Going Where the World Is Made
Going Where the World Is Made
“How are we to represent a world that defines itself by representation, that is constantly recording itself and recording itself recording itself? [...] the landscapes that we inhabit are the same as the ones we see on screens, and are themselves covered with screens.”1
Guillaume Janot’s photographic practice has often been characterised by its movements across the trajectories of representation, a way of probing its contexts and ambiguities, of questioning a relation to the notions of documentary and author. Shifting between generic images and their referents, his work is constantly exploring, among other things, the circulation of a collective image in the form of an appropriation of cultural referents and particularities.
Reactivating the codes of an extended folklore, its frontiers and vicinities, his previous work, Roses and Guns, interrogated cultural signs and landscapes around Europe.
Taken from a big park in Beijing where the public can “immerse itself in idyllic countryside, rich in flowers and skilfully laid out,” Ecostream, the title of this new series, becomes the generic term for a journey through the diffuse geographies of a corpus which combines iconographic sources, fictive places and original spaces. Incursions into the imagery of replicas and an aesthetic of imitation, this new set of photographs, made up essentially of landscapes, denotes Janot’s interest in theme parks and leisure venues, which are avatars of the spectacle and markers of a certain form of planetary tourism. The impersonal places frequented by a certain middle class, these reproduced worlds constitute privileged zones for stereotyped variations, effects of illusion and disorientation. By the particular confection of its strata and textures, Ecostream exploits the recursive potential of images by elaborating an ensemble of echoes that enter into resonance with the globalisation of contemporary fluxes: circuits of information and communication; the industrialisation of travel.
Thanks to a general outsourcing and iconoclastic evasion, Ecostream can be seen as an investigation of the territories of the image and of the variety of its dimensions in the age of the global village. The Great Wall of China, the Bavarian castle or a tropical forest appear as the backdrop to a kaleidoscopic wander combining composite conflations, cardboard panoramas and contrasting views.
Set in the botanical garden of Sydney, the zoo in Vincennes or Disneyland, the photographs become pretexts for exercises in disorientation and challenging our perception. The framing selects and orders things in an open texture of places, oscillating between confusion and recognition regarding the nature of the location, subtly blurring the identifiers.
The Eiffel Tower of a big Chinese theme park, the city of Beijing or the jungle in a botanical garden appear in equivocal forms and latitudes, like improbable, hybrid postcards. Playing with the definitions of its reception, photography produces the conditions of a visibility, one that consists not only in a naturalist, informational transposition of the real, but also in the appearance of that gap instituted by representation. Marin describes the process thus: “Whatever else is the case, we are still faced with this operational machine that is the device of representation, thanks to which the world and the subject are truly fabricated as such.”2
In Ecostream, this subjectification of the gaze contributes to the creation of a continuous intermezzo, the sensation of a relative exoticism, of an indeterminate “elsewhere” or a false familiarity. Amplifications of the artificial character of the places photographed, playing with the factitious element, the polymorphous images sent out by the artist correspond to a deceptive autopsy of our geography and our cultural landscapes.
In questioning the photographic medium, Guillaume Janot shows its capacity to instigate doubt about appearances and verisimilitude. By suspending the instances of truth and authenticity, the photograph questions the credibility of images while giving them an autonomous existence. Like a back-and-forth between reality and representation, the ambiguities generated by these reconstituted landscapes and reconstituted environments are extrapolated by the artist’s modus operandi and its play with photographic space. The catalogue of snapshots is revealed in accordance with the interaction of scales and foreshortened perspectives, where the models of buildings are more real than in reality.
Immersion and fictions
Taken as an ensemble, the photographs are like a deviant and amused museology, with each element impressing unexpected and cosmopolitan connotations: the young woman walking in the street seems to have come straight out of a New Wave film from the 1960s, the actress from a fashion shoot wandering in the forest is like a lonely, mixed-race Pocahontas. The suggestive power of these images brings these figures to us via the intermediary of reminiscences and allusive shifts.
A fiction of fictions, Ecostream sketches out a heterodox and prismatic chronology, a compilation of times and periods in which the viewer navigates between anachronisms and incongruities. Among the possible subliminal allegories generated by these multiple juxtapositions of milieus we may note: the mountain built for the apes at the Paris zoo: Zoo de Vincennes, Hiver 2008. 2009, the giraffes at the same: Zoo de Vincennes, Hiver 2008. 2009, the two park wardens with their telescopic rods: Botanic Garden, Sydney. Eté 2008. 2009. Sustaining the idea of an uncertain relation to history, the networks and diffractions suggested by these images indicate a turbid relation to the conception of the vestige and of the past: the faux derelict American building, the stones of the Disneyland castle or the Italian fountain…
Evoking the contemporary relation to images, we might cite Jacques Rancière: “We are not in front of images, we are among them, as they are among us. The question is, how do we move around them, how do we move them around.”3 This corpus of images, like a kind of precipitate of the modern sphere, seems to mime the accelerations, phantasmal speeds and other transports of our modern media regime.
A climatology of the image
A genuine faux still life, the motif of the artificial flower constitutes the symbol both of the lure, of the banality and of the seduction of Ecostream. A recurrent emblem of copy and counterfeiting, it partakes of the logic of the ersatz and the decorative image on the same level as the suburban housing archetype. Collages cultivating mannerism and cheap effigies, these fragments undergo condensations and heterogeneous crystallisations; these tabs are the result of several types of identification and contraction. The left-field urbanism of Lucky Street – Sans titre, Beijing, hiver 2007. 2009 oscillates between impromptu assemblage and the archiving of influences, the mixing of kitsch from all around the globe, and comes across as an importing and compressing of architectures and representations.
Where greenhouse meets biome dome, the photographs of forests, cascades and flowery meadows fill the exhibition space as big, immersive mural images, juxtaposed sometimes to the point of saturation, breaking of the space-ground-figure relation. They are samples juxtaposed, enhancers and trompe-l’oeil panoramas of this recreated and prefabricated nature, exhibiting a constant tension between ornamental data and modelled spaces.
Where ornament meets screen and furniture, these posters of clearings or waterfalls that Janot sets out in his exhibitions may also evoke the decoration of 1970s living rooms, in a great big game or mirrors. Bucolic or luxuriant flora, this vegetation reveals the atmospheric quality of Ecostream, a vehicle of contemplation, embodying dream and invasion. With its audible reference to brooks and rills, the term streaming, referring to the continuous relaying of data onto the screen, can be understood here as an analogy describing one of the characteristics of the apprehension of these fixed corpuses of images: the consumption of mixed data in the form of a flow.
Ecostream could then be considered in terms of the metaphors used by Peter Sloterdijk: spheres and foam, figures of the movement of globalisation, relating the transformation of the external world into a broader inner world.
With its indices of an archaeology of the real and of a capturing of mirror effects, the artist’s work is organised in a flow of fragrances that we pore over in a kind of kinetic and mental drift. If Guillaume Janot likes to say that “photography is a slow image,” then the different strategies of representation implemented here derive from an equivocal focus, an unpredictable self-timer. Slowing down to catch the world’s rustle and burble, touring its multiple interiors. “Which only goes to say how ambiguous your journeys will have been.”4
1 Marc Augé, “L’art du décalage,” in Multitudes Web, June 2007.
2 Louis Marin, Des pouvoirs de l’image, Paris: Seuil, 1998.
3 Jacques Rancière, Le travail de l’image, in Multitudes Web, June 2008.
4 Gilles Deleuze, Lettre à Serge Daney, optimisme, pessimisme et voyage, Paris: Ed. de Minuit, 1990.