature of imagery that, no matter the interpretation, can never fully be pinned down. Take the off-centered photograph of a bumper pool table (Luncheonette – Butte, Montana) or the “Save” gas station (Santa Fe, New Mexico). It’s precisely the aforementioned impotence (in this case, bound to Frank’s existential discomfort) that defines the poetry of this work.

Robert Frank belongs to a group of artists without a determined destination but for whom traveling itself is the journey’s end. Frank is the action painter and free jazz musician of photography. Searching, scraping, groping in the dark, drunk on impotence. And as such, he drew a sad poem from American society. (13)  Frank’s position is highly subjective; he doesn’t aim to give an overview. His photographs in The Americans therefore say more about Frank’s own demise than that of the United States.

11 John Szarkowsky, director of the photography department at moma (New York) from 1962 to 1991, curated the exhibition and book Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960 (Museum of Modern Art, 1978) in which he made a distinction between photographs that function as a window on the world and photographs that function rather as
a mirror through which, by means of the external world, the photographer is introspectively reflective.

12 Fellow comrade of Robert Frank, Jack Kerouac: author of the introduction to The Americans and writer of the cult novel On the Road, bible of the “Beat Generation.”

13 In reference to the introduction by Jack Kerouac of The Americans: “Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world.”

Image Building

Bert Danckaert

The photographer’s possessions lay untouched, just as he had left them. It was only now that he understood the reason behind the police costumes and metal flight cases with the actor’s names written across them. When they had arrived that morning they had had no idea in what kind of fiction they’d be entering. The excitement with which they had stood shaving without water, the tense wait in the costume department, and hair and make-up, had now been replaced with a feeling of boredom and contempt. Absolutely no respect for this dojo, the photographer was keen to exploit it. Was he the attacker or the attacked? In any case he felt a lot of energy, both negative and positive.

Green Screen Color Reference Image

In a chaotic whirlpool of impulses he tried to focus while he watched Mansoor locking the door again. His rucksack over his shoulder, he carried his tripod like a machine gun as he stepped across the electrical cables and passed the control panels in the dark. Out on the other side he was met with the green screen and the extras waiting to be photographed in a fraction of time, and become something that had never been: a photograph. Frozen time creating a new moment.

As he had expected, this was very straightforward. He positioned his camera and set the frame. The actor was stood in front of the green screen, ready and waiting as a test model. It looked perfect. The even light was bright and detached; the green screen was big enough to allow the model to take some distance from the wall, so there were no shadows in the background. The gray, dusty concrete floor had a subtle presence in contrast to the latent and virtual green. The white markers on the wall reminded the photographer of the indicators pilots would have seen on their screens during precision bombing attacks that had been made visible to the public for the first time during the mediatized Gulf War in the nineties. This is when the photographer had truly lost belief in the power structures of our society. Just as how the exact time at which Somalia was invaded had been determined through the powers of television. The invasion needed to be broadcast live during primetime in the United States, in order to sway public opinion— lessons that had been learned from the Vietnam War. The soldiers had carried lighting equipment to film with, so their heroic acts wouldn’t be lost in what war actually is: killings in the dark and miserable pain. Forgotten and futile lives, over before they’ve even begun, now used for the higher purpose of the president’s reelection. Wars are won through the power of the image: he who controls the image wins. Image building.

Somalia, 1992

The extras were ready; the photographer was concentrated. Just one more test to check the lighting, and he was ready for a short, intensive stint of assembly line work: one for one these individuals would pose as themselves in front of the lens, dressed in an Indian preconception. Who we are and why we are who we are were the unspoken questions and main objectives to do this, in this moment. The photographer focused the lens, turned off the auto focus and was ready to go. A hand entered the frame of his image. He raised his head from the viewfinder to find an Indian security officer in front of the lens. “Do you have permission to do this?” asked the spoilsport. “Yes, of course,” the photographer tried to quickstep out of the situation by dancing the man’s negative energy back in his face. “Who gave you permission?” To which the photographer replied: “Mansoor, the man responsible for the extras.” “Wait there, and don’t touch that camera!” commanded the power tripper. He tried to stay calm, after all he was just moments away from creating his masterwork. He wasn’t about to let this watchdog ruin what he’d been building up all morning. He saw Mansoor walking through the corridor. The photographer went over to him and explained the situation. Mansoor responded with uneasiness, the photographer realized Mansoor had given him permission for something he didn’t actually have authority for. This should have happened under wraps, but now the ball was already rolling and would have to be played out within the hierarchy. Mansoor said he would speak with his supervisors and disappeared. The photographer returned to his camera where the dog was still keeping guard. The camera remained untouched. The actor was still poised at the ready. The other extras waiting neatly in line began to shift a little, looking around nervously. Technicians and prop assistants were already heading back to the set. It was now or never.

