18 rue des 4 fils, 75003 Paris
2 December 2017 to 17 January 2018

Églantine Mercader  : Le fil conducteur  [The Common Thread] is your sixth exhibition with gb agency. How do you get the names of the exhibitions, especially this one?


Dominique Petitgand : I don’t have any special method for the titles. Sometimes the name of the show comes from the name of a work (then it’s easy), sometimes it’s a broader  title that’s linked to several works, but also to the context of the exhibition, to the way of presenting the sound, their relationships, or some feeling I’ve got about  a certain mood or idea. Le fil conducteur  [The Common Thread] is one of those broader  titles (like L’élément déclencheur [The Blastoff  Factor], L’oreille interne [The Inner Ear], Les liens invisibles [The Invisible Links]) that  could almost — and this is just barely a stretch  — work for any of my shows, or works. Though with this one there’s a special resonance  with the electronic aspect to some of the sound that’s played (the frequencies, soundwaves, harshness). Transmission cables connect, a wire carr ying a current, through floors and walls, linking one place to another.

But a common thread  (“le fil conducteur” in french) is the connection driving a story, linking the different points in a nar- rative. More obscure, not necessarily visible, this thread  ensures that even when separated by silence and distance, scatte- red fragments aren’t detached  but rather  compose the foundation, the very elements of the narrative. And so beware  of the extreme  irregularity and deconstruction  of a work, when there  is something below the surface.



ÉM : And yet, it feels like the direction taken by this exhibition is truly different from your others. Though not dispensing with a common thread, possibly through the fact of having an exhibition composed of a single installation?



DP : In 2006 I’d already  done a show with a single work (Quelqu’un par terre [Someone on the Floor]) at gb agency, though you’re right this one is fairly different. The work takes  up the entire space — both rooms  on the lower level — and it would be impossible to insert anything else (it’s important that  the setup, with its precise placement and installation of multiple speakers, serve only one work).


The specific arrangement of voice and sounds doesn’t allow for room for anything else, either spatially or temporally.


Le fil conducteur  is a comprehensive piece, almost all-encompassing.


Another thing that’s different about  this installation is the concept of assembly that  I developed for it. Unlike my other work where I extract  fragments from different recordings, here I took a single recording as is (a person speaking to me, ruminating, laughing, telling me things that  I knew and things I didn’t) and recreated it practically from beginning to end by applying a method of censorship: everything that I would normally have edited or left silent, here I erased  it and repla- ced it with a different sound. Words  whose essential I erased  (Which essential? The essential that  is necessary to unders- tand  what’s being said), chopped up, dissected, and replaced  in the final cut with electronic sounds of equal length, like marouflage, while keeping and making a sound to mark the erasure.



ÉM  : I really like the word you said and want to come back to it; that’s exactly what it is — censorship. Your work has always displayed a censorship of your own making, that  you’ve sought to apply and observe. And that  desire has evolved through  your work, and become stronger  I think, turning into a kind of erasure  that  removes quite a lot without turning empty, that  remains telling. As if censorship for you is a way to set free sound.



DP : I use the word for several reasons. I know it’s usually associated  with anti-democratic  power, dictators. The word is a bit extreme  and I want to be provocative. I’m playing the bad guy who censors. I think that’s a recognition of the violence involved in editing. But actually, unlike censorship through  power  or morality, here it leads to a revelation  : ever ything that  was removed, everything that’s missing, exposes that  little that  remains, frames and magnifies the little that  got past that  gate, through the filter. I think I’ve always thought that  way: making something out of what’s left.

I also use the word censorship because the material  I work with is basically words, the recording of words, and normally it’s just not right to cut someone off, it’s wrong to interrupt, it’s polite to listen to the end. I don’t do that. Unlike my other work, here the erasure  isn’t hidden, it’s clearly heard. So I might as well own up to it.



ÉM  : The presentation of words is extremely  important  for you. If not heard, they are  written, displayed on screen for example as is the case with La lettre vide [The Blank Letter] where the voice is completely unintelligible but a listener clings to words on a screen, a transcript  of what’s said. Here the words are  chopped, devoid of narrative  meaning, though there are  still noticeable words and phrases. It’s taken to the limit and you’ve created  a tension that’s disconcerting, if not dis- turbing at times.



