In satirical ways and with different resources, French video artist Pierrick Sorin’s video-works and installations at MAMBA often underline the presence of voyeuristic structures and devices. At the beginning of the show, a close-up of his face projected on a big screen welcomes visitors. In a few seconds, the artist vomits colors directly into the lens of the camera only to wipe it off and start over again. This endless loop seems like a modern-day version of Brothers Lumière’s Arrival of a Train at a Station whose verisimilitude caused such a panic which it was first projected. Another huge, vertical screen shows different layers of colorful paint slowly gliding down a striped, glass surface, never adhering. The paint succeeds in creating a pleasurable visual effect, but never achieves the status of a painting. Thus, the video artist represents a failure as a conventional painter.
Often the sole actor appearing in his films, Sorin confessed that he “wanted to do anti-cinema, that is to say, to shoot rough reality, without lighting or montage. But not without humor.” The auto-film has become his trademark in scenes where the monotonous repetition of insignificant daily routines refer to boredom and failure. In Une vie bien remplie, for instance, his image appears in twenty different monitors mounted on plinths and on two big screens, all of them the only source of light and depicting the artist in meaningless, unconnected scenes of everyday life.
In Pierrick et Jean-Loup, he splits in two to play himself and his twin brother in a series of four two-minute videos in which they invent, for example, an interactive game that consists of throwing eggs onto the screen of a TV set. Ironically, these shorts were commissioned for a TV show.
Taking inspiration from the films of Jacques Tati, the inventions of cinema pioneer Georges Méliès and the literature of Michel Houellebecq, Sorin’s characters often play oppositional roles in a minimalist narrative sequence. In his 1993 short film C’est mignon tout ça, he personifies both a masturbating girl and a horny voyeur peering through his own fingers like a peephole — the two extremes of the looking/being-looked-at dyad. Shot in black and white video, its aesthetic evokes the look of silent movies, but the device itself seems to parody the Webcam phenomenon some years before it even happened.
His optical theater, perhaps closer to sculpture than to video installation, makes it possible for virtual characters to interact with real objects. In Chorégraphie d’aujourd’hui, Sorin and an actress appear to do a mock-dance in the deepness of the ocean. In material reality, though, their holographic images just get projected in a fish tank. In another case, a miniature person endlessly running on a turntable becomes a tribute to Albert Camus’s 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus. In 143 positions érotiques, another moving image plays beside a miniature double bed lined with leopard-patterned fur and teaches erotic positions with a cushion. Its Barbie-doll dimensions suggest pubescent games. The cushion is real in the holographic world, but it stands in for an imaginary lover. This superimposition of imaginary, fictional, virtual and real objects goes even further in a piece playing inside what looks like the wooden framework of an ‘80s video game. La télévision holographique’s characters interact with a real computer screen, tiny for us, but large as life for themselves.
The most attractive pieces in the exhibition are these objects that combine the different layers of imagination and moving images in delirious and impossible settings. Unfortunately, the sounds from the different projections in MAMBA’s exhibition hall get mixed up together and there aren’t seats to watch the videos, not even in front of the 26-minute movie Nantes, Projets d’artistes.
If feminism has shown identity as a constructed process, for Sorin it seems the result of an invention and of childish personality experiments. In turn, his devices need imagination to become more than a mechanical implements that reproduce banal and meaningless scenes into infinity. Images and objects, shadows and animals, mirrors and screens, water and air, live and mechanical movement — all of them get confused in Sorin’s dreamy and playful constructions.