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Marcel Dinahet – Sculpting in Video, 2009

















A few words—disconnected, paradoxical,
contradictory—to try to formulate the initial
impressions generated by Marcel Dinahet’s
video projections. Subjective impressions,
true, but important in that they identify how
hard it can be to “appreciate” the Dinahet
oeuvre at first glance. “Appreciate” in the
sense of a personal reaction, but also of an
objective, discursive, analytical evaluation
on the formal level.
The images the artist creates with his camera
seem to collide with, and even empathetically
penetrate organic, mineral, vegetal, aquatic
and industrial matter in its raw state—rock,
steel, ice, faces, seaweed, sand, torsos,
ships—which divulge purely and simply their
appearances, movements, formation and

changes, however tiny. Thus it is that the video
images offer themselves to the viewer as
radically frontal, almost insolent visual images.

This results in the collapse of the entire con-
struct of visual attachment to the seductively

absorbing formal qualities of an installation or to
the art object as narrative composition.
And then there are the films’ annoying time
frames. They might be short—as a rule
between three and eighteen minutes—but
they can seem long to the viewer: either
drawn out by the relative immobility of the
camera within a given setting, or repetitive.
Frequently the camera is maintained at a given
point in space to record an endless, varied
flux—freighter, kelp, car, frost—or is shaken
by the continual jolts, rotations and lurchings
of a body subject to material forces.
The sound is another source of perceived
irritation. Never played down, it emerges raw
from a mass of crackings of ice, gusts
of wind, ceaseless comings and goings of cars
on a bridge, muffled or metallic undersea
sonorities. There can be silence, too, sometimes
enveloping, sometimes tense and ominous.
This powerful, omnipresent material quality
endows Dinahet’s images with an unusual
harshness and abrasiveness. Which is not to
say that it puts the artist in the category of art

brut shot through with all the expressiveness
of subjective pathos. Let us say, rather, that
the frontal materiality at work in the oeuvre is
the underpinning of an intransigently complex
artistic quest founded on the collision between
the act of sculpture and the making of the video image.

To affect this video-sculpture encounter,
Dinahet took up an impossible challenge: water
as material for reinventing sculptural space.
Obviously the Brittany-born artist’s geographic
and cultural background have shaped works
permeated by ocean, shoreline, seascape, port
and frontier. Anyone with his roots in a coastal
or island environment, immersed since childhood
in the marine world and nourished daily by the
visual sweep of the ocean, is going to construct
his own very distinctive representation of
space: not as boundary or configuration, but
as endless expanse and extension, as elusive,
shifting, indeterminate form.
The importance of this observation lies less
in its biographical detail than in its pointing to
a fundamental given in Dinahet’s artistic
practice: the fact that water, prior to being
explored or reworked in video, is intrinsically
matter without form and, as such, matter out
of which any form can be brought forth. It is,
then, in no way a metaphor for space and
cannot even be considered the constituent
element of a filmed landscape. In other words,
too-hasty identification of water as the
“subject” of Dinahet’s works will blind us to
simple but crucial questions: how can we
“make space” or “shape things” out of absolute
open-endedness, perpetual flux, permanent
instability? How can we form volume and mass
out of matter which, when not contained,
restrained, channelled, crystallised, is utterly
formless? And how is it, despite all the
damming and irrigating, that this instability
and mutability of form remain inevitable and necessary?

For Dinahet, then, sculpting in video consists
in breaking with a certain idea and a certain
practice of sculpture. Where Marcel
Broodthaers marked his entry into the visual
arts by sealing up his previous collections
of poetry inside a shapeless mass of plaster in
Pense-Bête (1964), Dinahet in 1986 set about
taking his sculptures to the ocean floor and
filming them as they lay on the sand. So the
performative act of drowning sculpture and
recording it on video consisted in displacing
the sculpture towards an “other space”,1 a kind
of sculptural out-of-shot. This made the sea an
uncontrollable, uncontainable heterotopia, but
one whose breakouts, influxes, interstices,
gushings, leaks, opacities, sedimentations and
retentions are the very locus of sculpture.
Obviously there was no question for
Broodthaers of abandoning the act of writing,
nor for Dinahet of calling a halt to the act of
sculpture. The issue for the former was to cut
free of certain literary postulates—the notions
of authorship, composition, narrative linearity—
and for the latter, to disregard certain sculptural
codes: modelling of volumes, exhibition in a
predetermined space, creation of site-specific
works. And what the viewer finds at the root
of these gestures is no nihilist proclamation
of the end of an art form, but rather the
experience of new modalities of image creation
and exhibition. In the “expanded field” of
sculpture2 this openness had been extensively
addressed and utilised by the artists of the
60s and 70s, among them the practitioners
of Land Art. It should be said, however, that the
Land artists had rethought sculpture in the
light of such landscape-marking procedures asexcavation

