SCREEN: what must one know by Robin Vanbesien

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Film by: Robin Vanbesien

Title: what must one know

Screening: May 20 – June 10, 2015

With: Ricardo Ambrozio, Luke Jessop

Year: 2013-2015

Duration: 16′

Camera: Amir Borenstein

What must one know in order to renounce anything? The question engages a truth-game: a specific technique that persons use to understand themselves. For a free male youth in ancient Athens or a medieval monk such a technique of the self would have the purpose of producing truth (as Foucault describes so carefully in Technologies of the Self). But when the muted voice-over in this video work wants to know, (s)he starts to wonder if the repeated question itself is not a hoax that simulates its own purpose as it searches for a deep image in between flat screens.

The act of scanning turns different materials of the real world into digital equations in order to render them in virtual screens. Scanning makes the mocha and lemon ice cream lose the difference in taste that the two flavors have in the real world (perhaps gladly, as it is not such a tasteful combination). The scan of a painting with ice-cream on the surface of a flatbed scanner is scratching the surface of a copying device whose black is the virtual nothing/anything that can be scanned, including the trace of a melting substance like ice-cream.

If I inform the viewer that this abstract painting results from squashing ice-cream on a flatbed scanner (and scanned, respectively), the image is physicalized through the fading sensation of cold and flavor in your mouth. Likewise, devouring fire is another instance of dematerializing virtualization. But this time we might not feel our tongues burn from the sensual metaphor of ephemerality, but from the parodied obsolete figure of a street entertainer: Fire-eater, you eat fire all evening, you master that fire, …, I’ve seen you busy eating and eventually you don’t make enough money to eat anything.

Virtualization here is understood as the becoming of the substance as generic and indistinguishable. Virtualization is capable of rendering everything into a digital datum, so as to integrate it into a cheating, reactionary universe, in which production processes are predictable under all variable conditions.

The dance performance and the technical machinations in this video explore the self-sufficiency and abstraction of virtualization, but the method is parody. By dumbsizing a palpable substance in an exaggerated, sarcastic manner into a flat screen as if it were an abstract expressionist, sensualized and sexualized painting. Or, instead of scripting dancers in a choreography, I ask them to dance in response to a text, and their translation remains opaque to me: a contingency I do not suspect. In the filmed rehearsal in a studio where the two male dancers improvise a duel, they appear lost in improvisation. A fake dance-battle where movements are wasted, inefficient and idle: they do nothing to defeat or injure each other. At best their dance could be an ostentation of virile energy for no reason.

You can have everything. You can have the whole world. You can go everywhere. It is all yours. You don’t have to care about yourself. Foucault depicted the history of the care of the self as a shift from the imperative “take care of yourself” to “know yourself.” One could say that the imperative that animates techniques of the self currently is to “perform yourself.” The dancers – whatever-subjects – seem only to need to know that they should perform their virtuosic selves.

The abrupt end of the video from a to-and-fro loop motion of imbricating screens upon the video of a twilight, accompanied with idyllic kitsch melodramatic music from the 1950s films suspends a conclusive thought. If the screen is the infrastructure, or the material base of current cognitive capitalism, is it possible for thought to separate from the materials that condition it? Or, rather, is it possible for the self to separate from the materials that observe, desire and intensify this very same self? Quite a majestic vicious circle.

p.s.: I do not seek to motivate my aesthetic preferences, but indulge into the givenness of materials as a way of giving free reign to a contingent being-in-the-world. I let the materials play their own play, walk their own walk, so that we might begin to see potentiality in their distinction. In the face of generic, insufficient matter, we are to see, possibly.