DP : The unintelligible comes in many forms: not understanding  what a person says because we don’t know the words (something I rarely  use, aside from in La lettre vide); or another  option, we know the words but don’t know what the per- son’s talking about, the context, why they’re saying what they’re saying, or not saying, different levels of the enigma. Because my works are  the focus of projection, they have to do with what isn’t said, what’s hidden, missing, and verge on the unintelligible. For Le fil conducteur  that’s even more the case. Words  are the starting point, and speaking is the primary material  of my work, but beyond that, there  is always the presence, a human presence, a person speaking to us, while speaking to themselves. It is this presence that  must first be expressed, conveyed in a space. And the way it’s presented (orally or written, from a single speaker  our from many, in the foreground of one room  or hidden in another)  is one of the essential aesthetic  aspects of the installation, giving it its form, its character.



At times that  presence depends on words, at others  not (in the case of mute works using breath, respiration, chirps or whistles), at times barely intelligible. It depends on the work, the editing approach  and the system of cutting — whether it’s done by phrase, work, syllable, or breath. I’m able to work at all of these different levels and types of unintelligibility. The key was always knowing precisely what I could remove and what I could leave from the original words. Ever since my


first works, one thing was certain: I wanted  to delete proper  nouns, place names, dates, any connection to specific events or circumstances, anything that created  context, that could provide references or particulars to the words. And also omit- ting any beginning, middle or end of a story, going as deep as possible. These eliminations are  what made it possible to test the limits of fiction, and to explore forms of abstraction.

With La lettre vide [The Blank Letter]  I began a new method of editing, which I continued with Le fil conducteur  [The Common Thread]: here erasure  happens one word at a time, and the process of arbitrary fragmentation is in full view. What’s left afloat from the censorship, from this shipwreck, are  scraps  and beginnings of sentences, bones of a stor y, mini vocal signals, a few pronouns, verbs and some clues to time. And the recurring question: “What  are  they talking about  ?”



ÉM : But also: “What  am I talking about  ?”



DP : For sure, in my pieces, the people speaking say “I” (obvious examples include the works Je marche  [I walk], Je parle [I speak], Je descends [I  go down], Je m’en vais [I leave],  Je m’endors [I  go to sleep], and of  course  Je [I]  ). And this “I” is moveable, circulating among several voices (like multiple incarnations  of a single word), yet also passing from the person speaking to the listener (who can take on adopt the first person character as their own). In addition to these “I” there are also some “you” (“you know what I mean?”) because each word addresses  someone. The “you” said to me during the recording and that  I convey by revealing my presence to an entirely new listener.



ÉM : That’s also what’s happening in the silent piece Mes écoutes [My Listenings] where it’s about you and your relationship to listening, to sounds, but the text refers us back to ourselves and to our own way of listening, and we become the “I.” Mes écoutes [My Listenings] is its own kind of work, in that  in this case it’s me, Dominique, who wrote  the text (which the- refore isn’t the result of editing from recordings of others  interviewed by me and speaking to me) and who says “I”. Those are my memories, my actions, my notes. But I made every effort — which is what every person who writes does I think — to make the “I” as open as possible, the most accessible, for others  to relate  to it. A neutral stand.

I tried as much as possible to achieve neutrality while keeping as much feeling as I could and striving to precisely describe each state  of listening. And also by talking more about  perception and reception than about  the sounds themselves, more about  the effect than the cause. So it’s often about  the space, distance, the path and the time that  a sound takes to reach the ears, to reach consciousness.



Compared  to works with sound, my texts (on paper  or a screen) allow for a more direct transfer  of the “I” since there’s no voice, no otherness  to filter, which in the event of the oral would defer the transfer.

Anyone who listens can relate  to the character,  but that  happens after  the first step of the meeting, a meeting with its own character, its own way of speaking, sound, pace, emphasis, a significant oral presence.



Interview by Églantine Mercader with Dominique Petitgand


November 2017

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