The watchdog had won. Mansoor came back with good news: “You have permission for the photo shoot, but now it is time to return to the set. At the end of the day, when we’ve finished filming, you will have even more time and I will help you,” he said encouragingly. The photographer pressed further to do the shoot immediately: “It will only take five minutes …” but it was useless, this battle had been lost and the battalion had to march onwards to the end of this day of filming, when the photographer would have his chance to seize the power of the image during primetime.

Respect for the Dojo

Bert Danckaert

I finished high school in the mid 80s. I was finally done with it. Half the teachers had found me to be a “troublemaker”; the other half perhaps saw something in me. Let’s just say I was given the benefit of the doubt. My classmates didn’t interest me, save for a few, and often even then I would discover I’d been mistaken. Friendships didn’t seem to exist in high school, everything was superficial and fake, even friendships—experienced so intensely in those formative years, because everything’s new (as you break loose from your parents’ construction, and your friends are the key to independence). My time in high school was a waste of time, apart from the lessons I received in humility. Elementary school must have been even worse; thankfully I don’t remember much of that. There you are completely mixed up together, a random cross-section of peers, regardless of race, interests, or social class. Everything still needed to be defined, a jungle of unrefined lives and the impossible task for those noble people who would come and stand in front of the class. High school hadn’t been much better. But now I was finished. The last couple of years had been easier, perhaps not so much because of the material we were covering (although that also went much faster), but I had a better sense of who I was, so I was much calmer.

I had decided I wanted to become an actor. Not that I had had any experience as an actor (I did go to the theater a lot, but I’d never performed myself). It played to my advantage that the theater school had a preference for accepting “untouched” candidates; these students could be shaped more easily into their ideal model of “The Actor.” Students who had already followed a preparatory course were often already “ruined,” tarnished by the dogmas of bad teachers and bad examples.

So I followed in my brother’s footsteps (who by that time had graduated as an actor), attended several auditions and was eventually offered a place at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. Out of a hundred candidates twenty were selected. After six months only a dozen were left (halfway through several candidates were asked to leave) and at the end of the year, after stressful and crippling assessments, I was given the negative feedback: “You don’t have any personality.”

All the same, that year of theater school, under the guidance of an old charismatic professor and a young ambitious professor, had been far more intense and rich than the seven years of studying at the Academy and the Higher Institute (10). I should add that it had never clicked between the older teacher and myself, I never understood her. Perhaps I was too young, while she was somewhat off the planet. But the younger teacher had opened the door to the arts for me. He introduced me to the understanding of “artistic responsibility.” There was only one way, that of total consistency, the most direct route to absolute sincerity, without straying (an untenable but beautiful quest), which would bring everything into doubt, leaving nothing over—the role of the artist as a poisoned blessing and heavy burden.

The more seasoned teacher was always dressed in red, pulled incredible expressions, consumed two coffees during each break, and it was said that she also drank her own urine for the purpose of one or the other spiritual or health beliefs. I couldn’t fathom her, and she didn’t want to get me, possibly because I had no personality.

It was the more seasoned teacher who had introduced aikido practice to the theater school. Each week we had a class with Frank, who looked more like a Chen or a Zhou. During lunch he would eat a bowl of rice with chopsticks. He was consistent, straightforward, and honest in relation to his beliefs, completely and utterly. Frank taught us about meditation. We sat on our heels and would bow on a rattling outward-breath, refilling our lungs as we came back to an upright position. Energy in, energy out. Release and draw in. The cosmos gives and receives.

Taino Ten-Kahn was another exercise in which we would turn on an axis, as though there was an imaginary pole just in front of us, around which we would turn. We were to sense the center of a universe. The centrifugal forces made our hands spin around our bodies like swing balls on the ropes of our arms, while we undoubtedly physically experienced the imaginary pillar, as figures of yin and yang circled around it.

We were young and so of course things got out of hand sometimes during meditation. But all in all we remained relatively calm when we were throwing imaginary water into the air while calling “hishhh” or “hii tssoo” during the rowing movement, whereby we would “row” in synchrony like slaves on a ship.

Once, one lad arrived ten minutes late, to add to the situation he had terribly sweaty feet (and the exercise was practiced barefoot). In no time the stench of his feet had filled the room to the extent that we could think of nothing else. Frank explained to him to try and have respect for the dojo: the space we filled with our meditation. You were not to arrive too late and moreover you were to arrive clean.