(Michael Heizer, Rift, 1968),

displacement, accumulation and the pouring of
sediments (Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty,
1970), activation of natural phenomena (Walter
de Maria, Lightning Field, 1977) and punctuation
via arrangements of different materials
(Richard Long, A Circle in Africa, 1978).

1 / Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces”, trans. Jay Miskowiec,
Diacritics 16, Spring 1986, pp. 22–27.
2 / Rosalind E. Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”, The
Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths,
MIT Press, 1986, pp. 276–90.

In Dinahet’s case, however, the sculptural work
is quite different in that the procedure it
involves is a dual one:

– elimination of any attempt at inscribing,
stratifying or inserting a form into the
landscape. The first videos still showed signs
of marine landscape-marking, with the
submerging of the sculptures in the ocean,
followed in 1993 by use of a large pebble taken
to the sea bottom. From 1996 onwards,
however, the artist stripped his videos of any
showing of an artefact in a specific space.
– reduction of the creative act to absolute
receptivity on the part of the artist to any
manifestation of the living world: friction,
dragging, resistance, spasm, floating, rotation,
immobilisation, etc. This receptivity led him to
consider the recorded performative act not as
an imposition, intrusion or authoritarian
gesture inflicted on the space in question—a
landscape, a body, a building, etc.—but as an
act of optimal perception of material entities
whose encounter and confrontation would
trigger movement and a performative process of change.

The sculptural power of the Dinahet oeuvre
lies, then, in this elimination of the art gesture
from a given space, with the dual intention of
neither establishing a volume nor of imprinting
a form on the landscape.
Which for a sculptor is either a culmination
or a total aberration.
So where does the act of sculpture lie, then?
The answer is right there before our eyes,
but it blinds us: the sculpture-creation

procedures have been displaced in their entirety
into the business of shaping the video image.
In the first place, when Dinahet films water
he always proceeds via collision and balance
of power between the body/mass and the
eye/camera and a heavy, ponderous, compact
mass. Here we are a long way from the
pseudo-poetry of the artist using sculptural
artifice to represent the evanescent, filmy or
crystalline translucence of water. Whether in
the ocean, a river, a stream or a marsh, water
is, of course, flow, outpouring, flux; but it is
also a density shot through, burdened and
impinged on by a mix of elements: sediment,
seaweed, ice, mud, sand. Above all, water is
the matter that strikes, covers and supports
the body/mass, and out of this friction, fusion
or floating, the eye/camera will create the
image of a shape taking shape. To put it
another way, anything can happen when the
image is on the threshold between control and
disintegration of form.
So the second sculptural quality of the videos
lies in the unstable, fragile interstice—which is
also an aesthetic balancing act—between
control and letting-go, between receptivity and
closure, between extension and contraction.
The artist’s limitless openness to the events of
the living world absolutely does not mean that
the image does as it likes. While Dinahet lets the
image go with the flow, the process is subject
to extreme stringency in terms of execution and
to image-making rules he sets himself: rules
that, later, are very often bent or contradicted
by minor, unexpected events, while remaining
essential to the shaping of the image.
One of the artist’s recurring, self-directed
injunctions is that of placing the camera at the
median intersection of a body of water,
between its above and below. In many videos
—among them Flottaisons (Waterlines, 2000),

