In the car, you cross the landscape in curves; each bend leads to a new perspective of the forest, steep cliffs and plains, alternately hidden and revealed by the fog. The trees losing their leaves, brushed by the last bronzes of autumn, stand out in the undulating drizzle. In this wet desert, the Centre d’Art de Vassivière appears like a grey incandescence amid the stretches of water and the meadows.
The horizontal axis of the main hall pointing towards the lake, crowned by a tower lending it the appearance of an observation centre, poses the mineral gaze of architecture, a composite body of materials reflecting the landscape. " The Unmanned (l’inhabité) " is the title of the current exhibition by Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni, and of a new series of films, including the “pilot” opening the exhibition in the lighthouse, which another episode closes in the end section of the building. It remains throughout as a suspended question posed to the habitat, an echo resonating in the permanent dialogue between the visible planes, architecturally designed walls and partitions echoing the moving images.
The subtext of the dialogue is duality, built up within the exhibition through a doubling-up of perspectives. In the main hall, Bassae Bassae is the double of Bassae, a short film by Jean-Daniel Pollet produced in 1964. Giraud & Siboni returned to the site to film the Temple of Apollo, perched in the Peloponnese mountains. Undergoing restoration for over 30 years, it is now covered in tarpaulins and built into an antiseismic protective structure. Owing to Greece’s economic state, the construction site has been abandoned and the protective framework itself is falling into ruins. Pollet’s poetic essay tells the story of a return to the stone of columns, of “fallen” elements, and the fleeting nature of the passage of gods among these stones. Initially narrated by Jean Negroni, the commentary is read again by his son at the entrance to the exhibition, preceding the images. Reproduced shot by shot, the remake of Bassae does not represent time with an advancing erosion of the stone, but with the erosion of the presence veiling the ruins: the work of modernism subjected to entropy. In this oblong white room, the film transferred onto film is projected towards the entrance, looking backwards, as though diverting eyes away from a veiled fascinus. With this temporal contraction, oscillating between the perspective of the landscape in architecture and architecture in the landscape, spectators anticipate the erosion of the structure under arches where they stand, dreaming in broad daylight in a Cistercian nave.
La Mesure Minérale (2011), among the foundations bordered with brick arcades, amalgamates the stones from the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in close-ups with views of the Mineralogy gallery undergoing renovation, in alternating sequences filmed in ultra slow motion. It is particularly difficult to make out the stones in the opening shots: the particles suspended in the air are like flaws in the rock, the dark and shiny surfaces of the rocks reflect the glass of the display cases and the ghostly reflection of a hand appears on an indeterminate surface. The minerals and their framework of display merge with the texture of the slow-motion images.
On the next floor, La Mesure Louvre (2013) provides an evolution of tracking shots on AGLAE, the Louvre museum’s particle accelerator used to analyse the basic composition of the artworks. The endless appendices to this machine are shot at a constant speed, to the point that the image appears to liberate itself from the camera and generate itself autonomously, like a printout. In the last shot, the camera confronts the beam of the particle accelerator and sees its image disappear.
This series stems from a protocol in which each film defines a different standard of measure for displacing the subject within the cinematic context and generating a new perspective. A new opus, La Mesure Végétale, was meant to be shot at the Global Seed Vault in Norway for the exhibition. The Creuse is a region of great biodiversity; naturally the landscape calls for its own measurement: the exhibition yearns for the absent perspective, on the scale of plants.
The Unmanned is a term used in military engineering to refer to drones. In several entries, it refers to a fiction based on two characters: Ray Kurzweil, a computer scientist and transhumanist theorist, and Friedrich Kurzweil, a father who became a son, in a story running counter to technology. The Axiom (2014) introduces its principle at the entrance to the art centre. On a cathodic screen, microscopic shots of a blade slicing through metal are set to the sound of a child’s voice with an eerie diction that reverberates inside the tower, revealing a language that could be that of a form of artificial intelligence.
The last room, at the end of the metal bridge, launches a blind gaze into the darkness towards the dam with The Death of Ray Kurzweil (2014), to complete the circle of what opened in the lighthouse with episode 0, or vice versa. The film describes the wanderings of two characters in a tropical forest and their performance of simple, primal gestures from the history of technology: putting on clothes, weaving ropes, and constructing tools with rocks. It takes place in 2045, at the date that Kurzweil predicts as the moment of technological singularity, when artificial intelligence will be so advanced that humans will have to adapt to it. Filmed by drones, the repeated shots hinge on the sound of the clicking of the boy’s tongue and the hum of waterfalls. The film has a parodic dimension owing to resemblances with the real figure of Ray Kurzweil, and the absurd transposition of biographical elements.
As we leave the site, the axiom of the unmanned still resonates and prolongs the fiction beyond the time and space that it has been accorded. The winter landscape of Vassivière, in which a human presence is rare, along with this unique architecture, physically anchors our wanderings to the perspective of a world that we would be absent from. The double – of a film, a mineralogical museum, a machine, and a character – systematically displaces the perspective of the subject, in order to consider a different point of view – not that of a peer, but of a non-human entity.
The exhibition also takes the form of a kind of homage to Jean-Daniel Pollet, beyond the double of Bassae: the reiteration of the sequences, the systematic camera movements, the intermingling of machines, landscapes and minerals in Giraud & Siboni’s films resonate like an echo of Pollet’s film Mediterranée (1963).