Since 2003 Cléa Coudsi and Eric Herbin have been creating a common body of work in video, photography and sound-based installations. Each of their works is a territory marked by a political and emotional geography, but one which is also based around the senses and memories. They record body movements and everyday gestures, positions and situations lived through or recounted, using sounds and words. The connecting lines between their works are clearly visible. Collages, reconstituted fragments, the openings of narratives work to condition the viewer’s reception of each piece.



In Cléa Coudsi’s 2002-2003 video installation “Gestures” the territory chosen is a colourful market in part of the town of Bamako in Mali. In the final version a wall made up of video monitors shows a series of details, filmed face on and as a low angle shots. These combine movements of the market sellers caught by close framing and close ups. We see them sorting their wares, laying them out, cutting them up, preparing pieces of string to fasten the parcels, parceling them up, etc.

This “choreography of daily life” is also developed in the video installation “Recueillirs /Intervals” 2004 (Collectings/Intervals). The terrain chosen is again stalls in a market and their fruit and vegetable sellers1. First of all the artist took photographs of the exchanges between the customer and the seller and the gestures which each person makes. Then she took the bodies out of their context and placed them on a light grey background. Spectators are therefore led to observe what escapes one’s first impression of a banal scene in a market.

They notice for example the concentration on the face of the customer choosing a product. The viewer also notes the friendliness and discretion of the protagonists as they hold out their hands to exchange goods for coins. The fact that the gesture is taken out of a context of functional productiveness removes the hierarchy between customer and seller and opens up a shared space. But it also does more than that. A gesture by definition is not productive. It does not produce a message or any information. It is not a sign of intellect either. It is rather a “supplement to an act”. “An act is transitive, it only seeks to obtain an objective, a result ; the gesture is the uncertain and inexhaustible sum of considered thought, urges or lethargy which surrounds an act with an atmosphere (using the term as an astronomer would).”2 The gesture, the “supplement to an act” thus does not necessarily produce anything. It is the unstable mark of the act.


In “Voyage mental” (Journey in the mind) 2001-2002, Eric Herbin interweaves images of different types and from various periods of time. Family photographs, pictures of couples, tags, trips to various continents, views and architectural images which he photographed or found and reused. In the installation these images are projected onto the corners between walls, in places which people just pass through or in abandoned buildings. The spectators enter a space which has vaguely defined limits and a changing atmosphere. In a similar way the variety of images projected in quick succession creates a range of narrative possibilities. The viewers, caught in this space which has neither beginning nor end, have to take away what speaks to them personally. In this respect these images have a sufficiently general character for them to be able to relate to someone else’s universe, memories or personal projections. To build up the start of a narrative idea, spectators have to make an effort to remember details, as the images are in continuous flow. To this can be added considerations of a physical, bodily nature : the impact of a spectator’s own movements on the images of the journey. The “spectatornarrator” thus creates associations in relation to the architectural and psychological context in which they take place. In other words, their subjective reactions in contexts make up the territory of the “Voyage mental”.


The joint installation 2006 “Des moments et des lieux”.3 In it, Cléa Coudsi and Eric Herbin filmed five people giving accounts of their struggles in the workplace, in the family, with illness and in militant political activities. The installation brings together these testimonies “on levels which are broken up but inseparable from the same reality”.4 Indeed these stories show and let us hear something with a linear rhythm base. They are fragmented, scattered over seven screens. The abrupt cuts leave vacant spaces in which signifying links are woven between people who do no know each other, between the narrators or the spectator. Thus from the moment the story unveils itself to the other person, the gap between the experience as felt and the space where the experience is communicated is not relevant any more. A common space has been established. The other person takes control over the words (the words but not the experience) and brings them together. The viewer echoes other experiences or tackles an experience presented in a completely different way. We can thus notice that “our gestures and our history can come back to us with a meaning which can surprise us, that our own words can relate an experience (…) which differs from our own”5 as soon as it becomes “someone else’s vocabulary”. This absence of a narrative hierarchy and an inclusive nature are all the more significant as the artists mix in images of bodies and matter with more usual pictures : close ups of hands, hair, skin, folds in cloth, movements of the head, of the torso etc. The body becomes in its turn a speaker. This “surplus of events” says something that words cannot say : they talk about an emotional state, bring with them the signs of time and perhaps of the past as it is recounted today. All in all the body becomes a reality which is informed by these testimonies.


In their installations, the body can also fuse with the urban space. “Comédies” 2001-… is a good example of this. First of all the artists take alternate images of their nude bodies. The body caught on the film in the corner of a room also moves freely. It is only lit by a camera which projects onto it a network of lines. Then Eric superposes images of the town of Dijon on Clea’s body and Clea in Dunkerque takes images of this town which she superposes on Eric’s body.  As they point out : “The body has a presence in a place even during its absence”. This first attempt to fuse body and urban space develops itself in vast videographic structures in which the body is as one with the urban landscape. The body, made up of lines and lights, glides in the folds of the town, in its shadows, its lit up areas, its gradients. A particular geography is drawn up. The body is no longer a stranger to the grid pattern of spaces which it crossed previously. It becomes one body with its environment, it melds with what escapes from urban normalisation. Thus the body’s forms follow the more obscure areas of the town. We can well understand here the content of the work is closely linked to its techniques used in the installation. The various stages lead us to understand how an image can be built up. The body of the image, its articulations are made and unmade in relation to the two artists’ body movements. “Montage is a body”.6



In their installations both artists give a specific place to fiction made up from the montage of various fragments (texts, speech, testimonies) taken in varied contexts or situations. In “Correspondance” 2003, the artists built up a fictional love story with the aid of extracts from texts with various sources : lovers’ exchanges, (internet chat forums, letters) novels, dialogues from films etc. In love affairs it is often difficult to determine what is real and what is imaginary. The absence of the loved one who is missed is often compensated for by the imagination. However the representations which result are built up from real events. They have for the most part an existence for the person who has created them and as such take the person away from the real object of their affection. Next to the psychological and emotional distance, artists also take account of the physical distance, of separation. Non-professional actors, filmed by web cams, were asked to read scraps of a reconstituted invented account. In this way the lovers’ dialogue was built up behind the screen, far away from the body.


