2006 interview with M. CarrierPublished in "Tania Mouraud", Grand Central Press, Santa Ana, CA, USA
THE MAKING OF A FACTORY MATHIEU CARRIER [Matthew Carrier interviewed the artist on 10 July 2006 in her Paris studio during postproduction of La Fabrique.]
MATTHEW CARRIER: Can you tell me how La Fabrique relates to your present work?
TANIA MOURAUD: On the whole, my work explores perception and the resulting emotions by roaming rather freely through different human experiences, such as war, hunting, the fight for survival, and also meditation and spirituality. I use different modes of expression (video, wall paintings, etc.) according to the context and what I wish to share. Each week I simultaneously create pocket videos (Ballad brand), blog notes ... as a matter of fact, my video diary. I emphasize the fact that, while we are talking, La Fabrique is still in the production process and has not yet been exhibited.
I went to India to shoot some weaving units in a region of Kerala. One could almost say that it is an installation where the video part is “shot edited,” because the editing consisted mainly in cutting out some sound and visual “parasites.” That is a method I use rather frequently and it explains why I especially like the tableaux of the early years of cinema.
MC : Your use of video has progressively intensified during these last five years. However, you never gave up your other mediums, such as wall paintings. Does this nomadic use of different mediums express a particular intention?
TM : It corresponds more to a way of being. It’s also a question of desire and, to a certain extent, a personal connection to art. I started out in video through informatics. I first conceived a video piece in the 1970s for the exhibition 72/72 Paris, but it was after a public commission in Ecully [France] in 1999 that I began to work mostly with this medium. For that commission I did an installation [Sur les traces de la Vérité] made up of two one-hour loops displayed on plasma monitors surrounded by texts covering the walls. Then the same year, for an exhibition at the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach, I showed a road movie [Travelogue].
MC : It seems that your videos significantly reject all narrative forms. Is that a consequence of your move toward video installations?
TM : I don’t use the classic code of narration but rather codes that come from painting. I adapt the choice of the narrative outline to the tonality of the video and to the message that I want to share. The video installation is only one component of this approach. In La Fabrique I am interested in exploring connections between the bodies, the torture of the man-machine interaction, human robots, space and time. With La Curée in 2003, I used twelve TV sets. They were placed at floor level on palettes and organized in such a way that at least one of them would always be visible from wherever the viewer was in the space. I use the same principle in La Fabrique.
MC : In La Fabrique you use TV sets, scattered around the space on stands, combined with four large projections on the walls. Can you explain how this installation works?
TM : The goal of the four wall projections is to immerse the viewer into the real conditions of labor, to draw him/her into the image with a succession of shifting signifiers. The television sets, on the other hand, are there to remind the viewer that the artwork is about the subjects, the individual entities who are looking at him/her. This installation intends to give the viewer a sensory experience that could lead to what I call the “focus.”
MC : The notion of dialogue with the viewer is indeed something that runs throughout your entire work. In the text that you wrote in Adoor, India, in 1973 you state, “Through my work, I show that art and philosophy could and should blend to enable us to proceed on the road to Knowledge.” Does La Fabrique deal with this issue?
TM : This issue is at the heart of my work. One finds it in La Fabrique at different levels.
First of all, the installation setup allows one to reach the focus, that particular turning point when and where all “...isms” disappear. Then, by association of ideas, the TVs become work stations and the installation becomes a factory. Our culture and our collective memory strongly influence our perception of reality. As such, the installation functions as a “gaze trap.” Different levels of perception are questioned. Nevertheless we are in a fictional space. The shooting location was not a factory but small production units of artisans set up in different villages. However, the illusion of a manufacture tends to become real in the same way that perception of reality does.I filmed these people so that their gaze challenges the viewer. I don’t use any camera effects. I film with medium-length shots with no particular demonstrative purpose. There is an assumed proximity with the persons filmed.
MC : It is therefore a non documentary mode of representation?
TM : Documentary representation tries to be objective. It seeks to look as a witness upon a given subject matter. My approach is different. I define a territory in order to examine the world. The idea behind this installation goes beyond the documentary mode, since the setup is not about objects but about subjects. The television screens create luminous spots in which one can see dozens of men and women whose bodies, dislocated by the machine, move in a repetitive choreography. A textile factory, complete with sounds and forms, originates in the gallery space. The television sets, evoking the familiar domestic sphere, are scattered in space, luring the gaze of the viewer. They are there to induce a closeness, to create an effect of reality with the viewer. On a fifty-foot wall, closeups of faces29 become landscapes in which one can stroll.
MC : Since the ’70s you frequently spend time in Kerala. Can one see in La Fabrique a denunciation of India’s social reality?
TM : Why join the chorus of the mass media and denounce a particular social reality in India that, by the way, is also to be found in the West? I was invited to participate in the exhibition lille3000, whose central theme was India. I used my knowledge of Kerala to find the necessary elements to make an installation that would call into question our relation to the world, to labor, to dignity. I was strongly influenced by Gandhi and by the fact that I taught for almost 30 years in the North of France, an area whose economy was built around textile factories. I think this installation not only urges the viewer to ask himself/herself questions about India, but it also transcends the geographic aspect and touches upon the human condition. That is why, in addition to the sound element, I have used numerous television sets distributed throughout the space.
