Norient, un collectif spécialisé dans l’édition et les expositions ayant attrait à la musique et à l’image ont publié un beau coffee table book de 500 pages intitulé Seismographic Sounds – Visions of a New World consacré à l’art du clip et la mise en images de concepts.

L’équipe rédactionnelle m’a fait l’honneur de quelques pages dans le livre dans lesquelles je parle de mon clip pour Lusine et ou j’aborde, avec Thomas Burkhalter, des sujets plus éthiques et philosophiques sur le pouvoir des images.

L’entretien qui figure dans l’ouvrage est disponible dans la suite de cet article…

Blood on old Computers

Christophe Thockler made a video with blood. We discuss the importance and the potentical ethical limits of using original material and not blood.  Cyber Punk as the influential culture. 

Interviewer [0:00]: In your own words: How would you describe your «Arterial» video?

Christophe[0:17]: I wanted to make something dark and gloomy for a while now. Then electronica musician Jeff McIlwain aka Lusine from Seattle approached me, and he wanted to do a video with blood. My idea was to mix blood and computers and create what I call an electro-organic video. The aim was to let the viewer think about the meaning of the video: Is this a dark computer powered by blood? Or is the computer itself bleeding? It’s up to the viewer. I have my own idea, but everyone can make up his or her own story. 

Interviewer [1:27]: I see also a more metaphorical and maybe philosophical meaning, something like a war on or against computers? 

Christophe [1:47]: Yes. I love how we perceive computers and live with it in daily life. Years ago I read 1984 by George Orwell and became fascinated by his dystopian world. I like the idea that in one hundred years maybe people are going to be biomechanical enhanced – I find the thought both amazing and creepy. I like the dichotomy of human and computer and the thought that everything is a mix. I also like to think that, at the end of the video, when then credits show up, everything you saw was just the process of powering those simple credits. … There is this great shot in the Japanese cartoon Ghost in the Shell, Someone is typing a text on a computer, and suddenly all his fingers are multiplicating with hundreds of ramifications to be able to type really really fast. I like this link to cyber punk culture where human and machines melt.

Interviewer [4:40]: What is the most fascinating vision for you in Cyber Punk? 

Christophe [4:53]: I really like the dystopian elements in Cyber Punk, the dark side where the human is slowly reduced or eliminated. You just exchange a part of your brain or enhance your sight, and you become a simple spied number working for a big conglomerate. Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948. It is striking and frightening how real his vision is today. In fifty years I hope the good side of technology will succeed. The dark potential of technology however is interesting as well.

Interviewer [6:30]: So to which extent is this video ‘just’ art for you, to which extent is it a political statement? Or is it parody? You said that the whole video just serves the purpose to, in the end, show the credits in great light? Is it maybe a parody on superficial, nonsense culture?

Christophe [6:58]: You know, I like the idea that this is entertainment only. Vimeo selected our video and highlighted it, my work is sometimes selected in exhibitions or awarded. Some people think it is something interesting and it pleases me. I must say that each time someone likes what I am doing, I feel really proud… however, we are only humans doing small things. It’s just a four minutes video, and in the end you can read the credits that may be the result of these 4 minutes you’ve just seen, so, yes, there is also sometimes this kind of very subtile humor in my work. 

Interviewer [8:21]: And still, is it fun only?  

Christophe [8:29]: It is both. I feel that there is less and less poetry today. I really enjoyed the movies of the 1980s. In the box office you could find movies like Jacobs Ladder and Blade Runner, amazing movies made by real passionate handymen, movies full of mystery, onirism and poetry. Today, most movies are romantic comedies, drama – with couples in their kitchen fighting on who betrayed who – or stupid super heroes flicks. It’s all so dull, and I miss the imaginary worlds and visions that people were creating in the 1980s. My work is therefore not very narrative, to let the viewer create his proper diegesis with what I give to him. It is my small and humble tribute to poetry and imagination. 

