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It is a Landscape Film!

Having been invited to write a text for the premiere of Renée Kool’s Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film, I felt both pleasantly surprised and puzzled. Pleasantly, since I am a fan of Renée Kool’s work; for some time I had been drawn to the idea of writing about it. Puzzled as well, since what exactly am I supposed to write, and about what? Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film is not cinematic in the usual meaning of the word, just as its premiere is not a premiere in the accustomed sense. Actually, Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film, itself undermines the very notion of work as something finished, as something achieved. It consists of an invitation to a viewer to take a walk, as a result of which the ‘film’ appears, making the work the doing of something rather than something done.

Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film is part of an ongoing project. This has had previous showings in the form of an environmental slide projection installation, as a photomontage printed in a magazine on eight successive pages, and as a panorama-like environment consisting of life-size photocopies pasted to the walls of a museum gallery lit by slide projectors. All of these are based on a series of photographs taken within a time span of about 7 minutes on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Parc de la Villette in Paris. The photographs are the basis of the different appearances of the project, yet the material used in these various appearances is not necessarily limited to these photographs. For example, on the occasion of the exhibition Unfortunately last Sunday afternoon somebody left the door open… (Museum Het Domein, Sittard 2000) Kool edited Mrs. Sieglien Ceder, an attendant of the museum, into the landscape of Parc de la Villette. Significantly, Kool entitles the different appearances of A Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris as parts of an ongoing project. These are not a series of works. Rather, they are the different manifestations of one single ‘work’; that is the different forms in which this ‘work’ becomes visible. This is even more evident in the latest appearance of A Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris in Graz at the steirischer herbst exhibition <hers>.

Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film consists of a digitalized photomontage projected onto the wall of a Rotunda that is part of the building in which the exhibition takes place. The size of the projection, the curved wall of the Rotunda space on which it is projected as well as the image itself - a view of the Parc de la Villette in the round - bring to mind the tradition of panorama paintings. These are arranged on the inside of a cylindrical surface and present the spectator with an unbroken view of a real or imaginary region as if this region depicted in the painting is surrounding him or her. The panorama painting represents the visible world as a stable presence ‘there to be seen’. In doing so, these paintings address the spectator as if he or she is an all-seeing eye present at the centre from where the visible world can be seen ‘as it is’. Panorama paintings thus confirm a Cartesian notion of subjectivity and the unproblematic understanding of the vision related to it. Exactly this notion of vision - what it means to see - becomes undermined in the different appearances of A Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris.

In Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film, the projection does not show the Parc de la Villette as an unbroken image surrounding the spectator. Instead, the projection on the curved wall of the Rotunda shows only a fragment of the Parc. What it shows depends upon the viewer, who is invited to make use of six buttons with which he or she can move the frame from left to right, up and down, zooming in or zooming out. In this way, the viewer is able to scan the image, move through it at will, yet without ever being able to see the image in its entirety. The only way to ‘get the picture’ of the Parc is to take a walk, and to traverse the image visually. Thus even more than a conventional movie, Renée Kool’s ‘film’ depends upon the presence of a spectator. Not only is this so, because like a conventional film, it demands a shared time-span in which it is shown and can be seen. More than that, the only way to see the ‘panorama’ is to construct one’s own film of it. That is, we have to interact with it, to explore the image of the Parc by engaging with it, zooming in, zooming out, tracking from left to right and up and down. The ‘film’ demands the active engagement of the spectator to an extreme point; every moment of the film’s time span is literally the product of the interaction between the installation and the viewer. It is within this very interaction that the film comes into being. This is a film that only exists at the moment of its being made/being seen. The result is that the work Kool has termed a film turns into theatre.

The title and subject matter of the project A Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris brings to mind Seurat’s famous painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886). In the ‘film’ version of A Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris, the grain of the enormously enlarged photographic image reminds us of the effect of his pointillist technique, be it in black and white instead of color. The more one zooms in, the more the image falls apart into blots and dots which make it hard to perceive it as an image at all.
As Jonathan Crary observes (Suspension of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture, 1999), one of the most obvious ways we experience Seurat’s work is through our own physical movement – back and forth, from a position close enough that individual touches of colour are distinguishable and the constructed nature of the surface is evident, to a more distant point at which the surface coalesces into a shimmering image of a recognizable world. That which appears as a distinct body or object of vision is effectively shown to be an economy of mental representation. The oscillation inherent in one’s experience of Seurat’s pointillist paintings prevents a single perceptual organization and, instead, it subsists uncertainty between its elemental composition and a never fully completed fusion. With this observation, Crary refutes modernist readings of Seurat’s work that point one-sided attention to the classicist composition of his paintings, and the structural equilibrium of these compositions. Instead, he argues, Seurat’s paintings hover ambiguously between two scopic regimes: "Between the metric and homogeneous tableau loosely synonymous with classical space and destabilized perceptual regime with its mobile and embodied observer" (Crary 1999:190).

