Notes and video from the keynote that science writer and paleontologist Richard Fortey gave at the Age of Wonder festival in Eindhoven a few weeks ago.

0a1evolutionf3e7fc_b.jpg
Richard Fortey at the Age of Wonder Festival. Photo by Sas Schilten

0neons65c92_b.jpg
The Age of Wonder Festival. Photo by Sas Schilten

The paleontologist's talk was titled Four billion years of life on earth: what should it teach mankind? It was my favourite moment in a festival that impressed me with the way it mixed disciplines, old technologies and innovation, science fiction and pure science, reflections about the ecological-humans” and artistic experiments. Like most people who had a chance to be there, i do hope we'll get to live more "ages of wonder." But i digress. Fortey talked about Darwin and how his theories have been misinterpreted and misapplied to justify the practices of some capitalist business models. It started with his unconventional (that was his word) ideas about the history of life on earth and ended with comments on the soft drink industry.

But here is the official blurb:

Fortey believes that the natural progress of evolution is always towards greater richness, and that this is the way our planet is meant to be when Darwinian evolution is allowed to play out naturally. Mistaken ideas about Darwinism have contributed to a view of human life that diminishes rather than enhances richness, particularly in the Weltanschauung of market capitalism.

0trilobite-fossil_1262_990x742.jpg
Trilobite fossil. Photo by James L. Amos

The video of his talk is below but since i had already typed my notes from Fortey's presentation before the video was uploaded, i thought i'd just leave them on this page in case you're interested in checking out some links. Besides, my pictures of dinosaurs are way nicer than his.

Age of Wonder - Keynote Richard Fortey from Baltan Laboratories on Vimeo.

For most of his working life Richard Fortey was employed in the Natural History Museum in London. His research has long focused on trilobites, a fossil group of extinct arthropods (joint legged animals) that were around for at least 250 million years. These marine creatures present the first really well preserved eyes in the fossil record . They evolved into all sorts of ecological niches and are a paradigm in miniature for evolution as a whole. (cf his book Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution)

Charles Darwin's seminal work on evolutionary biology served as a backdrop of Fortey's presentation.

0Van Rompuy_4.jpg
On The Origin of Species (Flickr/apsmuseum, via rnw)

The full title of Darwin's book was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life but its meaning and essence has often been replaced in popular imagination by the punchier formula "the survival of the fittest". That wasn't Darwin's phrase. It was introduced in a text book about biology by Herbert Spencer 5 years after the publication of the Origin of Species but it was adopted as an instant description of how evolution works. In some ways this simplification has had some unfortunate consequences. For example, it leads to the idea of progression, with each stage being an advance on and eliminating the previous one.

Referring to the previous evening's talk about Super Intelligence, Fortey said that if we followed this Survival of the Fittest eationale then the supercomputers, which will soon equal then surpass and eventually make obsolete human intelligence, are the next step in this logical progression.

The first part of his talk took us on a whirlwind tour of the history of life to illustrate progression.

If you want to see a living image of what the pre-Cambrian world looked like towards beginning of the origin of life, you have to go to Shark Bay, Western Australia where stromatolites still live. They look like rocks but are actually living communities of blue green bacteria. They are preserved in this area of Australia thanks to some very peculiar ecological conditions (the place is very hot and not pleasant) which have kept away all the animals that have evolved after the pre-Cambrian.

0stromatolites-shark-bay-australia.jpg
Stromatolites in Shark Bay, Australia. Photo via all that is interesting

The Stromatolite photos is a snapshot of life 2.5 billion years ago.

Life existed before that. We know that at least by 3.5 billion years ago, living cells were already reproducing. We can find them as fossils but they are very rare and the ones we find from 2.5 billion years ago look very much like these stromatolites. Some of the fossils look like living blue green algae. It's very hard to tell the differences in some cases between the fossils and the ones still living.

Stromatolites are very simple organisms but they have one important property for the history of the planet: they photosynthesise, they exhale oxygen, making life on earth possible for us. When life first appeared on Earth, the planet was very unwelcoming to life. Its atmosphere had lots of carbon dioxide and probably also poisonous gases and nitrogen. It had very little oxygen, if any. It's the activity over billions of years of these algae, these blue green bacteria that transformed the atmosphere into something that animals could subsequently breathe. Some of the very early organisms that existed before that and would this die in the presence of oxygen are still with us, living in crevices around the world. They never went away but the oxygen-loving organisms took over.

We can fast-forward to when organisms with organized nuclei appeared. And then to about 1.3 billion years ago when the first sexually differentiated organisms are found in the fossil record. Once you differentiate the sexes, you get more possibilities of cross-breeding and more possibilities of variations and inherited variations which obviously ups the whole evolutionary stakes. So far, we've been talking about progression, even in quite a simple way.

About 540 million years ago we arrive at the base of the Cambrian period and that's when trilobites appear in the fossil record. Trilobites are far more complicated organisms that anything we've seen before. Trilobites themselves are no more, they died out about 250 000 million years ago. These were animals with hard parts, they had the first toughened exoskeletons. We found trilobites with bite marks on them which brings us to another step in this history of the evolution of complexity as these marks show there were predators around of the time. Most of the earlier organisms were minutes. Trilobites can fit comfortably into the palm of a man's hand. Which means that at the base of the Cambrian animals got large, they are distinctly animals and some of them got hard parts, skeletons.

Alongside the trilobites were other fossils. For example the Burgess shale in Canada which didn't have hard parts but was soft-bodied. Soft bodied organisms are harder to preserve. Aysheaia, for example, was one of these soft bodied Cambrian organisms and it is clearly related to the still living velvet worm.

0a3aysheaia.jpg
Aysheaia pedunculata (image: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

0velvet-barretti-01_59989_1.jpg
Velvet Worm. Image Natural History Museum

In fact, most of the living of the largest groups of the animals that we know today had their first representatives in the Cambrian period. Around 542 million years ago, took place the so-called Cambrian explosion which saw evolution work very fast and produce designs which are still with us today.

Life so far was fully marine but it eventually found its way onto land. Of course, each of these evolutions made for a new ecology and that's progression two.

7a94px-Lunularia_cruciata.jpg
A thallose liverwort, Lunularia cruciata

The ancestors of nowadays' Liverworts left water and crawled over the surface of wet mud. Their green pads were photosynthesizing and releasing more oxygen into the atmosphere and as that happened it made it more suitable for animals to follow them onto the land. Now when you go onto land, you open up other possibilities for evolution, which gives way to a new eco-system.

The next stage were organisms moving upwards (to get more light and thus take over your neighbours.)

These animals and plants are not just fossils, they are still with us so the first qualification to the idea of progression is that when organisms evolve to the next stage, they don't die out, they are still with us, they have a niche that enables them to survive. The simple idea of progression of organism giving rise to another which outcompetes and eventually replaces it and so on is not an adequate description of what is happening in the world. Live moves on but the history is retained.

Fortey further explored this idea in his book Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time has Left Behind.

The next stage is to support that photosynthesizing column and carry it upwards to make a tree.

The animals shortly followed the plants. The first ones were tiny insect relatives and then creatures that eat insects and ultimately our first distant ancestors, the first quadrupeds who came from their fishy relatives and set foot onto land. One of these fishy relatives is still living today: it's the Australian lungfish.

0_basle_zoo_-60017.jpg
Australian lungfish, Basle Zoo. Photo via zoochat

This lungfish is recognized by both zoologist and DNA studies as a close relative to our other relative that came out from the sea onto land. Some time during the Devonian period more than 400 million years ago, it came out onto land. Until recently, paleontologists were looking for a 'missing link', for the fossil of a fishy type of creature with a fin that looked like a hand.

