David Claerbout on Hemispheres

In this film David Claerbout discusses his practice and works The Close, 2022, and Aircraft (F.A.L.), 2015-21 in his first solo exhibition with Esther Schipper, which will open for Gallery Weekend Berlin.

The title of the exhibition refers to the two sides of the brain, which each process information differently, yet complement each other’s functions to create consciousness; likewise, the two works presented in the exhibition have disparate themes, but together represent reciprocal parts of Claerbout’s practice.  

The Close brings together a reconstruction of amateur footage made around 1920 and a digital 3D rendering of that footage. The silent scene, which shows barefoot children in between hurried passers-by in a brick-walled one-way alley—known as a close in English—briefly appears to get stuck during the portrayal of one of the children. As the film focuses on a small child delivering a rare smile into the camera, the apparatus freezes again, this time for an uncomfortably long period. Moments pass until the beginning of a very slow zoom-in on the grainy still frame. Imperceptibly, the grainy celluloid has transitioned into a highly detailed, quasi-technical portrait, objectifying face, eyes and body. As the film freezes and then holds the small child enraptured, zooming in and around it, singing voices set in. The music, a special recording of Arvo Pärt’s 2004 acapella composition Da Pacem Domine for 24 singers, brings an incantatory quality, and introduces an element of sensorial cohesion to the viewer’s desire for an authentic representation of the past. Intended as a short, emotional history of the camera, The Close reflects on what Claerbout calls “dark optics”: a profound if chaotic recalibration of commonly held beliefs about the image, information and language, which is currently taking place.  
The hangar scene depicted in Aircraft (F.A.L.) is a hybrid representation that creates the illusion of a photographic reality. The scene was created from a camera recording of an empty factory hall, which was added onto with the aid of an elaborate 3D model. The airplane in Aircraft (F.A.L.), an object designed to overcome gravity, is seen resting on an improvised wooden scaffolding, even as the ability of this structure to support it appears in doubt. The gleaming aircraft looks simultaneously unfinished and redundant. A human presence functions as the viewers’ avatar in this phantasmatic space: as two guards sit, shift position, and also circle the plane, their steps echo through the hall, adding a sense of location and direction. In addition, their ennui introduces an element of time passing and, paradoxically, suspense. Familiar with cinematic tropes, the viewer searches for clues and finds glitches: a table that disappears in another view, a missing reflection. Similarly to the experience of watching The Close, David Claerbout plays with our expectations, subtly employing the visual tropes we have learned to associate with different media to destabilize our trust in what we think we are seeing.