Site-Specific Screening and the Projection of Archives: Robert Lepage’s Le Moulin aimages Bruno Lessard

Site-Specific Screening and the Projection of Archives: Robert Lepage’s Le Moulin aimages

Bruno Lessard (2008)

The year 2008 marked the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City. the celebrations were framed by a three-month, site-specific outdoor projection created by Quebec City’s own and world-renowned theatre and film director Robert Lepage. Using archival materials, paintings, photographs,films, etchings, and engravings, Le Moulin aimages [The Image MilD projected images onto the Bunge of Canada Ltd., eighty-one grain silos that served as one monumental screen in the Old Port of Quebec City. The result was a visually stunning 43-minute unfolding of images, which takes the spectator back to the early days of the French colony in 1608, touching on the very problematic issues of collective memory and visual historiography along the way. l\lIoulin aired nightly at 10 p.m. for three consecutive months, fi’om June 20th to September 20th, 2008. A sign of the spectacular projection’s undeniable public success, a lavishly-illustrated, commemorative publication now graces the shelves of Quebec bookstores, and a 53-minute documentary, Mariano Franco and Marie Belzil’s Dans le ventre du Moulin [In the Belly of the iVIilD, aired on Radio-Canada after its run in selected movie theatres in the summer of 2009 in order to immortalize the creation process behind this unique site-specific installation. Enabled by 27 projectors, 329 speakers, and 238 spotlights, the work is divided into four sections that correspond to the city’s four centuries of history.1 (70)

In this article I am more interested in the unanimous praise showered on Lepage’s Moulin and the reconstruction of the conditions of intelligibility that should accompany such a potentially controversial art form. Moulin will therefore serve as a case study for rethinking the assessment of site-specific works that rely heavily on archival materials. Moulin’s reception in Quebec stresses the need for more thorough assessments of such site-specific installations within contemporary media arts criticism. (71)

I am, therefore, particularly interested in the quasi-unanimous media reception of MOI,din, its treatment of history and collective memory, and the work’s reanimation of Quebec City’s past via the mining of archives. Putting emphasis on the (re)animation of the archive and the visual representation of history will allow us to reassess Lepage’s moving image installation in the context of site specificity and contemporary media arts.  In order to do so, I shall lay particular stress on the document/monument dialectic that has been at the heart of twentieth-century historiography, in order to reconsider the stakes of a short-lived debate between a trained historian and one of Lepage’s co-creators. Instead of positing historical reproduction as the crucial concept to make sense of both the work’s media reception and its actual technological and representational principles, I will turn to the way it actually produces a problematic, yet novel form of visual historiography based on animation and monumentality. Such an approach to Moulin will allow us to reconsider the document/monument controversy in historiography and the type of history contemporary media arts that “screen the archives” can create in the context of site-specific installations in the city. Finally, the arguments contained herein serve as a contribution to the rapidly expanding field of Quebec studies with regard to the province’s neglected media arts productions. (72)

(Re)Animating History: Site Specificity and Relationality

Yet, an installation such as Moulin could be said to actively produce history rather than merely reproduce it. 인용가능 Indeed, upon watching the first two sections of the work, “Waterways” and “Pathways,” the spectator is impressed with the way in which the historical matters and archives are literally reanimated through the movement of still images. Breathing new life into the archives, the first two sections of Moulin put in movement still images in a way that could align the work with some of the best contemporary animated installations.(77)

A potential starting point for such an inquiry could refer to the fact that Lepage’s Moulin cannot be separated from the notion of site specificity.A useful distinction established by James Meyer between two types of site-specific works can set the stage for the discussion of Moulin’s unique design. Meyer argues that thereare two types of site: the literal site and the functional site. While the former would refer to “an actual location, a singular place,”21 the latter “mayor may not incorporate a physical place.”22 Rather, the functional site would act as a “process, an operation occurring between sites, a mapping of institutional and textual filiations and the bodies that move between them (the artist’s above all). It is an informational site, a palimpsest of text, photographs and video recordings, physical places, and things.”23 As we can see, according to Meyer’s distinction between the literal and the functional site, Moulin would correspond to the literal site, because it is located in one place only and does not reach out to other sites. (78)

However, upon closer inspection, Meyer’s description of the functional site merits further qualification precisely because Moulin tends to complicate any clear-cut distinction between the literal and the functional siteOn the one hand, Meyer’s description of the functional site addresses two different aspects of site-specific art: the use ofphysical space and the modalities of interaction or relational capacities of images.

On the other hand, a work such as Moulin is indeed what Meyer calls an “informational site,” a subcategory of the functional site, and does offer a wealth of visual information in palimpsestic fashion, which corresponds to the second part of Meyer’s definition of functional site. Even though Lepage’s work does not function as a process or an operation between sites or between images that would be similar in nature, or that would link events that happened in Quebec City to similar events in other cities, the images would correspond to Meyer’s definition of functional site qua informational site in terms of images and would qualifY as functional because of the way the images interact with each other regardless of what they actually show. In other words, Moulin’s apparatus would be “literal,” while its images would be “functional.In the end, one might ask: is Meyer’s distinction between literal and functional sites really helpful to make sense of the hybrid nature of several site-specific artworks such as Moulin? 

결국 내가 보기에도 Liternal + functional이다. 

 Since the 1960s, site specificity has been linked to the critique of commodification in the art world. Indeed, site-specific works, such as Moulin, have taken issue with the rising commodification of art and its place in the art gallery or the museum. Wishing to counter the ideological and institutional biases of the art market, literal artworks adopt a location, which becomes inseparable from the work’s raison d’etre. In the case of Moulin, the work is unimaginable without its site and the eighty-one grain silos that serve as one monumental screen. Moulin would, therefore, function as a conceptual oddity in site-specific art.The unavowed conservative historical content of Moulin (the functional aspect) seems to contradict the seemingly strong standsite-specific art takes against commodification (the literal aspect). In the case of Moulin, Lepage’s work is not meant to go on tour; it did not play 2417; there is no integral film version of it in stores; and, finally, no one had to pay to see it during its three-month run. 24 Thus, there seems to be a tension between the nature of the images it offers and the anti-commercial patterns of consumption that such a site-specific work advocates, which challenges Meyer’s distinction between literal and functional sites.25

Finally, I suggest that we turn to Lepage and his co-creators’ stated intentions and ideals to make sense of the literal-functional dialectic that is doubled by the preceding document-monument dialectic.

Moulin did not take advantage of the multitude of digital technologies now available to offer a relational environment in which spectators could truly engage the work beyond the familiar position of the television viewer or film spectator. Betting everything on its monumental screen that has, in fact, clouded the work’s historical contents, the work’s monumentality serves a very conservative historical content that is accompanied by an equally conventional viewing position, which lacks movement and reflexivity. As Meyer reminds us: “The most convincing site-related work not only represents, or enacts, this mobility, but also reflects on these new parameters.”26 (79)

There exists an elective affinity between contemporary cities and functional site-specific works: they both rely on “a mobile notion of site and a nomadic subjectivity,”27 which can be supplemented by the latest relational technologies. Moulin failed to appropriate digital technologies other than digital projectors and the software used for compositing and animating images. (80)

이 부분은 생각의 여지가 많다. new interactive technology를 써야만 relational 한 것인가?? 나랑은 반대되는 입장이다.  fail이라고 보기엔 무리가 있지 않나? physical interaction이 있어야먄 relational 인가? 나는 monumental screen와 moving image 만으로도 충분하다고 생각하고, 전혀 conventional 하지 않다고 본다. 

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