They eventually found this missing link. It's the Tiktaalik, a creature with a complex series of bones bones in the feet, half way between a fin and a hand. The early creatures that came to land actually had 6 or 7 digits, not 5.

0Tiktaalik-Roseae-Baffles-Scientists2.jpg
Tiktaalik Roseae (image guardian liberty voice)

We now have an ecological structure that you might recognize today: prey, predators, low and tall plants, etc. So far, it all sounds rather linear.

Fast forward to the age of the dinosaurs, the terrestrial animals continue to evolve and get larger. The botanical situation at the time was similar to today's except that there were no flowering plants. Some of those dinosaurs were covered in small feathers, even tyranosaurus rex had fuzzy feathers. One group of these dinosaurs went on to give rise to the birds which evolved together with and from the dinosaurs but didn't die out with them. After the extinction of the dinosaurs, small insect-eating mammals gave life to large herbivorous & carnivorous mammals that preyed on them. e.g. bison, a survivor from the last Ice Age.

0a0jfeatherdino.jpg
Feathered dinosaurs. Image credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences/Dr Brian Choo (via Wired)

The final step is an animal that is a mammal that has consciousness and high intelligence. And so we have a rather linear progression that goes from the first cell to the intelligent human being. Could the next stage be the supercomputer that takes the brain element further into its next stage? Maybe... but that wouldn't be an adequate description of what evolution really does.

However, it not simply an upward story. The history of life has been punctuated by mass extinctions when hundreds, sometimes millions of species became extinct within a short period of time.

The so-called K-T event, for example, brought about the demise of the dinosaurs and many other organisms. But there were other mass extinctions. One of them at least took place at the end of the Permian period, and it was even more extreme.

Survival then might have been lottery or maybe the surviving species had some quality that you didn't now you possessed but came useful when crisis arose and got you through. There was an element of serendipity in the organism that passed through.

The K-T event took out dinosaurs and other organisms in the sea. It reset life and gave the mammals a chance to evolve into the forms we have today.

0p00l4mdl_640_360.jpg
Planet Dinosaur. Image BBC

Throughout the history of life, brain power did increase in general. Metabolic rate also increased between the reptiles and the mammals. There is thus a progressive aspect in spite of these interruptions. The biggest interruption was the end of the Permian period (about 250 million years ago) when all the continents were united and the ocean went seriously anoxic. There was a violent eruption of volcanic gas in what is now Siberia. It produced the biggest extinction the world has seen. 90% of species probably disappeared. e.g. the ammonites.

These extinction events reset the clock and give survivors the chance to re-evolve, to regenerate ecologies. Every time a mass extinction has intervened, evolution has filled up the gap afterwards, often with a very rapid period of evolution where the ecology reasserts itself. It is a very neglected fact about the history of life. A couple of examples: the coral reef which is often taken as a paradigm for biologically varied communities. The reef habitat goes back past 4 mass extinctions. At each stage, the reefs died out completely, but shortly afterwards they re-evolved which means that evolution rapidly fills all the niches.

Another example is the woodland found in the south of England (and elsewhere in the world) with trees, plants and ferns. This particular structure has evolved from the coal forests of the Carboniferous period more than 300 million years ago that ultimately produced coal deposits. The structure of those forest is not so different from the ones we have today and it is extremely species-rich but not as species rich as today's tropical forest, the richest habitat on earth.

You could replicate his argument with most of the major habitats on earth: they are very rich in species and after an extinction event, they 'restock' and become rich in species again. Now how does that not seem to fit in the account of the survival of the fittest? if one species is particularly good, it outcompetes the other so you would expect much more of a one species takes all situation but when natural evolution is allowed to play out, it goes for extremely species rich environment.

Each of these extinction events allows life to replay itself in a sense and it replays itself always towards biodiversity and large numbers of species, not the dominance of one or two. The end product of evolution as it really works is thus a huge, incomparable diversity of organisms on the planet.

0i1reaudienceede9db_b.jpg
Richard Fortey at the Age of Wonder Festival. Photo by Sas Schilten

Scientists tend to avoid imputing human or moral values to their work. Fortey, however, added moral value to his ideas by saying that biodiversity is the way the world is supposed to be and not the dominance of one or two species.

Some people say that we are now in a period when we are decimating the biodiversity of the planet, we are putting species extinct very fast or at least reducing their numbers to almost zoological garden proportions. Fortey's feeling as a biologist is that this is morally wrong. Extinction does happen naturally but if we can say as a precept that the state of nature as it should be is one that maximizes its richness, then you have a moral ground for saying what we are doing to the planet is wrong. The right state of the world is a rich one and we are going against it.

Geerat J. Vermeij, in his book Evolution and Escalation. An Ecological History of Life pointed out that much of this richness is generated by antagonism between prey species and the predators. The prey evolves by developing new techniques to defend itself.

Summary of richness and its implications. What does richness mean?
- it's the end result of natural selection operating through geological time
- it's a combination of biodiversity, ecological specialization and geological sensitivity
- it's the state to which evolution leads if left to play under natural circumstances
- it's the way the natural world is and should be
- it's nothing like the human world produced by unfettered capitalism or by the controlled 'command economy' of communism regimes.

We humans are just another species and perhaps our human society should also regard richness as a desirable end.

The misapplication of Darwinism or when the 'survival of the fittest' is misapplied in the wrong situation (the 'winner takes all' justification):

The Market is just another example of Darwinism in action. These days in the UK we keep hearing statements describing the Market as if it were a Darwinistic phenomenon. Margaret Thatcher talking about market forces said 'there is no alternative.' Even the corporate business model for the market uses the language of natural selection. Trawling through the newspapers, Fortey found example of this: we must adapt or die, we mustn't be dinosaurs, competition is threatening our market niche, it's a jungle out there, there will be a Starbucks on ever street corner, etc.

0Wild-grey-squirrel-onto-i-001.jpg
The County Butchers in Cornwall has added wild grey squirrel onto its list of game. Photo: Adam Gerrar/ SWNS via The Guardian

How did it get there? The model in the business man's mind is something like what has happened to our squirrel population. The South of England used to be inhabited by a population of red squirrels. Then came 'the American invader', the grey squirrel. It is clever, more aggressive, and brings with it a nasty disease. It is a much more successful animal. This kind of model is "the model takes all" model which lies behind this interpretation of the Darwinian process as applied to a lot of human activity.

For Fortey, this is a violation of the principle of richness. The good state is one of proliferation of many product and places to make life as rich as possible.

The end of product of the capitalism is nearly always very similar to the case of the grey squirrel: you get a reduction in richness. In capitalism, however, you often end up with a duopoly of two companies with very similar products that have eaten up other companies and then have to sell one another on superficial differences.

Coca-cola bottles from around the world present subtle differences that reflect the local brands that the Coca-cola corporation has replaced over the years. If you look at the whole Pepsi vs Coca Cola line of products, you will find that these mega soft drink companies offer some one to one correspondences. For example, sprite and seven up are virtually identical. The main difference is the amount they spend in advertising.

The wine industry is the opposite. It's the coral reef of the supermarket. There are infinite varieties of wines to choose from. Many were produced by small business. These are species actively evolving, which adds to richness.

Fortey's idea wasn't about anti-capitalism but about how capitalism could also result in creativeness, innovation, variety.

Does this have any use?
It is wrong for human beings to make species extinct. The world will become a less rich place if we carry on as we do.

