2012, HD video, sound, 14 minutes
A train journey across French history, The History of France in 3D is an “French-style essay about modernity’s mythologies.” Featuring such figures as Roland Barthes, Christopher Columbus, St Francis and a hungry fox, the CGI animation offers an unorthodox and often funny insight on a fragment of the cultural history of Europe.
Jill Gasparina: The History of France in 3D deals with two different cultural traditions, and reconciles them. One is typically French (the video features many French "mythologies", in the sense of Roland Barthes, many signs of frenchness, sometimes up to the point of irony), the other has to do with middle-class American mass culture. How does this double cultural consciousness infuse your work in general?
Bertrand Dezoteux: It is a question of reconciling two points of view, the local and the global. One focuses on the vernacular—on geographical, cultural and linguistic particularities—while the other reflects dominant representations, archetypes and even advertising stereotypes. This shifting point of view is present right from the start in my work, for example in the CGI animation Le Corso (2007), which describes the adventures of a herd of 3D goats. This idea was inspired both by the discovery of a breeding farm in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, and by the souvenir of a key scene of Disney's Lion King (1994), where the computer-generated image had been used to represent thousands of gnus, something impossible to achieve with traditional drawing.
So I start from field work and observation, which I intersect with questions related to the technologies I use. I try to see how these technologies and the points of view they generate can renew the way we look at reality and merge with it. In the same way, The History of France in 3D is inspired by my weekly TGV journeys as well as SNCF (the French railway company) advertisements, which represent France as an island theme park.
JG: Could you comment on the quality of the animation in the video, and more generally the distance that you kept in your recent works towards realism?
BD: When I was a teenager, I experienced the rise of the first 3D video games. It was a shock to be able to go through spaces and have shifting points of view. We were then talking about "real-time 3D" games, in other words the image was instantly calculated by the machine according to the player's actions. Playing this type of game was like watching the machine at work. And to understand what the machine was achieving, how it worked, we had to try to push it into its entrenchments, discover its limits, its failures, its bugs. There was a new language there, which later faded as the technique was perfected, and the computer-generated image conformed to two earlier models, photographic realism on the one hand, and cartoon on the other.
In my animations, I am interested to focus on the specificity of the synthetic image, its heterogeneous character, its ability to mix different qualities of image, resolution, representation styles, origins. However, I use realism in the production of sound. The film is elaborated in the tension between an imperfect image and a very defined high-end sound, which restores texture, materiality and inertia to objects.
JG: Many of you works are infused with a SF sensibility, which one could call classical or traditional. They deal with questions such as technological progress, space conquest, great scientific endeavours. And many of your works are also influenced by art history and more specifically the history of avant-garde, from Picasso to Gironcoli. Do you envision the avant-garde as a kind of SF narrative?
BD: Science fiction is at the core of all my projects. Rather than a reservoir of stories, images and styles, it is for me an interpretation of the world. It makes it possible, from what is given, from the present, a political or technological situation, to consider future developments, alternatives, other possibilities, other projections towards the future. It is a way of seeing, of producing a new point of view.
As for the avant-garde, you must refer to my animation Picasso Land (2015), which is a rereading of the 1917 ballet Parade, which associated the great names of modernity (Picasso, Cocteau, Satie, Massine). I tried to understand Picasso's work from a science fiction point of view. That is, I looked at Picasso's paintings and sculptures as if they described an objective reality, for example as if they were realistic representations of a vanished world, traces of a forgotten civilization. This exercise was a way of creating a continuity between all Picasso's works, as if each one revealed a part of a much larger world, to which Picasso would have access, and whose various fragments he would collect and present to the public. In short, this disposition of mind made Picasso a kind of ethnographer of the future who would have painted aliens all his life! There is perhaps here a point of intersection between science fiction and avant-garde, in the attempt to confront two attitudes turned towards the future.
JG: Your first influences as an artist came from cartoons and video games, from Tintin to Mario Kart. What remains of those influences in your work today?
BZ: These influences remain important. I'm always more or less dissecting and analysing objects from pop culture, it became a reflex. For example, my latest animated film, Harmony (2018), is based on two references. The first is a series of comic strips by LEO (Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira) started in the 1990s, entitled "The Worlds of Aldebaran", which belongs to the "Planet Opera" genre. It narrates the colonization of a paradisiac planet by humans, the discovery of its ecosystem, its fauna, flora, geography, the life of this uprooted and cosmopolitan human society. The second is Denis Villeneuve's film Arrival (2016), which recounts the attempts at communication between a linguist and an alien species. I could finally add harmony considerations from the writings of composer Morton Feldman.
So Harmony results from the arrangement of these objects, from this weird cocktail. Through my own narrative, I try to understand how they are constructed, I try to slim and slow them down, I try to extrapolate from them, to have them get rid of all that is the superfluous, so to expose the ideology they convey.
JG: You are producing video, based on animations, in the field of art, but also films, in the field of cinema. Both practices are quite separate. Do you feel like trying to reconcile them in the near future?
BD: I could not say that I have two practices. I mainly produce animation broadcasts in the field of art, autonomously, with small budgets, which give me total freedom as to the content and themes addressed. I made an experiment in classical fiction, following the modes of financing, writing, producing and broadcasting of the traditional audiovisual channel. I had much more means to work, but also less freedom. My project has been corrected, "normalized" through rewriting by the various protagonists involved in the production. I didn't necessarily know how to impose my ideas. I must say that I felt very alone, nobody knew my references, like Flesh (1968) by Paul Morrissey or Foxfur (2012) by Damon Packard. The art and film worlds are quite hermetic to each other. I must say that I don't like that films are too expensive, my favourite films have quite often been made with very limited means.
A film by Bertrand Dezoteux
Starring Camille Grenier
A co-production by Frieze Foundation and FRAC Aquitaine
Supported by Autodesk® with Autodesk 3ds Max®
CGI graphics and animation: Bertrand Dezoteux
Animation and lighting: Meriam Hamila
Sound edit and mix: Simon Apostolou
Sound effects: Xavier Drouault
Auditorium: L'Atelier Sonore
Editing and music: Arnaud & Bertrand Dezoteux
Voice recording: Alexis Campet
Translation: Filipa Ramos
Studio: école d'art de agglomération Côte Basque-Adour
Accommodation: ESA de Rocailles
Thanks: Sarah McCrory, Claire Jaquet, Angela Simoes, Dominique Berthommé, Olivier de Montpezat, Anne-Marie et Henri Dezoteux, Matthieu Conrié