National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens


30/09/2008 - 07/12/2008


Athens Conservatory

30/09/2008 – 07/12/2008

Curated By: David Claerbout

The first sensation.
This is the profound poetic choice of David Claerbout and the beginning for our own quest. “At the first glance” is how Plotinus names in his Enneads (I,2) the first contact with the spectacle or sound that lures, mobilizes and imposes on our senses at once. This principle is corroborated by the contemporary artist, from one exhibition to another, before the immediacy of the total experience is succeeded by our concentration on each work separately. In its different, condensed temporalities, in its distinctive atmosphere, in its inner sounds. For each “exhibition – projection” by Claerbout, in spite of the open character of its architecture, is experienced in quiet and silence. This is the matrix of sound and image in his video installations, which cross equally with painting, photography and cinema.
His works narrate the passing time, without narrativity. There are no real stories, but potential narratives. In front of the screened “pictures” of different dimensions in the gallery, we sink into the slow flux of duration. We seek the sound colour of time, its shape. Through the changes of the natural light, the slowness of shots on the threshold of motion and stillness. The movement of music. Through a metonymic rhetoric and digital processing, which condense the past and the present of the image. Time, here, is imbued with melancholy, waiting, joy, memory…
In David Claerbout’s meditative and poetic essays, artistic hybridization is not located only in the combinations of mixed forms, in merging and reversing, in the various appropriations and incorporations. It is moreover legitimized in the artist’s different practices and roles, in which the archive researcher meets and coexists with the photographer and the cinematographer, the painter with the critic and the curator of his exhibitions. The exhibition he conceived for Athens is born in a new space for the Museum. The artist-curator’s hybrid approach teaches us.

Anna Kafetsi


The anima of the photographic image

In recent years, with the advent of new digital media, there has been renewed interest by many video artists regarding the concept of time. Artists employ diverse approaches in treating time: they slow down and speed up their works, play them in loop, play them in reverse, freeze their images. In such a way they treat the concept of temporality and give new meaning to the representation of reality. David Claerbout is among the contemporary video artists who hark back to the roots of the cinema in photography, in order to experiment with time and duration. He explores time in the still image by creating a kind of tableau vivant, “moving photography”, or “still motion”, in which he introduces narrative elements. He creates works in-between photography and the cinema, the past and the present, motion and stillness.

His first videos make reference to the early years of cinema and the films by the Lumière Brothers, which, according to David Campany, are in fact “moving photographs” (1). The film Workers Leaving a Factory (1895) by the Lumière Brothers, for instance, is a distant shot of a building and people exiting. Similarly, Claerbout’s early works are single-shots, in which the camera remains still and in which the artist has yet to introduce a plot. A potential of action is, nevertheless, suggested by the very nature of the moving image.

Boom (1996) is a silent projection of a large tree, which seems to dance to the beat of the wind. What is taking place in this work is the minimal event, the simple documentation of a situation, just like in the films by the Lumière Brothers. In these works, an event is not important of itself; what is important is the effect of the images on the spectator. These images are related to feelings, to sensitivity, to emotion. Claerbout reminds to us the aesthetic pleasure of the stillness, of the “pose”, which has been extolled by Roland Barthes,(2) and he examines how he can read the photographic image, “open” it and reveal the infinite stories within it.

[…] In his following works, Claerbout digitally combines still and moving images, introducing movement to the photographic image. In these early works, the artist seeks to establish a dialogue between the two different media, photography and the cinema, and explores the narrative possibilities of stillness in duration.

[…] Based on this principle – of blending moving and still images – Claerbout produced a series of works in which he employs found images, photographs from personal archives, historical photographs, all of which he digitally manipulates, incorporating new material and adding motion to a particular spot in the archival photograph. He does this by using software, which enables him to isolate the area and change the pixels. The spot on the photograph, which attracts Claerbout’s interest, becomes a punctum for the artist.(3) Consequently, Claerbout achieves what Barthes claimed was impossible for the cinema, that is, to activate the punctum. In this manner, Claerbout invalidates the “death” of the photograph, to which Barthes constantly refers in his classic Camera Lucida, and gives it life, as, according to Christian Mertz, “The immobility and silence of the still photograph, with its connotation of death, disappears in the moving image”. (4) Thus, by introducing a minimum of motion, and therefore real time, into the still image, he inscribes the past into the present. In other words, he liberates photography from its historicity and imbues it with a sense of belonging to the current period of time.

Claerbout does not seek to animate the photographic image only by introducing the temporality of the moving image to still photography, but also by introducing the temporality of stillness in motion. In other words, he seeks to join the different temporalities of the two media. Photography and the cinema differ in their relation to time and realism.

[…] In Claerbout’s works, the one temporality does not outweigh the other. The artist takes advantage of the distinctive qualities of the two media, the virtues of instant photography – praised by Barthes – and the fascination of the moving image.

Daphne Vitali
(extract from the introductory essay to the exhibition`s catalogue)

1. David Campany (ed.), The Cinematic. Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel and The MIT Press, London, Cambridge, 2007, p. 11.
2. See chapter “The Pose” in Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, Vintage, London, 2000, p. 78-80.
3. Roland Barthes explains ‘punctum’ like this: “A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)”, Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, Vintage, London, 2000, p. 27.
4. Quoted in Laura Mulvey “Stillness in the Moving Image: Ways of Visualising Time and Its Passing”, in Tanya Leighton and Pavel Bϋchler (ed.), Saving the Image. Art After Film, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan University, Glasgow, Manchester, 2003, p. 84.


Coordinator: Elisabeth Ioannides
Texts: Daphne Vitali, David Claerbout
72p., 22 X 16.5cm, Athens 2008
Bilingual (Greek / English)
With texts and reproductions of the works
ISBN 978-960-8349-26-1
Available for sale: price 10 euros


Photo: Shadow Piece, 2005
Video installation 
Courtesy of the artist