Vertigo's Vertigo: Interview with AROTIN & SERGHEI and Brice Pauset 1/4

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The genesis of the project

How was the Vertigo - Infinite Screen project born?

AROTIN & SERGHEI As the title suggests, this project is part of our Infinite Screen series, a work-in-progress art project that observes and questions the idea of infinity in relation to the visible surface of our world - and more concretely, in relation to our screens - in a changing philosophical and architectural context.

The black surface of our digital screens is a place where notations and visual information emerge, change, and disappear constantly, whereas on a sheet of white paper each symbol, once noted, remains in its place. This phenomenon of fluctuation and superimposition of information is both fascinating and frightening. It changes the way we observe the world, the way we perceive places, encounters, phenomena, etc. The impulses of the light cells that create all visual information for us today reach us in vertiginous quantities and at a dizzying frequency. It is this phenomenon that we observe in our Infinite Screen. Recreating these pulses of red, blue, and green light cells on a large scale—on a human scale—is an infinite cycle of imaginary portraits of light sources, between blindness and disappearance. In our works, we slow down the fluctuation to the extreme, we erase all content and 'flood' the black surfaces of our artificial screens with light. With these series of image, which we call "Light Cells", we build our large-scale installations, creating an expansion of perceptual space.

Through our production platforms in Berlin and Paris, and in cooperation with museums, galleries, and festivals such as the Venice Biennale, Ars Electronica, Fondation Beyeler, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, we have shown numerous works and installations. Infinite Screen has become an 'infinite' work-in-progress, a creative platform that also includes exciting collaborations with other creators and inventors.

Since 2012, via Infinite Screen, we have dealt with such diverse viewpoints and subjects as "the birth of perspective and the construction of the vanishing point in Alberti's architecture and Mantegna's Renaissance paintings", which are at the very beginning of every three-dimensional representation of the human body, Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophical questions, Scriabin's concepts of synaesthesia. We also created a 1,200 m2 digital Tower of Babel, like a huge perpetual radar, a fictitious dialogue with Monet's pictorial language at the Festival in Giverny and, at Guerlain Paris for the FIAC, in cooperation with an engineer/inventor of a new time measurement system, the Infinite Time Machine. This is a 6- screen composition that perpetually generates free time...

As a part of this research and reflection, Vertigo - Infinite Screen is a reflection on the dizzying metamorphosis of meanings and perception of signs in the context of the 'infinite screens' of our time. Like the characters in Hitchcock's film, we are all continually exposed to a fluctuation, mutation, and superimposition of information on a blank and obscure background... Our immersive installation deconstructs the linear dramaturgy and unity of the image. We continue the work begun in terms of spatialization with the luminous portraits Light Cells and Truth Possibilities (a tribute to Ludwig Wittgenstein). This installation is available in two versions: the first, the exhibition version, which extends in time and space, and which will allow the spectator to approach, to cross, to enter, to get lost in the labyrinth and, perhaps, to find himself; and the more experimental and theatrical version, accompanied by the performance of the musicians and with animation in real time.

Brice Pauset. For my part, this rather large piece is part of a constellation of six pieces of varying length, each of which paints a portrait of our particular historical time by presenting one of the aspects that makes it so particular. The basis was my opera Strafen (les Châtiments -The Punishments), after Kafka. This was followed by two related pieces, which used the same instruments and the same spatial arrangement (in six groups). There is one major difference: in Vertigo, in reference to Hitchcock's film, images and electronics are added, whereas in the other, devoted to the question of contemporary narcissism, a spoken voice is superimposed on the whole.

In this piece, I wanted to develop a reflection on the question of the connection between the narrative image (or cinema) and psychoanalysis. I was particularly interested in the relationship between the image and various archetypes which, when juxtaposed and sedimented, cause the moving image (cinema) to freeze into a form of formalism, to the point of being impossible to perform. During my preliminary research, I immersed myself in the reading of Slavoj Žižek, and I thought that Hitchcock's film Vertigo would provide me with a perfect framework to begin my process of reflection.

Why was this?

B.P. Several aspects. First of all, the recurrence of the Pygmalion effect in the film (the fact of wanting to recreate the character of Madeleine [the wife you want to get rid of] from that of Judy [the victim's look-alike and de facto accomplice of the murderer, later repentant]).

Secondly, Hitchcock unveils a visionary form of colour symbolism that breaks away from the models of the time and focuses on the colours that have become the fundamental digital colours.

There is also the question of calculated inefficiency: here is a film that gives the key to the problem half an hour before the end! This brings me back to one of my compositional preoccupations, since I work a lot on functionally shaky - or at least functionally dysfunctional - forms: that is to say, they produce an aesthetic and dramaturgical tension, but their internal mechanics go awry and make them break out of the conventions.

Finally, there is the question of the stylistic rupture in the middle of the film, where a world very much anchored on symbolisation coexists with another, much more "late baroque" and ghostly. For me, it's a question of finding sound arrangements that leave traces of this raw material and of all these aspects. From the point of view of compositional work, I wanted to challenge the normative use of instruments and their derivative techniques accumulated over the last half-century - while paying particular attention to the hiatus between the sonic effectuation of the derivative techniques, which cannot be done in subtle nuances (due to the history of the development of instruments). All the sounds of bowing on stringed instruments have been pre-recorded in order to make them dialogue at equal volume with standardised material produced live on stage. In addition, there is the spatialization work, which I have been doing for a long time and which owes much to Emmanuel Nunes. For the occasion, I use a rather compact device that I have been using for several pieces: two rings of five loudspeakers at two different heights, with an azimuthal presence in two voices.

How did the meeting with AROTIN & SERGHEI go?

B.P. When I realised that I really needed images for this piece, I immediately decided on them: I wanted artists who take images seriously and know how they work. Interdisciplinarity does not have to mean abandoning the notion of competence. I've been following their work for a while, and I was particularly impressed by a project with the Klangforum Wien. We met again in Geneva, when I was in charge of the Ensemble Contrechamp. Our relationship was immediately very friendly and fruitful.

A&S We immediately found ourselves in agreement, and began to talk about the language of colours in Vertigo, and the transformations of the image surface over time...

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