Vibrations of Light and Sound: to trigger seismic molecular events, to shake the wall, to break down barriers
November 22nd, 2011
Earlier this year Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert responded to a call for entries I posted for two separate curatorial endeavors: one for the Black Metal theory journal Helvete, and the other for the film/video screening “Black Thorns in the Black Box.” I have no idea how these two artists escaped my knowledge for so long and instantly wanted to learn more about their practice.
Gast and Nadine were both born in Luxembourg and are currently based in Brussels, Belgium. They have worked together since 1990s, using a combination of photography, video, and sound to create potent social, political, and institutional critiques which they have exhibited at major international venues including the Muzeum Sztuki Lodz, Poland; Philharmonie, Luxembourg; Trienal de Luanda, Angola; Busan Biennale of Contemporary Art, South-Korea; Domaine de Chamarande, France; Casino Forum d’Art Contemporain, Luxembourg; and Camouflage Johannesburg, South Africa… just to name a few. And, in 2009 they represented Luxembourg at the Venice Biennale.
Their work enchants me. Not only for its intellectual richness, but Gast and Nadine’s incorporation of alchemical aesthetics are absolutely gorgeous, and their collaborations with noise musicians adds intense layers of somatic and psychological stimulation.
Following is an interview that I conducted earlier this month with Gast Bouschet.
Amelia Ishmael: Let’s start by talking about “Toward the Event Horizon,” the recent video and sound performance that took place October 8 at the Mudam Luxembourg. What happened here?
Gast Bouschet: Well, different things to different people, I guess. What’s important to us is the location and context of the event. Where we project our art and sorcery, what’s the nature of the game and what we are throwing out into the world. Making the video and building up the energy is a long and slow process. We went several times to London to film the financial district and shoot images in Iceland after the eruption of Grimsvötn earlier this year. The live performance itself was a quick discharge of this energy. As we believe that art is more than entertainment and has to go somewhere to produce results, we bombarded the Museum building with light and sound vibrations. Our goal was to trigger seismic molecular events within architectonic concrete and glass. We wanted to shake the wall and bring this thing down. Of course we failed.
AI: Damn. That’s quite a feat. So the intention was to break down the cultural barrier between the art museum and the public sphere?
GB: Yes, breaking down physical and cultural barriers. As well as questioning rationality. Our art strives for a new form of resistance. We want to take reality into our own hands, re-appropriate the imagination and defy established forms of thought and expectations in contemporary art. The live performance was also an expression of symbolic violence against oppressive architecture. That which oppresses us must in some way be destroyed. Such a wild ride is doomed to fail, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to try. As Albert Camus stated in The Myth of Sisyphus: the struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. Anyway, one of our main objectives was to evolve outside the comfort zone of the museum and invite the audience to position themselves towards it. To make choices whether to enter the museum and be part of the Night of the Museums event, or confront the rain and the cold outside while experiencing extreme visual art and listening to very loud music. These choices are more far-reaching than just how to spend an evening. It reveals what these people choose to confront in their lives. Being present outside was kind of a tough decision to make. The drastic weather that night was in sync with the bleak, frozen landscapes depicted in our film.
AI: What was your inspiration to relate the clips of the London financial district with the Icelandic landscapes?
GB: We actually started to film the City of London and Canary Wharf in early 2010. We worked on low vision as a technique to invoke the deep perspective crisis that our society is going through. We wanted to refer to eye damage and show that our ocular vision of the world is deformed and oppressed. So we applied volcanic dust and dead insects directly on the camera lens while filming. A couple of weeks later, Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland and its giant dust cloud stopped flight traffic over Northern Europe. We are not into divination or prophecy, but we realized that we definitely got something here. So we decided to go deeper into the subject and move between London and Brussels, where we live. There was also the eruption of Grimsvötn in 2011, and we flew to Iceland immediately after it to film and photograph the thick dust and ash layer that covered parts of Vatnajökull glacier. We are fascinated by the intervention of natural forces on human affairs and search for aesthetic forms of dislocation. We want to cause change in how we perceive the world. In our film, the volcanoes in Iceland are opposed to the mineral structure of the City and its occult economy and abstract financial flows. By obfuscating the lens and manipulating the visual input, we are trying to destroy the credibility of the image as a clear signifier.
