“The Sound of Screens Imploding” Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement
by João Laia
Since the 1960s and 1970s boom of international style high-rise construction, reflecting surfaces have become the shimmering face of capital flows and power dynamics. Employing mirrors as an illusionary, camouflaging agent, this representational regime offers a paradoxical discourse that disguises power by reflecting the outside onto itself. Today the regime of reflection has been supposedly replaced by a narrative produced during the digital turn and embodied by Silicon Valley: the myth of transparency, in which it is proclaimed that a heightened degree of communication and interdependence will make societies more cohesive and controllable, and less prone to abuse. “Fitter, happier, more productive.”¹
But the current profusion of communication surfaces has not brought about a more comprehensive understanding and control of power dynamics, nor an increase in real connectivity; rather it seems to have further enhanced the reflecting agency of capital and representation while atomizing individuals. The mirror-as-device has fragmented and multiplied, penetrating the most intimate, personal scale and reframing our subjectivity. Now, it is not only the outside that is reflected but also and foremost our inner landscapes, a shift mirroring capital coming full circle, colonizing our emotion and affect. At the same time, the production of images has been outsourced: capital’s iconic figure, the self-made man, has exploded to new heights produced and disseminated via repeated selfies and scrolls by the current citizen-entrepreneur: the 24/7 independent precarious worker.
The prosumer now autonomously produces and consumes its own images of entrapment.
Titled The Sound of Screens Imploding, the current edition of BIM, the Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement, opened in November 2018 and is curated by Andrea Lissoni, senior curator of international art (film) at Tate Modern, and Andrea Bellini, director of the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève. Presenting twenty artists and collectives, the biennial foregrounds the curators’ take on the current status of the moving image, building on the idea that the main model of encountering moving images has shifted from collectively projected events in large spaces to individualized experiences grounded in static or mobile flat-screen devices. The screenings explore such frictions by presenting works displaying various shapes of engagement between the individual and the social.
Florent Meng’s brilliant The Lost Line (2018) tells the story of an abandoned tunnel built by political prisoners and peasants in the Cantabrian Mountains, where now stands a laboratory researching dark matter from University of Saragoza. Framed by a powerful soundtrack and flirting with the documentary format, the film’s inquiry into the limits of visibility maps the influence of territory on communal behaviors and identities while signaling the overlap between dynamics such as politics and science. James N. Kienitz Wilkins’s This Action Lies (2018) is one the biennial’s highlights. The film is “a paranoid polyphonic apology of a simple act”² offering three perspectives of a simple object: a Styrofoam to-go cup. Using the personal standpoint of an extended and often humorous monologue, This Action Lies weaves together a large socioeconomic constellation around such an underappreciated commercial product. The work’s impactful mise en abyme emerging out of the several visual reframings and the text’s form and content, drawing disparate references wrapped in a monotonous and confessional tone, produces a powerful statement regarding the interpenetration of the social in the self, while echoing the history of experimental film, referencing Hollis Frampton or Morgan Fisher.
If on the one hand implosion as concept-image mimics the fragmentation and dissolution of the traditional collective experience with the visual, on the other it also signals the ambition to counteract or at least critique such atomization. Indeed and on a literal note, the figure of the mobile phone or the tablet as a means to display images, so common in contemporary art contexts just a few years ago, is notably absent. Inversely, the biennial privileges large-scale projected images contextualized in expanded environments where sculpture and/or architecture play an important role, a gesture emphasizing the physicality of space and body in the encounter with images, which was also key to the visceral performance program showcasing Elysia Crampton, Ligia Lewis, Pan Daijing, and Angela Dimayuga and Meriem Bennani’s performative dinner.
On the CAC’s top floor, Tamara Henderson’s Womb Life (2018) forefronts the silenced materiality of apparatus, bodies, and images. Her installations “choreograph space as a film set,” approaching “the floor as though it were a continuous connected body and transforming it into a system which is both kinetic and still.”³ Such concern around spatial configuration and materiality is explored throughout the exhibition. Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic present No history in a room filled with people with funny names 5 (2018), an immersive installation comprising three videos and several sculptural elements. Proposing touching by means other than physical contact as a possible action, the work propels a form of spirituality, exploring being human in the age of multiple information processing.
Meriem Bennani’s multichannel Party on the CAPS (2018) imagines a world reconfigured by biotechnology and teleportation. Taking place on an isolated island in the Atlantic Ocean, it reflects on the physical and psychological displacement imposed on refugees and immigrants by states worldwide. Displacement is also explored by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, whose work draws from the current increase of fortified borders, which has expanded from fifteen in 2000 to today’s sixty-three. Walled Unwalled (2018) connects this context with the concurrent discovery of muons, invisible cosmic particles that pass through surfaces impervious to X-rays, penetrating what were once regarded as established boundaries.
Abu Hamdan’s ongoing exploration of physical and visual limits also manifested in the biennial’s opening party, which acted as a powerful statement regarding the pervasive contemporary regime of hypervisibility. At the club night hosted by Nkisi, presenting COLD WAR (Nkisi/John T. Gast), Crystallmess, and the extraordinary Abyss X, the dominance of vision was erased by a darkened, opaque, smoked space punctuated by irregular laser lights and deep sounds. The sensorial environment molded the audience into a single body, an anonymous mass whose empathy for one another organically counteracted the isolation key to the age of self-representation, and at the same time implemented a regime of invisibility. The enactment of such a fascinating, visceral kaleidoscope where vision was shaped by the movement of sound and bodies in space demonstrated the possibility of a shared moment of difference and otherness. Aptly echoing the antimatter research undertaken nearby at CERN, the event enacted a passage from the reflection of the outside and the monetization of the inside to a shared refraction of the self, together expressing interiority in an environment that forcibly reverberated to the radiant sound of screens imploding.
 Radiohead. Fitter, happier. Ok Computer. Parlophone. 1997.
 Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement, press release and synopsis of This Actions Lies.
 Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement, press release and synopsis of Womb Life.
at Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva
until 3 February 2019