The bewilderment between reality and illusion, between perceptive habits and a new way of watching through the video camera. A false step that interrupts the normal rhythm of perception and let us perceive other possible re-constructions of what we see. A jocose swing between these two levels is the trace that links the work of Julien Maire, a French artist living now in Berlin who, through performances and installations, apparently very different from each other, creates moments and spaces of compression, overlap and perceptive illusion.
Small space-time sections, in which he decomposes the optical vision and its interpretation. Small, because the reduced size, both temporal and spatial, is useful to the artist to isolate the created play and to generate, in the spectator, an inner enjoyment, an observation that eliminates the distance between the artistic event and inserts it as much as possible in the usual perception, in order to disassemble it from the interior.
In some performances, surprise and tampering with reality are direct, simple, and for this reason even more astonishing. Like in the “Digit” performance, present also in the last Transmediale and Sonic Acts festivals, spare in showing a too much banal situation, a man, the artist, that writes, sitting at his little desk, among the public, but magic in hiding the trick thanks to which the naked finger flows across the sheet of paper, leaving ink trails with a simple touch. In other works of his, it is illusion itself that is deconstructed, that illusion created by the medium, which is intended as a structure and mechanism of construction of reality, now unconsciously assimilated in our usual mechanisms of vision, one of the realities that we experiment every day.
Julien Maire looks at the medium with the same Dada approach with which he sees reality, he disassembles, deconstructs the functioning of perception like that of the camera. In the case of the medium he looks for machines, almost always analogue, because they enable him to act in an artisan way on their functioning.
Like in the live cinema of the beautiful “Demi-Pas”, a reconstruction of the narrative flow of a short film, built through the sequence of mechanical slides, created by the artist like small transparent overlapped theatres. The illusion of the cinema motion is not generated by the flowing of horizontal fixed modules, like it happens in the film, but by single modules hiding, in themselves, the motion that is put into action, in real time, by the artist. Whereas the spatial plan creates another illusion, that of the depth of field, a fictitious tridimensionality, produced by the overlap of compressed and two-dimensional levels.
Finally, in installations like “Exploding Camera” and “Low Resolution Cinema”, Julien Maire does not only disassemble and reconstruct, but he literally dissects and amputates instruments that we generally use, and he offers to the spectator this anatomy of the camera, in order to encourage him/her to look for a new functioning, he does not create the medium, but puts into action that process that Rosalind Krauss (theoretician and author of “Reinventing the Medium”, edited in Italy by Bruno Mondadori, co-founder and co-editor of “October” magazine, a veteran of “Artforum” in the Sixties and Seventies) defines as the “re-invention” of the medium.
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: Julien, what is your artistic and cultural background? And what is the artistic tradition to what you refer?
Julien Maire: I started my studies by attending a classic art school, ended in 1995, which was not linked to the environment of the new media, but more connected to disciplines like painting, sculpture, and so on a small school, in Metz, where we were free to develop our ideas and projects. I was initially focused on the concept and idea of perception, that is, how to represent the world in 3 dimensions, by using modes in 2 dimensions. A simple but very important idea to me: how to compress and reproduce the real world in another way, with another two-dimensional system. I thus began my research with drawing and sculpture, and then moving quickly to mechanics and its integration with computers.
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: How do you work on your machines? Both in “Low Resolution Cinema” and “Exploding Camera”, but also in “Demi-Pas” there is a manic attention to the construction of your apparatuses. Where have you learnt this and how do you have new ideas, how do you work on them?
Julien Maire: I’ve learnt everything I know by simply breaking the machines and the mechanical instruments I then use. I started to work with mechanisms and electronics about 10 years ago and I’ve learnt everything by looking into the machines and the different spare parts, and by trying mainly to understand their functioning. Modern technologies are very complex and difficult to understand, unlike the mechanical ones, which can be more easily understood, reproduced and modified. I work in a similar way to Leonardo Da Vinci’s one, when, to draw in the best possible way the interior of a human body, he simply needed to look into it to understand what it was like. I have many ideas on how to work exactly when I understand the deep functioning of a machine.
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: When do you understand that a certain mechanism is important to you? Or rather, do you first have an idea and then you try to realize it, or do you understand the potentiality of a system and at that moment you have the idea of how to use it?
