Les images veillent sur moi

Les images veillent sur moi (Letter from Simon Quéheillard to Ismaïl Bahri)

On Saturday, November 29, 2014 at 6 PM, the third encounter concerning the exhibition sommeils will propose a dialogue between Ismaïl Bahri and the artist Simon Quéheillard, on the subject of the latter’s work in progress ‘Une méthode de dispersion’ (‘A method of dispersion’). Before the encounter, Simon Quéheillard’s letter ‘Les images veillent autour de moi’ (‘Images watch over me’) prepares the way for the discussion to come. 


Dear Ismaïl,

You’re back from the homeland and today we receive your filmed (post) cards of Tunisia. In this space where darkness reigns, never has nearsightedness been so strong. The projected images, now stretched out to the scale of a wall, seem like tapestries. Tapestries in a dark room. In this dark room of the exhibition space, images are succeeded by periods. Periods of light and dark, presented to us like “flashing eclipses”, followed by a few moments of brightness, some much more brilliant, others shorter or more frequent. The frequency is dictated by the wind, agitating the small cardboard rectangle set up to block the camera lens. Between here and there, the cardboard determines this permanent movement. Images of a far off land seen from here. Signals from a lighthouse, lighting the land of Tunisia. This dark room we find ourselves in, which simulates a mechanism. With the fluttering of an eyelid, our vision crosses the ocean. A nocturnal passage. As long as darkness dominates, we see only the grain of our own retinas. Sea and sky blended together form a great black wall. A close up vision of a depth-less space, with neither limits nor contours. After a moment, immensity can be felt. And the horizon is sketched in between the different shades of shadow. Moving from near to far, from retina to landscape.

"I leave you a light you’ll extinguish"

This verse by Claude Royet-Journoud, with its disconcerting and absolute simplicity, describes a situation of vigil in darkness. A phase succeeded by sleep, retracing word for word the trajectory of your exhibition. The obstructed images veil and unveil themselves infinitely. And so the itinerary traced is perpetuated endlessly. A journey that you embarked on. From one continent to another, incessantly retracing the path. Two blocks of contiguous space, where we hold ourselves back at the threshold. Each makes the other feel foreign. The space & the landscape.

Images comme ça could be the name of this journey. To see things as they come. With no objective, to arrange things so as not to want. How do you betray your own intentions? Images do what must be done when intentions fail. Jack Spicer defined the poem as “not really wanting to not say what you don’t want to say”. Which for you (the cameraman-reporter) would become: “not really wanting to not see what you don’t want to show”. Beyond the vertigo of this triple negation, we could translate this to “not wanting what you want to show”. Or: “wanting to see what you don’t want to show”. Wanting is going to Tunisia. Not wanting is covering the lens with a small cardboard rectangle. And so sleep (le sommeil) allows us to surmount this.

What can I see, despite myself? What can we see, despite everything? And what remains of what you don’t see? Diverting our eyes from their objective, a shutter is attached to the lens. “Covering a part of the eyes or visual field of the animal.” This thwarted vision is a handicap. A system of blocking. To begin with, from what we experience awake, sleep ignores the most immediate things. Turning your back on what is in front of you. Blinders that serve to detach. As close to the retina as possible. So as not to assign an objective to vision, an image betrays itself. The way we perceive a halo around a candle, diverting the eyes from the flame. We don’t regard the halo of a candle. Seen from the back, these images circulate all around, on the borders. Tapestry in principle, describing “spaces that are not loaded with intention.” (Emmanuel Van der Meulen, catalogue for the exhibition Enten-Eller.)
No one looks at the background images, which are stronger than anything. And on the other side, while the film unreels, people are talking in the dark, with their hands. “The ocean doesn’t intend to be heard.” (Jack Spicer, C’est mon vocabulaire qui m’a fait ça.) Without a goal, it breaks on the shore. The images keep vigil and are not remarkable. Their flow is an undercurrent. They circulate freely without ever tiring. A hinterland. To no longer be able to fall asleep without the sound of the waves.

You returned there so that the images could return to us from that country. You ramble, dear friend. Blocked images. The obstruction distances us. Less a series of beginnings, as I believed at first, retention remains stronger than the possibility or the desire to see. Less a beginning, than a residue. A light in shadow. What remains in the constraint, the delay. Second-hand images. To call on memory at the threshold of sleep. You entrust the wind with the task of caring for the memory of the images. You are well-seconded in your enterprise. A current of wind crosses through your mind.

Second-hand images. Old washed-out stock. To let memory shine in loss. A filament, an image. Have you left? When will you be back? It’s always the last time for eyes that blink. The Mediterranean, “the middle sea”. To cross a passage by way of the shutter. Not so much from one image to the other (between two darknesses), as between two countries, two spaces. In the closing, the space is completed. The dark-room of a hinterland. Hoping that a closing will give way to an image.

And while the images unfurl, we become very tired, our eyes constantly thwarted by the shutter. Images with no intention of being seen. Like anything else, for that matter, that simply exists. The opportunity, in short, to see what we don’t care about. A cow or the ocean. Images for people who do not want them. And for the moment, the occasion to hear a commentary. Amongst other slumbers, a teacher practicing the Korczakienne method(named for the celebrated Polish pedagogue) confirms its positive results (Gisèle Jamet, Sur les docks, France Culture, April 25, 2013).

“For example, if a student didn’t want to work, wasn’t interested, if he wanted to sit at the back of the class and sleep, well that didn’t bother me. If it was accepted by the other students, there was no problem with him resting during class, he had the right to be tired, not interested, that was his right. Little by little, what was said in class (because you don’t sleep all the time), wound up by becoming interesting, even more interesting because one wasn’t obliged to listen. One wasn’t held captive. And at the end of the year, the student offered me his history-geography notebook.

See you soon.