7 billion people on Earth, that's too many and if we need to feed them with shrinking resources, then how are we going to build super computers to take us to the stars?

Is it too Utopian? Almost certainly yes.

0i1cardboardd7e74c_b.jpg
The Age of Wonder Festival. Photo by Sas Schilten

Previous posts about the festival: "Volta", the oversized voltaic pile, Age of Wonder: Superintelligence and existential risks, Tree Antenna: using trees for radio transmission.

There are more images on flickr and videos on Vimeo.
Image on the homepage via Earth Times.

Sponsored by:





The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on Resonance104.4fm, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

My guest will be artist and 'videosmith' Sam Meech whose work explores the role of analogue technologies in a digital landscape, and the potential to fuse the two in production, projection and performance.

I discovered Sam's work in Liverpool a few weeks ago, it was part of Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life, an exhibition at FACT that explores how the working day has evolved from the industrial revolution to the digital age. Sam Meech has hung over the gallery a banner which translates into a knitting design the working hours patterns of people active in the 'creative industry' and they are, as you suspect, radically (depressingly??) different from the traditional 8 hour shift.

On Wednesday afternoon we will thus talk about knitting machines & digital images, punchcards, knitted Muybridge horse animation, musical 'textiles experiment' and open source swan pedalo.


Sam Meech, Knitted Horse Firework animation - SD

0Punchcard Economy, Sam Meech, 2013. Installation at FACT as part of Time and Motion Redefining Working Life.jpg
Sam Meech, Punchcard Economy, 2013. Installation at FACT as part of Time and Motion Redefining Working Life

0eb_knitannie-01-29.jpg

Sam is also a co-director of Re-Dock - a not-for-profit arts organisation, developing projects that explore ways in which communities relate to digital media, ideas and public space.

The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 19 February at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud one day.

0i9agoogplace8735184_n.jpg

Aspect: V21: A Good Place to Stop! The title of this issue of the dvd-magazine is literal: this is the final stop for a publication that, in 10 years & 26 DVDs, has shown, promoted, curated, archived and put into context the works of over 200 artists working in new or experimental media. While i understand and respect the editors' decision, i'm going to miss Aspect. I liked it a lot, you see. While any artwork benefits from being seen 'in the flesh' rather than on the pages of a magazine, time-based works usually need the addition of sound and video to be better appreciated. ASPECT: The Chronicle of New Media Art gave the public the possibility to enjoy an artwork at their own pace: each work is introduced by a brief statement from the artist, it is then shown in its totality both as it would be in any art gallery but also in a version that shows the same video with optional audio commentary by a curator, theorist or educator who discusses the background and meaning of the piece.

Aspect: V21: A Good Place to Stop presents 8 time-based works that explore the concept of endings. Either literally or metaphorically.


Pulse Machine

Alicia Eggert and Alexander Reben's Pulse Machine deals with the ultimate ending: death. Both the death of human beings and the one of technologies that have become obsolete.

This electromechanical sculpture was 'born' in Nashville, Tennessee on 2 June 2012. It has been programmed to have the average human lifespan of babies born in Tennessee on that same day: approximately 78 years. The kick drum beats its heartbeat (at 60 beats per minute), and the mechanical counter displays the number of heartbeats remaining in its lifetime. An internal, battery-operated clock keeps track of the passing time when the sculpture is unplugged. The sculpture will die once the counter reaches zero.

Pilvi Takala, Real Snow White (video excerpt)

Pilvi Takala's Real Snow White is by far the most charming and absurd work in the selection. The young and pretty Finnish artist arrives at Eurodisney in Paris dressed as White Snow. Soon children want a photo and autographs from her. But her adventure will end before she can even pass the gates of the entertainment resort. Takala is asked by a security guard not to enter because the 'real' Snow White is already inside. That could create confusion. Besides, what would happen if the 'fake' Snow White does 'something bad'? The conversations between the artist and members of the security team sounds laughable. Unless you know about Disney's thirst for trademark and its application pending with the US Patent and Trademark Office for the name "Snow White", which would cover all live and recorded movie, television, radio, stage, computer, Internet, news, and photographic entertainment uses, except literature works of fiction and nonfiction.

There are 6 other works to discover inside the new issue. Grab yours here!

Previously: Magazine review: ASPECT - The Chronicle of New Media Art.

I've managed to keep it under control so far but i've got quite an obsession with the work of Marcel Dzama. The world he creates mixes childhood nostalgia, violence, sex and history (without necessarily knocking you down with historical references) in the most sinister and seducing way.

0letmebecruel19-474x600.jpg
Let me be cruel, not unnatural, 2013

0equence-infidels00.jpg
Infidels, 2009

Luckily for Londoners, the David Zwirner gallery has just opened a show about Dzama's latest work: Puppets, Pawns, and Prophets. The main protagonists are helpfully listed in the title.

Part of the exhibition centers on his 2011 film A Game of Chess, with props, preparatory drawings and the final short film. The characters dance across the checkered board, wearing papier-mâché costumes and masks.

The works is influenced by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer whose Triadic Ballet from 1922 included puppet-like costumes, and mask-wearing figures dancing across a checkered surface. More generally, the inspiration for the work is the early twentieth-century avant-garde who drew analogies between chess (with its balance between improvisation and predetermination) and artistic practice.

The video shown at David Zwirner, however, restages some of the footage of A Game of Chess and turns it into Sister Squares, splitting the screen in four. The result is even more confusing and fascinating than the original film.

The filming and the creation of the costumes took place in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the influence of local culture (cue to splendid Mariachi trumpeting and sombrero-ing the video) infiltrate the work.

0Sister-Squares-2012--012.jpg
Sister Squares, 2012. Video on monitor

0er-Squares_11-600x337.jpg
Sister Squares, 2012


A Game of Chess, 2011

0A-Game-of-Chess.jpg
A Game of Chess, 2011

0filmMARCEL DZAMA.jpg
A Game of Chess, 2011

But the video i couldn't get my eyes off is The Infidels. This time the puppet-like chess figures go to war against stockinged female "terrorists," AK-47 in hand. It's violent, joyful, enigmatic and sexy.

I don't want to sound overly enthusiastic but this is probably the most sublime video i've ever seen.... (The quality of the video is not great but i think it should give you an idea.)


Marcel Dzama, The Infidels, 2009

It's not in the gallery but check out the music video that Dzama directed together with Patrick Daughters for the band Department of Eagles:

Screened on monitors facing the street:

Marcel Dzama, Death Disco Dance

And since we're on a video roll, check out this short interview that TateShots did with the artist 4 years ago:

Back to what's on view in the gallery. With no comment:

0HOW2013_INSTALL-08-S-600x373.jpg
View of the work installed at David Zwirner

-Dzama-London-Installation-view-11-600x314.jpg
View of the work installed at David Zwirner

0thedeathdiscosteps425-492x600.jpg
The Death Disco Dance Steps, 2013

0_The-Renowned-Union-Jackoff-499x600.jpg
The Renowned Union Jackoff

0descendingpawns.jpg
Descending Pawns, 2012. Courtesy David Zwirner

0malalawillhaverevenge20.jpg
Malala Will Have Her Revenge, 2013

0factiousfeat-498x600.jpg
The Factious Feast, 2013

0Waiting to Be Anointed, 2013-499x600.jpg
Waiting to Be Anointed, 2013

0kingshavebeen63-478x600.jpg
Kings have been his fellows, 2012

0iopportunists0x421.jpg
Opportunists mingling with combatants, 2012

I really loved that video. Please, go and see the show.