Interviewer [10:33]: As you said, one can read many things into it. In our upcoming book I would like to put your video and this interview in the war and violence section. Am I completely nuts? 

Christophe [11:24]: No, I really I like violence in fiction. It is a sort of catharsis. When it takes place in a fiction work, you can have these bursts of violence, and then you can relax again. So yes, with this video I wanted to make something gloomy, with a lot of blood. The blood, the use of light in the movie, the destroyed computers, and the editing itself are quite violent. In my other videos too, I like to create war between images. I like the violence of editing –sudden light, or short slow sequences next to fast pace moments. Similar to some early silent movies like, you know, the work of Serguei Eisensteinand directors like that. In the 1920s they understood that putting images next to each other could be an act of violence, a strong statement. You play with the mind of the viewer without telling him or her. For example the amazing silent movie The Man with the Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov is playing with juxtapositions of images to create a sort of painting of the Russian lifestyle of the moment. You see the beauty of life and suddently atrocities of the world. You feel the power of the image. And this is something I always want to say: The power of art and images can be much more violent than an act of war. It can be much more subtle. But if it manages to contain something that is really clever it can hit a much more larger target. 

Interviewer [15:01]: Do you think a work of art can change things? 

Christophe [15:18]: Yeah I really think it can change things.  Most important is that it can change a human. Some works of art changed me. I was a different person after I had seen certain movies or images.

Moreover, take the recent exemple of feminism. We witness the violent and provocative acts of the Femen group, but I don’t really think it serves well the cause of women. Recently, George Miller released his new Mad Max movie, a fictional work with strong themes like patriarchy, feminism, ecology… Guess what? Everybody was talking about these subjects in all the reviews, and with kind words. Art can be war, art IS war! 

Interviewer [16:08]: Lets go back to your video. Why did you work with blood? 

Christophe [16:56]: I believe that you have to respect the material. So, I used real ox blood. I think it was a bit of a militant act to use real blood, and I wanted to go real. I went to a butcher shop and asked for ox blood. He looked at me strangely, ‘You are vampire or some kind of?’ I said, ‘No, no! I am just a director.’ It was great but very difficult to work with real blood. You can keep it in the fridge for several days, but then working with it is very difficult. I used this ox blood, I wanted to magnify it in a way, when you see it in the video, it’s not the part when the blood is burned, it’s not the part when the blood is mixed with something other, it’s just some shots in the video, for exemple, when you see a sort of catalytic tube that is filled with blood.  Here is the real ox blood.  I wanted to have it in a sort of cocoon and not mix with the blood that is destruct. No one will see it but I know it, and it makes the difference for me.  

Interviewer [18:53]: Do you believe that there could be ethical questions to work with blood? 

Christophe [18:59]: Yeah, I think so some people can be shocked to learn that I used real blood. At the beginning I was hesitating if I should tell people if it is real blood or not. I finally decided to tell it, because it’s the thing you are seeing in the video. I don’t like to lie about it. But be sure, I really really love animals, it was just blood from a butcher shop, blood that we eat, or that might have been thrown away. I like to think that, I even maybe made something for this animal that was killed. While the poor animal is dead, his blood became part of a work of art. I used his blood with respect, and a little print of this animal will forever be in this video. 

Interviewer [22:06]: There is this Lebanese collective for Free Improvised Music that shot their promo picture in a slaughterhouse. You see them standing around a dead cow hanging from the ceiling, and there is a lot of blood too. It stunk so much that they had to run out of the slaughterhouse quickly after the shooting.

Christophe [23:00]: I love visceral art when it manage to reach a certain aspect of beauty. I wanted to try real blood too, like they also did in the movie Alien. Giger had designed the set with real bones and he went, like I did, to a butcher shop to get them. In the film you see real bones. After two days of shooting with the hot lights they had, the set was stinking, and people were disgusted. I also experienced this and I don’t think I will work with organic things for a moment! This video is also a kind of tribute to many movies of the 1980s. David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is obvious, but it’s also a tribute to japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto, John Carpenter’s The Thing, the Alien movie and many more.

