“Please turn out the lights. As long as we’re going to talk about films, we might as well do it in the dark.” Hollis Frampton, A Lecture, 1968
So here we are, in the dark. In the darkness of the first moments of Timeline (2005), the first video by Julien Crépieux that I saw several years ago, in which the landscape and action of this sequence shot emerge slowly as the sun rises. At the image’s center a moving glimmer of light approaches while a voice, that of Joseph K. in the first scene of Orson Welles’s film The Trial, covers up the natural sounds that surround the character that one can make out bit by bit. With day breaking, the scene shifts from black and white to color, putting the spectator on a threshold, that of the identifiable, from which the scene and its progress suddenly light up: a young man is walking facing the camera, carrying as baggage a monitor that is broadcasting Welles’s film. The simultaneity of both actions, that of the man whose movement develops step by step the film area, and that elliptical action already there from the film by Welles, changes the rapport of the image in fundamental sound and visual dissymmetry from the moment of the recording to that of cinematographic construction.
The last video by Julien I saw, Sans titre (Travelling Kid), 2011, is also a sequence shot in a landscape. In broad daylight, camera tracking beside a forest, suddenly a child bursts into the camera’s shot. Filmed full-length, the child stares at the camera with full intention not to leave it, even when the latter tries to get away by attempting to get ahead of him. But the child follows it, runs after it in order not to leave the field of vision of the shot. It’s therein that lies all its action, within that game a priori defined but the rules of which get out of hand. Which of the two, the camera or the child, is playing, by trying to pursue the other in that moment in which no one seems to control the frame. Stressed disorder by the experienced trouble faced with the desynchronized gestures by the child in the flowing of the dolly shot. Filmed with a high-speed camera (120 images per second), this sequence underwent several operations in editing recomposing afterwards a regular but uneven tracking. It’s that which renders two movements in contradiction, that of the camera’s recording, horizontal and flowing, and that of the child’s body, vertical and jerky by its slowing-down and speeding-up.
These two works are thus born out of the tension generated by temporality and contrary movement. Should we move faster or more slowly looking at these images. Should we stop or go through them. Contemplate them, consume them or else let them dazzle us. The different works by Julien seem to embrace these different options, through an exploration of still and moving images, from their construction to their reception. Drawing his inspiration, as elsewhere, from narrative film as well as from experimental films by James Benning or Michael Snow for example, he seems to make a name for himself with each new work, a structure and a process often close to the rigor of structural film without being encumbered at the same time by its constraints. His approach stands out by a more conceptual character giving priority to the contents of the images as much as to their form. The place and appearance of the subject within the space-time of the framing are thus characteristic of his work, by means of studying the body and its displacement within a shot. Just as the installation of a certain latency that generates a temporary confusion, up to the point of turnover in which we manage to identify what we’re in the middle of seeing.
All of a sudden I note that you had initiated one of our previous discussions with the last words of Goethe calling for ‘more light’ and that today it’s a matter of extinguishing it. That is to say both texts could link up with each other by means of a fading to black. But beyond these atmospheric considerations and in order to pursue with Hollis Frampton whom you quote in the opening, “So it seems that a film is, first, a confined space, at which you and I, we, a great many people, are staring.” Hardly any turnover here: Julien Crépieux’s films lie indeed within that confined space, to the point of testing the limits. Affirming a certain taste for conceptual constraints that he sets for himself in order to frame his seeing and hearing, he doesn’t for all that make cinematographic authorship and rhetorical strategies the sole object of his work. The camera and the language of cinema help him more as practical and theoretical tools to record phenomena as prevailing as the displacement of sound waves within fixed shots in Sans Titre (Pour ainsi dire), 2009, the movement of memory (In folio, 9/16, 2010) or that of the human eye in the very brief panoramic shots of Corpusculum Flotans, 2005 or even the exhaustion of viewpoints and possible perspectives at the heart of an abstract landscape through double movement of tracking and of panoramic shots in A438, 2008. The question of the framework, of the shots and their length, of the movement of images and that of the sight, registers in a daydream about the ways individual perception functions.
This is also the case with Sans Titre (Spaceship Earth), 2010, film that I like to resume as the fastest camera move in the West, even if it’s sort of jumping the gun for the pleasure of an erroneous formula. Exterior daytime. A close-up shot on arid ground scattered with sparse vegetation. The shadow of an electricity pole designates a cross the intersection of which appears at the center of the image. Time passes, the world turns and the shot slowly enlarges onto the natural surrounding landscape, following the displacement of this shadow on the ground the intersection of which remains rigorously at the center of the image. The precision of this plan of approach forces attention onto the detail and the minute variation of events happening within the shot, in a narrative reduced to its very simplest expression. The subject of the film – if one might speak of subject in this regard – remains nonetheless a monumental undertaking. Gathering its title from Buckminster Fuller who compared the planet to a spaceship for which he wished to establish and share the instruction manual, this film actually records the very movement of the earth. Filmed in a single sequence shot, it imposes patience as the requisite quality for the contemplative experience for its reception. But perhaps I’ve already said too much? The dark makes me lose any notion of time. Please turn on the lights.
