By Raya Baudinet-Lindberg.
Thomas Israël steers his way through resources of video material as if he were the vector for the transmission of questions concerning the limits of the body and space, the passage of time and the inherent fear of sensory experiences by which he himself has been permeated. The themes from which he constructs many of his devices combine virtual images and concrete objects. Metal kitchen utensils, dressing tables with mirrors, double beds and magic boxes are the reflective surfaces of his anatomical theatre. Face, stomach, skull, eye, his own, ours — Thomas Israël explores our physical interiors until their boundaries burst in a succession of expansions and alterations. The result is a colourful, textual drama based on the body, featuring both his personal, romantic serial and the enigma of the flesh.
His images are literally incorporated by the spectator. Within the frameworks he proposes, we lean over to see, we lie down to feel and enclose ourselves to inhabit his interactive modules. In Black Box, which takes the form of a voting booth or a bedroom, the captive viewer also interprets his own sensorial score, in accordance with a field of synaesthetic experiences. Méta-crâne (Meta-Skull) is one of these forms of interactive immersion. This installation, which enables free associations between images, as also exist in thought, is based on the principle of making the video director’s films merge together in accordance with programmed criteria.
In visual terms, he then makes use of films which form a harmonious whole according to their colours or contrast. We thus move from one film dominated by greens to a film that is even more green. This internal, computerised interactivity is combined with an external interactivity via the spectator, whose mood — calm or agitated — captured by an infrared camera, will influence the speed and number of links between the films. Everyone sees themselves in Méta- crâne, as well as seeing whatever they want to. It is a means of witnessing the show of awareness. We are offered an awareness of our own perceptions, which vary according to the various states of our bodies.
Mêta-crâne, Photo : JP Ruelle.
Avec Méta-crâne, il s’agit pour chacun de s’y voir, et d’y voir ce qu’il veut. Une façon d’assister au spectacle de la conscience. Une conscience de nos perceptions qui varie en fonction des différents états du corps.
If Thomas Israël has chosen to film bodies dancing, it is probably because this discipline opens up the screen to a third dimension: a silent but nevertheless moving flesh unfurls itself in space. Thomas Israël thus produces a digital gesture just as the dancer offers the physicality of a movement. The gesture of filming is an act of creating with a functional objective, whereas the filmed movement is already a representation. As such, there is a pact of style between the moving dancer and the videomaker. The one films and builds up an archive, the other choreographs a trace. Thus the dancer and the image creator meet up in the expectation of a common sign. Nothing is isolated. The images are capable of being both anonymous and intimate at the same time: the material is living, but nevertheless contains a vacuum to be filled, that of the phenomenon.
It is not enough for him to capture and present. Thomas Israël is drawn to what is tactile. The strength lies here, starting with a circulating, intangible image to present what touches. We know that touch can be an experience of depth, as in the staccato dance by Claudio Stellato in the Palindrome series. We witness a trance or a grip in which we wonder who is doing the seeing: the eye behind the camera? The eye of the dancer? The eye of the spectator? Added to this is the loop of the film and the musical beat which incessantly advances and retreats, retreats and advances, in order to centre and off-centre the frame. It is a diffracted experience where front and back, the right and the left sides of the dancer, the frame and the background of the screen become confused. The depth of the frame is then greatly increased through the centripetal force of the dancer.
Principle and Finality
Thomas Israël is still fascinated by the infinite meanders of the depth of field; in a constant shift of scales he marks the absence of limit between the body and the screen, with, if necessary, the fusion of flesh that has become screens on which words are printed. We are reminded here of the video ELLEs (She-them). In the same vein, Thomas Israël has been able to install his work in subterranean antrums, where the body is abstracted from the outside world. Crevices in the rock for Le Ventre du monstre (The Monster’s Belly) and the DreamTime project appear as backdrops for an archaic experience of returning to one’s origins. By contrast, experimentation with another kind of vertigo in Horizon TröM turns out to be, for the spectator, that of our certain finitude. This installation presents death as a constituent part of life. It is an attempt to cope with what has been rejected and not dealt with by our thanathophobic society. Death is seen here through the liveliest of eyes.
© Raya Baudinet-Lindberg, – Turbulences Vidéo #86
Raya Baudinet-Lindberg, art critic (AICA), professor of aesthetics and playwright is an associate artist at the Centre Art et Performance of the Facultés universitaires Saint-Louis in Brussels.