At the beginning of The Devil’s Drool (1959), the short story by Julio Cortázar on which Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up (1966) is based, the protagonist has trouble putting into words what has taken place in front of his camera: ‘the most difficult thing is going to be finding a way to tell it, and I’m not afraid of repeating myself. It’s going to be difficult because nobody really knows who is telling it, if I am I or what actually occurred …or if, simply, I’m telling a truth which is only my truth.’ Whatever has occurred, one never knows which reality one is dealing with – the one that is ‘out there’, and that can be faithfully depicted? Or a constructed reality, shaped by the medium of photography, say, or the narrator’s imagination? In Christopher Roth’s exhibition Blow Out, too, one faced multiple realities, and a question: What (not who) is telling the story here, and from which perspective?
The show centred on a film, also titled Blow Out (2016), screened in the smaller of the gallery’s two rooms on a concave display attached to a sleek tubular steel construction that protruded into the space, entitled Pilgrim Viewer (with Sam Chermayeff and Arno Brandlhuber, 2015). Designed as a viewing post, the main purpose of this construction was to keep the viewer at a calculated distance. The ten-minute film is set in the vicinity of La Cupola, a holiday home on Sardinia’s Costa Paradiso where Antonioni planned a getaway for himself and his lover Monica Vitti – although this never transpired, as the couple separated before La Cupola’s completion. Today, the massive, futuristic concrete dome, a ‘binishell’ (so-named after its architect Dante Bini), has fallen into disrepair.
In the film, a young woman walks towards the house. It cannot be Vitti – the woman is young and the footage is clearly recent – but nonetheless it’s as if these clips had emerged from Antonioni’s fantasy of a shared future with Vitti. The following intertitle – ‘Dear Antonioni, this is not a film about the past. When did we stop believing in the future?’ – immediately breaks with any nostalgia. The quotation is a eulogy in which Roland Barthes praised the director for, among others, repeatedly ‘defying the ghosts of modern subjectivity’. This is followed by archival footage of an interview with the young Vitti, the real one this time; then a different young woman, scantily clad, ascending a flight of stone stairs inside the house, followed by close-up shots of succulents and bizarre rock formations. And finally, we see Vera von Lehndorff, better known as Veruschka; first as a young model in a graceful pose, then Vera today inside the dome, dressed in the same leopard-print overalls she wears in a London party scene in Blow Up. But in Roth’s film we hear only the sound: the film’s main character Thomas asks Veruschka: ‘Weren’t you supposed to be in Paris?’ To which she, slightly bored, or more likely stoned, replies: ‘I am in Paris’.
This brief exchange is heard several times. It seems as though the film wishes to convey this koan as its main message. On the wall opposite in the exhibition, the phrase was even materialized as a neon sign, in red handwriting with a blue Eiffel Tower ‘A’ made of Murano glass. In the same room, a green circle was painted over the stucco on the ceiling – a small chroma key or green-screen corresponding to the dimensions of the opening at the apex of La Cupola, though also recalling the eye in the dome of the Pantheon in Rome. What was it meant to take in? The room’s large window was boarded up, like some of the windows of the dome in the film – in Sardinia, as protection from the elements, but here to darken the space. Thirteen more green-screen areas on the walls of the gallery’s larger room similarly referred to the windows and openings of La Cupola. Like geological anomalies, all of these green screens were titled with their exact GPS coordinates. From the inside of the gallery or dome, they could be used to display different surroundings, with better weather, for example. From outside, one could breathe new life into the dome’s interior or project a new time into it, as Roth does to a certain extent in his film. The dome thus became an observatory that works in both directions.
Also included in the show were two copies of an unfinished novel, also entitled Blow Out (2016), that also featured the typical green of the chroma key – around half of its 280 pages being printed in green-screen colour. The text on the remaining pages deals with the aftermath of a global power outage whose cause is not named. In the press release, the novel is linked with Quentin Meillassoux’s concept of ‘extro-science fiction’, where the rules governing a fictional world change radically when empirical science becomes impossible and its theories no longer work. The first pages, however, resemble German pop literature, with characters shopping in a supermarket, followed by accounts of fleeing or traveling across Europe. The protagonists cannot permit themselves to dwell on the time before the cataclysm, instead affirming a future without electricity. This as yet unexplored openness – the empty green pages and the novel’s provisional quality, but also the general openness of the trains of thought brought together in the show – came together at one point in the gallery: in the room where the film was being shown. There, a green Noh-like mask grinned down inscrutably and mischievously from a position both prominent and hidden, above the door to a closed back room. Its title: I Personally Don’t Believe In It, But I Heard It Works Anyway (2016).
Translated by Nicholas Grindell