Château-Gonthier (2001), Les Danseurs
immobiles (Motionless Dancers, 2006),
Strasbourg (2008) and Fleuve (River, 2009)—
the camera held half in the air and half in
the water, brings together in one image the
inside and outside, the liquid and aerial,
the texture and opacity of what is filmed. But
fundamentally, looking beyond these sensory
interpretations, the division created by the
video camera provides a radically masterful
reformulation of sculpture’s codes of inherent
three-dimensionality. Strangely, this line cutting
through the image does not just separate two
planes: it is the axis around which disturbances,

distortions, agitation, flux and multiple vibra-
tions become manifest. The first consequence

of this is to reduce the surface effect of the
water—and that of the video image—to
an indeterminate perception of an inner and
an outer three-dimensionality. The waterline
becomes an axis around which there fold
and unfold events that provide the image
with density and depth. Filmed in video, then,
a simple waterline allows boldly unlimited
experimentation with the body/vision
relationship with space. In Dinahet’s work
this opening into the three-dimensional has
nothing of neutral, pure, objective space about
it: contrary to what we find among Minimalist
sculptors, the spatial reality he is trying
to convey via video is a full-time source of
destabilisation, unpredictability, reversal,

perturbation, shiftings. These signs of three-
dimensional entropy are rendered particularly

evident in the image through:
– the resistance of the body/mass and the
eye/camera to the force of the current and the
unsettling eddies of the water (Falaises
[Cliffs], 2009).
– interference from the sediments and
fragments of ice that obscure and sometimes
totally cover the lens (La Rivière [The River],
2003; Svetlogorsk, 2006).
– the partial view of what is below the

surface and the way it distorts body shape
(Les Danseurs immobiles, 2006). It should be
pointed out here that the artist’s self-imposed
obligation to create a horizontal axis with video
in fact addresses another human subject
whose face is half in and half out of the water:
a shared, dual posture which brings tiny
movements and rustlings of forms to the
surface of the image as expressions of the
body and the subject.
– the view of a building or a landscape
which, instead of being anchored to the
ground, seems buffeted by the choppiness of
the water (Berder, 2006; Strasbourg-European
Parliament, 2008).
– the face-to-face between the unstable,
floating body of the artist and a rocky cliff
firmly rooted in the ocean out of which it rises
with disarming gravity and massiveness
(Falaises, 2009).
The actual or virtual presence of an axis has
always been fundamental to Dinahet’s creative
process. Like his clay modules, the early
volumetric sculptures contain steel wire
spiralling upwards around an invisible axis;
and he has also strung clay pancakes together
on rock. Many of his other video works detail
different axial situations: in Paysage frotté
(Scraped Landscape, 2001) the artist’s body
turning on itself constitutes the vertical axis
via which the camera records the horizon
separating sea and sky, a line itself twisted into
a whirling, unstable, uneven, vertiginous spiral
by the revolving of the body on its own axis.
In every instance the horizontal axis
functions as a cut, a line of demarcation,
a threshold, a border; but Dinahet’s choice of
position is deliberate, and consists in always
holding to the boundaries in order to articulate
contradictory spaces and shapes better, blur
spatial cues, break free of aesthetic codes and
transcend territorial limits.

Men may seek to control the seas as economic
and political zones, but oceans and rivers can
never go along with this: demarcation is
contrary to their nature. Allan Sekula, another
major artist of the sea, has given a masterly
description of the artistic challenge in the light
of social and geopolitical issues involved:
“In an era that denies the very existence of
society, to denounce the scandal of an ever
more grotesque worldwide ‘connectedness’,
and to denounce the ruthless destruction
endlessly going on beneath the smooth, liquid
surface of the markets, is to put oneself in the
situation of an ocean swimmer attuning his
movements to the waves, one ear in the water
with each breath, listening to the rumble of
the stones rolling on the bottom. To insist on
social practices is simply to submerge with a
clear idea in mind.”

While not directly concerned with social
practice, the Dinahet oeuvre shares Sekula’s
desire to deterritorialise the sea, to dive in with
the exigency of “a clear idea in mind”. Art has
this ability to stand for the absolute necessity
of a critical approach to space that looks
beyond possession and the power to exclude.
The crucial issue for the artist, then, is to
formalise what cannot be formalised. This is
the challenge that Dinahet seems to be
confronting repeatedly, in a perpetual tension
between video and sculpture.

3 / Allan Sekula, Titanic’s Wake, Paris, Le Point du Jour,2003, p.14.
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Yang Jiechang – Making Beyond… Beyond Making… Be… Make… Maybe… Y…, 2009

Flows and permanent creation


In God we Trust (2008) is the title of a work created by Yang Jiechang on the occasion of an artistic intervention at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Yang edited a video based on a series of fixed microscopic images showing the bacteria E. Coli, which is commonly found in the intestinal flora of mammals. For 58 seconds, the multimedia work rolls through a sequenced flow of a red, organic, liquid space. At the bottom of the screen, the following phrases appear intermittently: “Everything can happen”; “E. Coli is the actor”; “Regression – Evolution”; “Discrete Infinity”. Projected on a flat screen, the video is linked up to a phrase in neon that repeats the title of the work: “In God we Trust”. The soundtrack of the video, a combination of electronic music and electric guitar was composed by James Ferrell, dean of the Stanford University Chemical and Systems Biology Department.

