A grey monochrome is all that might result from the act of taking a screenshot while watching a movie. Apart from any obvious function pertaining to the protection of copyrighted material or personal data, this ghost of a screen is a momentary double of the cinematographic image that dispossesses the viewer, cataloguing all the while the time and day of their scopic impulse.1
Through the use of a similar mask, Emmanuel Van der Meulen sets up in turn a process enabling the capture and concealment of an image. The square format has precisely been chosen for its geometrical neutrality, being neither horizontal nor vertical and rejecting any affiliation to portrait or landscape orientation, “The square represents no more than a centre, it is more central than a circle because it does not rotate (we are not tempted to go around it: symmetry saves us this poetic effort).”2 This potentially objective shape, somehow remote from the target’s language while retaining some of its functions like the viewfinder, framing, or even the shutter (notably calling to mind the logorrhoea of social network Instagram3) is not unprecedented in the history of art and painting. It is difficult not to think of Kasimir Malevitch’s Black Square also called Black Quadrilateral or Quadrangle (1915), but also of Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square (starting from 1949).
Moreover, one shouldn’t overlook the square’s nature as a photogram conjured up not only through painting but also through the collages referring to the history of avant-garde, auteur and pop-culture cinema: Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Michael Powell’s Peeping-Tom, Jacques Rivette’s L’amour fou, Eric Rohmer’s Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotapes, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. As a result, Opsis (or Optic in English) provides a new tone to his work by offering a stereoscopic display. On one side, a succession of square paintings and on the other a new series of collages from film magazines with large white margins. Arranged face to face, these two modalities or temporalities of images, still or frozen, compel us to discover one while detaching ourselves from the other—and vice versa.
This symptomatic and reflexive approach to cinema developed by French theorist Raymond Bellour4 questions its potential for identification and thus seems to extend Roland Barthes’ historical semiotic analysis: “Do I add to the images in movies? I don’t think so; I don’t have the time: in front of the screen, I am not free to shut my eyes; otherwise, opening them again, I would not discover the same image; I am constrained to a continuous voracity; a list of other qualities, but not pensiveness; whence the interest, for me, of the photogram.
Yet the cinema has a power which at first glance the Photograph does not have: the screen (as Bazin has remarked) is not a frame but a hideout; the man or woman who emerges from it continues living: a ‘blind field’ constantly doubles our partial vision.”5
Thus, this new frontal organisation seems to initiate a semantic redefinition of the screen, this time composed of a superposition of texture (liquid or opaque) and colour (matt or transparent), questioning our own ability to resist images.
– Arlène Berceliot Courtin, October 2019.
translated from the French by Noam Assayag
1 Scopic impulse or scopophilia corresponds to the pleasure derived from the act of looking and the desire to possess the other through one’s gaze. See: “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, a funding manifesto of feminist film theory, originally written in 1973 by Laura Mulvey and published in 1975 in British journal Screen.
2 Email correspondence with the artist, October 2019.
3 “Square format has been and always will be part of who we are”, Press release, Instagram, August 27, 2015.
4 Cinema is to be understood here as a place and an apparatus in itself. “Only the movie theatre can provide us with the possibility of an uninterrupted screening, of a sustained attention lasting for an hour and a half, two hours and more, with the possibility of memorising and forgetting the images we are seeing, and to draw something absolutely unique from this experience.” Raymond Bellour, La Querelle des Dispositifs, CEHTA, January 9, 2013 (7’56’’-8’19’’), translated by Noam Assayag.
5 Camera Lucida, Reflections on Photography, Roland Barthes, p. 55, Hill and Wang, translated by Richard Howard, 1981.
Opsis 1, 2019
16 x16 cm
Frame: 57 x 43 cm
courtesy the artist and Galerie Allen, Paris