0equence-infidels00.jpg
The Infidels, 2009

Marcel Dzama. Puppets, Pawns, and Prophets is open until 11 May at David Zwirner gallery in London.

Previously: Even the Ghost of the Past.

A few weeks ago, i was back in Gijón for the opening of Elastic Reality at the Laboral Art Center. The show looks at how artists are representing, commenting on and reacting to the shift in our understanding of the world brought about by technical innovations and in particular by our permanent state of 'connectedness.' I'll write with more details about the exhibition in the coming days but right now, i wanted to bring the spotlight on a work i found particularly impressive and thought-provoking.

In Tarnac. Le chaos et la grâce, Joachim Olender explores a police and judicial blunder that hit France in November 2008 when a group of policemen wearing black balaclavas stormed into the small village of Tarnac and arrested a group of people who were later accused of being far-left terrorists plotting to overthrow the state.

0Police-in-the-remote-vill-001.jpg
Police swooped on Tarnac at dawn and arrested four men and five women, aged 22 to 34, over terrorist claims. Photograph: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP/Getty Images (via)

Known as the Tarnac Nine, these people were in particular accused of incidents of vandalism on France's high-speed railway lines, which caused delays but no casualties. The case was characterized by a lack of proof against the 'terrorists'. The whole case against them was built on two things. The first was that the 'ringleader' Julien Coupat and his girlfriend had allegedly been seen by police near a train line that was later vandalised. The second one was an anonymous tract against capitalism and modern society titled The Coming Insurrection which the police believed was authored by Coupat.

Joachim Olender's explores the affair through a set of a video-installation and an animaiton film. In one room, three screens hanging side by side show the images that the artist took on the 'scenes of the crime' and these images are pretty unspectacular: empty landscapes, desolate roads, farms in Tarnac, railways and dirty snow. A small room contains the second part of the installation: an animation film charting the various episodes of the affair, from the arrest to a discussion in the French Parliament. In the animation, the Tarnac Nine are wearing masks, they never utter a word and move quietly.

0a8tarnac0e1237.jpg
Joachim Olender, Tarnac

0i8lechaosetlagrace702.jpg
Joachim Olender, Tarnac

I found the project very moving. The story of the Tarnac Nine was obviously gripping, especially as i discovered it right when i was watching the final episodes of the TV series Spiral which was also dealing with social revolutions, acts of sabotages and the far-left in its various guises. But the way the artist dealt with the issue was also clever: he set the pace, exposed what have been called 'the facts' but let us draw our own conclusions. There's an air of mystery, an ambiguity that kept me glued to the installation's screens.

That's why i wanted to interview the artist and in case you'd rather read his answers in original language, you can scroll down and read Joachim's answers in french.

Hi Joachim! Why did you decide to explore the Tarnac affair? Why this particular story?

The first image i recall evokes an American blockbuster. The headline of Libération on December 3, 2003 was Tarnac, des terroristes vraiment? ("Tarnac, are they really terrorists?"). You see men wearing black balaclavas storming into a village. There were talks of terrorism everywhere so i assumed they were terrorists. Later on, I realized they were cops. But i found the confusion striking and it stayed with me ever since.

I starter collecting all the articles i could get my hands on. There was something peculiar that bothered me in this affair, I just didn't know what it was exactly. But my intuition told me that I needed to dig deeper into the story. Time passed, I worked on other projects and I came back to it in the Summer of 2011.

I was stricken by the unresolved issue, the dark stain right in the middle of the photo, the one that conceals a crucial element, the one that prevents the case to be closed and that builds up a myth instead.

Everything brought me back to a fiction, a story that needed to be told in order to expose its absurdity. I had the feeling that there was material, a breeding ground for reflection but above all, there was a dimension i could not grasp, a dimension that would not be grasped. The more i delved, the more obvious it was to me that the investigation was futile. It wasn't that the truth (the legal truth, the truth of the facts) couldn't be proved. To me, the issue was elsewhere. There were elements in the story that prevented me from moving on and that gradually made their roots into my projects, to the point of becoming its very core. Like a trick, an ambush that would become the making and the re-making of the affair. And of my film.

0Joachim Olender Tarnac1.jpg
View of the exhibition at LABoral. Photo LABoral/Marcos Morilla

Can you tell us about the material you used to research, document, prepare the installation? Did you meet some of the protagonists? Use mostly information found in mainstream media?

The issue of the sources is probably the one that matters the most to me. In 2008, a few months before the arrest of these young people in Tarnac, a very engaged philosophical and political essay titled "L'insurrection qui vient" (The Coming Insurrection) authored by an invisible collective. People in power got scared by that book and decreed that the authors were young "anarcho-autonomous" people from Tarnac. They pointed to links between extracts from the book and the sabotage of TGV (high-speed train) lines and attempted to claim that these acts of sabotage were in fact acts of terrorism.

In other words, the book was a bomb and its authors were terrorists. There were also plenty of press articles about the affair, many of them were published in Mediapart. I was reading everything i could get my hands on. I remember one article in particular: Pourquoi l'affaire de Tarnac nous concerne tous ("Why the Tarnac Affair matters to all of us.") It was written by Edwy Plenel (the President of Mediapart) on April 25, 2009. He explains with great clarity (a rare occurrence in this affair) that the issue with the Tarnac affair was the violation of vital democratic principles and that it should matter to each of us, even if and especially if we didn't agree with the ideas brought forward with the main protagonists.

That was precisely what needed to be told.

No matter what they were thinking, what they had written and even no matter what they had done, as long as their guilt had not been proven, they were entitled to the presumption of innocence. Strangely enough, what was important to me what not so much to figure out whether they were guilty or not. But the problem is that once the presumption of innocence is violated, it's too late and those in power have won because in people's minds, these guys are guilty.

I later got in touch with David Dufresne, a former journalist who had followed the Tarnac Affair for Mediapart. At the time, in November 2011, he was finishing his book "Tarnac, Magasin général" (Tarnac, General Store.) I wrote him a long email, i wanted to submit my twisted vision to someone who had a good understanding of the affair. I needed to know whether i was completely mistaken or not. Everything was quite confusing at the time. And that's probably this chaos that i found so compelling. I found it totally unreal.

Reading Dufresne's book taught me a lot about the affair. At the start of the affair, in late 2008, i read the texts and essays authored by the Tiqqun collective but often attributed to the Invisible Committee, the authors of The Coming Insurrection.

I didn't want to interview the protagonists and enforce their desire of discretion. But i wrote them, to say that i was coming to Tarnac and that I would have liked to meet them. They confirmed my intuition by answering that they'd rather remain in the shadow. While i was there, i met one of the defendants. We said we'd meet again to talk. But then it snowed so much, it was so cold. I never saw her again.

That's it for the sources. I should add that, although I was originally trained as a lawyer, i became an artist. Unlike the lawyer or the journalist who follows an affair, i can chose to feed exclusively on confusions, incoherence, gaps, cracks and on my own intuition. Instead of using what appears, i exploit what doesn't appear. Since nothing was clear in this affair, i decided to produce my own archives. That's why the virtual film is a document like any other document, although it has been built from scratch. It reveals the deception as much as it conveys the essence of the affair: the reconstitution. My film and installation became secondary sources. So while i was revealing the deception, i was also contributing to it and keeping the myth alive.

Another thing: i wrote a scenario, based on 'real facts.' And i say 'real facts' because that is where the impossibility of telling the story started. Facts are inherently real but, in the Tarnac affair, every single element seemed to be debatable. To the point that my documentary project was, right from the start, distorted. Nipped in the bud. So this impossibility was what i worked on. No evidence, no trace, nothing. Just books. And that's fundamental, the main source used by the government, the one they regarded as 'evidence' was a book.