Interviewer [24:51]: In Videodrome the video say ‘Television is reality and reality is less than television’. Is your work in any way linked to this idea?

Christophe [25:20]: Yes, this is a bit what I told you about the credits in the end of the video. What are you looking at? You are looking at some sort of visceral elements mixed with electronics, but it remains unclear what this is all about. The reason for the video might be to just show the credits in the end. The reality here is up to you. You see blood, electric wires, and everything is melting. Is the machine working, connecting, or is it being destroyed? I did a similar video with ice, and again you can read in it what you like. I always take the compass as an example. When I see a compass, I don’t see just the compass. I see myself using the compass when I was a kid in school (last time I used one I think). To me, objects are linked to memories, so memory is linked to what we see, and nowadays, we watch screens all time! For people, blood can be fear, something they try to ignore, or something beautiful. Blood also represents life. Some people told me that my video is celebrating life. I loved this comment. People can play with my images, this is the aim. I prefer this kind of « art for art » to the one that makes clear in your face statements. To answer your question, I’ll quote Peter Gabriel in his Growing Up Tour, talking about a song depicting all the wrong aspects of trash tv : “First of all we were told we are what we eat. Then in the Renaissance we were told we are what we wear. In this millenium, we are what we watch!”

Interviewer [31:22]: If I would suggest that your video could be a vision of a new or a different world, what would you say? 

Christophe [31:38]: Yeah, this brings me back to Cyber Punk and the embodiment of  the machine and the human. I work alone with small materials.  If I had the money, I of course would have done something a bit more bigger perhaps with human, in order to explore these kind of things but there are movies I really love that are great Cyber Punk flicks that can go a little bit further than what we see and deal with the virtuality and all these kind of things.  There is Nirvana by Gabriele Salvatores, an amazing film. It deals with themes that we also know from the mainstream movie The Matrix. Are machines ruling the world? And it contains also elements of a dystopian future. When art can produce that many questions I really love it. And yes, Cyber Punk is mostly very dystopia. When you watch art that deals with so much question about humanity without depicting realistic elements, that’s the fun part, ans it’s even better if what we see is the pure awe. But it’s very often dark. I don’t know if some directors treated the Cyber Punk and electronic world in the future in a good way, you know all the movies about cyber punk are gloomy. In the movie Gattaca at the beginning everything is white, and after thirty minutes all become alienating and frightening.

Interviewer [34:10]: How do you work? What was the budget for Arterial

Christophe [34:21]: I work with small budgets, in general less than 5000 Euro. I like to work with small things that surround me, ordinary things, and try to put them in a new light. When someone comes to me with his or her music, I listen to it, analyze it, ask the musician if he or her has an idea, live with the music for a while, and then come up with a concept. Then, I usually do a few tests and explore. Then I mostly film with my Canon 60D camera, I use some light, but nothing big. At the moment I am working with small rocks. The goal is to make something interesting, a little bit playful, and create some metaphorical meaning – just with rocks. It’s really challenging and I really love this way of working. I always see myself as a small handyman, doing small things and its fun to do it that way, but with seriousness. I did not study this. Ten years ago doing just one music video was litteraly a dream, and now some of my videos are exhibited in museums. This is amazing. What’s important, is that people enjoy your work, and when they even write to you and ask questions like you do it is priceless. Because my work is clearly a little bit of me. 

Interviewer [40:26]: How do you make your living? 

Christophe [40:32]: I have the chance to live with the work I do, 50% of videos, and 50%  of graphic design. I am also a freelance graphic designer and work for various companies. It’s at times very strange. I’m working with blood, the set is a mess, I am doing art for a music video… and then, someone from a serious corporate company calls to talk about a project of design for a lawyer company. I really like this plurality, because doing only music videos would be really exhausting too, and like this, it really stays a passion. Fingers crossed, but I manage to live from my art, I hope it will last!