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Prix 1987 - 2007

ORF Oberösterreich

World Skin
Jean-Baptiste Barrière, Maurice Benayoun

In "World Skin" by Maurice Benayoun and Jeap-Baptiste Barrière, we are making our way through a three-dimensional space, armed with cameras. The landscape before our eyes is scarred by war - demolished buildings, armed men, tanks and artillery, piles of rubble, the wounded and the maimed.

Armed with cameras, we are making our way through a three-dimensional space. The landscape before our eyes is scarred by war - demolished buildings, armed men, tanks and artillery, piles of rubble, the wounded and the maimed. This arrangement of photographs and news pictures from different zones and theaters of war depicts a universe filled with mute violence. The audio reproduces the sound of a world in which to breathe is to suffer. Special effects? Hardly. We, the visitors, feel as though our presence could disturb this chaotic equilibrium, but it is precisely our intervention that stirs up the pain. We are taking pictures; and here, photography is a weapon of extinguishment.

The land of war has no borders. Like so many tourists, we are visiting it with camera in hand. Each of us can take pictures, capture a moment of this world wrestling with death. The image thus recorded exists for no one any more. Each photographed fragment disappears from the screen and is replaced by a black silhouette. With each click of the shutter, a part of the world is extinguished. Each exposure is printed out. As soon as an image is printed to paper, it is no longer visible on the projection screen. All that remains is its eerie shadow, cast according to the viewer’s perspective and concealing fragments of future photographs. The farther we penetrate into this universe, the more strongly aware we become of its infinite nature. And the chaotic elements renew themselves, so that as soon as we recognize them, they recompose themselves once again in a tragedy without end.

I take pictures. Through what I do - first aggression, then feeling the pleasure of sharing - I rip the skin off the body of the world. This skin becomes a trophy, and my fame grows with the disappearance of the world.

Here, being engulfed by war is an immersion into a picture, but it is a theatrical performance as well. In the sequence of events which characterize the story of a single person, war is an exceptional incident which reveals humanity’s deepest abyss. It promotes the process of reification of another human being. Taking pictures expropriates the intimacy of the pain while, at the same time, bearing witness to it.

This has to do with the status of the image in our process of getting a grasp on this world. The rawest and most brutal realities are reduced to an emotional superficiality in our perception. Acquisition, evaluation and understanding of the world constitute a process of capturing it. Capturing means making something one’s own; and once it is in one’s possession, that thing can no longer be taken by another. In German, one says "schießen," "nehmen"; in French, "prise de vues." Shooting, taking. In the case of a material storage medium, "taking" something is the equivalent of taking it with you. Photography captures the light reflected by the world. It constitutes an individual process of capturing and arranging. The image is adapted to the viewfinder.

The picture neutralizes the content. Media bring everything onto one and the same level. Physical memory - paper, for example - is the door that remains open to a certain kind of forgetting. We interpose the lens ("Objektiv" in German) between ourselves and the world. We safeguard ourselves from the responsibility of acting. One "takes" the picture, and the world "proffers" itself as a theatrical event. The world and the destruction constitute the preferred stage for this drama - tragedy as a play of nature in action.

The living are the tourists of death. If art is a serious game, then so is war. War is a game in which the body is placed at risk as an incessantly, unremittingly posed question of the reduction of existence to its bare remains.

The printed trace is the counterpart of forgetting. A "good conscience" is a contradiction of a "good memory." One knows what one has retained, but one does not know what one has stricken from one’s memory. Here, the viewer/tourist contributes to an amplification of the tragic dimension of the drama. Without him, this world is forsaken, left to its pain. He jostles this pain awake, exposes it. Through the media, war becomes a public stage - in the sense in which a whore might be referred to as a "public woman" - and pain reveals its true identity on this obscene stage, and all are completely devoured. The sight of the wounded calls to mind the image of a human being as a construct which can be dismantled. Material, more or less. The logic of the material holds the upper hand over the logic of the spirit, the endangered connective tissue of the social fabric.