Joachim Olender, Tarnac

Now i'm also curious about the form that the installation takes. First, there's a 3 screen installation showing images you shot on location. And in an adjacent room, video game images chart the whole affair in complete silence, with members of the Tarnac Nine wearing masks. Why did you chose to show explore the subject this way? Why are the protagonists silent? Why using both videos of the location and virtual images?

I wanted to fragment. The double installation sets a kind of mirror. I wanted to create an off-camera, separate the points of view. Each film is the counterpart of the other one. On the one hand, there's what appears to be real. On the other one, the virtual. Whichever reality we choose to see remains amputated. It's as if neither of the videos was sufficient to tell the story but the only thing that could account for this was the double installation itself, its fragmentation, the division between the materials: the real and the virtual.

The working process was laborious. Each step, which had to fit into the project, acted as a basis for the following stages. I went shooting in Tarnac and Dhuisy (the location of the sabotage) with my cameraman and the editor who, because i couldn't afford to hire a sound engineer, had accepted to undertake the sound part as well. The idea was to make a "movie without a trace." I wanted to show the location of an affair that had shaken France. The places were obviously empty... The words of the accused had to be superposed to these images. I used extracts from the essays that were attributed to them as well as the superb interview with Julien Coupat (the main suspect in the Tarnac Affair) that was published in Le Monde on 26 May 2009, while he was still in prison where he would be detained for 6 months. Adding a voice-over was a way to confront the viewer. Because of the chaos, it was important to articulate certain things. You can always beat around the bush but the only things that seemed 'real' to me were their own words. They had to be heard. If you stay put and listen to the words, you are bound to ask yourself questions, it's a 'matter of sensitivity' (dixit Julien Coupat.)

The making of the video game was the most important part. During five months, i worked in Garry's mod, a video game software, with two 3D animators. Using my footage and the images from Google Earth, we made a reconstitution of Tarnac and Dhuisy. I wanted to make a film you didn't know how to enter. Just like in Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman, i felt that only animation could convey the real. The ideal suspect would be in place but nothing would happen. No action nor crime. Nothing. Only the direction would suggest the action. Twisting the video game universe, diverting it, hijacking the bugs, the constraints, the impossibility to manipulate the characters as one would wish, all these elements build up a kind of strangeness.

The peculiarity is that it was a real "virtual shooting." I placed the cameras inside the sets built with my graphic designers and I filmed the models of the characters. I worked shot by shot rather than frame by frame. My approach is thus, on this aspect, closer to cinema than to animation.

The idea of the mask came out of the anonymity of the protagonists. It was part of their ideology. The Invisible Committee wrote in The Coming Insurrection that "Being invisible is to be exposed.' They hardly ever accepted any interview. They were distrustful. Even when he was released from prison, Julien Coupat was in the truck of a car, to avoid meeting the press. Appearing in the case meant entering the political arena and the 'society of the spectacle.' The masks made them anonymous as much as it made them suspects. Besides, masks turned them into characters of the Commedia dell'arte. They had ended up in the spotlight and despite themselves, they kept the myth alive. Finally, it was also a way to play with the codes of the video game. The fact that everyone, the heroes and the villains, were wearing masks added to the general confusion in the film. I wasn't convinced of their innocence but it didn't matter to me anymore. However, i was convinced that the law had been violated. Even if the book had displeased those in power, that didn't make these guys terrorists. So I staged the abnormality, the fear, the figure of the guilty one, with a certain dose of irony so that viewers would ask themselves "But are they really guilty?" "What have they done exactly?"

The silence of the protagonists, just like the mask, plays on the ambiguity. It erases any trace of culpability while raising suspicion at the same time. Besides, this reflects the "truth" quite accurately since the defendants have almost never expressed themselves in this affair. That might have driven the government crazy. And that's probably what 'saved' them. But the voice-over of the triptych was devised to echo the animation film. Even if they don't have a face, their words are present, their texts haunt the film.

0joachinolender6e88888.jpg
Joachim Olender, Tarnac

0tarnacloxo1_1280.jpg
Joachim Olender, Tarnac

While working on this interview, i've been reading about the Tarnac Affair and trying to figure out where the "Tarnac Nine" are nowadays, if they have been cleared of the accusations, etc. But i couldn't find any satisfying answer. Information seems to stop in 2010. Has the State and the police formally apologized for the unjustified accusations? And what does the general public think? Do they still believe that the protagonists are guilty or is it now clear to everyone that there was little to no evidence to sustain the accusations?

I don't know the current legal situation of the defendants but i do know that these young people from Tarnac have long been (up to the time i was making the film at least) forbidden to leave the country and under judicial supervision. The situation is moving gradually. In November 2011, after the Tarnac Nine had accused the counter-terrorism police to have fabricated a counterfeit statement, the prosecutor of Nanterre opened an investigation for "forgery and use of forgery of public documents." In March 2012, the counter-terrorism examining magistrate, Thierry Fragnoli, is removed from the case. And on 24 October 2012 (four years after the start of the affair!), the newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that the credit card of Yildune Lévy, girlfriend and later on wife of Julien Coupat, had been used in Paris in the night of the 7th to the 8th of November 2008. Thus far away from Dhuisy, where the sabotage took place. The bank statement reports a withdrawal of 40 euros in Pigalle at 2.44am. Two days later, the Versailles Court of Appeal ordered the hearing of 18 policemen who had participated to the surveillance operation of the members of the Tarnac group. And, on 12 November 2012, Julien Coupat finally broke his silence and accepted to answer questions from journalists. "From now on, the only way we can disappear is by appearing," he explained. I'm not aware whether justice has pronounced a dismissal of the case.

As regards public opinion, i think it has evolved over the course of the affair. For the first three years, at the exception of Mediapart, only very little alternative information was published. I believe that unfortunately, when the press follows those in power and violates the presumption of innocence, people engulf themselves in that direction too. Libération, a newspaper widely regarded as 'left-wing' headlined "L'Ultra gauche déraille" (The Far-Left goes off the rails), they later changed their position but by then it was too late. I think that many people believed they were guilty. Especially because, as I explained earlier, the defendants themselves contributed to the mystery. By refusing to appear, for example.

Since the launch of the book "Tarnac, Magasin Général", the election of François Hollande and the latest legal elements of the case, the police blunder seems to be confirmed. But I doubt that the majority of the people really care.

As i said earlier, before choosing art, i studied law. It is clear that the question of the criminalization of 'terrorism' has concerned me a lot. Let's remember that the 'terrorists' of 1940 were regarded as hero after the Liberation. But you know, everything is connected. In a case like this one, you cannot chose on side and leave another one aside. The rest is just a matter of communication. I think that the viewer understands better when they do they own reasoning. They have to be free to understand.

There's this really interesting essay written in 2009 by Alberto Toscano for The Guardian. He argues the Tarnac Nine has demonstrated that we are losing "the political literacy, and the legal capacity, to distinguish between sabotage and terrorism, vandalism and mass murder, as every oppositional alternative to the status quo is swallowed up under the umbrella of terrorism. "

Was your work commenting on this kind of issue? Or did you want spectators to draw their own conclusion?

