Ceci n’est pas une science (This is not science)
“Can you imagine the Parthenon?”
“Well, then count the number of columns.”
Some images, almost.
Within the field of artistic practices Cédric Noël takes a rather particular position. He is in the first place the spectator and translator of an elusive reality in all its concreteness. The construction of representations lies at the heart of his work. He can, as he has done in Ma représentation (My representation), question specialists, stage theorists and their thoughts, to mischievously exploit scientific knowledge. He can also generate limit experiences and invite to reconstruct through gestures or speech what seems to resist any form of enunciation. Finally, he creates images, both familiar and enigmatic.
Scholium: technical, scientific or artistic language is a discourse on reality, an attempt at objectification that cannot be detached from the symbolic capacities and tools of those who develop and state them. This simply means that we conquer phenomena (the light, a form, a relationship, and so on) via perceptions and representations that are by necessity partial and engaged (a sunset, a ball, a history, and so on).1
This terrain, which is largely invested in scientific research, is also that of the artist. He follows tirelessly its various windings, paying the price with a great artistic heterogeneity. There is certainly a manner, a style, but in the margins of artefacts where we would expect to recognize them. There is no formal link between the series of Bondinium with that of Pièces sans jeu (Pieces without play) 2, the flag Unité (Union) with the installation zobjeyx … The artist, however, is not a dabbler. If one had to describe his approach in a few words, one would in the first place have to underline the coherence of his work despite the lack of a clear signature.3 This quality is renewed continuously while the work grows, because its stakes require a continuous flexibility. The rigour is found in the perpetual movements of off-centrering and the throwing into play of expressive means: filmed experiences, documentaries, sculptures, drawings, literature… This pluridisciplinarity does not provide a label. It is an axiological means that, at best and at most, embraces the complex relationships between words and things, between thinking and its translations.
With Cédric Noël, the object, installation or image takes its qualities from the methodological necessities at work during their production. Each piece connects a protocol in a straight line to its stated objectives. In Ma représentation one notices very quickly that two commentaries are superimposed: that of cognitive psychologists and the artist’s vision on them, being at the same time witness, translator and mediator of a knowledge that inevitably partially escapes him. Very subtly the digital layers and rhythms of the montage accompany, recompose or interrupt the academic presentation. In this way the artist approaches as closely as possible the phenomenon he wants to describe and with which he wants to experiment. He thus situates an unstable field of research in an abyss, a real maze of concepts, experiences and questions that are left unanswered. He does not produce a literal documentary, but a series of perceptual experiences that ultimately are very interactive.
Because most of Cédric Noël’s work requires that we act as actors and actively engage with it. The work rarely gives itself as it is. This is not due to the presence of an esoteric subtext directed toward some initiated individuals, but rather to the cognito-perceptive engagement and reflexivity that each piece induces. When we regard Les Evanescents we cannot help but put ourselves in the place of the guinea pigs that describe their visual experience. We ‘see’ it thanks to them. Irresistibly we are drawn to creating mental images to give sense to their discourse. In fine, characters and spectators are mobilised in a virtual and specular relationship for which the film is the holding place. Everyone who gets involved in the work, is so to speak, knocked-out, saturated by the many mental pictures that need (re)constructing. Following these ideas, L'heure Dorée (The Golden Hour) is a video that unrolls, in the manner of film credits, the physical description of a sunset on the ocean. The form is that of a changing horizon that we identify very quickly through its model. The complexity of the discourse, the rapidity of the flow of the text and the length of the film, make it a kind of mantra that generates a multitude of receding images, ‘waves of coloured impressions’ that are impossible to retain. The evanescence of time and matter is again at play within the context of a sensitive experience. Consequently, the films of Cédric Noël are fundamentally devices that act as projection surfaces for the spectator.
Drawing constitutes a hinge between the fields marked by a scientific discourse and a more liberal expression. A protocol is chosen in function of the available tools and the problematic at hand. This is frequently based on questions related to the repetition of often elementary motifs on a matrix plan (graph paper, calligraphy notebook…) that are fully integrated in the drawing. In this way a composition is developed that is close to writing. The line becomes grapheme and participates in a whole, the properties of which cannot be reduced to its elements. Beyond the formal aspects, there is something of an exacerbated sensibility, an irreducible poetry. As if to remind us that in the end the stammering images are formed on contemplative ground, making up the truth of our days without words to define, without the possibility to count.
Assistant professor in sociology at the High School Condorcet, lecturer at ENSAV La Cambre (sociology of art and cultural practices, seminar on reflexive analysis of practices); co-curator of exhibition space Incise and art critic.
Translated by Edith Doove
1 I know the order here is too easy: a ‘setting’ of the sun is obviously not a simplified form of the theories on light, nor a ball of a form, or a history of a relationship… On this subject see Bruno Latour, ‘Three Little Dinosaurs or A Sociologist’s Nightmare’ in Fundamenta Scientiae, vol. 1, pp.79-85, 1980.
2 This series of unpublished prints represents ludic objects that form the pieces for plays yet to be invented.
3 On this point one could link the artist’s work to that of the radicalism of the first American conceptualists. Especially the ‘sculpture statements’ of Lawrence Weiner spring to mind that offer the recipients the possibility to imagine what is being proposed.
An interview with Nav Haq, curator of the third Contour Biennale - 2007.
[Nav Haq] Your work often takes into consideration its relationship with the viewer. It becomes like a form of ‘play’ or a game for people that encounter your work. It really is like piecing together a puzzle. Why does this appeal to you?
[Cédric Noël] I like the concept of a puzzle. It’s full of connections and it offers a large number of possible images that can be realised and that fit just right. It’s even better, at the end, when small pieces of heaven fall onto to the wheat field! I am very interested in the idea of the potential image, in the imagery that is hidden within an object or a word. I try to conjure these images and to immediately give them an autonomy that goes further than their referents and the impulse that brought them to life. I am talking about the mental image, among others, which is a main concern in my work. In general, the mental image can be defined as the creation or the reproduction of an experience through the brain. If my work looks like a game, it is because of its connection to experience, in the sense of ‘gaining experience with’, especially with mechanisms that have to do with the production and the reception of an image. The spectator is invited to use his imagination. He can either play along or not, that’s his decision; it’s about his responsibility towards the image, which underlines that the reception of an experience is part of its realization.
[NH] On one level your work is about perception. To what extent do you think that the experiential side of encountering your work is intended to offer insight into one’s own perceptual mechanisms?
[CN] This might sound a bit crazy, but my works are meant for eyes that have seen! In other words, for eyes that remember things. In order to illustrate this, I would like to refer to a technique that is used in theatre: the so-called hypotyposis, which is the evocation of an object or an action on stage, but solely with words. The actor describes a door or a battle and the audience envisions it. It’s like a superimposition, an image layer that covers the stage and what is already on it. It simultaneously evokes an objective vision of the object (in this example, the stage) and an interior, subjective vision (the door or the battle).
[NH] Your new work Ein Reich looks at possible alternative histories to the one we know. How does presenting different ‘fictionalisations’ within one of your works engage with our sense of what we know?
[CN] I’m only interested in fiction when it causes hesitation, when it puts certainties at risk and destabilizes the whole individual. The reaction can even be physical, like a kind of nausea. The key to it is the hesitation in those places where there is a failure in the memory. Ein Reich triggers the hesitations of the memory and their consequences. We are easily thrown back into the abominable.