by Christophe Kihm
The small number of films made by Bertrand Dezoteux over the last few years could be classified as « archaic cinema » if that term were used to designate a quality that takes or returns to things at their begennings, opening cinema to new forms, but also to that which has no history.
With celebrations marking the opening of the historic exhibition The Art of Assembly fifty years ago,(1) and publications analyzing the ways in which such practices have been revisited in contemporary art,(2) this would be a good time to open a new chapter in this history with Bertrand Dezoteux. For his work diverts assemblage towards the construction of narratives and is to a large extent shaped by the question of how to use technique to tell stories and, more importantly (otherwise the exercise would be purely formal), of how exactly assemblage can afford new possibilities fot the construction of contemporary narratives.
Looking at the archives of the artist’s projects on his website,(3) we can find plenty of pointers to an answer. Historical documentation, interviews, visual data banks, scientific and theorical texts and excerpts from novels and films are the elements he assembles to make his works. Taken from a variety of registers, they bring into play a range of forms of knowledge whose montage redeploys their balance in ensembles that are like machines. Combined with montage, assemblage here moves away from the processes of accumulation and collage and opens the recycled objects and signs to configurations in which they are metamorphosed.
Le Corso (2008) is a 3D animal film resulting from a protocol whereby a natural environment is produced by adopting the basic charasteristics of a digital space textured by a composition software. Its forms, movements and elements are subjected to typical speeds and models in a space that proposes a strange cohabitation of hybrid animals (with strong goats features), mobile commercial logos, a Tatlin-tower/mountain and The World, the artificial island from Dubai, placed in the middle of a duck pond. A whole digital ecosystem unfolds before our eyes, in which each image results from the modeling of another, which itself is already a commodity, and is subjected to the law of the laws of radical metamorphosis, in what could be called a form of natural-science-fiction.
Zaldiaren Orena (2010) is a film that combines history and speculative fiction to produce an effect of extreme anachronism : here is another fable, another montage-assemblage using other ressources. The « story » is about a German robot investigating a mysterious horse in the Basque Country during World War II. The anachronistic principle is formal and relates to the viewpoint that is adopted, that of a remote-controlled robot equiped with the camera that produced all the images of the film. As a result of this distance and these reversals, the anthropological investigation generated by the curious machine presents man as a strange animal as regards both his mores and practices.
This inventory could be continued with other projects by the artist : Roubaix 3000 (2007), which uses a family dialogue recorded during a dinner in Bayonne to generate a plot that is played out in naively futuristic constructions built in the nothern French city of Roubaix in the 1980s. Young actors lip-synch to snatches of conversations lose their continuity as they travel from southwest (Bayonne) to northeast France (Roubaix), taking form as a strange ballet of bodies, forms and words, diffracting the original family circle.
Il a description of these works sheds some light on Dezoteux’s way of doing things and methods of assemblage, it also suggests their power through the play of redistribution and readjusment to which they are subjected by montage, giving rise to new workings of nature, technology, history and community, the disruption of their respective orders and the reorganization of their distinctions, at the risk of denaturalization.
The theoretical effects of this bricolage provide a striking echo of certain anthropological and political reflections on the redefinition of species and human/non-human relations (Donna Haraway in particular comes to mind here), going further than the kind of schoolroom application of such studies seen in much contemporary art. In Dezoteux’s montage, experimental cinema will find much materials for rethinking its forms ad concerns.
- October 1961, MoMA, New York, organized by William C. Seitz
- L’art de l’assemblage, Relectures, edited by Stéphanie Jamet-Chavigny and Françoise Levaillant, Presses Universitaires de Rennes.