I can see your coming with such a transition that’s just at the right moment to tackle Reprise de Volée (2009). In this installation composed of several slide shows projected on television screens that are turned-off, the images selected come from scenes from films (Paris Texas or The Killing for example) in which the light blinds a character who shields himself from it, when it isn’t the camera itself, in a subjective shot, that turns out to be in full contre-jour facing the light source. If that gesture of hiding ones eyes might assimilate the light to a menace, it also refers to that specific moment of the shooting, when the actors are under the projectors. Here, we are again facing a division and an interpolation of several temporalities, that of the narration and that of the actual shooting, to which is added that of this set-up which redoubles the situation. The characters on the film find themselves actually again blinded by the beam of the slide projectors, as if blinded by their own image. Reprise de Volée might also be viewed as a study of the shot of the light itself and its reverse angle, but also as a meditation on sight and vision. The figure of the blind man might somehow evoke the blinding of the present, the impossibility to grasp it and the necessity thus to neutralize the lights of our own time in order to carry it off in its grasp. A withdrawal of sight which figures as sort of a falling back pushing one to look backwards, such as artists of all times have done by turning towards the past and at history in order to confront oneself and the present. But here I’m getting carried away. Although at the same time this movement of looking backwards fits the utilization that Julien does with any cinematographic material, by reworking from existing films, from the examination of their materiality to their staging.
By borrowing and manipulating existing images at the heart of his works, Julien activates the cogs of a common collective memory. Here I’m thinking of his kaleidoscopic adaptation Re : wind blows up (2010) that recaptures and fragments the film Blow Up by Antonioni. Starting with still shots selected throughout the length of the film, he sets up a process of deconstruction of the narrative by the images themselves, prolonging the reflection of the film about the statute of the mechanical reproducible image and its ambiguous rapport to reality and to fiction.
The video begins in the dark with the original soundtrack of the film to which is added the sound of a printer located off-screen. The first frame of the film is printed on an A4 sheet of paper that then falls in a long box with walls covered with mirror. Filmed from an overview of this set-up – which thus never appears on the screen – the image is reflected on all sides, fragmented in multiple abstract motifs during its slow fall caused by its resistance to air, before being replaced by a new printed frame and continuing thus until the end of the film, in a surprising correspondence between the soundtrack and the appearance of the images. If each of them acquires a certain autonomy to the detriment of its role in the narrative continuity, the story of the film remains thus comprehensible in its linear unfolding. For all that, the referential weight of the chef-d’œuvre by Antonioni slips away on account of a reflection on the very materiality of the cinematographic medium — a succession of small still images on a perforated ribbon of which the rapid scrolling in front of a light beam creates an illusion of movement. By operating here a cut, a stop in the flow of component animated images of the whole, Julien demonstrates this mechanism and allows us to see another kind of physical unfurling of these images, redoubling their illusory capacity within a process that could be identified with that of a magic lantern.
By infiltrating and interrupting the movement of the images, Julien effectively interrogates it from another angle that of the characteristic speed of our times, that of slow motion and of discontinuity. These different processes enable him to get to the very essence of the image and its physicality from various points of view. What is there behind the image, how its construction determines its reception. What is there before the image, how do we look at its material accumulating. What is there on and within the image, how can we maintain the gaze of that which in any case we see. How can we delve therein, every image slipping unceasingly onto other images. Serge Daney would say, “since the background of the image is always already an image”.
One of his recent series, Up_And_Downloading, tackles the question of the thickness of the image, from its potentiality to its materialization. By recuperating from the Internet, ,some photographs of an erotic or pornographic nature before the complete download of the files, Julien interrupts once again a movement, that of the exchanges of computer data stopped in their flux. The downloaded images appear truncated, deformed, segmented or altered by strange colored distortions, a result opposing the slowness of the material of the image to be downloaded with the speed of the flux nevertheless always faster. His cut-up female bodies thus become the elements of random pictorial compositions, subsequently reproduced onto stretched canvas, the very medium for distribution of images in communication and advertising.
I should like to speak of ‘hysterical’ images but I’m not sure that the term suits them. They nevertheless seem to correspond to the visual program dreamt up by the writer James G. Ballard in The Atrocity Exhibition associating technology and eroticism, car accidents and sexuality, in a verbal metaphorical collage. These paintings—for it indeed seems to me that it’s a matter of painting—actually turn away from the erotic function of these images and point out the weakness of their representation codes and their appalling banality. By arbitrarily leaving it up to a computer program to reproduce the composition from digital data, Julien produces images frozen in an in-between, the intermediary status of which gives birth to a snapshot image, playing with codes of classical pictorial composition, of their publication and distribution process. With this series of works, he pursues in fact a reflection about the nature and the use of images in the ‘era’ or moment of their physical dissolution. It isn’t surprising for that matter that he’s undertaken to make a single image of the entirety of the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
The dismembering of a recent re-edition of the original version of this book turns this object into a flat collage. Linked together on a single plane, the images and the words become a totality at the heart of which an internal movement is created—that of leafing through pages is replaced by comings and goings of the eye sweeping this impossible image. As would a cartographer do, Julien proposes herein a visual representation of a book, the map of a tale. This equivalence principle between words and their representation is also present in the recent series carried out from short phrases for which each word is associated to an image search on the Internet. Like within a rebus, each collage is thus the arbitrary visual result of a linguistic proposition. Together with the series Up_And_Downloading, they underline the impoverished and disposable nature of the images, and the capacity for computer networks to multiply them and cover them up. In a permanent combinative game, the works by Julien turn the image into a living and unstable material, from its depths to its ephemeral surfaces.
We ought to evoke also the games of language and sense of humor that run all through his work, and which are illustrated by two drawings in the exhibition. On one of them is written the phrase Rien ne bouge (Nothing moves) in white letters on a red ground; on the other, Tout fout le camp, (Everything’s falling apart) in red letters on a white ground. Once again treating words as images and inversely, these two wise pieces of advice in the form of a visual pun or play on words seem thus to furnish a discrete commentary on the entire group of works presented in the exhibition, like punctuating intertitles. Luc Moullet explains that before writing a text, he establishes the list of possible puns or plays on words. In spite of his advice, I haven’t succeeded in injecting a single one in this conversation and I believe that Julien would hold it against me somewhat. Mais celle-ci se termine et mes illusions sont des truites.
Yoann Gourmel and Elodie Royer, February 2012