The Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève presents the three latest visual essays produced by Pierre Bal-Blanc with Jeff Wall Production*. The author has recently returned to a practice of producing visual video essays, enriched by his curatorial experiences and particularly his involvement in the field of performance art. The elaboration of video essays responds above all to the need to act critically in the artistic sphere with light tools whose visual and conceptual impact is important despite its modest means.
These visual essays are no different from the setting up of a collective exhibition. They take up the principles of curating and apply them to the animated image with the aim of addressing the wide spectrum of terminals that populate our daily environment. Sometimes by assuming the fluidity of the format from the smallest terminal (smartphone) to the largest (screen) and for certain films by reclassifying the ritual of the cinema room by banning all other forms of broadcasting.
The production of these films attacks the cultural logics of credits, ownership, and authority of content by questioning their validity. These visual essays are the echoes of active listening, the movement of a reading that prolongs the flux (beams) of images received constantly, that recovers from experienced affects, that makes use of knowledge, in a way that takes back the power. Close to the productions of Moyra Davey or Terre Thaemlitz, these videographies are also the result of research into the bodies of work of unclassifiable artists and filmmakers such as Friedl Kubelka vom Gröller or Tomislav Gotovac.
Video / sound / color / 14 min 17
The film Olympia Between deals with a recurring theme in Pierre Bal-Blanc’s work, which can be summed up as the status of the individual in our late capitalist society as a “living currency”. The economy of this video work has the particularity of being based on the culture of appropriation which was developed in contemporary art in a new critical mode from the 1980s onwards and for which the British artist Victor Burgin was one of the precursors. His work Olympia (1982), created from Edouard Manet’s painting, which precedes it by a century in principle (it is itself based on an appropriation of Titian’s Venus of Urbino), updates the functioning of the scopic impulse between the viewer, the artist, and the model in the painting by questioning their patriarchal and heteronormative roots. The series of subtitled photographs also combines references to Jacques Offenbach’s operetta The Counts of Hoffman, in which women are reduced to mechanical objects and denied as subjects. By turning the principle of appropriation against one of its initiators, Bal-Blanc clearly assumes to perpetuate this act of extraction, but it resituates it upon the bodies of young homosexual men who sell their charms on erotic social networks. It thus completes the “queerisation” (already at work in Burgin or even Manet, but which remained latent) of both the editing of the work itself and the identity of the subjects concerned by the film. In late capitalism there are no more gender differences. There is only an infinite resource of sex to be subjected to different regimes.
Hermès last sentences
Video / sound / color / 6 min 14
Hermès last sentences is based on the looping of a sequence from Yves Allégret’s 1949 film Manège (The Riding School) with Bernard Blier, Simone Signoret, and Jane Marken, building on the circular movement of training sessions to which the original title (The Riding School) alludes, by giving the form of a concentric montage to this visual essay. However, it is to an interior scene — a female boudoir involving the symbols of horsemanship and taming, whip, stirrups, harnessing — that the montage focuses its attention. It thus underlines the violent intrusion of the power of money into the intimate world of the main character — a demi-mondaine (courtesan) played by Simone Signoret. The visual repetition is punctuated by the last sentences of Paul Veyne’s essay on patronage in Hellenistic and Roman times, Bread and Circuses, which demonstrates that the gift of the rich to the community was a sacrifice, not a form of control, profit, or publicity.
Politics, like love, is an inner relation of consciousnesses. A master is not a thing, an , he is a man like me, an alter ego, and what he thinks of me affects me. Hence the requirements which it is merely playing with words to call ‘symbolic’ (they symbolize nothing, they exist for their own sake) and which it would be naïve to despise as being too Platonic. Furthermore, we face the three issues of politics: Who commands? What does he command? In what tone does he command?
(Bread and Circuses. Translated by Brian Pearce. The Penguin Press 1990, last sentences. p 419)
The sequence ends with the astonishing results of a pandemic, a climate crisis, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the peak of intensive animal husbandry, and of the luxury leather goods group whose slogan for its cultural patronage is “Our gestures create us”.
Journey to ‘Post-fascist’ Italy
Video / sound / color / 5 min 19
Roberto Rosselini’s Journey to Italy is the cornerstone of post-modernity in cinema. The film paves the way for an aesthetic of reception, determined by culture and social events which replaces the author with a demiurgic position of a creator of original history of which fascism was the ultimate expression. The visit to the museum, whose conclusion can be translated into the statement made aloud by the character played by Ingrid Bergman “all men are alike”, is a female gaze on the disciplinary institution of the museum. It is an “archaeology of knowledge” put into practice during a confrontation with the memorial and historical resources of the archaeological gallery by a woman who feels excluded from this discourse.
The film Journey to ‘Post-fascist’ Italy translates, through the concrete reversal of the image, the way the film’s protagonists are viewed today, through the prism of the gender debate that animates societies. This reversal is also a loss of gravity which is underlined by the reflection of the hands holding the smartphone used to record the sequence on the monitor. It is a reminder of the coordinates of the reception space in which this sequence is situated, at a time of the return of nationalist politics which is distinct from the space and time of the original film’s production.
The hierarchical pyramid of power in patriarchal society is overturned, but the eyes remain at the center, as if this shift did not affect the relationship to power that transcends gender. The centrality of the image cancels out gravity. The three-dimensional sculpture around which we are invited to turn in the film is revisited from a new inverted cinematic angle, restoring a sudden relief to the two-dimensional image.
This shift is reversed in the final sequence, when the televised bust of the ‘post-fascist’ head of the Italian government, Georgia Meloni, is returned to the seat of the emperors in the archaeological museum in Naples. Feminism is presented here from a cosmetic perspective. Georgia Meloni feminizes the signs of power, adding trophies (diamond earrings) and upper class trappings (couture dresses), multiplying stereotypical broadcasts and rubbing her hands while announcing unfair measures for the most vulnerable.
*Jeff Wall Production is the name of the production company initiated by Pierre Bal-Blanc, which takes the title of his first project devoted to the artist of the same name in 1988. The subject of this seminal project has since become the trademark of subsequent projects. Pierre Bal-Blanc is an independent curator and essayist based in Athens and Paris. Born in a working-class environment in Ugine, Savoie, France, his destiny changed at the age of 17 following an encounter with the Dutch documentary filmmaker Johan van der Keuken (1938-2001) with whom he co-directed Le Résistant (1983), a collective short film in Annecy (Fr) coordinated by Thierry Nouel. He made the video “Contrat de travail” (Employment contract) in 1992 in relation to his experience as a performer for the artist Felix Gonzalez Torres. He has published numerous texts and collaborated on the production of films and exhibitions with many artists such as David Lamelas, Pierre Huyghe, Rainer Oldendorf, Marie Voignier, Clemens von Wedemeyer, Markus Schinwald, Beatrice Gibson, Rosalind Nashhashibi, Artur Zmijewski, Terre Thaemlitz, Marie Cool Fabio Balducci, whom he helped make known in France during his artistic direction of the CAC Brétigny (2003-2014) and abroad through curating several biennials (9th Lyon, 6th Berlin, documenta 14 Cassel Athens…).