‘I searched the room looking for a prop, a weapon.’ A man has a strange encounter on a film set, a meeting one of them will not survive. The man in question is Alfred Hitchcock. And the man sitting opposite him also is. This short story of Tom McCarthy, based on a work by Jorge Luis Borges in which the author meets his twenty-year old self, is the heart of Double Take (2009), the second feature film of the Flemish artist and film maker Johan Grimonprez. His main character is Hitchcock, Master of Suspense. His co-star, and double, is the culture of fear, which arose with the introduction of television, coinciding with the Cold War era. These two fear dealers come together in footage from the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Grimonprez draws abundantly from this source of dry comic footage in which Hitchcock shows a fine feeling for self-mockery and black humour: ‘Television brought murder back in the living room, back where it belongs.’
To Grimonprez, our visual culture is one big Memory game, with all images being a repetition of each other. You only have to look for the images and arrange them in a different order. Similar to a television viewer who is zapping between channels so quickly that he starts to see the link between a football player running over the pitch and a zebra on the run from a lion, Grimonprez exposes structures hiding beneath the enormous stream of images, that we have to cope with each day, year after year. His way of zapping between images is performed by means of the editing table on which he re-arranges reality, fiction, commercials, found footage and his own film material until the images represent what he sees.
In 2001, real life provided a wry sequel to Grimonprez’ first feature film, Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (2003). This work also consisted of an endless stream of images meticulously edited by the maker into one whole. This film revolved around the role of the media in respect of the sudden increase of aeroplane hijacking in the 60s and 70s. Cast as the main character of the television news, the hijacker was ascribed unprecedented powers. The images assembled by Grimonprez – ironic, depressing, revealing and downright absurd images – were alternated with fragments from the work of the author Don DeLillo. The purport of one of his texts is that the act of the terrorist makes the author’s role redundant. Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y was released in 1997; four years later, on 11 September 2001, the film became more relevant than could ever be imagined. With the attacks on the United States, the film became the prologue to the ultimate icon of our present image culture: two aeroplanes, two burning towers.
Both films of Grimonprez deliver a statement about present society. Now that YouTube and other Internet sites have brought our image culture to its absolute boiling point, it is practically impossible to ignore our contemporary image culture. Grimonprez reacted to this present situation with a so-called “YouTube-o-theek”, Maybe the Sky Is Really Green, and We’re Just Colorblind. This on-going project shuffles and shares images found on the web, either manipulated or not by means of editing techniques. A sequel to this project, the “WE-tube-o-theek”, will be presented at the Impakt festival. Our reality is defined by ‘buffering time’; images of climate change, wars and international crises provide a new, contemporary digital enchantment. With his “WE-tube-o-theek”, Grimonprez creates a platform for disobedience. The programme shows dissident opinions and subversive images from the Western world, the Near and Far East and the Arab world. This work is also part of the special Grimonprez’ exhibition on show this winter at S.M.A.K. in Ghent, Belgium.
In his work, Grimonprez evokes a universe of look-a-likes, a universe in which every person, every image, every event is a mirror of another. A universe in which you can kill with a prop as easily as with a gun. On the television screen real or fake has no meaning.
This coming Sunday at 20:15 on Canvas a report on this retrospective.