BY Anja Dorn in Reviews | 09 SEP 01
Featured in
Issue 61

David Claerbout

BY Anja Dorn in Reviews | 09 SEP 01

David Claerbout's magical work Vietnam. 1967. Near Duc Fo. Reconstruction after Hiromichi Mine (2000) is a large-scale projection of an undulating tropical landscape. Over the idyllic paddy fields a damaged aeroplane is suspended in the clear sky, frozen in time. A black and white superimposition on the landscape, it is, quite clearly, a collage. Still, somehow it doesn't look out of place, and the initially indeterminate intensity of the high-density image is compelling. The sky becomes gradually lighter, then flares, then is followed by a shadow.

The black and white photograph of the aeroplane is taken from a bookabout the Vietnam War by the Japanese photographer Hiromichi Mine. Most of the photographs are close-ups of Vietnamese and American soldiers, whom Mine uses as vehicles to reveal endemic destruction. Claerbout appropriated an image that exemplifies the absurdity of war: an American transport plane was accidentally shot down by friendly fire, yet at the provisionally arranged landing strip you see the faces of American soldiers who have not yet realized what has happened.

Claerbout travelled to the site of the incident in Vietnam and used a digital camera to take, every 30 seconds, an image from the same viewpoint used in Mine's photograph. Around 300 stills were merged so that the light gradually appears to change, without perceptible movement of the trees and the fields, which seem to have fallen under the same spell as the plane. Only the shadows on the floating wreck were digitally adjusted to the shifting light.

Whereas the changing light signals the passing of time, the fertile paddy fields offer no recall, as if time was standing still at the moment of the explosion. As in one of those moments of lingering, seemingly endless shock, the viewer tries to comprehend the connections.

The next room of Claerbout's show initially appeared to be totally dark. After a moment of adjustment two light boxes with views of Venice gradually became apparent. The artist used a camera to capture a silhouette of the islands at dawn and a night view of a Baroque church. The radiance from these images is so credible they paradoxically look like paintings or images from dreams.

Claerbout also explored the idea of painting in Violetta (2001), a photographic portrait of a woman in sunlight. A video is projected onto a screen the size of a panel painting, which is suspended like an icon in the middle of a darkened room. The life-size, frontal representation of the woman's face appears motionless, except for a light breeze which moves through her hair. In the room an actual breeze is provided by a fan not visible to the viewer. As with 17th-century trompe l'œil, the boundary between image and reality is blurred, the face seemingly alive although inert and distant. In the meditative, darkened room this was a technically perfect play on the potential of digital pictures.