I wanted to highlight the absurdity of an affair that was built upon the publishing of a book. The criminalization of thought is a nightmare beyond understanding. It is pure literature (or, as you wrote, it is now worthy of a tv series.) It is Kafka's The Trial, George Orwell's 1984, it is science fiction. In Minority Report, Philip K. Dick imagines a society that hunts 'pre-crime', the crime before it has even been committed. Only fiction could make people reflect. Paradoxically, people regard it as a documentary work. But i wrote a screenplay based on facts that were entirely reinterpreted. What else was I supposed to do? What is real, apart from the books that i read and the mounting of a case no one knows anything about? The absence of traces or the way to create archive using fiction: that's the whole issue. What can you see in virtual reconstructions, in a video game? A piece of evidence? An archive?

Thanks Joachim!

Credits: scenario and direction of the animation film: Joachim Olender. Production: Le Fresnoy + Solilok asbl. 3D animation: Thomas Jorion and Alexis Fradier. Editing of the image: Yannick Leroy. Sound editing: Yann-Elie Gorans. Mixing: Simon Apostolou ; Calibration: Baptiste Evrard
Scenario and direction of the triptych: Joachim Olender. Production: Le Fresnoy + Solilok asbl. Voice-over: Soufian El Boubsi. Music: Pierre Hujoel. Image: Vincent Pinckaers. Sound: Yannick Leroy. Editing of the image: Yannick Leroy. Sound editing: Yann-Elie Gorans. Mixing: Simon Apostolou. Calibration: Baptiste Evrard.

------------
Now for the answers in french:

Why did you decide to explore the Tarnac affair? Why this particular story?

La première image dont je me souviens est celle d'un blockbuster américain. Le Libé du 3 décembre 2008 titrait "Tarnac, des terroristes vraiment?". On voit des mecs avec des cagoules noires qui débarquent dans un village. On parlait de terrorisme à tout bout de champ, j'ai donc pensé que c'était les terroristes. Ensuite, j'ai compris que c'était les flics. Mais cette confusion m'a marqué, et elle m'est restée.

Je me suis mis à collecter tous les articles que je trouvais. Il y avait quelque chose de particulier qui me préoccupait dans cette affaire, sans savoir quoi au juste, mais j'avais l'intuition qu'il y avait quelque chose à creuser. J'ai laissé passer du temps, j'ai travaillé sur d'autres projets et j'y suis revenu à l'été 2011. 

Ce qui m'avait interpellé, c'était la question non résolue, la tache sombre en plein milieu de la photo, celle qui dissimule un élément crucial, empêchant toute résolution de l'affaire et construisant, à la place, un mythe.

Tout me ramenait sans cesse à une fiction, une histoire qu'il fallait raconter afin d'en relater l'absurde. J'avais la sensation qu'il y avait là une matière, un terreau de réflexion mais surtout il y avait une dimension qui m'échappait, qui était là comme pour m'échapper. Plus je m'y plongeais, plus l'impossibilité m'apparaissait évidente et rendait à mes yeux l'enquête vaine. Non qu'il fut impossible de prouver la vérité (je veux dire juridique, des faits) mais la question à mes yeux n'était pas là. Il y avait comme des éléments qui m'empêchaient d'avancer et qui progressivement s'enracinaient dans mon projet, au point d'en devenir le noyau même. Comme une supercherie, un guet-apens qui serait la constitution et la re-constitution même de l'affaire. Et de mon film.

Can you tell us about the material you used to research, document, prepare the installation? Did you meet some of the protagonists? Use mostly information found in mainstream media?

La question des sources est sans doute l'une des plus importantes à mes yeux. Il y a eu en 2008, quelques mois avant l'arrestation des jeunes de Tarnac, la publication d'un essai de philosophie politique très engagé intitulé « L'insurrection qui vient » signé par un comité invisible. Les politiques ont pris peur face à ce livre et ont considéré que les auteurs étaient les jeunes « anarcho-autonomes » de Tarnac. Ils ont pointé des liens entre des passages du livre et les sabotages des lignes de TGV et ils ont tenté de qualifier les sabotages d'actes terroristes. Autrement dit, ce livre était une bombe et ses auteurs des terroristes.

Il y avait bien sûr les articles de presse sur l'affaire, dont nombreux publiés par Mediapart. Je lisais tout ce que je trouvais. Je me souviens en particulier d'un article d'Edwy Plenel (président de Mediapart) du 25 avril 2009 qui titrait « Pourquoi l'affaire de Tarnac nous concerne tous ». Il y expliquait de manière limpide (ce qui fut rare dans cette affaire) qu'il était question dans l'affaire de Tarnac de violation de principes démocratiques vitaux et combien cela nous concernait tous, même et surtout, si nous ne partagions pas les idées de ceux qu'elle mettait en cause. L'essentiel était dit. Quoi qu'ils aient pu penser ou écrire, et même quoi qu'ils aient pu faire, tant que leur culpabilité n'était pas démontrée, ils avaient droit à la présomption d'innocence. Etrangement, il n'était désormais plus question pour moi de chercher à savoir s'ils étaient coupables. Mais le problème, c'est qu'une fois que la présomption d'innocence est bafouée, c'est trop tard, les politiques ont gagné, parce que dans l'esprit des gens, ils sont coupables.

Ensuite, je suis entré en contact avec David Dufresne, ancien journaliste chez Mediapart qui avait couvert l'affaire de Tarnac. Au moment où je lui ai écrit, en novembre 2011, il achevait son livre « Tarnac, Magasin général ». Je lui ai écrit un long email afin de confronter ma vision tordue auprès de quelqu'un qui connaissait bien l'affaire. J'avais besoin de savoir si je ne me plantais pas complètement. Il faut dire qu'à l'époque tout était très confus. Et c'est probablement ce chaos qui m'avait attiré. J'y voyais quelque chose de totalement irréel.

J'ai donc lu le livre de Dufresne qui m'a beaucoup appris sur l'affaire mais surtout, dès le début de l'affaire fin 2008, j'avais lu les textes et essais du collectif Tiqqun, qu'on attribue généralement au Comité invisible, auteur de « L'insurrection qui vient ».
Je ne voulais pas interroger les protagonistes, ça me semblait aller totalement contre leur désir de discrétion. Je leur ai quand même écrit en leur disant que j'allais venir à Tarnac et que j'aurais aimé les rencontrer. Ils ont confirmé mon intuition en me disant qu'ils préféraient rester dans l'ombre. Quand j'étais là bas, j'ai croisé une des inculpées. On s'est dit qu'on se reverrait pour parler. Et puis il a beaucoup neigé, il faisait très froid, et je ne l'ai jamais revue.

Ça c'est pour mes sources. Je dois préciser que, bien qu'ayant à l'origine une formation de juriste, je suis devenu artiste. Contrairement à l'avocat ou au journaliste qui couvre une affaire, je peux exclusivement me nourrir des confusions, des incohérences, des manques, des failles et de mes intuitions. Plutôt que de me servir de ce qui apparaît, j'exploite ce qui n'apparaît pas. Puisque rien n'était clair dans l'affaire, j'ai décidé de produire mes propres archives. En cela, le film virtuel prend la forme d'un document comme un autre, bien que construit de toute pièce. C'est une manière de révéler la supercherie et, en même temps, je transmets l'essence de l'affaire : la reconstitution. Mon film et mon installation devenaient des sources secondaires. Ainsi tout en la révélant, je contribuais à la supercherie, je faisais exister le mythe.

Autre chose : j'ai écrit un scénario, tiré de « faits réels ». Je précise « faits réels » parce que l'impossibilité du récit commençait là. Les faits sont par nature réels mais, dans l'affaire de Tarnac, chaque élément semblait discutable. Le « réel » n'apparaissait jamais de manière évidente. Au point que mon projet documentaire était en quelque sorte déjà faussé, comme tué dans l'œuf. C'est donc là-dessus que je suis mis à travailler, sur cette impossibilité. Pas de preuve, pas de trace, rien. Excepté des livres. Et ça c'est fondamental, la source principale de l'Etat, qu'ils ont considéré comme un élément de « preuve », était un livre.

