Essay Ana Maria Lozano, 02/2005

From idiosyncratic to ideological

François Bucher is versatile, making use of two different supports depending on the demands of the question that is asked. Thus, his work fits into premises that are defined not by the support that he uses, but by his own stance, which is always analytical regarding cultural conventions displayed in popular, everyday realms, through various usages and policies of image.

Bucher's background as a plastic artist, as well as his work as a theoretician, defines his solid work. Being both a Colombia and a United States-based artist, he travels along distinct cultural contexts that provide him with the necessary information for his inquiries as a cultural theoretician. Within these realms, with lucidity, Bucher detects idiosyncratic and local configurations in seemingly globalized, homogeneous landscapes.

Aiming at the international recognition of his work, one of Bucher's pieces, White balance, takes place during the days after the attacks on the Twin Towers, in a hybrid piece comprised of various audiovisual media, ranging from documental to the capturing of TV image and audio. The piece reveals a poignant, authoral viewpoint, delivering a terrifying account that converts contemporary political issues that prompt extremely emotional reactions, and which are dangerously captured by the media, into explicit displays of xenophobia, racist demonstrations, and satanizations of the other.

The piece by Bucher reminds us of the attacks and rethinks many of the commonplace assumptions that, since then, have served as a day-to-day foundations for belligerance and fundamentalism. White balance depicts the everyday citizens, middle men and women who expose their opinions, and express their emotions. When presented by an autonomous media, these opinions reveal naked ideological stances that are cunningly hidden within a power discourse, ideological stances that prompt deep responses and reactions. Bucher's critical viewpoint, his ability to move like an amphibian, using resources that combine different media, allows his approach to penetrate gaps in hegemonic discourses, and to project them outwards.

On the other hand, just like many contemporary authors, Bucher has shown interest on television, which is a compendium of symbolic structures and an image-making space by excellence. Bucher runs the gamut of genres, establishing interferences by means of observer-commentators who mediatize, analyze, translate it into global as well as local terms, creating an abnormal circuit, a bidirecionality which reformulates the media, and becomes it exposed, on several aspects, reveals its structures and devices. 

Interview Eduardo de Jesus, 02/2005

How did you become interested in the media art universe?

I was always interested in time. When I was ten I wrote a poem on the subject that already speaks to my fascination. Before leaving Colombia to do an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago I had been steadily approaching the concept of “moving images” and montage but without actually using film or video directly. In 1997 I made a piece, in collaboration with a Colombian artist, Eduardo Pradilla which was called The Players. It consisted of long strips of sequences of images that were creating a kind of relational syntaxes, like that of a film. The installation stood on the very threshold of cinema. It was about the cinematographic question as such - duration, movement, stoppage and repetition. So the logical step for me was to enter the dimension of time-based media. I was accepted to a program in Chicago called Time Arts. At the time my emphasis was more focused on the question of reality and fiction, mirrors and representation. My man of the moment, was, of course Jorge Luis Borges: masks, labyrinths paradoxical chronologies and falsehood. I was inside a personal exploration which nevertheless had its strong political undertones (and very Latin-American ones). You can say I was trying to link a personal history (focused intensely on the figure of my father, who was French) with a postcolonial argument. The tone was much more lyrical, if you see a film like my MFA thesis Twin Murders (a mystical diagram) which is secretly my preferred work, you will understand what I mean. The fact is I never show it now because, even if it is probably the most important marker in my development as an artist it still is a work of learning the question of duration, it is an initial confrontation with the very problem of that third image, that silent, non existent image, the “time-image” which one is projecting in the mind of the spectator…

Your work is very political, especially the way in which you approach the media phenomenon and its unfoldings. This is clear in White balance (2002), and in Television (an address) (2003-2004). How do you link messages from communication systems to your own creative process? What is your starting point?

I like a phrase that I think Samuel Beckett had said: that all images are sleeping in the expectation of the moment of their awakening. This is how I feel about the task of many of us who are working with the images of the media. I understand the politics of pieces such as White balance (to think is to forget differences) much more in the dimension of the “how” than in the dimension of the “what”. I mean that my initial divorce, politically, is firstly with a practice that comes up with unitary compact universal thesis and then finds the images that will illustrate it, in order to convert the spectator into a new higher truth. Lets say that even if I share the same social concerns of some of my friends which are inscribed in this kind of thought, I find myself at a radical distance from a practice that is self assured in that fashion. When speaking about White balance… I have always brought about this phrase of Osip Mandelstam that I love “where there is amenability to paraphrase, where the sheets have not been rumpled, there poetry, so to speak has not spent the night.” The rumpled sheets are my politics. A messy investigation “inside” of the image (here lies the political position against the script that Godard has always emphasized); something powerful takes place when the maker is carefully shepherding meaning, where something is in excess of the maker. I am not referring to an arbitrary operation in the least because it all comes from a pointed intuition that needs the time-image to come to light. Continuing with Deleuzian ideas lets say I am very tuned to a notion according to which ideas are ideas in a medium, one has an idea in film, not an idea that will later be translated to film. With White balance… for example I started out with the conjunction of a Camera Manual and racial politics, as an effort to give the matter the complexity and to reach the “unspeakability” that it truly implies. Privilege and race are always speaking us (we are spoken by them), not the other way around. The television project stems from similar principles but I consider it linked to a new stance in my practice. Steadily I have been noticing that one cannot subtract oneself from the problem of how, when and where images circulate. The television project is in sense a project about becoming “the media”. The mediator. Yet, at a meta level. It is about the paradoxical act of “transmitting the transmission” so as to awaken the facile, disposable, trash of the media and enter it into a reflection which gels a particular kind of thought on itself. There are two aspects that I want to mention about the project. On one hand there is the fact that the curator or the programmer has come to a platform where he/she is undoubtedly performing an artistic function. What has taken place is a kind of fractal phenomenon. Nowadays there are expendable artists or single shot videos which become fragments of the larger thesis of a curator/programmer. So where is the real place of creation in that scenario? The question is: can one seriously stay removed from the full range of the creative operation? Repositioning the image is a place of an absolutely artistic dimension. The curator/programmer is in that place. One has to reach the place where meaning is being negotiated. A really dangerous place where what is said is crucial and it is in competition (or at least trying) in the battle of representation. Otherwise slowly but surely you will be out of the larger conversation, and your work will be artisanal (in the worst sense of the term). The other aspect of the television project is to reconnect the paradigms of Cinema and Television. When Deleuze says that television dismissed its ethical/aesthetical calling and inscribed itself in the dimension of “control” he means amongst other things that the images that television transmits belong to no one and are doing nothing. They are in a vacuum. The crisis is all hidden in the very concept of “transmission” which implies a one to one relationship with the world. As if no human was involved. Television is, as Serge Daney said, the “making cinema of the world” or the world making its own images. The project is an effort (a symbolic effort) to visit the zero degree of this problem. By becoming “the media” then I can reveal what the media is. I can invite an ex-President of Colombia (judged and condemned by Washington), for example, to speak to Washington in the day of Bush's inauguration parade and thereby point out how every decision of “were”, “in what direction” and “how” something is transmitted is absolutely charged with an ethical meaning. The problem is linked to a notion that Hommi Bhabba has always emphasized: the “right to narrate”. It is a political gesture to give someone a platform to speak. Does one give the person that platform because one is aligned with them, or is there a politics that is in excess of that partisanship, where what is seriously considered is the geopolitical diagram of the world? The real question is who asks the questions.

In White balance (2002) you use image and sound from various sources, including recordings of yourself near New York's Ground Zero, TV images, Internet, and audio, in addition to references to a Schwarzenegger movie that mentions Colombia, your native country. These structured appropriations within non-linear narratives seem like memory strategies, in times when multimediations bring together personal visions and the global media circuit. Is there really a concern with memory and the ways in which time is registered in our days? To what extent are your personal references and questions expressed in this video?

There is a deep concern with memory for me, yes. Right now I am engaged with a piece called Year Zero which deals with another historical threshold (other than Ground Zero). That of a political assassination in Colombia which was followed by the destruction of Bogotá and the inauguration of an ultra violent period in Colombian history. It is of great concern to me to be able to disengage the memory of the 1948 events in Colombia from the clichéd images and narratives and from the banal desire of uncovering a “truth” at a conspiratorial level. The truth that sets you free is the truth of what narratives have determined your consciousness and who and what has had power over them. The truth that sets free is the fact that everything is moving, the past is moving and there is an urgency to be had regarding the past. We can project power and possibility towards the past as Agamben points out speaking about Debord and Godard. Clichéd images of history are precisely the places were thought has gone cold. One has to thaw memory in order for it to be fully active in its transformative power. That is cinema. The real conspiracies are not the imperial ones but rather that of our collective imaginaries which fix and unfix our perceptions of ourselves and our history. The emancipation that one can suggest, or aspire to, is an emancipation of seeing the forces at play, seeing the symbolic dimension of dates and events in the present, and to be able to address them. To be able to mobilize the imaginaries in ways that open a real possibility of thought. 

