Par Régis Cotentin.
Thomas Israël’s very beautiful works are those which question the illusionism and tactile proximity of the digital image. Whether they are interactive, make use of means of projection, whether they experiment simply or through devices that are complex but easy to use, they brilliantly call into question our direct relationship to the image. In all cases, the relationship to videographic and/or synthetic representation is envisaged in a delicate, vibratile impression of senses. His works formulate and take on a certain sensuality of the light touch, eyes, hands and bodies. They express the illusion of a tangible vision.
However and paradoxically, they do not substitute seeing with touching. They combine the two perceptions to give the illusion of caressing when looking or observing when lightly touching, thereby establishing an imaginary proximity with the image. But they continue to elude us. With Thomas Israël, the spectator “embraces” through vision, for want of being able to take the image “in their arms”. The synthetic illusion is a compromise for the dream of “touching with one’s eyes”.
Israël’s works feature amongst those which nowadays make us most directly aware of the question of illusion. They test our senses on the very question of the evanescence of the image-movement. They show that representations incessantly escape us, and that we cannot be entirely the master of them. In his installations, the images play. Beyond the space and time in which we exist, they are like perpetual palimpsests. Each movement effaces the one that preceded it. Each animation is destined to fade into the next. No trace remains. No vestige of light marks a passage. A series of extraordinary evocations, optical aberrations, specular images, visual networks and “views of the mind”, Thomas Israël’s images are offered like open, expansive spaces. Driven by the hope of pursuing their discovery, our eyes invent and trace a world where their gaze rests and continues its exploration wherever their intuition leads them.
In this respect, the artist’s oeuvre is exemplary at various levels. It questions the very foundations of our contemporary visual universe, ductile at every possible opportunity through the grace of digitality. The digital world is transparent. It creates evanescences. Images enter, shift and escape, they wait for their world but it does not manage to emerge. With the light in which they are diluted as its sole basis, they reflect instantaneousness. At the threshold of interpretability, they disintegrate as soon as they emerge in the electronic texture. They are composed and decomposed unceasingly in a flow which only consists of images, whose grain is like the revelation of its “reality” that has become visible. Thomas Israël’s interactive devices are thus revelatory of a hidden dimension.
Malleable, elastic, penetrable and compressible, the “flesh” of his images, unlike living bodies he likes to film, seems to react to any mutation without being harmed, spoiled or irreversibly changing its appearance. The fact of touching the image, not without encountering a certain resistance, gives the impression of also being looked at by it, of being connected to it, as if we were becoming the object of its gaze. Through its extreme plasticity, we are given the illusion of witnessing its genesis, of discovering the stages in its development and distinguishing the artifices of its appearance. The fact of being intangible adds value to its capture. But Thomas Israël’s images only reveal what they consent to exchange with us and reflect in us; yet whatever they present and whatever their means, we only manage to guess a part, the part whose formation takes place through us. This dependence creates an uncertain filiation: what sort of bodies can they give rise to, what awareness can they manifest
Within the very devices of their own dissection, which Thomas Israël organises in minute detail, the images are ready to forsake their evanescence for greater reality. During the interaction, they seek to constitute a memory and consequently to annex something of the spectator. They are nurtured by the confused, precipitated range of the spectator’s emotions. They discover the evidence of a presence through its intermediary. They are fulfilled through it. The spectator’s reaction thus corresponds inevitably to the discovery of not really being able to control them, as if they were manifesting an otherness.
In Thomas Israël’s interactive works, the illusions of performance, fantastic apparitions, the effects of simulation and cinema, all of the ambushes of the visible and the credible operate in accordance with the same principle of duplicity: the more the spectator becomes aware of the illusion, the more he wants to be taken in. The artist incessantly plays the cards of belief and doubt, from one installation to the next. His works hinge on the reversibility of the gesture of revealing and hiding. They are evasive whilst at the same time offering themselves to be taken. The indocility is inseparable from the enchantment. They induce a void which unceasingly excavates representations, whose depth is equal to our own inconstancy in the face of the images. More than any other, Thomas Israël’s art nurtures the secret hope of achieving the utopia of an image to become real through the intermediary of its “inter-actor”. His works profoundly tests the spectator’s duplicity, who recognises the illusion but believes in it as much as in the object itself.
© Régis Cotentin – Turbulences Vidéo #86
Régis Cotentin is an art historian, exhibition curator and director of contemporary programming at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille. He is also a visual artist, whose works produced by Transcultures form part of the “Nouveaux Médias” collection at the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris).