The Revenge of the Eye: A Portfolio by Chris Marker
Horrigan, Bill, Artforum International
FOR SIX DECADES Chris Marker has borne witness to the great social upheavals of his day, memorializing through film the legacies of the Russian Revolution and the Great War, World War II, the end of colonialism, Vietnam, and May '68. No wonder, then, that he would take a longer view than many of the mass protests that roiled cities around France this past spring, when the conservative government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin pushed through a spectacularly ill-advised First Employment Contract (CPE) designed to encourage firms to hire young workers by permitting employers to fire them without cause during an extended probationary period. After weeks of disruptive demonstrations and strikes, the CPE was definitively withdrawn in April, an apparent victory for the coalition of student protesters and labor unions. "Villepin," Marker quipped, "managed to do something nobody in the Left had been able to do--[get] the unions to cooperate with each other."
As he had so many times before, Marker took to the streets to record events as they unfolded. The portfolio of images presented in these pages is distilled from those weeks of civil unrest. "The Revenge of the Eye," seen here for the first time in print, draws on the same black-and-white palette applied to his media installations Silent Movie, 1994-95, and OWLS AT NOON Prelude: The Hollow Men, 2005. But those were summary, elegiac reckonings, his past and the century's, rendered in the colorless hues of archival memory. In this new series, he re-presents the present as, effectively, already past. The images are not "bona fide photographs," as he puts it, but frame captures from his video footage, studied in slow-motion playback to stem the otherwise "inordinate flow of video and television." Working in this "superliminal" mode, Marker searches for the "one frame lost in the stream of almost identical frames ... the real photogram, something nobody has perceived--not even the guy who shot it (me, in most cases). …