Looking Into The Night - Pau Waelder ETC MEDIA - Érudit

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Looking Into The Night
Pau Waelder

Grégory Chatonsky : Après le réseau
Grégory Chatonsky: After the Network
Number 110, Spring 2017

URI: https://id.erudit.org/iderudit/85046ac

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Waelder, P. (2017). Looking Into The Night. ETC MEDIA, (110), 22–27.

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Looking Into The Night - Pau Waelder ETC MEDIA - Érudit


Looking Into The Night - Pau Waelder ETC MEDIA - Érudit
Sitting next to a window in an airplane at                  into darkness, “suddenly a new mysterious                   or éspace autre, juxtaposes a real space and
night, one can see the lines drawn by the                   world emerges, which you couldn’t have                      a fictional one in a single location6. To do
street lights in the cities below. At times,                anticipated before.”3 Both the NASA’s sa-                   so, it requires the undivided attention of
they are the only visible thing in the vast                 tellite image and the Kabakovs’ artistic                    the viewers, which is achieved by darke-
darkness that expands forty thousand feet                   project suggest that sometimes the absence                  ning the room so that one can only look
below. This is a mesmerizing and awkwar-                    of light is what lets us see more clearly.                  at the projection screen, as well as possibly
dly calming experience: the distance, the                   Even if something is in front of us in broad                being prevented from using any other
stillness of the night, and the disappearance               daylight, it may not be plain to see, but                   screens. Chatonsky has referred to the
of everything but the main arteries of each                 darkness forces us to pay attention to what                 use of black backgrounds and full screen
city allow the idle passenger to see their                  may be hidden and lets us focus our gaze                    displays in his online works as “a way to
shape with unexpected clarity. In a time of                 on what is illuminated, be it the layout of                 watch the Internet as in the dark room of a
increasing dependency on electricity and                    the city or a set of objects on a desk which                cinema, in this waiting and loss of one-
extended daily activity fueled by the requi-                turn out to be a little less ordinary.                      self.”7 Artworks such as Waiting (2007) or
rements of economic liberalism, an image                                                                                World State (2008) exemplify this sort of
of the Earth at night, such as the one distri-              “Night Journey” also introduces the per-                    attention and consciously avoid any sort
buted by NASA in 2000,1 becomes a telling                   ception of darkness as something magical                    of interaction between user and artwork, as
description of a busy and unequally distri-                 and mysterious that spurs the imagination.                  the viewer is meant to sit and watch while
buted world. This widely reproduced image                   In this sense, the darkness in Chatonsky’s                  the fiction evolves by means of constant
inspired Grégory Chatonsky to create his                    work can be related to the perception of                    data exchanges on the network. Again, the
artwork At Night (2012), a software that                    the computer as a black box whose inner                     machine (or the software) takes on a life of
automatically generates maps of cities as                   workings we are unaware of. Darkness, or                    its own, leaving the human in front of it as
they would be seen during nighttime and                     the nocturnal, is therefore used as a way                   a mere witness of its activity. However, the
displays them in an endless sequence in                     to contradict the apparent transparency                     viewer is by no means inactive, since she is
which the camera flies over the urban area                  of information technologies.4 Computers                     constantly trying to make sense of what she
without ever stopping. This work, as well                   and servers are presented as inscrutable                    sees on the screen.
as the similar generative film Far from the                 or even ominous machines that are out of
Cities (2011), exemplify the artist’s inte-                 reach, as in Horizon (2016), or carry out                   SLEEP AND
rest in creating fictions without narrative,                enigmatic processes, as in L’Enclave (2013)                 OVERPRODUCTION
paired with a use of darkness that clearly                  or Memories Center (2014). They can also
identifies his work. However, as he is keen                 be part of what Chatonsky describes as a                    Sleep is usually understood as a state of
to point out, it is not darkness that interests             “background noise” that “structures our                     inactivity, particularly unproductive in
him, but rather the nocturnal.2                             being in the world, our relationship with                   terms of labour, although it is clear that
                                                            others and our process of individuation.”5                  the organism is active and the sleeper is
IN PLAIN SIGHT                                              In our daily interaction with various social                producing, and being a spectator of, her
                                                            networks and in our awareness of our on-                    own dreams. In keeping with his interest
“Night Journey,” one of the sixty fictional                 line presence even when we are not online,                  in the language of cinema and in automa-
projects in Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s exhi-                 this “background noise” is constantly pre-                  tically generated fictions, Chatonsky has
bition The Palace of Projects (1998), invites               sent. Silence may only be found in the still                explored the processes that take place in
the viewer to perform a simple experiment:                  of the night, when the screens are turned                   the subconscious mind at night. This can
“when night has fallen, and you remain                      off and apparently no further activity is ta-               be seen in installations such as Sleepless
alone in your room, sit down at your desk,                  king place (or is it?).                                     (2013), which requires a sleeping person
turn out the light, and turn your desk lamp                                                                             to generate an image that only a sleepless
so that it illuminates only one small part                  Cinemas are among the very few places                       person can observe, and the previously
of the desk.” By highlighting the presence                  where most smartphones are still silenced                   mentioned Memories Center. The act of
of just some of the ordinary objects on the                 or turned off. The auditorium, which                        sleeping is therefore examined from a
desk, while the rest of the room plunges                    Michel Foucault described as an heterotopia                 distance as well as recreated by means of