With In God we Trust, Yang Jiechang’s art meets Western scientific culture, where observation and experimentation are fundamental phases, and where the margin of error is reduced to a minimum in order to abstract an element of life and transform it into a verifiable and incontestable concept. Yet here, Yang Jiechang proposes putting aside the clairvoyance of scientific truth in order to bring out a kind of sensitivity where flows, uncertainty, being, modulation, error and chaos prevail. The image of the bacteria is considered more a spreading expanse than an organized surface of the body that would be subject to the mastery of the eye and the mind. The person observing the work is invited to expand his vision of the inside of the body towards micro- or macroscopic infinity, giving free reign to associations as diverse as a torrent of lava, rays of light, a monochrome in perpetual formation, fluids escaping from the body, organs turned inside out like a glove, the rich and infinite symbolism of the color red in all the cultures of the world, an incessant flow of ink, the image of the cosmos in permanent revolution… 


Yang Jiechang also creates friction between two other visual and linguistic strata: the crimson flows share the space with the words in neon – In God We Trust – which give off light while affirming a spiritual belief. The crystallization in glass of the affirmative phrase contrasts with the fluid and incessant movement of the red-colored clusters. A relationship exists with the sporadic appearances of the poetic phrases in the video, for example, “Discrete Infinity” or “Everything can happen”. Therefore, there truly is a material, formal and semantic conflagration at work in In God We Trust, infiltrating certainty with doubt, truth and belief with surprise.

Another artistic paradox resides in the very materiality of the work. In God We Trust is a powerful, performative statement, which is, however, only possible thanks to the circulation of neon gas, meaning an ensemble of molecules and atoms, that have neither form nor volume of their own unless contained in a solid object. In other words, the sentence In God We Trust is an attempt at divine representation, but we can only understand this representation through faith. The ceaseless circulation of gas in a glass tube that creates the diffusion of light, and thus, metaphorically speaking, creates the illusion of truth. Hence the God visualized by Yang Jiechang is never directly named or identified. He still needs to be constructed, with the same amount of searching, error, doubt and truth that we use to build our speech, our thoughts, our acts or, more simply, our relationship to daily life. This last stratum of perpetual flow within the work is itself covered or accompanied by a soundtrack. The essence of sound is manifest in its fundamental impermanence and its immaterial diffusion among all the strata of the living sphere and of memory. 

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Gianni Motti – ThinkTank, 2008

Gianni Motti’s Think Tank is at once minimal and radical
  • 18,000 open joint cobblestones set side by side cover the entire exhibition space at La Criée Centre for Contemporary Art.
  • to mark the occasion the exhibition space was open 24 hours a day for two weeks.
  • during these two weeks Motti called on the art centre team to reconsider their working conditions in the light of this reversal of the “minimum service” notion.
In just a few days Think Tank succeeded in provoking disapproval, rumours, intrusions, challenges, protests, and vandalism of the work and the building. Examples included:
  • The usual invectives against Contemporary Art (but more numerous and vitriolic this time) and the use of public money for exhibiting “nothing”.
  • The lack of understanding that met Motti’s proposal to open the gallery 24 hours a day for two weeks, with a special budget allocation for extra staff and a night watchman for surveillance of a space empty of art objects and full of cobblestones.
  • The disfiguring of the bare walls of the exhibition space by various visitors and artists who saw the cobblestone installation as an invitation to this kind of action.
  • Protests from the same people when told that the artist took issue with this, declaring that his visual space hinged solely on the installation, period.
  • Peremptory, reductive judgements of Motti’s work on the grounds that it was cheap provocation and manipulation of the public and the art centre team.
  • The out-of-hand equating of the work with May 1968, to the exclusion of all else.
  • A guerrilla incursion by a masked group, firing paintballs and scattering flyers denouncing the misinterpretation of Motti’s idea and accusing the art centre directors of censorship and cowardice because they had effaced the inscriptions on the walls.
These reactions were a direct outcome of Motti’s proposal. No one denies this. But the fact of the matter is that Think Tank is a much more ambitious and disturbing work than these criticisms and actions give it credit for.