MC : You mention the importance of sound in your work. Can it be linked to your own practice of music?
TM : I am practicing sound experimentation with my electro-acoustic and noise improvisation group, Unité de production. I also compose the soundtracks of some of my videos. The installation La Fabrique contains more than twenty independent sound sources. The original tapes were edited to keep only the sound of the weaving looms and the spinning wheels. The work as a whole is conceived with the idea of a musical readymade. For this installation I feel rather close to György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique for 100 Metronomes. The composition is the product of independent sources emitting regular pulsations at different rhythms, which leads to a questioning of the perception of time.
The sound dimension of La Fabrique can be compared to a concert of automata such as meant by Luigi Russolo. My conception of sound is close to what Jean-Luc Godard has written in Histoire(s) du cinéma : “images and sounds as people who get acquainted and can no longer part.” I have always taken special care with the soundtracks of my videos. Either I create them myself (Le Verger, Prime Time), or commission them from contemporary musicians (Sightseeing, Façade), or else I work on the original signal, as in La Fabrique. In this particular case I’ve played on multiple sources of sound diffusion, inducing many aleatory sound strata. The spatialization and the absence of a focal point play a decisive role. One can speak of two levels of experience: first, a global approach, followed by different visual and auditory microexperiences on a more intimate register. Sound is articulated by numerous changes of rhythm and tonalities, the perception of which is linked randomly to the viewer’s moves. Randomness is a major component in the elaboration of my projects, as much on the visual as on the audio level. I use randomness to avoid getting stuck in a sort of stereotyped fabrication, to remain in a process of experimentation profuse with discoveries independent of preconceived aesthetic notions
MC : The installation presents televisions set upon stands. Does that mean a questioning of the television hardware itself?
TM : I chose TVs rather than monitors for their depth and also because the TV set is invested with an impression of inescapable “realness.” The sets are at eye level on stands. In this installation, I wanted to use the familiar, intimate object called television confronted with the wall projections in order to create a bouncing movement between the two concepts concerning the portraits. The choice of these televisions rather than plasma screens is significant. The visitors can walk around the sets and be at all times confronted with a television screen projecting its image toward the viewer-screen. By multiplying their number and dispersing them in a closed space, I create a luminous space filled with sound, where the viewer strolls about while becoming a space for mental projection. Floating in a fictional space, attracted by the light of the television screens, he oscillates between sublimated reality and imaginary perception. The hundred riveting portraits pull him/her from one set to another while the omnipresent sound envelops him/her in a hallucinatory atmosphere.
MC : You frequently use modes of communication that come from advertising and the mass media. For example, the billboard posters [City Performance, 1977 in Paris and 1980 in Lyons], the slogans[What you see is what you get], and now television. Does La Fabrique follow the same type of idea, implying a criticism of the saturation of the mass media?
TM : In the case of City Performance, I used the billboards to issue a noncommercial message in a space dedicated to sales. As I mentioned concerning the television set, the interest of this type of medium lies in its familiar aspect. That simplifies the connection of the viewer with the work and therefore the creation of an intimate dialogue. I don’t critique the hardware but I make use of it. I use all the effects with which TV is charged as intrinsic components of my piece. That allows me to displace the thrust of a criticism of the hardware, as it was practiced in the ’70s and of little current interest, in order to approach serenely the core of the problem, that is to say, “the software,” and go toward a search for meaning. More than to insinuate criticism, the television set allows me to use its imprint of realness to introduce another component into the installation. I want to share with the viewer the doubts facing me.
MC : Can one compare La Fabrique to a portrait gallery?
TM : It would reduce its scope. Indeed, La Fabrique is a coherent whole. The different videos are closely related to each other. The objective of La Fabrique is not to set up a gallery of portraits without any ties among them but rather to interconnect these portraits. The viewer is caught up in a face-to-face network with numerous visages which absorb him/her into their universe and into their own time while eliminating all spatial and temporal distances.
MC : One of the striking aspects of these portraits concerns the way the models gaze toward the camera. Can one speak of icons, in the meaning given by Gilles Deleuze?
TM : These gazes are extremely important. They allow me to hook and really involve the viewer and to set the portraits and the viewer into a single spatiotemporal framework, to eliminate barriers, to inscribe, in the present, the meeting of the viewer and the person filmed. One can speak of icons only in regard to the four wall projections. In fact, the enlargement of the portraits due to the projection and the displacement of the four projections on the wall (A-B-C-D/D-C-A-B/B-A-D-C/C-B-D-A) creates a tension between the wall and the television sets, with changes in luminosity that would come closer to the glittering of the cathode- ray tube. The portrait of the spinner distinctively possesses an iconic dimension. The image refers simultaneously to Gandhi and to the film Mother India. I created the shots by oscillating between closeups and medium-length shots. I concentrated on the constrained mechanization of the bodies and their dislocation, which comes close to the torture imposed by all the economic constraints that globalization exacerbates.