1 “Earth at Night”NASA (November 27, 2000). Retrieved from: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap001127.html.
2 Dominique Moulon,“Grégory Chatonsky, Une esthétique des flux”IMAGES magazine 125 (2007): 85–89. Retrieved from: http://www.moulon.net/pdf/pdfin_08.pdf.
3 Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, The Palace of Projects. Retrieved from:
4 Moulon, op.cit., 86.
5 Grégory Chatonsky, Capture: Generative Netrock (Enghien-les-Bains: Centre des arts d’Enghien-les-Bains, 2014), 116.
6 Michel Foucault,“Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias”Architecture/mouvement/Continuité 5 (October 1984): 46–49. Retrieved from: http://foucault.info/doc/documents/heterotopia/fou-
7 Moulon, op.cit., 86.
Looking Into The Night - Pau Waelder ETC MEDIA - Érudit
Looking Into The Night - Pau Waelder ETC MEDIA - Érudit
are being held, treaties are signed. Everything starts
a series of algorithms and a repository of               by creating a system that never stops crea-                 over again. The state of the world is a fiction which
                                                                                                                     reacts in real time to the CNN news. The young
human-generated content. In connection                   ting music, lyrics, artists biographies, and                woman gets worse or healthier depending on what
with the conception of the machine as an                 music videos, beyond the human capa-                        happens in the world.
obscure being, it can be said that the artist            city to even read, view, or listen to all the               http://chatonsky.net/world-state
plays with the idea of a subconscious state              content that is being constantly produced.                  At Night (2011). Software. A software that automa-
in the computer, an ability to dream that                While it was initially intended as a form                   tically generates maps of the cities during the night.
precedes rational thought.                               of criticism against cultural industries, it                The camera flies over the city without stopping.
                                                         has evolved into an entity that is capable
“Every night, for months, the computer                   of producing culture without the need                       Waiting (2007). Generative networked video.
calculates. During my sleep, while other                 for a human audience. Just as a screensa-                   Sentences loaded from Twitter scroll on videos
                                                                                                                     shot in a railway station: the passengers are waiting
images invade me in the nocturnal obli-                  ver—a process carried out by the computer                   for the train to arrive, they are watching the train
vion, pixels and text are displayed, fixed               precisely when no one is interacting with                   timetable the time of a floating instant. The
and registered. The monitor is off while the             it—signals the absence of the user,10 the                   longest words in the sentences are translated
                                                                                                                     into photographs by Flickr.
processor calculates equations of which I                autopoietic activity of the machine can be                  http://chatonsky.net/waiting
have no idea.”8 In this manner, Chatonsky                interpreted as a prefiguration of the disap-
describes his use of the computer in his                 pearance of humankind.                                      (Next page)
                                                                                                                     Se toucher toi (2004). Just by simply touching a glass
daily work, hinting at the agency of the                                                                             surface with one’s hand, one virtually manipulates
machine and the relative uselessness of the              Telofossils (2013) imagines the end of hu-                  a video image representing a man’s and woman’s
artist, contrary to the Romantic ideal. On               manity in the form of a series of landscapes                hands.. One can make them touch, move apart, skim.
several occasions, he has portrayed him-                 and objects that remind of archaeological                   After a while, the two hands don’t seem to respond