Think Tank: thinking & thinking


Think Tank laid bare the unstable underpinning of a vacant space. In any society, whether democratic or dictatorial, empty public space has the specific function of allowing the celebration of different forms of discourse and use of power: political declamations, military parades, displays of opposition, personal exchanges, etc. Empty public space is also the iconic venue for the exertion of physical control over people.  


The work by Motti, however, goes beyond this representation of a public space – in this case La Criée – which certain members of the public felt entitled to appropriate by covering it with slogans and spattering it with paint. 
The fundamental intention of Think Tank is to materialise, and maintain in a state of extreme visual tension, a space paradoxically empty of images and discourse and, instead, “saturated” with cobblestones. This visual tension is also a semantic one, homing in intellectual abdication and the hijacking of thinking in our democratic societies. Whence the title Think Tank, drawn from the vocabulary of business and politics and designating groups of experts working together to help a political party or multinational company modify people’s opinions or consumption habits. A think tank can also be used to fabricate an idea which, strategically put to the public, will distract attention from some dangerous social issue. Today these bodies often take the form of private foundations with a sufficiently decisive influence on some political figure to affect actual programmes and public reactions.


Motti’s agenda with Think Tank at La Criée was to stand the term on its head by having people walk over the cobblestones. Like the solitary walk 25-kilometre walk he himself took in 2005 through the giant CERN particle accelerator in Geneva, this one can seem senseless and absurd; however, it is also a sensory experience rendered strange by one’s physical perception of instability, the knocking together of the stones and the fact that it is impossible to walk very fast on such a surface. Motti’s space sets up a looking and thinking situation in radical contrast with other spaces saturated with discursive and visual rhetoric. And it constitutes an artistic premise which deserves our respect and support through to the very end.  


It is instructive to observe the way the intellectual abdication referred to above hides behind the terminological logorrhoea flooding the worlds of communication, economics, politics – and now art as well: allegedly intellectual loci such as ideas laboratories, think tanks, company seminars, research centres, policy hubs and societies of thinkers have now become wielders of power. Under cover of supposedly objective analysis – and while also sometimes claiming to embody public opinion and democratic debate – they can allow themselves to instrumentalise thinking in the interests of biased evaluation, communication and diversion. Thus they become new embodiments of the power to annihilate independent thinking and stifle criticism. Quoting Edward Bernays’s apt formulation, Chomsky says, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses…. is the very essence of the democratic process.” He then goes on to comment, “And really that’s the leading doctrine of modern liberal-democratic intellectual thought: that if you lose the power to control people by force, you need better indoctrination.”


Think Tank : art & art


When Gianni Motti came to Rennes three months before the opening of the exhibition, he had no declared artistic project. However there was something reassuring about this unusual absence of a proposal, in that it signalled a determination not to fall into the productivity-at-any-price trap. Motti felt it important to first engage in dialogue about his invitation to Rennes in the context of the Ateliers de Rennes, Valeurs Croisées Biennial of Contemporary Art, whose theme was the relationship between art and business. The Biennial is sponsored by Art Norac and artistically overseen by Art to Be, whose head curator is Raphaële Jeune. Both these bodies are non-profit associations. For Motti the important thing was to evaluate the terms under which artists were taking part in the Biennial itself and in the business context; the terms of sponsorship; and the links and gaps between production of meaning and subsequent communication. 


Motti was sure of one thing: if indeed Valeurs Croisées (Shared Values) are part of today’s art context, the following questions could not be ignored:
– Is artists’ involvement with the business world inherently justifiable, or is it simply a token, a bowing to the interests of partnerships, marketing and communication?
– Is it a coincidence that art is being invoked in a context marked by flagrant abdication in respect of social issues? And does the artist’s involvement in the business world reveal, conceal or reinforce this abdication?


