DAVID CLAERBOUT: The Algiers’ sections of a happy moment moment], 2008, video, 37 minutes (single-channel video projection, black and white, stereo audio, 37 min loop).
Ruins, shadows, and smiles… But also the flight of seagulls over the fences and the melodies of a mandolin: David Claerbout takes us to a small football field nestled between fences in the Kasbah of Algiers. In 600 projected photos (or ‘sections’), selected from over 50,000 photographs taken in situ, we see young Maghrebians surrounded by a group of elderly people, interrupting their game to watch the seagulls. A “happy moment,” a suspended time, recounted with an astonishing economy of means, which we are invited to share through our eyes. Everything in this video work is about looking. Mute and minimalist, the narration is reduced to exchanges – magnificent – of smiles and glances; time itself seems to be suspended in the glances which, through the sequencing of the resulting image, create a very particular “time dilation.”
As for the gaze of the “viewer,” it is multiplied tenfold by the multiplication of viewpoints and framings: we are an “omniscient” spectator. Fragmentation of space, sequencing of the image, time dilation… these are all strategies, all tools used to “relax the suspicious gaze,” explains David Claerbout. Modulating and shaping space-time, or the perception of time through an ambivalent image (neither completely fixed, nor completely still), to disarm the worried and accusing gaze and transform it into an innocent gaze: this is the “narrative deconstruction” that the artist, who could be affiliated with the new novel movement, is committed to: No dialogues, no protagonists, no narrative plot, no events, a plot reduced to a non-event: the contemplation of the flight of seagulls, a scenario reduced to a choreography of gestures and glances… David Claerbout is a master of the litote (say less to say more).
Multiplying the moment by showing its multiple facets, captured in a fraction of a second by dozens of cameras placed all around the stage, the Antwerp artist manages to dilate time to the point of giving it an almost palpable, even pictorial, presence. Sculptures of time, each of his “sequences” is an invitation to slow down, an invitation to stop in front of all the narrative (or pictorial) potentialities of a paused image, an invitation to lose our time by losing ourselves in the image, in the “pictorial nature of the image” sculpted by light and movement (of the wind, of gestures, of seagulls…)
Transported into the partitioned space of a small football field, similar to a theatre stage, into an “almost inhuman temporality” that could evoke the timelessness of a tale or the fourth dimension. Thus, we are neutralized, able to perceive the poetry of reality and to hear the beautiful promises of a flight of seagulls…