                                                                                                                     any longer to the user’s manual commands. They
self as a worker, for instance on the cover              findings, only not of the past but of a pos-                touch each other freely as the installation continues
of the book Grégory Chatonsky: Capture                   sible future. Partly inspired by Cormac                     to exist simultaneously in another physical space and
(Orléans: Éditions HYX, 2010), which                     McCarthy’s descriptions of a post-apoca-                    on the internet. What one perceives in the end is
                                                                                                                     the outcome of the interaction of the others. All the
shows him in front of his computer at                    lyptic world, it addresses a situation that                 interactions are recorded in a database and may be
night, his face bleached by the glow of the              we can barely conceive: our own disappea-                   added subsequently and performed again.
screen, his features unrecognizable. This                rance, and the traces of our existence that                 Software : Vadim Bernard, Stéphane Sikora.
                                                                                                                     With the support of Le Fresnoy studio national des
image, which brings to mind the experi-                  we will leave behind. “Everything, accor-                   arts contemporains
ment described in the Kabakovs’ “Night                   ding to entropy, is headed for ruin,” stresses              http://chatonsky.net/toucher
Journey,” suggests an endless and tireless               Chatonsky. “We will disappear, we are
                                                                                                                     (Next page)
production (from dusk until dawn), that is               mortal, the world will subsist without us.”11               L’abandon des choses (2016). A recursive neural
actually better carried out by a computer                Exploring what may happen when night                        network try to learn the movement of the sea flow
than by a human. When NASA and NOAA                      falls on humankind implies moving away                      and recreate a second world.
presented new views of Earth at night in                 from the comfort of an anthropocentric
2012, researcher Steve Miller stated that                view and considering the agency of the
“unlike humans, the Earth never sleeps”9                 objects and machines around us. Like the
and neither do the networks of compu-                    view of the Earth at night, it allows us to see
ters that form the Internet. As Chatonsky                the world with distance and clarity, over-
points out, even when the monitor is off,                come a self-centred perception of reality,
the processor keeps working. And even                    and wake up.
when the computer is off, other computers
are working with the data from the inactive              —
                                                         World State (2008). Web-fiction. A young woman
                                                         in her room. She seems ill. Sometimes she is better.
THE TWILIGHT OF                                          Sometimes she is worse. Each of her reaction seems
HUMANKIND                                                to respond to a secret logic. As the day goes by, she
                                                         hardly breathes, she relaxes, she gets up, she collapses.
                                                         Everything starts over again. Somewhere else, people
Capture (2009–) is an ongoing project that               die, are injured, governments are overthrown, elec-
explores the possibility of overproduction               tions are won, raw material gets scarce, negotiations

8 Chatonsky, op. cit., 240.
9 “NASA-NOAA Satellite Reveals New Views of Earth at Night”NASA (December 5, 2012). Retrieved from: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NPP/news/earth-at-night.html
10 Chatonsky, op. cit.,113.
11 Grégory Chatonsky, Telofossils (Taipei: Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, 2013), 48.
Looking Into The Night - Pau Waelder ETC MEDIA - Érudit
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