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By giving new media prospects to suburbs youth, “Terres Arbitraires” (Arbitrary Grounds), the recent nstallation presented at Evry’s Theatre de l’Agora, shows social commitment of french multimedia artist Nicolas Clauss. A long-term work that follows his quest of human connection and participation, and that stresses out excesses of security along with stereotypes and stigmatization concerning marginalized urban spaces.
Today, the public of Evry’s Theatre de l’Agora looks like the portraits that come alive on the screens. Lot of young people of the vicinity, more get used to hang around the place than coming within, pack inside for an art project in which they are the core.
But a subtle core. Because, if Terres Arbitraires, Nicolas Clauss’s video-installation work, has chosen to transpose the image and daily difficulties of local youth under an artistic shape,
it proceeds also from a meeting and
a mutual trust that regular media prism rarely admits.
Of course then, surprise is massive
for most of them. Surprise of seeing themselves among all these video
portraits, networked randomly and at a slow motion, in a scenography of TV sets usually inducing a familiar “elsewhere”. Surprise also to see how much this reflected image is true. Hood over forehead, fleetingness of the shots, these images look like them. At such a level that they quickly catch up stereotypes that most of the people have for this youth.
And it is on this point that is based all the strength of Nicolas Clauss work: to play with these stereotypes, with their mise-en-scene, to get round them easier and, finally, demystify them. Because all these portraits, with boys only, are mute. Mute like for better listen to all media noises twirling around, gathering flash news samples, political speeches supporting police operations, echoes of association and social workers, sociologists, militants.
Swiftly, it sounds like all these alarmist words, all this recurrent mentions of reckless zones, of urban guerrilla warfare, slip on the image of another reality, the one of a youth that looks like any other youth, sometimes cynical and proud, but also sensitive and clever. On the screen, it appears through face’s change from mutism to smile. Confronted to this media frenzy, youth show that they are smiling people too, being conscious of the situation, of the clichÈs about them and not gullible says Nicolas Clauss, while a monitor beside unfolds, like on a sad memorial list, names of 1200 stigmatized urban areas.
In Nicolas Clauss’s artistic process, Terres Arbitraires kind of seems like a culmination, as his work has always been guided by a quest of human connection and participation in which he’s been able to introduce essential aspects of pictorial approach, random play, collage and changing piece. At first self-taught painter, Mantes’s native made ten years ago a multimedia change, supported by softwares such as Director, that dragged him to conceive his famous and still lasting Tableaux Interactifs, playable on internet through his website www.Flyingpuppet.com.
In these Tableaux, link establishes between one spectator and one image, in an idea of progressive appropriation, switched mouse revealing on screen sequences clinching and earthy audiovisuals variations. Nicolas Clauss went then more collective, still following the same gestural logical way. Installations such as Les Portes, playing with interaction between doors opening and multimedia apparitions, stressed out a wide-open process of participative workshops in a series of projects coming up in city of Le Mans, De l’Art Si Je veux in 2005, that aimed to build with children playful images from paintings of Francis Bacon, Maurizio Cattelan and Chapman Brothers, then in his Laboratoire Experimental MMIX, in which crisis themes incarnated into captures of generative dark figures on screen.
This work already induced a strong relationship with youth and a consequent time of realisation (six months), but Terres Arbitraires far more sets a political content, taking back the artist to his past studies in social psychology and to some profound references, including of course the one to poet and militant AimÈ CÈsaire carried out in the title.
A work and concrete media stakes
Nicolas Clauss makes it clear: I like to work with this suburbs youth.
I feel very touched and concerned. There is something in it that brings me a lot, destabilizes me, makes me think. Though, work has been complicated. Obviously no workshops here but the need of going to look for kids on THEIR ground. For Terres Arbitraires, I’ve made a big purge work if you compare to my previous projects. In the beginning, I didn’t know where I was going to. I just wanted to put myself into situation, to listen to what was around and work on this media language wrapping their reality.
Thus, it is with a small HD camera, and with the help of two young local film makers that Nicolas Cluass fitted in with this urban but mostly human field. A frontal representation in which open-minded principles towards these young people revealed twice. There is a true idea of fraternity in this project. By showing them smiling, it is also a way to indicate to the public the way to go to them. There is a huge gap between political speeches and reality of this youth.
Indeed, in front of these luminous faces, flows of high-concerned sentences cross in a media frenzy showing how much this suburbs debate feed society stakes. Some words stand out from this sonic magma. The ones of sociologist Mathieu Rigouste dealing with phantasm of inner enemy, here, at the doors of our cities.
The ones about this inverted colonization process or about this riot paranoia lasting since events of 2005.
Almost naturally, Nicolas Clauss oppose them these faces of young boys, teenagers, children sometimes, smiling against this swell of misunderstanding that they arouse and that is beyond them. Evidently, this image hits its target. And symbolically, pretty much more. Because in spite of inherent difficulties to the project, it is important that other media approaches get involved inside these areas, including an artistic direction that probably doesn’t take enough into account its social dimension, and then the diversity of public it could reach.
By this way, Nicolas Clauss would like to put into shape new experiences, or rather make this one last by giving it more thickness. New contacts have already been taken, in Marseilles or in his city of Mantes-La-Jolie, around Val-FourrÈ district. It would be really important to show off that all these stories and images are the same in lot of places throughout France. And furthermore interesting to demonstrate that arbitrary media images can also enable people to express who they really are, in these supposed urban margins, far away from reductive TV news ones for instance.
Published in the Digitalarti Mag #5.
Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.
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