War is a dangerous, interactive community undertaking. Interactive creation plays with this chaos, in which placing the body at stake suggests a relative vulnerability. The world falls victim to the viewer’s glance, and everyone is involved in its disappearance. The collective unveiling becomes a personal pleasure, the object of fetischistic satisfaction. I keep to myself what I have seen (or rather, the traces of what I have seen). To possess a printed vestige, to possess the image - inherent in this is the paradox of the virtual, which is better suited to the glorification of the ephemeral. The sound track is there to enable us go beyond the play of images and to experience this immersion as real participation in the drama. In sharp contrast to the video games that transform us into passionate warriors, here the audio unmasks the true nature of apparently harmless gestures and seeks to provide rather a form of experience than a form of comprehension. Some things cannot be shared. Among them are the pain and the image of our remembrance. The worlds to be explored here can bring these things closer to us - but always simply as metaphors, never as a simulacrum.

The Music

Every system of visualization that works with VR is based on the idea of immersion. In a room like the CAVE at the Ars Electronica Center (Linz), the viewer is entirely surrounded by the image (three walls and the floor form the complete image of the environment). Yet the visitor is not only surrounded by the image, the visitor actually dives into, becomes immersed in this world to be explored.

The liquid crystal glasses that are used here provide a stereoscopic image of the scene, giving visitors a feeling of being able to touch the forms, move around in the space. Yet this magical relief effect poses the greatest threat in this form of visualization, because visitors may pay more attention to the process itself than to what they might hear and see. One must be able to become completely immersed in the work, in order to elude this "magic". And this is precisely the level where Jean-Baptiste Barrière’s music comes into play.

In virtual worlds, music is in much the same situation as the image. The most immediate analogy that the virtual worlds have to offer is the real world. This goes beyond the stage of the purely obvious. Even if it is not realistic and symbolic, a virtual universe has one characteristic in common with the real world:

its ability to react to the presence of an observer. Here too, our mere presence modifies the world, just as it does in the real world. Then the image is merely the transient, inevitable transition to a system of meaning become world. The organization of the elements in space, the way the space is structured, the behavior of these elements - all of these form the basis for the dynamic composition determining the essence of the virtual world. Naturally, sound is just as important in this composition as the image is. We are not confronted with an entirely pre-determined spectacle, as would be the case with an opera, for instance, or - even more so - a film, where the spatio-temporal organization of the elements of sound and image is defined once and for all. Here it is a case of processes of development, of modalities of reaction, that imbue the interplay of sound and image with a special significance. Virtuality - in the sense of things’ potential of becoming - is a characteristic that is inherent to the real world; in the virtual worlds it is a necessity that has become their sense. In World Skin the relief of the image is reflected in the treatment of the sound. The sound is present in the space with the same relief, with the same degree of texturing, that determines the power of the image. Sound and image are inseparably linked. It is one and the same vibration running down our backs and bringing this special material that constitutes the image to life. Yet this does not mean that one is to be consciously equated with the other, just as there is no intention of inducing an immersive illusion. On the contrary: it is the sound that gradually gives meaning to the action. The behavior of the tourist group develops in time. Due to the ability to react to the world by "shooting" pictures, the group rapidly adopts a compulsive behavior, which is not unlike that of an ordinary citizen living in the midst of war. In the process, this person forgets the significance, the consequences of their actions. Act before you really understand - this is often the only way to survive. Yet the sound is there to successively transform the clicking of the camera into the detonation of a gun. Aggression changes sides, the gesture changes its meaning, and the momentous evolution of the sound contributes to intensifying the destructive madness, which only the sonorous "climax" breaks through, as though wanting to give one time to comprehend it with all the implications. This gradual shift in behavior is a better indicator of the actual immersion than the realism of the environment. The sound material latches onto the things of the visual space - just as much a key granting access as a factor of the texture of a world, which is considered immaterial and without substance.

