Maurice Benayoun : Somebody, Somewhere, Sometime

 

Philippe Codognet*

 

 

A large screen on the wall, a pair of immersive goggles, a monitor and some computer equipment ... yet another digital art installation? What could I see in the goggles? Is it worth queuing and waiting to experience the “virtual world” by myself? Or should I just stare at this large horizontal wall-screen displaying a mesh of images merged and glued together, producing a rather abstract image - part of which being nevertheless recognisable as some sort of photographic details.

In his new work Somebody, Somewhere, Sometime, Maurice Benayoun envisions a virtual universe made of networked scenes that can be explored, or rather gazed at, in a full 360° omni-directional rotation. Each picture is connected with others through some recurring details within the images (a barcode, a box of Cornflakes, etc), which act like doorways to other images where similar details appear. The spectator thus navigates between images simply by looking for awhile at some key details that operate as invisible portals. This virtual world is thus a graph-based structure (read: rhizome) in which the spectator walks his own path. As the images are put into sequences, some narrative meaning emerges and is complemented by the spectator’s imagination so as to fill up the blanks and ambiguities. In some sense this could be seen as a minimalist exercise and a visual counterpart of the textual lector in fabula paradigm[1] where a text is an “open” object in need of the reader’s co-operation in interpreting narrative blanks so as to build up the final story. Narratives can therefore be seen as modal structures based on “possible worlds” and Kripke-model semantics. Distinct interpretative worlds are linked in a graph-based structure (again) through modal knowledge - that is, possible propositions assumed by the reader.

So.So.So. is obviously an open work and if some story emerges from those isolated snapshots this is a story crystallised in a present time, with no future and no beginning. The future, if any, is in our head - and we have to construct it. All narrative clues that are seen, linked, reorganised and interpreted in various ways might at some point collide in the spectator’s mind as he will build up his own movie. Interestingly, this experiment to fuse together a whole story from frozen omni-view images could in some sense be linked to the Cubist idea of creating an image from different views of the same scene that visually collides on the canvas.

But So.So.So aims at more than just fusing immersive panoramic pictures into the spectator’s own narrative[2]. It also aggregates the many paths of different spectators into some global walkthrough. Each spectator indeed deposits some marks on his path within a global territory, each mark being linked to a part of an image he looked at for awhile. This is like semantic pheromones - dropped in a common environment by different ants/spectators - which give other spectators clues to pertinent parts of some global story. Just as pheromones do for ants, this could further influence other viewers and attract their attention to some details they would otherwise have neglected. This is narrative construction as an Ant System[3] - one constructing a collective subjectivity - the result of which is the image depicted on the large projection screen in the installation. This is narrative construction as continuous evolution and mutation, as new ants wander in and out of the virtual universe.                                                                                                                                         

This reminds us that the construction of meaning as a social issue has been stressed by pragmatist philosophers and is forcefully conveyed by C. S. Pierre’s words: “…one man’s experience is nothing, if he stands alone ... It is not ‘my’ experience but ‘our’ experience that has to be thought of; and this ‘us’ has indefinite possibilities”[4].

                                                                                                                                                      

 



* University of Paris 6, LIP6, 8 rue du Capitaine Scott, 75015 Paris, France

  Email : Philippe.Codognet@lip6.fr

 

 



[1] U. Eco, “Lector in fabula”, in: The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts, Indiana University Press, 1979. See also The Open Work, Harvard University Press, 1989 (original Italian edition: 1962).

 

[2] Several authors have proposed to introduce a new terminology to stress the more active definition of spectators in virtual environments, which includes a participative aspect. Cf. for instance J. Nechvatal’s Ph.D. thesis, where the term of viewer/participant or “viewpant” is introduced (http://www.eyewithwings.net/nechvatal/ideals.htm). But the integration of viewers in artworks has a long tradition, cf. John Shearman, Only Connect ... : Art and the Spectator in the Italian Renaissance, Princeton University Press,  1992.

 

[3] I am here obviously referring to the so-called “Ant System” paradigm, which has proved to be very successful in Artificial Life and has been used to model and simulate much basic “intelligent” behaviour. See Swarm Intelligence : from natural to artificial systems by E. Bonabeau, M. Dorigo and G. Theraulaz, Oxford University Press, 1999.

 

[4] Charles Saunders Pierce, Collected Papers, Harvard University Press. Cited in John Dewey, “Peirce’s theory of linguistic signs, thought, and meaning”, The Journal of Philosophy, vol. XLIII, no. 4, 1946.