In works dealing with memory, it is difficult to distinguish what refers to real events and what does not. This is all the more true if the testimony is given more weight by emotional factors. The individual has the capacity to reformulate their past in relation to the intensity of experiences lived through and narrative situations. The person who gives the account does not merely say what happened. They, often subconsciously, combine a series of real events and elements not necessarily related to them. The installations made from testimonies take into account this human factor. Nevertheless, this is not the main aim of their analysis. These collected accounts and missives give rather a series of clues which allow one to represent a space where each person can find something of their own story. In « Terrains» 2004 the artist recorded four women giving their accounts of life in exile. These people do not know one another but in the editing and final presentation the artist manages to create a situation where the stories complete each other, where the individual becomes part of a collective

idea. The beginning of a story becomes a choice, an editing of moments in the testimonies, which are able to speak to everyone. The characteristic use of collage in the two artists’ work obviously helps obtain this result. When disparate elements are brought together in a way which is not seamless or unified, it creates a blank moment or a space which remains free for another person to  occupy, the person who is listening to the

story. This freed space becomes a space for subjective projections.


In the interactive audiovisual set up “Aujourd’hui, jamais, le présent redémarre” 2004-20057 Eric Herbin stresses the development of this sensitive geography. Personal accounts make up the raw material he uses (letters, photos, workers’ teachers’, doctors’, engineers’ accounts, etc.). The people are from a former mining region, the Pas de Calais, not a random choice8. This area of France has been fashioned by the world of work. We can see this in its geology (underground galleries, slag heaps) in the urban structure (workers’ accommodation, houses for the owners, industrial sites) and in its social and cultural make up. It has been divided up between various human activities and social identities. It is as such a many facetted world. However this diversity does not create positive dynamics as the sectors are isolated from one another. The way the work is built up breaks down a central organisation around the ideas of work and the active economy. Two videoprojectors show four small images along two quarters of a circle. On the ground is a series of touch-sensitive carpets covered with coloured pebbles. When the spectator walks above these objects, they also intervene to modify the way in which the images succeed each other. In this way Eric Herbin works on shifts between the various elements which record accounts of the past, present and future of the mining region. The “map” here indicates perceptions, images, grey areas, leaks, disappearances and empty spaces. The way in which it is organised and its dynamic quality cuts across the images articulated for this territory into possible routes, each very different from one another, but never passing through a centre. Next to the structures recalling the world of work, there is a multi-facetted identity, with a network of relationships, between inhabitants etc. which escapes from imposed norms.


In “Other side, break” 20079 an installation placed on the floor, the artists continued their designing of a map without a usual key (of dreams). Hundreds of vinyl records are cut up and juxtaposed to create two sinuous lines. These two circuits form a sort of labyrinth which is driven through by vehicles equipped with a stylus. Each time they run on the disc we hear a snatch of what is between the grooves. Through their movements the vehicles “mix” a piece of music whose theme could be the abrupt cut. It is indeed impossible to for the spectator to hear a piece of music as a whole. They just make out sounds, while the car is passing over a piece of vinyl. The sounds can in this way skid, just as a car swerves from one piece of a record to another. This chaotic piece of music, with neither beginning nor end, does not lead anywhere. Only the operating mode remains the same. It is made up of clashes, noises, movements and sounds which are allowed to escape.


In their various installations, Cléa Coudsi and Eric Herbin call on the spectator through a range of different senses. By using past and the present means of communication (post cards, letters internet etc) they try to create mutual desires, knowledge and stories and build up a common map. The fictions which they create are virtual examples of possible worlds. Yet we should not take this to mean that fiction isolates us from reality. “The paradox is that in opening the space of what is possible, fiction allows us to better master what is real.”10


1 “Recueillir / Intervalles” 2004 is “a video installation made

using digital photographs taken in different open air markets in

France. The installation uses two video projectors. The project

has been carried out over a period of two years. Two linked

yet distinct spaces are used to display it.” (Cléa Coudsi).

2 Roland Barthes, L’obvis et l’obtue, essais critique III, éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1982.

3 “Moments and places” was created at the Fresnoy, Studio

National des Arts Contemporains. It lasts 38 minutes and

took the form of a continuous loop in the exhibition “Panorama

7”, 2006

4 Cléa Coudsi and Eric Herbin talking about “Des moments et

des lieux”

5 Michel de Certeau, La prise de parole et autres écrits

politiques, Editions du Seuil, 1994, p. 54.

6 A comment by the artist Cléa Coudsi.

7“Today, never, the present starts again”, installation shown

at the Fresnoy, Studio National des Arts Contemporains, as part

of the exhibition ”Panorama 5” 2004.

8 Eric Herbin comes from this region of France.

9 The installation “Other side, break” was exhibited at the

Chapelle Saint-Pry in Béthune, for the exhibition “Cléa Coudsi and Eric Herbin”, 24 February - 8 April 2007.

10 Jean-Marie Schaeffer, De l’imaginaire à la fiction, Vox Poetica, 2002.