Julien Maire: It depends. Sometimes, I have new ideas completely by chance and therefore I look for a way of realizing them, sometimes in an efficient way and sometimes not. Somehow, it is the same approach of the experimental cinema, although I’m much more interested in producing a real film, maybe with experimental techniques, rather than experimenting with different techniques to see, later, whether the final effect is interesting or not. I like controlling things, being sure that something happens because I want it, working, obviously, in an experimental way: it is a process that demands much work and it can also be rather frustrating. I constantly look for new ways to do things, different techniques with which I like experimenting. If you look at the daily life with the Internet, many artists share, today, information, increase their competences and skills on a certain software: it is a different way of relating to technologies. I love the mechanical elements, the dynamism of the approach they demand
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: Therefore, why do you think some artists that are completely analogue and mechanical like you are invited more and more often to take part in festivals dealing with media art in general or specifically with digital art?
Julien Maire: Mainly because they come from the world of classical art. In the media art, many protagonists are former programmers or technicians that have now to deal with the world of art. I think this could be sometimes a problem, you can hear it often in the presentation of many installations, technically perfect, complex, that are cool, but not really works of art. They don’t communicate this.
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: The idea of “magic” seems to be very important in your works. I think, for example, that “Digit” is one of the simplest but, at the same time, most surprising performances I saw in the last few years. In your opinion, what is the relationship between “magic” and the theories of Increased Reality, and those of experimental cinema or the tricks of the pre-cinema age?
Julien Maire: When you watch a film, this is actually a sort of illusion, something magic: it consists of many moving images producing an overall effect. Cinema is illusion in itself, and it’s interesting wondering why spectators in a cinema are so deeply involved in this two-dimensional process that isn’t, after all, reality, but its often unreal representation. Cinema is a magic process, in my opinion, and the magic on which illusion is based is what I’ve always drawn inspiration from. I’m sometimes afraid of the word “magic”, I prefer the word “prestige”, which refers to something more mechanical, optical, almost manual. In “Demi-Pas”, everything is, at the same time, very clear, there isn’t any illusion, trick, everything works as you can see. In “Digit” (or also in “Pieces de Monnaie”), instead, magic is created only if the spectator is physically present in the performance, because it’s necessary to create a relationship between the public and me. I aim at creating a play with the spectator, who has to look at me not so much as a performer but as an image, as a film, immersed in reality. In “Digit”, I use a tracking camera and the effect is very simple, but I manage to bring a certain quality of the image into reality: this is the illusion I create
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: The surprise factor in the spectator is thus very important to you, and also the relationship with the public, with the space surrounding you. You provoke the public by changing what they normally perceive as reality
Julien Maire: Behind your question, there is the idea of interaction, but the only interaction characterising me is that between my machines and me. But I think that I love, at the same time, in “Digit”, that the public is so close to me, I like arousing the spectators’ curiosity to understand a rather simple and keen, precise, certainly not impressive mechanism. I think I’ll work again in this course, in the future. It’s, for me, a sort of aesthetic research, I love this kind of approach.
Photo by Marco Mancuso
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: This tension can be found also in your installations, which seem alive and allow the public to look into the mechanism, to understand their functioning, the way in which they manage to represent reality. We’re thinking about works like “Exploding Camera” or “Low Resolution Cinema”, for example
Julien Maire: As a matter of fact, this is the reason why I don’t like recordings, but everything is live, it happens in front of the present public, both with an installation and a live event. In “Exploding Camera”, the room is completely dark, and the public is curious and encouraged to move around the installation to understand its mechanism
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: You’ve been defined as an archaeologist of media, but we think it has to be specified that you’re special. That is, you’re that kind of artists who are not only able to reproduce an analogue media, but literally to re-invent it, finding new ways of using it. According to Krauss’ theories, you create a new use of a certain medium, by representing reality through the deconstruction of a well-known mechanism. How do you relate to these theories, which often remain only words, but in your case find a practical application?
Julien Maire: I’m personally very interested in showing a new reality through an alternative use of a certain medium. If you want to make a film on a certain topic, you have to develop your own medium that has to be the most suitable for that topic. In “Demi-Pas”, for example, to tell the story I tell, I use a specific medium in a particular and certainly deconstructed way, in order to develop that precise idea and story. “Exploding Camera” is a perfect work in this sense, it’s the ideal example of this matter: in this case, the film is made thanks to the explosion of lights and an alternative and deconstructed use of a well-known medium such as the video camera.