Now i'm also curious about the form that the installation takes. First, there's a 3 screen installation showing images you shot on location. And in an adjacent room, video game images chart the whole affair in complete silence, with members of the Tarnac Nine wearing masks. Why did you chose to show explore the subject this way? Why are the protagonists silent? Why using both videos of the location and virtual images? 

J'ai voulu fragmenter. Le dispositif double installe une sorte de miroir. Je voulais créer un hors champ, disjoindre les points de vue. Chaque film est le pendant de l'autre. D'un côté ce qui semble être le réel, de l'autre le virtuel. Quelle que soit la réalité que l'on décide de voir, elle reste amputée. C'est comme si aucune des deux vidéos ne suffisaient à raconter l'affaire mais que la seule chose qui pouvait en rendre compte ce serait le dispositif même, sa fragmentation, le partage entre différents matériaux, réel et virtuel.
Le processus de travail a été laborieux. Chaque étape, qui devait s'intégrer au projet, servait de base aux étapes suivantes. Je suis parti en tournage à Tarnac et à Dhuisy (le lieu des sabotages) avec mon chef op et mon monteur qui, à défaut d'argent pour payer un ingé son, avait accepté de prendre le son. L'idée était de faire un « film sans traces ». Je voulais montrer les lieux de cette affaire qui avait fait trembler la France. Bien sûr c'était des lieux déserts... Et sur ces images, il fallait qu'on entende les paroles des inculpés. J'ai pris des extraits des essais qu'on leur attribue ainsi que de l'entretien magnifique de Julien Coupat (principal suspect dans l'affaire de Tarnac) paru dans Le Monde du 26 mai 2009, alors qu'il était encore détenu dans la prison où il est resté six mois. Instaurer une voix off, c'était une manière de confronter le spectateur. Vu le chaos qui régnait, il fallait à un moment choisir de dire les choses. On peut toujours tourner autour du pot mais la seule chose qui me paraissait « vraie », c'était leur parole. Et il fallait qu'ils soient entendus. Si on reste et qu'on écoute ce qui est dit, on est forcément interpellé, c'est une « affaire de sensibilité » (dixit Julien Coupat).

La création du « jeu vidéo » a été la plus importante. Pendant cinq mois, j'ai travaillé dans Garry's mod, un logiciel de jeu vidéo, avec deux animateurs 3D. A partir de mes rushes et d'images tirées de Google Earth, nous avons opéré une reconstitution de Tarnac et Dhuisy. Je voulais réaliser un film qu'on ne sache pas par quel bout saisir. Comme dans « Valse avec Bachir » de Ari Folman, j'avais l'impression qu'il fallait passer par l'animation pour dire le réel. L'idée était de mettre en place le suspect idéal mais que rien ne se passe. Aucune action. Aucun crime. Rien. Seule la mise en scène qui le suggère. Venir tordre l'univers du jeu vidéo, le détourner, s'approprier les bugs, les contraintes successives, les impossibilités de faire faire ce que l'on veut aux personnages, tout cela crée une forme d'étrangeté.

La particularité, c'est qu'il s'agit d'un véritable "tournage virtuel". Je pose des caméras dans les décors reconstitués avec mes graphistes et je filme les personnages qu'on a modélisés. Je travaille donc plan par plan et non image par image. Ma démarche est donc, de ce point de vue, plus proche du cinéma que de l'animation.

L'idée du masque est née de l'anonymat des protagonistes de l'affaire. Cela faisait partie de leur idéologie : « être visible, c'est être à découvert » écrit le comité invisible dans « L'insurrection qui vient ». IIs n'acceptaient pas, ou très peu, d'interviews. Ils étaient très méfiants. Même en sortant de prison, Julien Coupat est sorti dans le coffre d'une voiture, évitant ainsi les rencontres avec les medias. Apparaître dans l'affaire, c'était rentrer dans le jeu du politique et dans la « société de spectacle ». Les masques, ça les rendait anonymes mais ça les rendait suspects aussi, et puis ça en faisait des acteurs de la Comedia del arte. Ils avaient fini au coeur du spectacle. Malgré eux, ils faisaient vivre le mythe. Et puis, c'était tout simplement une manière de jouer avec les codes du jeu vidéo. Les « bons et les méchants », tous masqués, ça ramenait la confusion générale au sein du film.

Je n'étais pas convaincu de leur innocence, mais ça n'avait plus aucune importance pour moi. En revanche, j'étais convaincu que le droit avait été violé. Le livre pouvait déplaire au pouvoir, ça n'en faisait pas des terroristes. Donc j'ai mis en scène l'étrange, la peur, la figure du coupable, avec une certaine ironie, pour que le spectateur s'interroge « mais sont-ils vraiment coupables ? qu'ont-ils fait au juste ? ».

Le silence des protagonistes, comme le masque d'ailleurs, joue sur l'ambigüité : il efface toute trace de culpabilité et en même temps accroît la suspicion. D'autre part, c'est assez proche de la « vérité » puisque les inculpés se sont très peu exprimés au sein même de l'affaire. C'est d'ailleurs ce qui a pu rendre les politiques fous. Et c'est sans doute ce qui les a « sauvés »... En revanche, la voix off du triptyque a été pensée en écho au film d'animation. Même sans visage, leur parole est donc présente. Leurs textes hantent le film.

While working on this interview, i've been reading about the Tarnac Affair and trying to figure out where the "Tarnac Nine" are nowadays, if they have been cleared of the accusations, etc. But i couldn't find any satisfying answer. Information seems to stop in 2010. Has the State and the police formally apologized for the unjustified accusations? And what does the general public think? Do they still believe that the protagonists are guilty or is it now clear to everyone that there was little to no evidence to sustain the accusations?

Je ne connais pas la situation juridique actuelle des inculpés mais je sais que les jeunes de Tarnac ont été longtemps (encore lorsque je réalisais ce projet) interdits de quitter le territoire et sous contrôle judiciaire. Progressivement, on a pu voir quelques évolutions. En novembre 2011, suite à l'accusation par les jeunes de Tarnac de la police antiterroriste d'avoir rédigé un PV mensonger, le parquet de Nanterre a ouvert une information judiciaire pour « faux et usage de faux en écriture publique ». En mars 2012, le juge d'instruction antiterroriste Thierry Fragnoli s'est dessaisi de l'affaire. Et enfin, le 24 octobre 2012 (quatre ans après le début de l'affaire !), le journal Le Canard enchaîné a révélé que la carte bancaire de Yildune Lévy, compagne et depuis lors épouse de Julien Coupat, avait été utilisée à Paris dans la nuit du 7 au 8 novembre 2008, donc loin de Dhuisy, le lieu du sabotage. Un retrait bancaire fait état d'un retrait de 40 euros à Pigalle à 2h44. Deux jours après, la Cour d'appel de Versailles ordonnait l'audition de 18 policiers ayant participé à la surveillance des membres du groupe. Et, le 12 novembre 2012, Julien Coupat a pour la première fois brisé le silence et accepté de répondre aux questions des journalistes. « Désormais, la seule façon de disparaître, c'est d'apparaître" s'expliquait-il. Je n'ai pas connaissance que la justice ait déjà prononcé le non-lieu.
Concernant l'opinion générale, je pense qu'elle a dû évoluer au cours de l'affaire. Pendant les trois premières années, excepté sur Mediapart, il y avait très peu de contre-information. Je pense malheureusement que quand les medias suivent le politique et bafouent la présomption d'innocence, les citoyens suivent. (Libération, journal communément considéré à gauche, avait titré le 12 novembre 2008 : « L'ultra gauche déraille » pour ensuite revenir sur sa position mais c'était trop tard). Je pense que beaucoup ont du penser qu'ils étaient coupables. Surtout, comme je l'ai écrit plus haut, que les inculpés créaient le mystère, notamment par leur refus d'apparaître. Depuis la sortie du livre de David Dufresne « Tarnac, Magasin général », l'élection de François Hollande, ainsi que les derniers éléments judiciaires de l'affaire, la bavure semble avérée. Mais en réalité je pense que la plupart des gens ne se sentent pas concernés.

