Art Criticism

Maïder Fortuné: Whispering in Distant Chambers

Maïder Fortuné: Characters (Hamlet) (2008), in Whispering in Distant Chambers (Marine Aboucaya, 2008).
Exhibition review published in ArtReview (London), no. 23, June 2008, p. 159.


Taking on the title of Jacques Tourneur’s unfilmed 1966 screenplay Whispering in Distant Chambers – which tells the story of a multimillionaire who brings advanced recording technology into a haunted castle to test for signs of life after death – French artist Maïder Fortuné’s first show at Martine Aboucaya invites the viewers to experience the appeal of virtual presences. Exploring the essence of characters and fictions while questioning, through reduction, their fabrication and archetypal nature, the works on display aim to liberate images from their referent narratives.

In the sound installation Death Scene (2008), the viewer is confronted with a blank screen and left to fill in with his own imagination and memories while listening to the piano piece Death Scene (1913) by American composer J.S. Zamecnik. This score is one of the many he composed as bases for improvisational accompaniment during the heyday of silent cinema, for film theatre orchestras to quickly adapt themselves to any movie scene. Here the illustrative quality of music is isolated as a fabric for archetypes. For A venir (2008), Fortuné has realised four video portraits using ‘motion capture’ technology normally used to animate CGI characters from the movements of human actors. For the most singular part of the human body we are given constellations of impersonal data points that lie somewhere between the real faces they were calculated from and the possible fictive characters they haven’t become yet.

In Characters (2008), Hamlet, Antigone, Doctor Faustus and Salome are reduced to the sum total of letters contained in the spoken parts of each play’s title character – respectively 47,054, 7,075, 22,808 and 9,354, little black ceramic or carbonised characters gathered in glass boxes on pedestals. Despite the funerary aspect of these ash-and-urn-like pairings, Characters is an attempt to give a measurable body to fictive voices, a certain physical reality that remains as close as it can to the original medium while avoiding personification by actors. The video Curtain! (2007) is an endless procession of familiar cartoon and film heroes (Snow White, the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and so on) reduced to black silhouettes walking hesitantly in a heavy grey fog. Vivid colors and tales are totally erased as the figures mysteriously disappear in the background, melting into the haze of this immobile curtain made of dusty depth again and again.

The exhibition ends with Once, forever (2008), the video projection of a still image extracted from Albert Lewin’s 1945 film adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray which corresponds to the instant when Gray makes the wish of eternal youth. The normal projection of the film still would have burnt the image, while the video here allows the wish to come true. Finally, as an echo of Tourneur’s belief in parallel worlds, Fortuné’s in-betweens impose themselves: in between the partial loss of fictional content and the fiction to be imaginatively extended.


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