Pascal Bauer: Constraint of the body

Whether he presents the body –especially his – as an unswerving walker, a faltering Christ or a contorted figurine, Pascal Bauer continues his portraiture with the same strong aesthetic identity, depicting the alienation of individuals by an increasingly technological community. The body is constrained in the shot using even more robotic methods and tactile videos in his new projects Notre Bon Plaisir (Our Pleasure) and Senseimage developed with Digitalarti.

A visual as well as audiovisual artist, Pascal Bauer has investigated aesthetics looking at the strength but also the fragility of the individual through the alarming prism of the collective vantage point. Bodies fixed in the object, like his contorted figurines in Ne Laissez Jamais Vos Enfants Seuls (Never Leave Your Children Alone); Bodies enclosed in the screen, whether human, like this Christ-like body subject to expiatory tension (L’Elu – The Chosen One), or this naked body parading virtually on its track (La Foule-The Crowd), or animals, like this bull mounted on a gyratory robotic arm and ‘charging’ the audience surrounding it (Le Cercle – The Circle). Through image Pascal Bauer’s work transcends this forced progression of the individual towards the omnipotent group. An often chaotic and always disturbing progression, where the artist sometimes seems to put his body on the line by directly sacrificing his own image, but who bestows these pieces with fascinating strength, where the choice of the medium is less decisive than the search for meaning. ‘My work is in the first instance significant,’ explains Pascal Bauer. ‘I then choose the technique that will best champion the resulting form. I use other mediums like photography or text in other works.’

Pascal Bauer - Le Cercle (2012)

Exhibition Synesthesie: Le Cercle, la Foule, l'Elu et les Objets d'ego(s). In the framework of  festival Némo

It is intriguing to observe how much the use of all these techniques in Pascal Bauer’s pieces uniquely translates a form of hybridisation, of simultaneity between the ‘primitive expressiveness of the physical form and the new technological framework that transforms it. This approach may be very symbolic, as in the piece Deep Captive that presents a semi-missile, club-like object. 

Deep Captive, Pascal Bauer

Or in Master of the Wolves revealing a chat engraved in Carrara marble. But it does not lead to devotion, on behalf of an artist quoting Kafka and Zappa as a reference, claiming to be fascinated by ‘the controlled madness of Goya and Delacroix,’ to the new digital fairy. ‘Digital is not particularly special to me; it’s a material like any other,’ confirms Pascal Bauer. ‘Well, its distinctive characteristic is that it is the only material that I cannot work on independently, as I do not have any coding skills. In any case, simultaneous techniques suit me. Like many artists, I love antagonism. For example for Master of the Wolves, the natural darkness of this chat pushed me to translate it into an object, with its protocol of expression, its intangible and instant nature, to give it a form seeking material eternity.’

Is man a social animal?

In Pascal Bauer’s work, the core element nonetheless remains his way of putting people at the heart of his devices. And if this expression can be conceptual –like in Ready Made and his list of eleven thousand terms compiled from the files of different European organisations for the Protection of Industrial Property– it is nevertheless these most frontal pieces like L’Elu (The Chosen One) or La Foule (The Crowd), through which the image of man (Pascal Bauer in this case) is ill-treated in the flesh or clinically observed in his most robotic approach, that best stigmatises this relationship of subordination established between man and his collective social benchmark.

La Foule, Pascal Bauer (2009)

All my work revolves around the theme of alienation,’ confirms Pascal Bauer. ‘I do not do it on purpose. It is not intentional. The social body, the clan, the community, the group, the pack, the shoal, the flight and the flock: all these ‘objects’ are scary aren’t they? They are indispensable to the individual, but resolutely force them.’ In one respect, this view controlled by Pascal Bauer leads to another vision of ourselves. ‘From a different angle, we are monsters. Monsters full of goodwill, but monsters, as we are constructed from negative values, that most of us try to contain intellectually according to group laws, hence the goodwill. This has been endlessly repeated, but I need to express this anguish.’

Pascal Bauer , L'Elu, (2012)

This expression often responds to a powerfully destabilising but above all hypnotising operating mode, particularly in the piece L’Elu Couché (The Chosen One Lying Down) where the Christ-like figure embodied by Pascal Bauer, attached to the ground on a crucifix with a screen thrown to the ground, offers the tortured and saturated image of a man threatened by a compulsive expiatory struggle, driven by the volume and passionate hubbub of the installation. ‘Alienation, dispossession, leads to a form of altered state making it difficult to place yourself,’ notes Pascal Bauer. ‘But, the problem of the chosen one is different. The chosen one that I sculpt– for it is a sculpture – indeed refers to Christ, but first of all it refers to the crucifixion. His disability saves him. He wants to retain his status as the chosen one that he can only keep because of his disability thanks to a constant balancing act. Therefore there is an image of the timeless status of the chosen one by the population. On the other hand, the concept of the chosen one is the opium of the masses. This is the reason for which it is omnipresent in our culture. Do you like your life? A Sunday evening blockbuster and its hero is up for grabs where, by projection, you rid yourself of your entire week’s difficulties. It applies to everyone. Me too, I need to de-stress. That is partly why I stage myself. I am part of the problem; I am not above it. The chosen one is therefore fundamental to our societies and their hypnotic powers.

From Le Cercle (The Circle) to screen

In Le Cercle (The Circle), the human figure makes way for an animal silhouette, a bull that in spite of its efforts to run remains both a prisoner of the screen and of its concentric rotation on its axis. ‘Animals are often referred to in my work, often by mimicking a posture. This is in fact a projection, that I share with Kafka who only used it for The Metamorphosis,’ outlines Pascal Bauer.  ‘The bull is a key creature in mythologies as a symbol of power. It is often used for the image of controlled or subjugated power. Therefore I am only perpetuating a tradition.’  

Le Cercle: installation semi-monumentale de Pascal Bauer

Le Cercle (The Circle) is one of Pascal Bauer’s key pieces, requiring constant improvements. The artist presents new versions of it at the Abbaye de Saint-Riquier until September as part of the exhibition Anima/Animal. ‘ Le Cercle (The Circle) is quite an imposing piece, that overcomes many challenges,’ Pascal Bauer recognises. ‘It was produced with a grant from Arcadi, that was far from insignificant but very insufficient for the scope of the installation. Last year, the CDA d'Enghien offered me an additional budget to equip it with an LED screen, enabling it to be visible in daylight. But this screen has added 150 kilos to the machine that had to be fully reconfigured in record time. The shortfall means that the machine is not yet configured as I would like. Therefore I improve it for each presentation in such a way, that it becomes more reliable. However it still lacks an interactive dimension that is not essential but that I would nevertheless enjoy. I also plan to make a version of it banging against the walls, in the corner of a large room, to emphasise my desire that we are obliged to be very close to a machine, its sound system and its movements. That would be even more impressive.’

Whether Le Cercle (The Circle) or L’Elu (The Chosen One), or La Foule (The Crowd), for Pascal Bauer screens remain in any case the fitting interface, the window through which the individual subscribes to the vision that the group has of him. Should we therefore see in its use a form of misappropriation of this greater current symbol of our consumer and technology society? ‘Yes, there is that,’ agrees Pascal Bauer. ‘But above all it is life’s blueprint by proxy, which is another form of alienation. There is also the fact that I am quite resistant to clichés, those that I am aware of at least. So restoring tangibility to the intangible rather amuses me while we are still talking about dematerialisation. I am convinced that we have already passed this stage. The current multiplication of Fab Labs demonstrates a desire to make material with digital.

Needy robots for Notre Bon Plaisir (Our Pleasure)

As proof of this specific interest for new digital materialization processes, Pascal Bauer has recently started work with Digitalarti’s Artlab around two new projects where screens are still proving to be a preferred medium. In Notre Bon Plaisir (Our Pleasure)– a new half-amused, half-provocative reference to hypnotic religious people - this recurrence is coupled with a much more comprehensive integration of the audience also set upon by a ‘swarm of needy robots’: crawling objects, each bearing a horizontal screen on which a human figure bustles about energetically, busy themselves as a group, disturbing a chosen visitor by following them insistently while their movements are synchronised with the choreographic gestures of the other people on the screens, directing little votive dances and repeated prayers to the visitors. 

Montage Notre Bon Plaisir

‘Notre Bon Plaisir (Our Pleasure) is a very demanding piece in terms of resources,’ highlights Pascal Bauer.  ‘The basic desire is to have a pack of individuals born by screens who come to ‘annoy’ the visitors by projecting a hypothetical spiritual personality on them, poor beings on a moral and intellectual level.

These beings, who can also be robot mediators in other forms of the project, act like a tribe of seven robots capable of mapping a place and identifying visitors, of reacting to their presence and accompanying them on their visit, and whose audio touch screen broadcasts different types of media according to its location and the demands of the visitors. ‘Notre Bon Plaisir (Our Pleasure) requires the development of specific robotics, based on programming concepts that are perhaps paralleled, that I am unaware of,’ claims Pascal Bauer. ‘What I am saying is that I envision an atypical method of robotics management. To find the funding, I proposed a functional implementation to Univers Sciences in the form of a tribe of robot mediators. Digitalarti got hooked and we are currently developing the overall material and software programme. The project is more than ambitious and without doubt risky, but I think that I quite like to go above and beyond. The Digitalarti team has for some time been expanding its skills and I think that exciting experiments are in sight.

Residence of Pascal bauer at the 104 (Paris)

Pascal Bauer is currently carrying out, as part of a residency, the final touches to the project at the 104. ‘The character who appears on the screens is a dancer. I am therefore fine-tuning this part with a choreographer, Miguel Moreira, whose work I really like,’ clarifies Pascal Bauer. ‘We share the same expressionist vision. With the dancer we are outlining the choreography that will be filmed and will then be the subject of a very specific montage to be broadcast on robot screens, and always synchronised with their movements.

Senseimage: anamorphosis and lobotomy

In parallel to this Bon Plaisir (Our Pleasure), and other more personal projects, like these curious individual roundabout for children, similar to those found in shopping centres but that Pascal Bauer declares to be ‘very ambiguous’ (…) with something military about them, filled with lights and festive sounds, and physically resembling torture machines ( !)’ and on which he has been working for two years, another project is taking shape with Digitalarti: the touchscreen video project Senseimage.

Launch of SenseImage at Futur en Seine 2015

The prototype of the first SenseImage was displayed at the Future of Seine event in Paris (June 2015) It is a six-foot by eight-foot display showcasing three different interactive works of art.

Senseimage: surface tactile et interactive from Digitalarti

‘This is also a long-term project, requiring a commercially-driven project to be developed to fund it,’ summarises Pascal Bauer. ‘What is very funny, is that the artistic project is a criticism of what will exist, but that does not exist yet. I have to therefore make it exist first of all, to have the material to critically evaluate it. Which shows that I am very much part of the problem...’

Installation of the first SenseImage prototype 

The notion of bodily constraint and alienation of individuals is once again the recurring theme. ‘The artistic goal is to restrain the body in the image,’ explains Pascal Bauer. ‘This therefore encourages several avenues of development and I have several projects in mind for this material. One of them is to make a cave that is entirely covered with sensitive video material. That is, it knows your position and can exchange with you so that, wherever you are, the image appears like the result of an anamorphosis in relationship to your field of vision. The image and sound would be far from peaceful and the installation could prove quite a good tool for lobotomy. Perhaps just a slight exaggeration of what is coming full-scale. At the moment however, more of us are watching life scaled down on our smartphones.’ A new virulent creative avenue of investigation in any case, it goes without saying…

Laurent Catala