Baroque Beauties: Video’s Attractive Memories and Explorean Writing

Suzan Vachon

I picture her, passionate and dreamy, unaware, magnanimous, eager for the world, nobly unselfconscious, not yet knowing how to make clear to the inattentive eye the incandescence that her young age conceals.
Claude Gauvreau, Beauté Baroque, 1952.

Video is part of a history of mechanical image production and reproduction apparatuses(1). Its ubiquitous nature, the dominant feature of its specificity, liberates it from all spatio-temporal boundaries. Its capacity to appear as an image is thus not intrinsically tied to its inscription. It is the result of a transfer of an electric emission which, in charging it, names it as a signal and situates it in an antechamber of memory, which is to say as a presence without inscription: a direct image of the moment.


In a pre-image, video is a charge-discharge of electronic snow, pure noise that aspires to every potentiality “of an image to the power of images”(2). Recording it on magnetic tape gives it a troubled existence in the field of visibility. A clamorous murmur, a vibrating and twinkling memory, a continuum of luminous fluxus, an “image that is made even as it is unmade”, it is the “possible lapse that always appears to level”(3). A loss of signal, like its probable erasure, weakens its reception and adds to the scopic impulse a quantum of affect. We might thus say that its appearance is ontologically related to its disappearance. In addition, as Françoise Parfait points out insightfully with respect to analogue video, it is, like memory, invested with disappearance and oblivion: “what it brings to light are the already ruined forms of an always incomplete visibility, an often threatened and sometimes impossible visibility. In the image of memory, it is a process before it is a product”(4).

Engaged from its beginnings in making visible its singularity as electronic image in diverse video productions and apparatuses, its history and memory are electrically charged with the historical, aesthetic and semantic experience of the images which preceded it(5). Today, emancipated from the initial necessary quest to grasp itself in a process of point-by-point, line-by-line electronic analysis of reality, it lends itself to every possible manipulation. Subjected to the dizzying array of advanced technologies, polarised by the possibilities for manipulating the image, it obeys a dynamic of movement which welcomes every possible fixation. While video sometimes looks back, this is not, in fact, to crystallise the images which preceded it (in cinema and photography in particular). Dynamic and impetuous, hyperactive by nature, it transgresses reality and every form of gravity. A blotting-paper image, it absorbs every image, every memory and everything forgotten, the turbulence of the recollection and the insistence of desire, refiguring and transfiguring them, sometimes disfiguring them in the process, even to the point of dissolving then in pure electronic activity and flickering appearances-disappearances. When it creates hybrids of media and images from every source and type, it carries out an optical labour of the digital imagination, an enlargement of the eye, a transformation of reception, for “it is between images that, increasingly, passages, contaminations, existences and regimes are carried out: sometimes quite distinct, sometimes difficult to circumscribe and especially to name. But so many new and indecisive things happen between images in this way because we also pass, more and more, in front of images, and they pass just as much in us ... video image ... irreducible to what came before it; but also an image capable of attracting, re-absorbing and mixing every previous image: painting, photography, cinema”(6).

I was a witness to her metamorphosis.
I hear that she physically metamorphosed.
I hear that the veiled sparkling became the curtain of every impurity.
The splinter was laid bare.
Magnetic attraction titillated myopic eyes.
She who knew not how to please, she who was not seen, was visible.
From evening to morning she changed and became dazzling.

Claude Gauvreau, Beauté Baroque, 1952.

As an activity of an electronic nature, video has a natural empathy with movement. The fluctuating appearance of its image shaped by chrominance and luminance intrinsically ties it to a singular history of metamorphoses. This natural turbulence, this internal electric agitation, calls for a form that is constantly being reformed. As a magnetic attraction , it draws the viewer into a difficult labour of memory that is at time painful and even impossible(7). It is the physical experience of reception which invokes a desire for amazement and creates a strong visual desire. Its entire history is run through with the appeal of manipulations: from metamorphosis to anamorphosis, from blending to fragmenting, from hybridisation to integration as formal experiments and inventions which lend themselves to every form of plasticity, every kind of surrealism.

In remodelling the image, these multiple video-plastic operations generate figures out of their movement, thereby inducing a host of complex temporalities which extol its relationships and make it capable of every possible manner of transporting the viewer. Because making videos today is also: 


to bring to life the range of constellations of heterogeneous images
to embrace figures which are unknown to each other
to suppose the crystallisation of analogies, even those dying out
to explore the antechambers of dissimilarities, even troubling ones
to launch the rumour of improbable collusions. (8)


To be a video maker today is also:

to live every moment like the poet in the land of the Disquiet and Immemory (9)

to encounter in his temporal labyrinth the iconophage Chronos and his court of dazzling Chimera
to extend one’s hand to the young Rimbaud on the road to Illuminations
to construct a few trestles out of diluvial light
to dance with one’s camera and take the train with Vertov
to chat with Méliès’ polyglot rabbits
to speak in Godard’s voice
to study Eisenstein’s enchanting ideogram of the pear orchard
to go to the tailor with William S. Burroughs
to trip on a few electrical cords
to instinctively search for the charge of the expormidable moose
to yelp at the moon in the explorean language of video
Beauté Baroque (10)
prolonged hesitation between sound (the signal) and sense(11)


May 2008

(1) «Photographie, cinéma, vidéo, synthèse : quatre machine d’images qui sont historiquement dans un rapport de reprises et de déprises successives. Philippe Dubois, Les métissages de l’image (photographie, vidéo, cinéma), in La recherche photographique, no 13, p. 24-35
(2) Edmond Couchot, Image puissance image, Revue d’Esthétique : images, nouvelle série, no 7, 1984, p. 123-133
(3) René Payant, « La frénésie de l’image », Vedute, Pièces détachées sur l’art, 1976-1987. Éditions Trois, 1987, p. 569-577
(4) « I believe that there is a structural and formal analogy between the modes of appearance and disappearance of images as they are produced by memory and as it is possible to construct them with this electronic technology». Françoise Parfait,
(5) "The medium video confronts is photography (and cinema), which today is a paradigm for our conception of the image and our reception of the world. The context in which video operates is that of photographic (and cinematic) images”. René Payant, “La frénésie de l’image",Vedute, Pièces détachées sur l’art, 1976- 1987. Éditions Trois, 1987, p. 569-577
(6) Raymond Bellour, "La double hélice", in Passage de l’image, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1990, p. 37-56
(7) « The video image has gradually altered the immutable image of the world by undermining it from within, through these atoms. They are propelled within the image, but also in the associations and agglomerations of images ». Vedute, Pièces détachées sur l’art, 1976-1987. Éditions Trois, 1987, p. 569-577
"This dynamic image also requires constant activity on the part of viewers. Their memory is called upon at every moment and their perceptual system must recreate, point by point, molecule by molecule, an image which does exist in itself ". Christine Van Asshe, De l’apport du vidéographique, Passage de l’image, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1990, p. 71-76
(8) Marc Mercier, Le temps à l’oeuvre, Incidences Instants vidéo, Marseille, 2006
(9) These attractions can be seen at work in Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, trans. Alfred MacAdam (New York: Pantheon, 1991) and in Immemory, Chris Marker, 1997.
(10) I close with that larger than life figure, Claude Gauvreau, whose work was a special guide while writing this text. Claude Gauvreau, Oeuvres créatrices complètes (Ottawa: Éditions Parti Pris, 1977).
(11) « The poem, that prolonged hesitation between sound and sense », Paul Valéry, Tel Quel, 1955

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