18. November 2015

In the November edition of DOUBLE FEATURE French artist Émilie Pitoiset introduces her work “The Third Party”. In the second half of the evening “Holy Motors”, the latest motion picture by Leos Carax, will be screened.

By Daniel Urban

All the little actions and everyday movements a person executes on a daily basis generally pursue a quite simple objective:There’s the movement of your legs getting you around, there’s smoking a cigarette to satisfy a craving, or putting on an item of clothing to protect against the cold.Depending on the context, however, these actions sometimes mean something entirely different:thus the legs can also be moved for dancing, smoking that “post-coital” cigarette is more of a ritual than a way of satisfying a physical craving, and within religious groups an item of clothing can say a lot more about the hierarchical status of its wearer than about the weather.

In “The Third Party” (2014) by French artist Émilie Pitoiset (born 1980) we are presented with precisely those everyday actions:a dancing couple, people cleaning their shoes, walking along office corridors or down steps; one person appears, out of sheer boredom, to be piano-playing on a keyboard made from sugar cubes.However it soon becomes clear that this has nothing to do with a documentary recording of an office building:the rhythmical montage presents only enlarged excerpts of the events and avoids showing the faces of those involved, who are hidden behind enigmatic masks.

A secret ritual

The movements of the individual people appear to be precisely conceptualised in their eternal repetitions, and thus robbed of any naturalness.The psychedelic soundtrack ultimately gives the action the aura of a secret ritual, the meaningfulness of which eludes observers.The latter become, in a certain sense, co-authors, as they attempt to fill in the gaps of meaning with their own ideas.

In other video works, too, Pitoiset focuses on the fascination of movement and processes of motion.In “Love is Colder Than Death” (2009) she makes use of an editing technique at the cutting desk to change a short sequence from the 1969 film of the same name by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, in which pimp Franz Walsch (Fassbinder) picks dead gangster Bruno Staub (Uli Lommel) up off the street – the sequence is accompanied by Heinrich Heine’s poem “The Lorelei”.In “Othello” (2006) a man aims a pistol at a horse which, although it has no concept of a firearm and thus no means of interpreting it, appears to react and eventually lies down in a submissive position on the ground. 

An examination of Carax’s “Holy Motors” and the works by Émilie Pitoiset inevitably leads to the question of the extent to which actions can be interpreted as an expression of being.

The ambiguity of movements

In “La repetition” (2012) we see a repeated sequence of four hands, which appear to be doing a sort of dance, but perhaps are exchanging information with one another in some form of secret language. In her works Émilie Pitoiset thus exposes the ambiguity of simple movements, which – depending on the context – appear to harbour fundamentally different meanings, the decoding of which is entirely up to the observer who is denied any help from the artist.

In “Holy Motors” (2012), the latest motion picture by French director Leos Carax, the principle of ambiguity is expanded to life as a whole.In the film, which was enthusiastically received by the critics, we get a 24-hour insight into the life of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant).This life melds completely with his work, which appears to consist of portraying other lives and indeed people.Thus Monsieur Oscar is collected in a limousine in the morning, where he is given his assignments for the day that lies ahead.The first of these takes the protagonist to a bridge in the centre of Paris where, by means of make-up and costume, he is completely transformed into an old woman begging for money.After some time Oscar is collected by the limousine once again, which takes him to his next assignment, and thus over the course of the day he dons the most diverse of roles – be it a banker, a homeless person, an uncle on the verge of death, a father, or a murderer and murder victim.

Actions as an expression of being

The figure of Oscar disappears almost entirely behind the people that he qua his job spends the day portraying for the “Holy Motor” Company. The purpose of this absurd activity and the client for whom he performs his assignments remain a mystery. The real Monsieur Oscar is shown to us almost exclusively in the back seat of the limousine as a lonely figure chain smoking as he gazes out of the window and then begins to prepare for his next role.  

The visually stunning film can be interpreted in countless different ways:as an homage to cinema and its need to present reality and people, as a question about identity and autonomy, or simply as a reflection of the essence of what it is to be human.An examination of Carax’s “Holy Motors” and the works by Émilie Pitoiset inevitably leads to the question of the extent to which actions can be interpreted as an expression of being, or conversely whether this “being” is only manifested once such actions are carried out.