During the phases of exploring the "war zone", the sonority remains in a state of permanent tension in relation to the frozen image of the visual elements, which intensifies the general mood. Whereas the sound suggests intensive activity, the space is lined with frozen picture fragments. The result is the alienating impression of living through a phantom-like war, a picture cemetery, which is yet nonetheless contemporary and current. The character of the sound sequences develops parallel to the space as it becomes white, parallel to extinguishing memory. White silhouettes freeze bizarrely in the mists of forgetting, leaving white shadows of images behind. And the dull sound in the distance resonates this thread of memory, which the climax tears apart.


Wir sind nicht mit einem vollkommen im voraus festgeschriebenen Spektakel konfrontiert, wie dies z. B. bei der Oper oder - noch viel mehr - beim Film der Fall ist, wo die Raum- Zeit-Organisation der klanglichen und bildlichen Elemente ein für alle Male feststeht. Hier handelt es sich um Entwicklungsprozesse, um Reaktionsmodalitäten, die dem Zusammenspiel von Klang und Bild ein besonderes Gewicht verliehen. Die Virtualität - im Sinne einer Potentialität des Werdens der Dinge - ist eine der realen Welt inhärente Charakteristik; in den virtuellen Welten wird sie eine Sinn gewordene Notwendigkeit.

In World Skin findet sich das Relief des Bildes in der Bearbeitung des Klangs wieder. Der Klang ist im Raum mit dem gleichen Relief, mit dem gleichen Grad an Texturierung präsent, die hier die Kraft des Bildes ausmachen. Klang und Bild sind untrennbar miteinander verbunden. Es ist ein und dieselbe Vibration, die uns den Rücken hinabläuft und diese besondere Materie, die das Bild ausmacht, belebt.

Aber es handelt sich nicht um eine bewußte Gleichsetzung, genauso wenig, wie es sich nicht um eine gewollte Herbeiführung einer immersiven Illusion handelt. Ganz im Gegenteil: Es ist der Klang, der der Handlung langsam ihren Sinn verleiht. Das Verhalten der Touristengruppe entwickelt sich in der Zeit. Dank der Fähigkeit, durch das "Schießen" von Fotos auf die Welt zu reagieren, nimmt sie rasch ein zwanghaftes Verhalten an, das dem eines gewöhnlichen Bürgers, der mitten in einem Krieg lebt, nicht unähnlich ist. Er vergißt darüber die Bedeutung, die Konsequenzen seiner Handlungen. Handeln, bevor man etwas erfaßt - das ist oft die einzige Möglichkeit, zu überleben.

Aber der Klang ist dazu da, um nach und nach das Klicken des Fotoapparats in die Detonation einer Feuerwaffe zu transformieren. Die Aggression wechselt das Lager, die Geste verändert ihren Sinn, und die bedeutsame Evolution des Klangs trägt dazu bei, den zerstörerischen Wahnsinn zu steigern, den nur der klangliche "Höhepunkt" durchbricht, als wollte er einem Zeit geben, ihn in seiner vollen Tragweite zu erfassen.

In dieser allmählichen Verschiebung des Verhaltens kann man die tatsächliche Immersion besser ermessen als im Realismus des Environments. Das Klangmaterial hängt sich also an die Dinge des visuellen Raums an - als Schlüssel, der einen Zugang eröffnet genauso wie als Faktor der Textur einer Welt, die als immateriell und substanzlos erachtet wird.

Während der Phasen des Erforschens des "Kriegsgebiets" steht der klangliche Teil in permanenter Spannung zu dem eingefrorenen Bild der visuellen Elemente, was das allgemeine Gefühl verstärkt.

Während also der Klang eine intensive Aktivität suggeriert, säumen eingefrorene Bildfragmente den Raum. Dadurch entsteht der befremdliche Eindruck, einen phantomhaften Krieg zu durchleben, einen Bilderfriedhof, der aber deswegen nicht weniger aktuell ist. Der Charakter der Klangsequenzen entwickelt sich parallel zum weißgewordenen Raum, zur gelöschten Erinnerung. Weiße Silhouetten irren wie versteinert im Nebel des Vergessens und lassen Schatten von Bildern hinter sich. Und der matte Klang in der Ferne läßt diesen Faden der Erinnerung ertönen, den der Höhepunkt zerreißt.