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Last Sunday a joyful visit D'ailleurs --"From Elsewhere"-- : children chasing each other over the vast wooden floors of Le Carrosse --"The Coach" (the horse-drawn variety)--, an artist's "squat" in Paris's multicultural 20th district, adults milling, drinking beer, strolling, chatting, climbing stairs, viewing videos, contemplating computer screens (the show was sponsored by la Gaîté Lyrique, the future Parisian electronic arts center). The atmosphere was user-friendly although very few of the works had the usual trappings of interactivity. No sensors tracking visitors' movements, no joysticks, no keyboards. Reynald Drouhin presented archived sequences from interactive online works ("Frags"). Gregory Chatonsky's installation "La révolution a eu lieu à New York" --The revolution took place in New York-- automatically generated narratives using the real time flux of the net. No need to "participate", one could just sit (well, stand, the armchair draped in black facing the screen wasn't very inviting; to get to it, one had to step over a ring of "fire") and let oneself be consumed by the images and overlaid texts that appear, one by one, on the screen. The pace is regular, like that of a slide-projector, the message insistent. Visitors could contemplate their own images in shadow next to the mirrored "Ladies" in the slide show presented by artist and curator, KRN. The photographer catches her subjects unawares, as they observe themselves in public mirrors.

Most of the works in the show feature photos, sounds and/or videos of distant places: India, Siberia, Africa, New York… Many are variations on the travelogue, either positioning themselves as artless "Postcards home" or standing closer to the road movie end of the spectrum, with its dark undertones. In the database work, "Tracking Transience", Hasan Elahi records his travels for posterity (and would-be G-men). After he was the object of FBI scrutiny in June 2002, another suspect in the war on terrorism, he began systematically leaving an electronic "paper-trail", fixing the ephemera of his successive journeys like a hapless Peter Pan trying to trap his shadow. By systematically using his credit card, snapping his surroundings as others might punch a time-clock, he has built an archive of images attesting to his every move : sequences of interchangeable airport waiting zones, people-movers and gates with overlaid titles : EWR, DTW, AMS, the cryptic airport codenames sometimes provoking puns: SIN (Singapore). This project of electronically capturing an individual's every gesture is also stigmatised by this year's "Big Brother Awards" awarded annually to individuals, government entities and companies that violate people's privacy.

Indeed light and shadow may be one of the tropes of Elsewhere. In an otherworldly trip in the métro "Vies suspendues" ("Suspended Lives"), three cameras track shifting silhouettes, sometimes their zones of surveillance overlap, staggered, sometimes they take in opposite sides of the tracks. The three streams are mixed in real time, creating illusory presences (Marika Dermineur, Julie-Christine Fortier, Ileana Gonzalez Ortiz and Julie Morel).

Instead of ads for porn sites, "Pop-up Window" (Julie Morel) consisted of five white popup books inspired by a Shinto temple in Kyoto, displayed against a light box which accentuated their silhouetted architectures. As one opens and closes them, watching one then another spring out like a jack-in-a-box, one is reminded of phantathe animated silhouette films of Lotte Reininger, "Prince Achmed" (1926) or the "Caliph Stork"(1954), phantasms of that other exotic Orient.

We emigrate from the affluent West in search of some elusive authenticity we hope to encounter elsewhere. They emigrate to our cities in search of an equally elusive better life. What we actually gain, if we are lucky, is a sense of time, and a bit of humility. In the region of Darjeeling, the jeep-taxi doesn't leave until there are at least 17 paid passengers aboard: the driver leans head and shoulders out of the window to manoeuvre the steering wheel, the overweight traveller next to us pays double fare for the extra space he occupies. Returning home from Le Carrosse, watching Louis Malle's Calcutta (1968) on the VCR, glimpses of India, sounds make me nostalgic for its smells. Maybe one day we'll be able to accurately convey, along with the hum and chatter of the street("KRNINDIA"), that particular mixture of cow dung and sweat, diesel fuel and incense, bananas and ghee. It is too powerful an experience to fit into any window no matter how sophisticated the electronics. When Big Brother has taken over Europe, we may invest our last glimmer of hope in Conestoga wagons heading East. However many IT multinationals re-locate to Bangalore, there will always be at least one natural resource they can't take away from us. And somehow it smells better There than Here.

08:29 AM in cartography :: geo-data | Permalink


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