LISTENING TO THE SENSITIVE —CLÉA COUDSI AND ÉRIC HERBIN

CARINE FOL, CATALOGUE OUTSIDER ART IN QUESTION, P 181, ÉDITIONS CFC, 2015

 

The modus operandi of the Lille-based artist duo Cléa Coudsi (b.1980) and Éric Herbin (b.1979) comprises two phases: collecting imperceptible éléments or the material remains of human activities and creating installations. ‘Their practice of gathering things that are generally not kept for long (concise informai messages written on postcards, abbreviated SMS text messages, etc.) is aimed at capturing transient phatic communication: small talk, and everyday frivolous communication.1 In the ‘Interaction’ project, this practice took on a new dimension—they collected imperceptible éléments that are generally not recorded or kept for long: the voices of the residents at Le Carrosse. To achieve this, they created observation equipment with a cocasse (comical, funny) appearance that complemented the traditional recording equipment (a caméra, a digital sound recorder, and a microphone). Equipped with these ‘unusual objects’, they wandered into the communal areas of the homes in order to become acquainted with the residents’ daily habits and activities. But they also visited the residents’ rooms, from which could be heard music, murmuring, and the tick-tock of docks. Wandering haphazardly around these places, they ‘attempted to decipher the residents’ thoughts’. Their recordings contained conversations, interviews, monologues, and various sounds. The participants spoke to them and described their daily lives, and jabbered on about things, each in their own way. ‘Cécilia related her desire to live without “suppressants”, her desire to be “herself”, even though she knows perfectly well that she is acting “madly”. The way she expressed herself by repeating certain parts of sentences, in a regular and précisé way, sometimes reminded us of voices reciting prayers. When she drew circles and stars, which she calls perfect forms, she spoke to herself. They were not words— they were sounds, mysterious utterances. We were very much moved by Béatrice, who tild us about a voice she heard in her dreams—the luminous voice of her deceased husband.’

 

The experience had a great impact on the duo: 'we felt that we were escaping from daily lives when we went to meet them in the homes; it was like going into another world. And we often had the impression that we never really penetrated into this other world. We often said to one another: What is really going on in their heads?’ They were fascinated by the residents’ accounts of their life in the home, their past lives, the places and houses in which they had lived, and of love, mourning, dreams, fears, and anger, which were at times incompréhensible, due to a lack of coherence and meaning when they spoke—they have their own (personal or collective) language. ‘During a session in which they began to talk to one another, they understood one another and had no difficulty interacting with each other, but we became disorientated and had difficulty in un-derstanding what they were saying and found ourselves unable to participate in the conversation, because they seemed to be speaking another language. Their use of language “was disorientat-ing” ; it was as if there was some sort of secret bond between them.’ The artists compared this tangled speech to the cadavre exquis (Exquisité Corpse) game created by the Surrealists, and anadiplo-sis (from the Greek words ana [again] and dip-loos [double]), or dorica castra (a specihc form of anadiplosis characterized not by the répétition of a word at the beginning of the following syntacti-cal unit, but by the répétition of a sound at the end of a unit at the beginning of the following unit). These ideas were a source of inspiration for their sound montage, that they created step by step.

 

They gradually allowed the residents to handle the recording equipment, and were pleased and surprised to discover all sorts of recorded content that ‘would certainly not hâve been possible’ if they had been présent. For example, ‘Christophe seemed to enjoy creating a “saturation of sound”, by talking with his mouth glued to the microphone and encouraging others to do the same. Hais makes the words partly incompréhensible, as the breath of the voices créâtes crackles on the microphone, but it also gives the sound track acertain relief. [...] He would walk around the résidence and go outside (the doors of Le Carrosse are not locked), near the building, and point the microphone at various objects—some of which were silent—, jiggled pebbles, listened to the whisper-ing of the wind, and asked any individuals he encountered questions. He had the headphones on, and his eyes were often shut, so that he could plunge into his inner self, while maintaining contact with the outside world.’

 

All these experiments helped ‘raw material’ to emerge, and Coudsi and Herbin transformed this into an installation of which the panels were covered with squared, perforated sheets of paper pierced with a binary code that allows light and sound to flow out. This ‘écho chamber’ symbolizes both the perfectly organised lives of the résidents and the very different rhythms that each individual invents. The sheets of paper are the transposition of an ordered life, within which everything is minutely controlled. The perforations symbolize the dysrhythmias and discrepancies between these many individuals. The surface of the paper acts like a ‘skin for generating sound’ in this place for encounter, which echoes the spécifie moments in which the words and voices were uttered and their rhythms. As such, the ‘listening chamber’ provides a sensitive approach to human diversity and individuals who are emancipated from socially inculcated models, and, above ail, it attests to a common history ‘composed of incongruity, randomness, drifting, and intensity’.2

 

1. Dominique Païni, http://slash-paris.com/en/artistes/clea-and-eric-coudsi-and-herbin/a-propos

 

2. The quoted phrases were taken from the notes communicated by Cléa Coudsi and Éric Herbin.