– Is art in such dire straits regarding its capacity for meaning that production of values, with the attendant dangers of consensus and conservatism, is a last resort?   
At this point it was clear that the work Motti was planning could find its critical effectiveness in some “counter-productive form”, i.e. a form which needed to be as simple as possible in order to generate maximum meaning – or at least throw up a question. The result, three weeks before the exhibition was due to open, was the proposal to pave the floor of La Criée in its entirety: a minimal act involving a rejection of any urge towards frenzied productivity. The proposal also involved representation of a space rendered unified but unsteady by the juxtaposed cobblestones, as if to make the ambiguous power of standardisation and exclusion more perceptible. To walk on the cobblestones under such uncomfortable circumstances is also to strive to remain standing, in spite of everything. And then the presence of bare, empty walls makes this space a radical representation of abdication and ambient desolation.  


The posting of inscriptions and other markings on the walls betrays a confusion between the street as space and its representation. As a result, the artist’s determination to maintain his work’s status as representation – of cobblestones and  nothing else – was interpreted as an act of censorship. It is interesting, then, to note that the actions that took place in the art centre space are those no longer to be found in the street and in the seats of a power that really does constitute a present danger. It is as if such opinions now need an accredited representation of public space in order to be able to express themselves. Except that Motti’s representation of public space is anything but accredited, and the art institution housing it takes that risk, with no trace of naivety whatsoever.


What is more disturbing, on the other hand, is the fact that this confusion of real with representational space is the doing of people who themselves work in the fields of art and theory. Under cover of socio-political collectives, artists are now moving against art bodies, destroying works and forcing the closure of exhibitions. The aggressive collective in Rennes is vaguely reminiscent of the Baader-Meinhof gang. At the San Francisco Art Institute in March 2008, animal rights groups backed by artists succeeded in shutting down an exhibition by Adel Abdessemed. We have come to a strange pass when thinkers and artists sabotage the work of other artists. We live now in a new era in which rabble-rousing tactics allow an upsurge of insidious forms of censorship, disregarding the content of an artistic proposal and involving the hijacking a work of art for purely ideological purposes.   


The other issue at stake in Motti’s Think Tank project was the creation of a work within La Criée: the production budget for the work was to be administered by the centre itself and this was agreed on at the outset. But above all, production of the work was to be carried out with real commitment by the entire art centre team – in terms of the technical aspects of actually mounting the exhibition, of course, but also in the context of the artist’s challenge to the meaning of work within a body like La Criée. Thus Motti suggested to the team that they take a fresh look at the “minimum service” requirement written into new strike legislation. Rather than a total work stoppage, this minimum service involved consideration of priorities in the art field which might be neglected in a situation of work overload in terms of administrative and financial matters.
Since it is true that there exists a reductive reading of Motti’s work as mere provocation, this a priori has to be transcended in Rennes and the following question put: just how far, today, can an exhibition curator go in defending an artistic project? Motti’s provocation is never gratuitous or aimed at self-gratification or publicity-seeking. It is, rather, a frank approach to risk-taking and to the importance we accord to the production of meaning.


Think Tank : open & open


As a counterweight to the attacks on Motti’s work and the art centre, other forms of appreciation of and commitment to the artist’s idea deserve mention:
– The surprise and fascination of individual visitors as they looked at and walked through a space at once shaky and solid, empty and full, saddening and stimulating.
– The arrival of a young Japanese woman who decided to sleep in the space for two nights and, as she put it, “imbue herself” with the installation.
– The unexpectedly high attendance figures on a day and in a time slot outside the art centre norms: one Sunday morning between 9 and 11am, 200 separate visitors discovered the space in the course of a stroll through downtown Rennes.
– The improvised picnic by a group of young people at 3 in the morning.
– The guided tour of the exhibition for sight-impaired visitors, for whom the tactile and sound experience of crossing the cobblestones triggered numerous mental images.  
– Inspiring encounters with two contemporary art collectors captivated by Motti’s idea. 
– Reception of the film Evening.walk.on.a.moving.floor, a pertinent, sensitive reading of Motti’s work conveyed by a walk over the noisy, unstable cobblestones.
– The rewarding cultural mediation achieved: fascinating visits with a range of audiences including the Université du Temps Libre (Free Time University), art workshops with children, and interchange with neighbourhood services from Rennes. 
– High attendance figures during the brief exhibition period.
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Jocelyn Cottencin – Dropping Pictures, 2008

Is it possible to write about an oeuvre whose creative principle is to the development of a constant state of becoming?


How to create a form that is sufficiently open as to allow for permeability, encounters and collaborations – but also for solitary strolling, backtracking and bypassing, extension and suspension, acceleration and pause – both reproduction and that crystallization? 


