VOX — Centre de l’image contemporaine

Exhibition View of _Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni. The Unmanned_, 2014. Photo : Michel Brunelle.

Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni
The Unmanned

2014.05.02 - 06.28

Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni focus their research on the notion of the measurement and perception of the world. Their questioning of the evolution of techniques, time and relationships of scale leads them beyond the human perspective, towards an image outside of the world. Whether by reducing film to a pure quantity of light (Untitled: La Vallée von Uexküll), synchronizing our experience of a museum to the immensity of geological time (La Mesure Minérale), or confronting a camera with the destructive vision of a particle accelerator (La Mesure Louvre), they imagine the possibility of a cinema that would not subject bodies to the frame nor bend gestures to time length, and in which the human figure would not be the only standard of measurement. The new film series entitled The Unmanned, which gives its name to the exhibition, is constructed as an attempt to navigate within all of these excesses. Conceived as a non-human and backwards history of technics, it opens in 2045 with the death of Ray Kurzweil at the threshold point of technological singularity.


Fabien Giraud’s and Raphaël Siboni’s work begins with a genealogical consideration. To paraphrase the artists’ question1, we might ask ourselves, along with them: what if cinema, somewhere between the two takes that made up the Lumière brothers’ original shot, had kept its promise of emancipation and radical uprooting of vision, and had been something else entirely? The question springs in a way from a contradiction—for the “emancipated” experience promised by the insularity of the movie theatre is inseparable from the technical conditions that, historically, have inscribed the experience of the moving picture at the heart of the modern process of rationalization and reform of vision. From that contradiction inherent in their approach, the artists draw their vocabulary: they aim to use cinema as a viewing machine that looks back upon itself, or rather upon its own stories, to reel in the technological events that constitute the implicit scripts of its mode of existence, all while isolating, within that continuous narrative, various branching, tipping, reversal and rupture points, as well as non-linear and discontinuous spaces, and populating them with images.

To properly grasp the contradictory space of Giraud’s and Siboni’s agency, we must reconstitute its topology. The modern reshaping of vision that included the advent of the moving image developed against a backdrop of great divides that Western modernity had imprinted on the world—dichotomies of natural/technical, empirical/transcendental, rational/non-rational, and reality/fiction, with preferred vectors assigned to those fields: objectivity or subjectivity, objects or subjects. Corresponding to those great divides, therefore, was the separation between two economies of the gaze, two structures of representational production in which subjects and objects were placed, incrusted, and whereby the cleaved cosmography of modernity gained structure: the scientific image and the aesthetic image.

Scientific modernity, born with the mechanist revolution and the parallel invention of the microscope and telescope, is a vision of conquest and a logic of division. The images produced by modern Science are nourished by partitions, casting objects from Nature into the denaturalized space of laboratories, natural history museums and observatories. The instruments of vision brought to bear in isolating factual truths are instruments of measurement and calculation: a measure of the distance between things; a calculation of their inclusion in the positive language of modern knowledge . Optical navigation at the material and cosmic scales has thus proceeded by the invention of progressively more granular benchmarks, new frames and new resolution scales. Thus the scientific image does not close the distance between observed object and observing subject; it continually refines its resolution. Within that image, technics becomes the locus for a deepening of the limit that, in the modern world, is systematically inscribed in objects and subjects, and on the sides of which they, in a constant retreat, are being indefinitely redistributed.

Aesthetic modernity, since the “Copernican Revolution” of the spectator posited by Immanuel Kant, has been a vision of export and a logic of transgression. Paul Cézanne dreamt of an eye “at the heart of things” because the question of the medium crystallized, during the evolution of modernist theory, the conditions for “mediality” between spectator and image. Modernism is the history of the methods of crossing the frames and geometrical limits that are at once positioned and subverted by the medium, inviting the spectator’s interiority to break the bounds of the perceptual experience and enter the purified experience of the aesthetical. The aesthetic image is the one that pays the price of that mediality: technics erects before it an artefactual screen that becomes tangible only at the moment it is pierced by subjectivity.

Technics is on the one hand conceived of as a deepening of the limit and, on the other, as the crossing of the limit: in that necessarily schematic topology of modern representation as a conflict between the scientific image and the aesthetic image, the modern subject has become the site of a technics of separation, a figure oscillating between its objective extraction of animality and its subjective tension toward artefactuality. Mechanical hallucination, the invention of cinema, turned that technics of separation into a space: at the time of of the 1848 Revolution, daguerreotype exposure times were too long to enable passing silhouettes in the streets of Paris to be recorded, and only architecture was preserved on the recording surface, but cinema invented a frequency of image capture that generated a system of visibility commensurate with the scale and frequency of the watcher, the human figure. What modernity purified and cinema synthesized into an autonomous experience was, on the one hand, the subject as archaeological site of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious and, on the other, the object as a stratigraphic site for recording, measuring and calculating the discontinuities of the world: it was in the nervosity of the breach harnessing subjects to objects, that the cinematographic image found its space.

Reconstituting the topology of that breach is important because Giraud and Siboni’s agency is situated precisely in the limit traced by the breach in the very constitution of their images. Whether they are folding the camera back onto its existence as a calculating machine (in the series Untitled [La Vallée Von Uexküll]), organizing the appearance of its frame rate with objects materializing historical time (La Mesure Minérale, La Mesure Louvre), or imagining the consequences of an ultimate reflexivity of the medium of film, underscored in its capacity to produce what Stanley Cavell has termed “the mechanical absentification of the spectator” (in the series The Unmanned), they are indeed working to render explicit that implicit breach synthesized by the medium of film, going as far as to make it the sole locus of the visual experience. What matters here is not art and science, but the formal realms that those domains have projected and pitted against each other: what the artists propose is a recording of the morphological events generated by the ceaseless tipping of one image system into another. Not to further disenchant them, nor to liquefy the cleavage between them by re-enchanting them with subjective narratives, but to make the very experience of the limit that separates them a site of production of figures: a technics, held in a suspended form, and thereby made tangible, of separation.

The Unmanned is presented in partnership with the Biennale internationale d’art numérique (BIAN) and the Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain. The project is supported within the context of operation FRIMAS 2014, lauched by the Institut français and the Consulat général de France à Québec.