AI: I’ve only seen the video documentation and it looks and sounds like a super intense experience best sensed in actual presence of the work, yet its strength resonates beyond the site-specific installation. For sure. Some of the images that I can pick out from the projection include people walking through glass structures, scrolling LED numbers and text, and insects crawling over an intense–both in contrast between the stark black and white tones and the sharp edges–landscape. It turns from this representational imagery to very severe bursting of light strobes. What changes for you between these two modes?
GB: The scrolling LED numbers and text are stock market values actually. Well, there is no clear fracture between these two modes. Representational imagery and flickering lights and shadows overlap, penetrate and repulse each other. The flow of the images is constantly interrupted. We don’t see a coherent world, but only splinters of it. Shadows pull downward, light collapses into a black hole. Our work is inspired by Antonin Artaud’s philosophy of “Raw Cinema,” which aimed to transplant the image directly into the spectator’s eyes and nervous system. He also evoked sorcery in the context of film-making. Maybe it has to do with the fact that sorcery restores some of the powers and dangers of art, I don’t know. Our thing has always been about intensity and techniques of ecstasy. We use raw and cheap recording modes to reinstall an archaic state of consciousness about our being on planet Earth and try to break up doors to the chaos that lies beneath.
AI: In the context of your previous lenswork—both photography and film—it seems that you are using the process of recording and editing to summon some larger power, drawing from indexical relationships that are built between on site shooting and experimentation with the raw materials of light and sound. At the rawest moments you are dealing with these elementary materials of sight and sound, and the vibrations that they release. This reminds me of Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan’s book The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word where he discusses the ability of vibrations to stream through and interact with us both on a conscious and unconscious level, both seen and unseen. Are you using light and sound to represent, tap into, habour, challenge, and redirect the energy of these vibrations?
GB: This sounds thrilling. I haven’t read the book, but we are definitely interested in vibrational transformation and the manifestation of light and sound on the physical sphere. If you project frequencies, they will create resonances and interferences in matter as well as in the mind. Vibrations and noise are capable of disrupting established connections and create a disequilibrium. I am no Sufi mystic, I don’t believe in God or any hidden esoteric truths. I don’t believe in ultimate truth. Period. But we try to gather forces and empower the audience and ourselves through art and ritual. These statements are probably paradoxical but what the hell, living today is nothing but contradictions, right? I think we have to find new terms, or at least revitalize the old ones and develop new artistic strategies to summon the unspeakable and confront the unknown. I guess reality is ultimately indefinable. The best we can do is to find methods to deal with the suffering. In our art we try to revalorize feelings of anger, disorientation and revolt. Art is about something more than hanging pictures on a wall or selling a product. I discuss this issues a lot with Nadine and Yannick from Y.E.R.M.O.
AI: Have you collaborated with the sound artists for this piece before?
GB: We contacted Y.E.R.M.O. (Yannick Franck and Xavier Dubois) in 2007 to collaborate on “Collision Zone,” a multichannel video and sound installation that we elaborated for the Luxembourg Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale. The work is a phantasmagorical journey between Africa and Europe, highly metaphorical and full of weird juxtapositions and associations. An encounter with the tragedy of so-called “illegal immigration” and the horror of being trapped between two worlds. Collaborating with Yannick and Xavier was a great, rewarding experience and we have worked together on several occasions since. We share a passion for dark and extreme art, Black Metal, Noise Music etc. For a live version of “Collision Zone” in the basement of “Philharmonie Luxembourg,” we also invited Otobong Nkanga to join Y.E.R.M.O. on stage. It was a real challenge to confront Oto’s invocations and vocal improvisations with a dozen Nigerian dialects to the drones and Sabbath-like riffs of two white, Nordic males. Yannick runs “Idiosyncratics,” a small label mainly based on Dark Ambient, and is very active in producing sounds for movies, theater and dance productions. Xavier plays guitar in another band named Ultraphallus. They are fucking brilliant.
AI: They are not the only ones! Thank you Gast.