Where to be in a place where a body of works no longer exists? To abandon the claim that one can delimit an artistic production, whose only raison d’être is a state of fluidity and mutation? 


Jocelyn Cottencin’s images represent not what they show, but that which is already outside the field of vision. Still others slacken in a pendulous pause, to the point that there is a narrative breakdown of the reality they supposedly represent. 


The artist’s works also employ writing where letters mass together, not simply for graphic signification, but in order to produce a plane of consistency composed of joints, ruptures, clumps, splits, twists, etc.
When reflecting on the work of Jocelyn Cottencin, we must consider writing as an act of “letting go”, where the words go on to produce others, flux that at certain moments resonates with the work.


Jocelyn Cottencin’s graphic work and visual oeuvre call into question the sites of power. The act of relinquishing power for empowerment: the power to make, to displace, to cross, to construct. It is at this junction that we glimpse the true political dimension of an aesthetic of becoming. The “abandoning of control” embodies the refusal of the fixity of form, at the same time that it resists all limit setting and territoriality. This aesthetic of becoming is both a political and an artistic praxis. Paradoxically, an oeuvre of becoming has nothing to do with the influence of one thing upon another, or with openness to everything and nothing. It demands a full and complete commitment to permanent transformation. It requires an extreme vigilance regarding events. It is an act of commitment in itself. A discrete, modest, at times invisible act—but infinitely subtle, effective and enduring when it is taken on in this spirit of radical receptivity regarding what is “elsewhere”.


It is fairly rare to encounter contemporary artists who embark on such a sensitive undertaking, renewing their aesthetic and political base that stems from institutional critique, notably of post-minimalist and conceptual art of the 1970s. Jocelyn Cottencin’s work spans these foundational reference points while at the same time avoiding the type of dogma that can be found in many contemporary projects linked with this aesthetic heritage. These include installations that focus to the point of excess on a critique of space—such as the exhibition space, the social sphere, the public forum or simply that of the object. This may produce works that are brilliant in their formal presentation or technically seductive, but they are often empty and tinged with a tired cynicism with respect to social issues — a pseudo-poetics of space that, in the end, is very conservative and bourgeois.
The works of Cottencin maintain their affinity with the 1970s critique of art, with substantial wariness regarding the way in which works of art are enunciated and received. They never assume control of space or of the gaze. There is always a fault line, something that breaks away, an escape route that interferes with each piece. This is without a doubt related to another 1960-1970 affiliation to art such as Jonas Mekas’s films or the experimental cinema of Stan Brakhage. These are works that find their aesthetic impact and their impressive political resistance in the frenetic workmanship of an impurity of image and text. For Jocelyn Cottencin, it is obviously not a question of repeating the formal processes and materials that are produced by ‘accident’, or the ‘chaos of the image’
, but rather to set in motion that which fundamentally emerges from an attitude of displacement, an empathy with the living, in the manner that Jonas Mekas stated it: 


When one films with a Bolex, it is not held exactly at head-level, but a little bit lower, not exactly at the level of the heart, but a little bit higher…and when you rewind the spring, the camera is given an artificial life…One lives continuously in the Intérieur of the situation, in the temporal continuum, but you film by spurts, as long as the spring allows…one is always in the process of interrupting the reality that one is filming…and taking it up again…(…) 


The “displaced person”, the exile as voyager. This exists, and is not an abstract concept. The “displaced person” is a reality of today. The level and complexities of contemporary societies give rise to “the displaced person.” (…) A displaced person doesn’t have a choice, has not chosen to leave his or her home. A displaced person has been thrown into the world and forced to travel.”


Although the work of Jocelyn Cottencin is based on an approach of openings, modulation and transformation, it does not let itself be absorbed or influenced to the point of losing track of itself in an extreme dissolving in exteriority. Just the opposite. Its central axis is to intentionally maintain a constant negotiation between real events and their expansion towards other spaces. It is a form which becomes open because of the generosity of its welcome, but also by its thoroughly rugged form, with its capacity for infiltration, reversal of aesthetic constraints and possibilities.