How did the Television (an address) (2003-2004) project arise? Does it mean to take the television discourse and make it more personal and critical? What was the project's starting point?

Yes, you can say it's a Lutheran revolt against the ecclesiastical power of our day. Or a revolt against the fascism of our day, as Pasolini had called it. To be done with the Judgement of God, meaning to be born as a reader that is not under the spell of a sacred Meaning in the sky beyond. I like Godard's multiple strategies on this point, and his tenacious writings on TV. There is this time when he is watching a documentary on the concentration camps on television and asks himself if it was really indispensable for the broadcast station to place their logo “on these poor images of the night”. To be able to see that logo atop human misery and to resist ever considering it an aside, or an unimportant peripheral factor, to understand that “meaning” is precisely there, in the intersection of the logo and the tattooed numbers on the skin of our recent history and to have the power to address the image that seems unaddressable, at its degree zero, that is the act of resistance that I think concerns us today. The starting point of the project was given to me by Drazen Pantic, a pioneer of streaming and of the open source movement worldwide, who gave me access to a server in Amsterdam. I owe him a lot of insights into this new world that has been gelling around the Internet. Then I asked myself the question for about a year. The same question of a workshop I will be giving in Sweden next month. What to do about live?

In his essay Poeira nos olhos (Dust in the eyes), Jean-Paul Fargier claims that, when it comes to video, instead of “Silence, we're recording”, it would be more appropriate to have “Noise, we're tricking!”. In some of your work, such as Attaining the body (2003) and White balance (2002), typical electronic image noise is incorporated, revealing a sort of “non-image”, but one which is filled with meaning and signification. What's the role of noise in your work?

That is a great question. One could go on forever on that question, the white page question. I think it is an effort to always pull the rug from under the images. There is a phrase of Benjamin, that I read thorough Agamben, (a big influence on my thought on the past four years), that the non image is the refuge of all images. I think including that noise is opening the full dimension of the experience of video, its volume and its depth. There is another distinction that one can make between film and video which I find very pertinent and which I was referencing in that operation of showing the noise underneath, (or within). The fact that the path from to “the digital” from “the analogical” is a path from a dimension of the brain as receptor of an illusion to that of a brain as a receptor of an equation, a mathematical question. And these epistemological shifts of the image are there, underneath haunting our images.

How do you view the political situation of the United States, internationally speaking, especially regarding its interventions in Iraq and Latin America (supporting the unsuccessful coupe in Venezuela and the intervention threats in Colombia)?

I think that we all have the challenge to reveal what is going on in this new world order without loosing our sense of a poetic dimension in our work, without becoming self-righteous, without creating new presuppositions which will always find their demise in due turn. It is in the way in which we relate to images not only in the content, where one offers a resistance.

How did the project for the Valdez magazine begin, and how does it unfold nowadays?

Valdez is a magazine founded in 1995 by three friends. Its politics is to be free, in the most powerful way, which is in the sense that it isn't sold but given, as a gift. For me it has become a kind of landing pad. I land in a particular dialogue that my voluntary exile in America and now Germany could have erased, or blurred if it were not for Valdez. Valdez is the place where I find an old deep center, where I can reconnect with my country that I deeply love, Colombia.

How was your experience at Location One and your studies at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, both in New York?

Location One was a great opportunity to bypass the long viacrucis that awaits a newly arrived artist in New York. They gave me the opportunity to be visible right away, without asking many questions. I was very lucky. And it was very generous of them. Thanks to Location One I had a relatively cozy New York when many of my friends were really being burnt. It gave me space to grow and think of my work. That is invaluable in that city. The Whitney Independent Study Program is a truly outstanding pedagogical, human, social experience in the heart of the art world. Never have I fine tuned my politics in such an intense and concentrated way. I am very fond of Ron Clark, the director of the program and my dialogue, and especially my violent antagonism with some of his positions are one of the most fertile political grounds I have ever walked on.

What are your next projects?

A work in collaboration with Pedro Paixão, a Portuguese artist living in Milan, called Field trip in Rome for the Saint Paul according to Pasolini which we have been working on, on and off since 2001. A new chapter of the Television (an address) project called A second poem on the Third World that will be presented in a curatorial project of Jean-Christophe Royoux in Nantes in 2006. This implies a much more complicated operation where I will be transmitting simultaneously from two different ex-French colonies. A non-video work which consists of collecting images in the city, which I will present in the Prague Biennial. A large installation and video piece called Year Zero that I will present in Bogotá on March 10th 2005. A writing on Television and Cinema that I will be publishing in the Journal of Visual Culture. A project around the World Cup where I will seek to unite radio stations world wide in a single project. An installation called Ready-mades with a fold that I will be presenting in The CCA in Glasgow in November as a part of the exhibition In the Poem about Love you don't write the Word Love curated by Tanya Leighton.