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: “Exploding Camera” has a rather strong political concept, since it reproduces the real atrocities of war through an absolutely alternative and deconstructed use of the traditional medium of the video camera. We think this is a very interesting short circuit
Julien Maire: I had the idea of “Exploding Camera” almost 2 years after the events of 11 September. I was rather shocked by the fact that the video camera had begun to be a primary instrument to record criminal and deathly events, a real transformation for an object I love very much and that is generally used in an artistic and interesting way. I was very surprised by the fact that few people talked about this topic. It is thus very important to me that the public understand the idea that is behind “Exploding Camera” and for this reason I’m usually very careful to explain the installation, to give information, although I don’t like talking about my works very much. At the same time, I like that the public see the work and maybe understand the supporting idea even long time afterwards, maybe by looking for information on the Internet or through other sources
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: Do you consider the concept of illusionism as a real form of art and not as a mere form of entertainment?
Julien Maire: I’ve partly answered before. I love working on a small scale, in a performative way, creating a relationship also with a small audience, in a special atmosphere. I love working on a small scale, in small places, which contrast with the phantasmagoric atmospheres, typical of the shows of illusionism. In this sense, yes, I think illusionism can be considered as a form of art.
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: How do you work on the story of your works, for example “Demi-Pas”? That is, do you create a story basing on the optical mechanisms you have at your disposal or do you build, every time, a specific system for a special passage of your storyboard?
Julien Maire: In general, I like creating a series of mechanical processes I use when I need them, although I can obviously develop specific objects that are used in precise moments of the story I tell. Each of the modules you see in “Demi-Pas” demanded a very long time to be realised, but in the end I used a much more little part of those I had actually created. Some of them are also used in another film (a work that has not been finished yet, with a real storyboard, dialogues and a script), which is entitled “The Empty”, where many ideas of “Demi-Pas” are used but in a simpler way I’m moving a lot in this course, that is, in being more and more focused on precise mechanisms, to be more and more precise, with more and more simplicity
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: Does this attention to the story occur also in your installations?
Julien Maire: Yes, in “Low Resolution Cinema”, for example, the story is developed on the idea of the city of Berlin . The project came into life after a stay here in Berlin some years ago, for a representation of the city in contrast with the images that tourist normally capture of it. Therefore, I spent a year in gathering photographs and images: I love old photographs, I collect them and some cost me a lot, I like that they have a very low resolution. The screen, in the installation, is divided into two parts, there is a horizon that divides the framing into two parts: to do this, the video projector was deconstructed as it happens in other works of mine. I worked, therefore, almost like a photographer, a painter: by deconstructing the potentiality of the system at the moment at which I cut the lens of the LCD, I operated similarly to the way in which photographers work carefully on their negatives. The line on the LCD is physically present, like in the painting, allowing the final image to have an abstract and minimal geometry, facilitated also by the use of a very low resolution that allows me to increase the perspective of the projection.
Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo: How do you relate to the sound and music that are present in your works? In some of them, they seem to be of minor importance. In others, they are almost a presence of comment. Have you ever thought of developing a real audiovisual project with a musician, such as, for example, Pierre Bastien, who has an approach to music that is very similar to the approach you have to images?
Julien Maire: I think I have serious problems with sound, I don’t know very much of it. At the same time, for “Demi-Pas” I asked another director to deal with the sound: I like that sound doesn’t prevail over the image on which spectators have to concentrate, it has to be, therefore, a comment on images. In “Demi-Pas”, there are, therefore, traces of Pierre Chaffer, Pierre Bastien and many others. In “Low Resolution Cinema”, instead, music was composed by a Japanese musician, who developed an interface with Max/MSP that generates the sound connected with the movement of the projector. Anyway, for some time I’ve been thinking about a performance linked with “Low Resolution Cinema”, and about some ideas with musician Pierre Bastien, who is a dear friend of mine, whom I feel very close to me and with whom I share an approach that is certainly similar to audiovisual experience. Up to now, we’ve performed together only once in London , when we met, by improvising: he played the trumpet on a projection of mine, but it’s clear we could certainly develop something much more complex. We’ll see in the future.