This is the case with Just a Walk, a protean and rhizomic artistic work that is generated out of different working methods defined between 2005 and 2007. These include exploratory circuits and residencies ranging from the Scottish highlands to Glasgow, Rennes, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Porto and Lisbon, collective research sessions between artists and curators, as well as works conceived by artists as different as Carla Cruz, Jocelyn Cottencin, Marcel Dinahet and Tiago Guedes. There is also the creation and expansion of an internet site, the accumulation of photographic and video images, and the creation of word sculptures made out of neon or the human body, the contributions of spaces of reflection and exchange. Finally, the work includes journal entries by the art critic and curator Jean-Marc Huitorel, the creation of a solo exhibition at the Criée Contemporary Art Center, and the staging of choreographic piece by Tiago Guedes, with the revealing title of “Diverse Materials”.


Diffusion process: challenging the exhibition


Diffusion points to exteriority and the ‘thrust towards’…but rather than an exhibit, it reflects a discrete impregnation of spaces and territories. In other words, dissemination scrambles presentations, indexing, proofs and definitions.


At La Criée, the Just a Walk project unfolds according to a specific system of visibility. Jocelyn Cottencin has designed a presentation that neatly resists the concept of an exhibition that is spatially ostentatious, seductive and spectacular.


The space is, above all, a zone of diffuse elements: luminous emissions and darkened areas, auditory evocations or transmissions, silences, the pairing of photographic images with large pockets of empty space, or the slow flow of a single video sequence. Writing on the exhibition walls allows words to drift to the surface—almost in a state of disintegration—words massing together to create a landscape; or conversely, the creation of a sculpture radiating neon words, imposing in its materiality as much as its powerful lexical dissemination.  
In their entirety, these works form a paradoxical environment, i.e. an ensemble that is at once cohesive and fragmented, multi-layered and dispersed.


The other characteristic of Just a Walk is that it offers not so much an immersive space as an experience of temporal extensions, where the speed at which the images are presented varies considerably from one work to the next, and in which the strata of visual, auditory and textual materials builds up only in order to dissipate.
The visitor thus negotiates the show by moving back and forth between works or by accepting to “pause” before a work. But more fundamentally, the visitor’s progress may be compared to that of a stroll whose goal is one of curiosity regarding the show’s fault lines and fissures, i.e. not that which takes place in front of the image, but that which is woven into its margins. That which is between, elsewhere, outside of the frame.


In a way; Just a Walk is an artistic work that offers an experience of blindness rather than clairvoyance. Blindness in the sense that the artist refuses the practice of an exhibition as a visual demonstration or textual analysis. Blindness because certain works relinquish their exclusive status as ‘visual object’ in order to produce multi-sensory expansions. Blindness, finally, because after they have been seen, the works have an impressive power of persistence of vision and generate in the viewer the construction of other mental images.


Diffusion process is also about overlapping — a spilling over where one least expects them. 


Thus, in the work Paysage (2007), a large luminous lightbox anchored to the gallery’s floor displays a photograph of a Scottish highland, a vast arid expanse swept by wind and clouds. But this is not all. The light that is emitted from the box radiates discretely in the direction of a floating mass on one of the inner walls of the art center. The mass is a mural drawing that has been rendered by the artist in graphite, a drawing sketching out a block in the process of formation, suggesting movement, modulation, a springing up, or, conversely, a fading away. Issued from this mass is the inscription, Alors, il y a cette île (Then there is this island).


Hence this other example of spilling over: the drawing escapes its own disegno condition, i.e. the attempt at a perfect or ideal representation of reality. At first, the drawing is not a line but a shapeless mass. Later, when the drawing takes form, it does so in its unique condition of writing. This writing carries in itself another paradox: it takes on a graphic dimension not only to signal itself, describe and make sense, but rather to display the beginning of the dissemination of a letter or image. In fact, the “root” typeface invented by Jocelyn Cottencin draws the work into a process of proliferation and transformation. Drawing, graphic elements and writing are gathered up in a material quality of “shapelessness” and in a performative act of enunciation, rather than one of description or explanation. Or, how to visualize what lies beneath writing and visual representation. 


The utterance itself, “Alors, il y a cette île” is in no way an explicit narrative: the opposite of an exotic dictum, it makes an “elsewhere” palpable—an insularity inscribed directly on the art center’s building—and at the heart of the visitor’s subjective construction. The “elsewhere” takes place here and now: in the uncertainty of self and the making of art. With Jocelyn Cottencin’s phrase, the notion of defined and possessed territoriality falls away, leaving insularity’s own properties—which are composed of a positive form of drifting, an openness to otherness, and the passage between inevitably contradictory spaces.