It always stayed with me. Frank was absolutely right. Again, this was a lesson in respect for oneself, not—or rather thereby—for the dojo. Ultimate samurai consistency. To fall is to die, hara-kiri for the failed, and even this is an act of ultimate self-respect. To live or die for art.

During the fighting exercises (aikido is after all a fighting sport) we learnt how to exploit the energy of the attacker. When your aggressor aims to hit you in the face, for example, it is very easy to duck out of the way of the attacking arm, and, with a rotating Taino Ten-Kahn movement through your imaginary axis, grasp your enemy’s hand and extend their movement, whereby they lose their balance. By gracefully ending your turning yin movement in a contrary yang, you can subsequently floor your enemy, if so desired, delivering them a final blow.

The beauty of this movement (when it works) is indescribable. The simplicity with which the energy of the attacker is employed to floor them in a kind of rotating dance has something magical. You take the negative energy of your aggressor’s attack into your own movement and turn it to your own strength, yin becomes yang, negative becomes positive, the shadow becomes light, and the latent becomes visible. Once you understand this movement (I mean in the figurative sense) you start to see this negative energy as something you can use; after all, through the right “dance” movements you can turn it to your own strengths, a true advantage in the fight we call life.

10 nhisk (National Higher Institute for Fine Arts), three years, reformed into the hisk shortly after my graduation, and operating to this day as a postgraduate program in the visual arts.

Showtime!

Bert Danckaert

Bert Danckaert as Stewart at the Mehboob Studios, iPhone film still

The last scene of the early afternoon was shot, and the digital rendering checked for mistakes. Priyadarshan took his glasses from his nose and slid them into his breast pocket. After he had lit the next slender king-size cigarette, he leant back and rubbed his eyes. An assistant removed the microphone from his collar, and disappeared off with it. Anil Kapoor had a short chat with the director, the photographer couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it was clearly small talk. Priyadarshan smiled, gave Kapoor a pat on the shoulder, stood up and left the studio. Kapoor followed his director to a place the lower castes, like the extras, wouldn’t get a chance to see.

Outside it was light and warm. A number of tents had been set up next to the trailers of the actors. Inside one of them, food for the extras was being prepared, served in metal trays like in a hotel. Mansoor guided them to the tent and gave them each a plastic bag containing cutlery, a serviette, a pot of yogurt and a bottle of water. The photographer was reminded of the scene in Slum Dog Millionaire where the Indian kids had used superglue to reseal mineral water bottles after filling them with the dirty water they usually drank. The photographer had seen the film on the airplane from Vienna to Mumbai, not quite knowing what he was getting himself into. Now that he was here, he wasn’t certain whether he should find the scene funny or sad. There he was, with the same Anil Kapoor in this poverty-stricken city, pretending otherwise, in a meta-construction of well-controlled entertainment. He joined the queue and served himself some rice, Indefinable meat and vegetables and then went to join the actor, who by that time had also found the catering. The actor was feeling better, you could tell by his full plate of food. The photographer asked how it was going. “ok,” he said, “I think the worst has passed. But, I want to leave, I’ve had enough of this shithole studio in this crappy country!” He couldn’t blame the actor, although he was having a good time. To start with, seeing the film set was giving him new ideas, despite its plainness it was still relatively intriguing. And secondly the photographer had a hidden agenda: he would soon be photographing the extras. He was excited and focused.

Using his iPhone, the actor filmed—by way of letting off steam—the photographer playing the role of Stewart, in his brown suit and shiny black shoes, giving an improvised guided tour of the studios. In Indian-English he explained where the toilets were—at least the toilets for the extras—and where the refreshments for the extras were being served and that all in all there were just thirty seconds and counting before they were expected back on set.

Where had he taken his brother? He could have been at home with a Trappist beer next to the open fire, visiting family, or reading the paper. Instead, he was here, with a churning stomach, on a shitty film set in a crappy country, surrounded by the sick, the wretched, and film actors, in a spacious hotel with palm trees beside the pool, but next to a stinky beach where crippled dogs hobbled back and forth. Overwhelmed with the general feeling of “why?” were they standing here, lunching, donning these ridiculous costumes. It had all happened too quickly. Hysterical giggles, for a prolonged amount of time. They had to put their plates down. Tears rolled down their faces. Security guards looked on indignantly. Luckily they were far enough away from Mansoor and the other extras, it could have otherwise been disruptive for the planned photo shoot.

Once they had recomposed themselves the brothers continued eating. Watched the film, and yawned somewhat. It was then time for the photographer to approach Mansoor and collect his equipment from the room where he lay asleep.