There's this really interesting essay written in 2009 by Alberto Toscano for The Guardian. He argues the Tarnac Nine has demonstrated that we are losing "the political literacy, and the legal capacity, to distinguish between sabotage and terrorism, vandalism and mass murder, as every oppositional alternative to the status quo is swallowed up under the umbrella of terrorism. "

Was your work commenting on this kind of issue? Or did you want spectators to draw their own conclusion?

Comme je l'ai dit plus haut, avant de me tourner vers l'art, j'ai fait des études de droit. Il est évident que la question de la qualification pénale de « terrorisme » m'a beaucoup préoccupé dans cette affaire. Souvenons-nous que les « terroristes » de 40 ont été considérés comme des héros à la Libération. Mais vous savez, tout est lié. Dans une affaire pareille, on ne peut pas prendre une partie et en délaisser une autre. Le reste, c'est une question de « comment transmettre ». Je pense que le spectateur ne comprend jamais aussi bien que quand il fait son propre trajet. Il faut qu'il soit libre de comprendre.

J'ai voulu mettre en évidence l'absurdité d'une affaire qui s'est bâtie sur la publication d'un livre. L'incrimination de la pensée est un cauchemar qui échappe à l'entendement. C'est de la pure littérature (ou, comme vous l'écrivez, c'est aujourd'hui digne de séries télévisées). On est dans Le procès de Kafka, dans 1984 de Georges Orwell, on est dans de la science fiction. Dans Minority Report, Philip K. Dick imagine une société où l'on traque le « Précrime », c'est-à-dire avant que le crime ne soit commis. Seule la fiction pouvait faire réfléchir. Et paradoxalement, les gens y voient un documentaire. Pourtant j'ai écrit un scénario à partir de faits totalement réinterprétés. Comment aurais-je pu faire autrement ? Qu'est-ce qui est réel finalement, à part les livres que j'ai lus et le montage d'une affaire dont on ne sait rien ? L'absence de traces ou comment créer une archive avec de la fiction, voilà l'enjeu. Peut-on voir dans des reconstitutions virtuelles, dans un jeu vidéo, un élément de preuve, une archive ?

Merci Joachim!

Crédits:
Film d'animation
scénario et réalisation : Joachim Olender ; production : Le Fresnoy et Solilok asbl ; animation 3D : Thomas Jorion et Alexis Fradier ; montage image : Yannick Leroy ; montage son : Yann-Elie Gorans ; mixage : Simon Apostolou ; étalonnage : Baptiste Evrard
Triptyque
scénario et réalisation : Joachim Olender ; production : Le Fresnoy et Solilok asbl ; voix off : Soufian El Boubsi ; musique : Pierre Hujoel ; image : Vincent Pinckaers ; son : Yannick Leroy ; montage image : Yannick Leroy ; Mmontage son : Yann-Elie Gorans ; mixage : Simon Apostolou ; étalonnage : Baptiste Evrard

_4615-2040.jpg
Kingyo Kingdom, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, i took the bus with the Arts Catalyst in the direction of Southampton to see Transformism, an exhibition and symposium that explore the new forms and systems of life that men have devised in the past and even more dramatically in present days, using the latest advances in science and technology.

The exhibition space is occupied by 2 new pieces commissioned by the Arts Catalyst to Melanie Jackson and Revital Cohen. The works investigate with radically different results how cultural archetypes and ideas interweave with science and technology to create new shapes, visual forms and structures.

_4090-Edit-2040.jpg
Kingyo Kingdom, 2013 (amateur breeder)

_4173-2040.jpg
Kingyo Kingdom, 2013 (domestic farm)

_4256-2040.jpg
Kingyo Kingdom, 2013 (domestic farm)

The most moving work in the show is Kingyo Kingdom which continues Revital Cohen's research into animal design and more explicitly the reasons why some animals are regarded by men as being more of an object or a 'living product' than a pet. Two years ago, Revital looked at the SERT Knock-out rat, a laboratory rat genetically designed to be constantly depressed. This new work investigates the culture surrounding the Ranchu fish, an exotic goldfish developed over centuries in Japan to present strict aesthetic criteria. Bred with meticulous attention as if they were Bonsai, the fish are designed to be viewed from above. For that reason, they were cultured to have kimono-like tails and no dorsal fins. Any fish that does not correspond to the strict aesthetic criteria (the vast majority of the fish) are simply thrown away.

The project questions the definitions used to indicate living creatures. Does one denominate a manipulated organism as an object, product, animal or pet? What consequences does this entail for our feelings and behaviours?

The documentary Kingyo Kingdom shows the first stage of the research, it depicts the economy, ceremonials and culture that turn Japanese goldfish into ornamental and prized objects. The most striking images (at least for me) show goldfish being bagged, packed and sent away to be shipped and sold.

Kingyo Kingdom - preview from COHEN VAN BALEN on Vimeo.

_4148-2040.jpg
Kingyo Kingdom, 2013 (annual goldfish competition)

_4598-2040.jpg
Kingyo Kingdom, 2013 (annual goldfish competition)

_4314-2040.jpg
Kingyo Kingdom, 2013 (annual goldfish competition)

_4310-2040.jpg
Kingyo Kingdom, 2013 (annual goldfish competition)

The other work in the exhibition is Urpflanze (Part 2), part of Melanie Jackson's investigation into mutability and transformation that takes its lead from Goethe's concept of an imaginary primal plant, the Urpflanze, that contained coiled up within it the potential to unfurl all possible future forms.

The Crafting Life - Materiality, Science and Technology symposium accompanied the opening of the exhibition. And hurray! the talks have been uploaded on vimeo.

The first speaker was social scientist Dr Emma Roe whose research explores 'how things become food.' You'll never look at a piece of pork in your plate the same way after you've heard what her talk.

Crafting Life: Dr Emma Roe 26 Jan 13 from The Arts Catalyst on Vimeo.

Prof Susanne Kuechler gave a brilliant brilliant talk about immanence, societies living in the Pacific, textures of the landscape and other topics i don't usually get to hear about.

Crafting Life Prof Susanne Kuechler 26 Jan 13 from The Arts Catalyst on Vimeo.

Finally, Prof Raymond Oliver talked about materials that become intelligent and damn! that went fast and furious. I was particularly surprised by the slide that brings side by side the year in which a new technology was conceived and the year in which it was effectively realized.

Crafting Life Prof Raymond Oliver 26 Jan 13 from The Arts Catalyst on Vimeo.

You can download the catalogue of Transformism.

The exhibition is at John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton until 9 March 2013.

Related stories: The seratonin knock-out rat, Life Support - Could animals be transformed into medical devices? and How to design an Elvis mouse.

 1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9 
sponsored by: