This Summer I attended the first ever British retrospective of a French filmmaker Chris Marker at the Whitechapel Gallery. Marker is credited as the finest example of ‘essay’ cinema and is best known as the director of over 60 films including Sans soleil (Sunless, 1983) and A Grin Without a Cat (Le Fond de l’air est rouge, 1977). His most celebrated work La Jetée (The Pier, 1962) imagines a Paris devastated by nuclear catastrophe and is composed almost entirely of black-and-white still photographs. This retrospective includes work that stretches beyond filmmaking. This exhibition includes early photography alongside a large collection of travel books which he designed and edited for the Petite Planete (“Small Planet”) series in the 1950’s, which he designed the majority of the cover art for- commissioning photographers including Cartier-Bresson and Klien.
I was most interested in Marker’s multimedia installations; in particular Zapping Zone(1990-94), in this installation, 20 blaring television screens compete for attention within a darker smaller room adjacent to the main gallery space. In his later life, Marker diverged into radically new media. Marker shifted to this format in a moment in history where film was being threatened by the advent of this new medium: Marker as an artist and filmmaker refused to join in with the idea that his medium was dying and instead took a radical divergence towards enthusiastically embracing the new media revolution. He abandoned film cameras for the Sony Handycam and turning everything digital. Zapping Zone(1990-94) includes random sampling of archive footage through a continuos multi-playing of video and digital clips. I was interested in the technology used to screen these videos as they were archaic television monitors and computer screens.
I dream of a world in which every memory will create its own caption.
– Chris Marker
Another part of the Whitechapel exhibition featured a corner dedicated to Chris Marker’s project Immemory 1997. This is the artists first CD-ROM project and it explores non-linearity; crossing fiction and documentary. Marker has created a haunted journey through memory in digital format, the viewer is guided through image, text and animation. Marker states that his objective was to;
“present the ‘guided tour’ of a memory, while at the same time offering the visitor a chance for haphazard navigation.”
In our moments of megalomaniacal reverie, we tend to see our memory as a kind of history book: we have won and lost battles, discovered empires and abandoned them. At the very least we are the characters of an epic novel (“Quel roman que ma vie!” said Napoleon). A more modest and perhaps more fruitful approach might be to consider the fragments of memory in terms of geography.1 In every life we would find continents, islands, deserts, swamps, overpopulated territories and terrae incognitae. We could draw the map of such a memory and extract images from it with greater ease (and truthfulness) than from tales and legends. That the subject of this memory should be a photographer and a filmmaker does not mean that his memory is essentially more interesting than that of the next man (or the next woman), but only that he has left traces with which one can work, contours to draw up his maps.
Imagine hundreds of photographs which for the most part have never been shown (William Klein says that, at the speed of 1/50th of a second per shot, the complete work of the most famous photographer lasts less than three minutes). Imagine “cuts” that a film leaves behind like comets’ tails. From every country visited I’ve brought back postcards, newspaper clippings, catalogues, sometimes posters torn off the walls. My idea was to immerse myself in this maelstrom of images to establish its Geography.
My working hunch was that any memory, once it’s fairly long, is more structured than it seems. That after a certain quantity, photos apparently taken by chance, postcards chosen according to a passing mood, begin to trace an itinerary, to map the imaginary country that stretches out before us. By going through it systematically I was sure to discover that the apparent disorder of my imagery concealed a chart, as in the tales of pirates. And the object of this disc would be to present the “guided tour” of a memory, while at the same time offering the visitor a chance for haphazard navigation. So, Welcome to “Memory, Land of Contrasts” – or rather, as I’ve chosen to call it, Immemory.– Liner notes from original English edition of Immemory, 1997.