Like Seurat’s painting, Kool’s ‘film’ undermines the all-at-oneness suggested by modernist conceptions of vision by pointing attention to successiveness as an empirical condition of perception. The ‘film’ testifies to a self-conscious and systematic awareness of the part played by the spectator in the making of a work, and does so in an even more radical way than Seurat’s Grande Jatte, for the ‘film’ lacks a classical composition as a counterforce to the destablizing experience of perception. This is so, firstly, because the all-over composition of the ‘photoshopped’ panorama can never be seen in its entirety at once. The viewer literally has to construct this totality as a mental image based on the ‘film’ he or she produces while exploring the terrain, moving back and forth through it. At each moment, the viewer only sees what appears within the framework provided by the projection and has to decide for him or herself how this particular relates to all the others. Secondly, this is so because what is offered for exploration explicitly presents itself as a construction based upon a series of photos taken during a time span of seven minutes. By so doing, the photomontage draws attention to the work involved in its own production. Its condition of being pasted together is not denied or wiped out. Edges of the various photographs are still visible. Thus, while at first Kool’s ‘panorama’ might seem to confirm the unitary point of view implied by the panorama painting – it is based on a series of images taken from one single point in space – it in fact undermines the unitary character of this point of view. People traversing the Parc de la Villette at the moment the photographs were taken appear more than once in the montage, which includes their different appearances at successive moments. This time span is ‘spaced out’ in the computer generated image of the Parc, presenting it from a point of view spaced out in time. On top of this, some parts of the Parc are repeated, and as a result of which the space of the Parc ‘spaces out’ even further.

Like Seurat’s painting, Kool’s film draws attention to successiveness as a necessary condition of perception. In Seurat, this succession is contrasted with a coherent image as seen from a unitary point of view. His painting thus suggests an opposition between perception as something that involves work, and the visible world as a stable presence independent of a viewer. The visible world appears as a presence against which we can measure the work involved in perception. Alternatively, in Renée Kool’s ‘film’, the visible world itself appears as a construction resulting from the active engagement of a viewer with the world, cutting and pasting together a world from successive impressions. Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film thus suggests a shift analogous to Roland Barthes ‘epistemological slide’ in the conception of written texts from the traditional notion of the work to the more relativized text, one whose unity is no to be found in its origin but in its destination. Analogously, Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film presents a landscape which calls upon the viewer to synthesize the elements presented. This landscape is spaced-out in the sense of Derrida’s concept of espacement. There is no composition in space or time that prescribes a particular way of walking. Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film only exists in this walking. This walking is the work. The object of vision as represented by Sunny Summer Sunday Afternoon in Paris - the film can therefore be read as a metaphor of its subject matter. The ‘film’ confronts the viewer with a landscape in the way Gertrude Stein uses it in her notion of landscape play, where landscape refers not so much to what is shown, but first and foremost to a way of showing. (Last Operas and Plays, 1995) Stein uses the term landscape play to describe her ideal of a play that does not tell a story but simply presents interesting elements. These are "things that might have been a story but as a landscape they are just there" (Stein 1995: LI) and it is up to the viewer to find his or her way through them.

Maaike Bleeker, November 2000

Maaike Bleeker has recently finished her PhD, entitled The Locus of Looking: Dissecting Visuality in the Theatre, at the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA) at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She also works as a dramaturge with both theatre directors and choreographers. Her academic work aims at rethinking theatre theory, paying special attention to the corporeal, the affective and the multi-sensuous dimensions of the theatrical experience.
Together with Renée Kool, she presented in 2000 and in 2001 the project "Theatre as a Paradigm for Cultural Practice" at the Piet Zwart Institute for Fine Arts, the MA program of the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. Kool and Bleeker are currently working on several projects in progress.
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