2017, HD video, 5.1 sound, 35:02
The Accursed Stare revisits the process of image-making during five historical moments: Upper Palaeolithic, Classical Greece, Enlightenment, the appearance of Conceptual Art in the mid-1960s and the present time in order to question the distrust towards the aesthetic level of the artwork which followed the rise of conceptual art in the 1960s; and the consequent, increasing colonisation of aesthetic experience by capitalism.
Martin Guinard: In The Accursed Stare, the narrator (that you called “the art historian”) retraces certain episodes which reflect / constituted a certain Western gaze (of a subject / mind scrutinizing static / inert objects), omitting a plurality of perspectives. Considering these “omissions”, and how you had to select few moments, how did you chose these chapters?
David Ferrando Giraut: I guess every narrative is incomplete by necessity and partial by nature; and that the way in which a narrator puts together the pieces that compose his or her story, his or her version of things, follows, consciously or not, a certain aim. In this case, the selection has a strong sense of intentionality: I focused on five specific historical moments, or better, on four already existent narrations, or versions, of historical events, whose authors are credited on the piece; a last narration belongs to a current, contemporary moment—the video was finished on 2017—in which I tried to summarize a certain version of something that is happening now.
All of these fragments, whose juxtaposition compose my work, deal with aesthetic and material issues, and with how they relate to socio-political modes of organisation which are obviously marked by economy. I chose these fragments and not others because each of them serve to illustrate an aspect of our (probably the Western, yes) historical relation with images. Each of these aspects is relevant at the time of questioning certain givens regarding the way we currently relate to images. This questioning of a certain current aesthetic regime is the ultimate aim of my “version of things” as they are narrated.
The first chapter deals with current hypotheses regarding the birth of images, their supposedly innate origin, related to neurological issues, and with how homo sapiens might have experienced them on late Paleolithic; the second chapter, which starts with the account of Zeuxis and Pharrasius’ painting contest as narrated by Pliny the Elder, focuses mainly on different conceptions of an image’s surface (depth versus flatness) and their implications; the third chapter relates to the importance of aesthetic tools for the development of sciences, with how images can help a better understanding of the reality we live in, and with how this relates to power; the fourth stops on the 1960s and the advent of conceptual art, with its distrust of the aesthetic dimension of the artwork and its parallelisms to corporate strategies; finally, on the fifth chapter there is a questioning of the supposedly immaterial character of the digital aesthetic environment and of how it relates to ecological issues.
MG: There is an aesthetic coherence in this piece with this set of fluo colours, intense synthetic music juxtaposed to the set and calm tone of the (very confident) and calm narrating voice of the art historian. Can you elaborate on the process that led to this aesthetics?
DFG: One of the issues at stake here, very explicit on the epilogue, concerns the reclaiming of the potential of art’s aesthetic experience as a cognitive tool; with the belief that contemporary art can convey, through aesthetic materials and strategies, a sort of knowledge susceptible to make the reality we live in more apprehensible somehow. My intention was not just to reclaim this “verbally”, but to put it in practice—something which is common to many of my projects. Therefore, a lot of the work went to the elaboration of its aesthetic dimension: I used different visual strategies to make manifest, aesthetically, issues that the narrator talks about; not in the sense of the image being an illustration of the text, but as a different layer which, together with the voice over, conveys ideas about different aspects of the image.
These strategies might be related with the use of reflections, with juxtaposing anachronic visual motifs, with the notion of trompe l oeil—stressing the tensions between the image’s depth and flatness—or with visual continuity or discontinuity, to give some examples.
The use of intense colours—which has been another feature of my work—is on the one hand symbolic (the main four alchemical colours are very present, for example) and on the other hand intends to create a certain mood or atmosphere. The same goes for the sonic treatment, which is very important in my work. In this sense, I usually like to offer spectators an experience which is aesthetically enjoyable, but not in the usual sense of being just pleasant to watch or to listen to—which at times isn’t.
Then there is the omnipresent use of CGI, which gives the video that synthetic feel despite its references to art history. CGI’s quality of being a “Frankenstein without seams” seems keen to my intention of creating a sense of aesthetic continuity—which corresponds to a sense of historical and cognitive continuity—an attempt to “restore” time as a continuum in which causes and effects are correlated. In this way, CGI allows me to take objects and/or images from different historical moments and relate them aesthetically, so that those links between them— which, despite of being real are not immediately perceptible—become visible.
MG: Are you comfortable calling this work a sensorial essay? In the sense that there is a pretty clear thesis to the work.
DFG: Yes, I feel pretty comfortable with that definition. Although there are also fictional elements in play, I agree there is a clear thesis to this piece. And I like the term sensorial as, returning to the previous point, my way of understanding “aesthetics” is mainly as that which is apprehensible through the senses. In my conception of human being, intellect and the senses go hand in hand, so if you ask me, I would declare myself a fan of the “sensorial essay”.
MG: The narrator speaks with a confident voice in a way, by teaching viewers, then giving them an injunction. Did the theme of authority mattered to you? At which point did it occur to you that the narration had to be done by an avatar?
DFG: The point of authority is key and the fact of talking through an avatar relates to that. I have an ambivalent view of pedagogical art and I guess we could say this work has a certain pedagogical level. But what I was motivated about, over trying to “teach” something to viewers, was to prompt some kind of reflection, response and debate. I have to admit a sense of uneasiness about too much contemporary art being cryptic, ambiguous or ambivalent. I know these strategies sometime create an aura of mystery which can be convenient for its reception but the other side of the coin is that ambiguity or crypticism have the potential to short-circuit any kind of response or dialogue; and this can become problematic when we understand art as a way of communication. I decided to go the opposite path: giving very clear, univocal, statements about the subjects at stake, which, at times, may be more radical than my own, with the aim of prompting a response or a reaction (and the fact of creating an avatar and calling her “The Art Historian” is related to that). That was a conscious decision at the time of structuring this piece, and in that sense, I probably decided to favour the “practical” function it might serve in this moment in time, over other values which are traditionally considered more “artistic”.
Written, directed and edited by David Ferrando Giraut
CGI: Cristóbal Cea Sánchez
Actress / Voice over: Gemma Brockis
Soundtrack: Nigel Yang, Melissa Bugarella, Roc Jiménez de Cisneros, Fee Reega, David Ferrando Giraut