Comment biography Eduardo de Jesus, 02/2005

François Bucher (Cali, Colombia, 1972) - François Bucher's education began with a degree in Literature from the Universidad de Los Andes (Los Andes University) in Bogotá, in 1997. Soon thereafter, he received a Master's Degree from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, where he earned a scholarship fund prize in 1999. 

In 1996, Bucher had his first solo exhibition, entitled “Auténticas imitaciones de réplicas genuinas” (Authentic imitations of genuine replicas) at the cultural center of Casa Wiedemann (Wiedemann House), in Bogotá. In the following year, in collaboration with Eduardo Pradilla, his work featured in the “Los Jugadores” (The Players) exhibition at Galería Santa Fé. In the same year, Bucher exhibited “El marco es la obra” at Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendaño, in Bogotá. Also in 1997 he won the first prize from the Colombian Ministry for Culture Film Department. 

In 1999 Bucher earned his Master's Degree in cinema at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and was awarded a scholarship fund. Still in 1999, his work was also featured in the solo exhibition “Twin Murders” at the movie room of Bogotá Modern Art Museum. That same exhibition appeared in the following year at the Alliance Française heaquarters in Bogotá. 

Between 1999 and 2000, Bucher took part in the The Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, in New York. In 2000, he joined the “Here and Elsewhere” collective at the Whitney Museum programme, and exhibited his work in London and Norway. In 2000, The Jerome Foundation awarded The New York City Media Arts Grant to Bucher. 

In 2001, Bucher became a resident artist at Location One (, in New York, where he exhibited “Recorders” in collaboration with Katya Sander. Also in 2001, Bucher received an award from Alliance Française at Bogotá. In the following year he exhibited “White Balance (to think is to forget differences)”, still at Location One. In the years that followed this first screening, the “White balance” video received awards in many festivals, such as VideoEx (Zurich, 2003); the jury prize at Videolisboa (Lisbon, 2003); first prize in Videocreación Iberoamericana (Ibero-American Video Creation) from the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y Leon (MUSAC) (Castilla y Leon Contemporary Art Museum), 2004; the Werkleitz Award at Transmediale (Berlin, 2004); and the Director's Citation at Black Maria Film Festival. 

Bucher's work is exhibited worldwide in film festivals and video screenings, as well as in distinguished exhibitions, such as “Empire/State”, Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (New York, 2002); “Speaking Truths”, Intermedia Arts (Minneapolis, 2002); “The S-Files”, Museo del Barrio, 2003; White Box (New York, 2002); Valenzuela y Klenner Arte Contemporáneo (Bogotá, 2003); Smack Mellon Studios (New York, 2002 and 2003); Prague Biennale (2003); “Slowness”, Dorsky Gallery (New York, 2003); “Dándole Vuelta la Poder”, Centro Cultural La Recoleta (Buenos Aires, 2004); “Cine y Casi Cine”, Museo Reina Sofia (Madrid, 2004); “Transmission”, Musée des Beaux-Arts (Nantes, 2005); Fusebox Gallery, (Washington DC, 2005). Bucher's videos have also been included in important programmes: the Oberhausen Film Festival (2002); Impakt (Utrecht, 2002); Next 5 minutes, (Amsterdam), Kassel Documentary Film Festival; European Media Arts Festival (Osnabruck, 2003); The Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago, 2002); Reencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin, 2003; Transmediale (Berlin, 2004 and 2005); Argos Festival (Brussels, 2004); INPUT 2000; The Pacific Film Archive (U.C. Berkeley, 2003); The New York Video Festival (2002); Chicago Filmmakers (2003), and The Turner Prize Film Program at Tate Gallery (London, 2002). 

François Bucher's art work is distributed by the Video Data Bank, and features in art collections at the Bard College, Princeton University, University of Essex, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y Leon, MUSAC, and University of California at Santa Cruz.

Bibliographical references Eduardo de Jesus, 02/2005

A text published on the website Universes in Universe on the opening of François Bucher's exhibition Twin Murders (2001), held at the Alliance Française, in Bogotá:

A text published on the website Universes in Universe on the opening of the exhibition White Balance:

Gilles Charalambos is one of the pioneers of video art in Colombia. Charalambos is not only an artist, but also an important theorist and researcher. This is a link to a research on the history of video art in Colombia: