The Cosmos In Which We Live, Chapter II

Open to the Public: 4 - 6 PM through March 28, 2014, Kitchener Studio Project, 44 Gaukel Street, Kitchener

Pascal Dufaux builds bio-morphic kinetic video surveillance cameras. His three cameras orbit, and in their orbiting, gather random visual information. Each camera's video feed is delivered through projectors with a predetermined time of delay.

The results are bewildering. Similar to the effect of seeing yourself on store window television before being aware that you are being recorded on camera, only multiplied by three and distorted by time delay, images that are gathered and projected are gathered again, and again. We have entered a hall of mirrors where the past and present are only a delayed and decayed version of reality.

"Through the construction of aberrant vanishing points, through the movement of orbiting frames and sliding images, I aspire to render the strangeness of our visual reality that surrounds and contains us." Pascal Dufaux

The Christie/CAFKA Artist-In-Residence program is made possible by the generous support of Christie Digital.

Pascal would like thank the Kwartzlab Maker Space for welcoming him to Kitchener and allowing him to use their facilities.



Pascal Dufaux’s Machines

by Tibra Ali

Pascal Dufaux’s machines evoke to my mind the best of science fiction. Their organic yet metallic shapes suggest that they could be probes, which have been sent down by an alien civilization. I imagine them falling quietly from the sky at night, gently unfurling their legs and antenna-like eyes as they reach their destinations on the surface of the Earth. I imagine that they have been sent to observe and record everything on Earth. To observe it objectively without any emotions or prejudices, democratically flattening all hierarchies that human emotions impose on the act of seeing. These machines find all equally interesting — the human drama, the fly on the wall, the abandoned warehouse, the sounds and sights of an empty landscape.

His machines, in turn, are inspired by the machines that we, as human beings, have sent out into outer space — to roam the surface of Mars, descend into the vortices of Venus, fly past the rings of Saturn, or to reach beyond the boundaries of the Solar System, machines that are infinitely patient as they cross the vast gulfs of space and time, tirelessly seeing and listening. Bathing in the poem of the cosmos just as Rimbaud’s bateau ivre bathed in the poem of the sea.

Yet they send back what they have seen in infrared, ultraviolet and x-ray. And as we see the universe through them, these machines become extensions of our senses. Just as in modern poetry the need for imagery creates a short circuit among the senses of the poet, we expand our capacity to see the universe by blurring the boundaries of our senses. The stunning pictures of gravitational lensing from Hubble Deep Field are also in a sense us “seeing” the dark matter that pervades the universe.

But these scientific instruments also dive deep into “inner space” — electron micrographs that reveal the non-human beauty of the insect world, scanning microscopes that reveal topographies of the landscapes of atomic surfaces of matter, submarine probes that record the unseen drama that for eons has been taking place on the vast continents on the ocean floor.

It is only when we reflect upon the vast adventures of science as a totality that we realize how much of the universe is hidden from our plain view. But there is even more: art reveals to us that even the here and now remains hidden from us. It is as if our brain has made a contract with itself to tune out everything that doesn’t fit snugly with some preconceived notion of reality. Milan Kundera, in his novel Identity, talks about how the eye, seen by the lyrically minded as the window to the soul, is also an inefficient optical device that requires constant lubrication and wiping — a fact that we somehow subtract from our conscious mind. Our ego, our sense of time, separates us from what is present right in front of us by imbuing reality with a tumultuous film of emotions. The project of 20th and 21st century art, from modern to contemporary, is to rip through that lyrical façade and reveal what truly is.

What art in the West conceived as its project, the ancient Eastern ascetics had already been pursuing through long and sustained meditation. It is by that machine-like persistent vision that they peeled away the layers to reveal what lies underneath. In my mind, Pascal Dufaux’s machines touch on something very similar. They have, encoded in their genes, the essence of the expansive scientific curiosity about the cosmos as well as the artistic obsession to discover the essence of the here and now.

Stay a while, sit down or stand, and look. Let the novelty of seeing yourself reflected many times, in time and space, fade away. The spatial distance of yourself is also temporal distance. Empty your mind and let it wander and dwell on the image of yourself distanced from yourself in time and space. Let the machines with their persistent vision reveal to you the hidden and forgotten texture of unadorned time.

Tibra Ali, March 2014.

Tibra Ali is a theoretical physicist who teaches and does research at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. After finishing his master’s in physics at Dhaka University in Bangladesh, he obtained his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in England. His current research interests are quantum gravity, string theory and cosmology. 


Artist statement

Archeology of a Vision 

During the 1970's, when I was a child living in the north of France, I found a World War II high explosive shell lying among some snails at the edge of a field. I recall thinking for a long time about this mysterious vehicle of destruction, which had fallen from the sky. I was perplexed by the disturbing but nonetheless fascinating quality emanating from the refined steel object where it lay in the countryside, by the resonant juxtaposition of the technical sophistication of an armed bomb with the subtle and delicate forms of the shell. This event marked my first aesthetic epiphany, one on which my artistic sensibility is based. As I contemplated this lethal “ready-made” fell in the field of my childhood perceptions, my vision opened to a more complex and paradoxical beauty of the reality. 

Ut pictura, ita visio, “vision itself is an image,” Johannes Kepler 

Later, as an adult watching a CCTV camera mechanically scrutinize the world around me, I experienced the same mixed feelings of alarm and curiosity. I decided to buy a mini surveillance camera. I placed it on my worktable and viewed it the way 17th-century Flemish painters viewed and painted skulls on the desks of scholars: as an instrument of knowledge and measurement, before which the mystery of existence was contemplated. Memento mori. Powerful and unsettling, the surveillance camera’s automatic imagery is produced by no one in particular and has no author. Instead, it is created by a system or a place watching itself. In real time, surveillance cameras compose the new vanitas of our era. Before these images represent law enforcement and control, they are first and foremost neutral, mechanical and literal representations of reality, caught between the crude beauty of the machine and the fragile complexity of the living beings crossing the optical field.

Vision Machines 

In 2004, as I watched images captured by NASA robots on Mission Mars Explorer, I felt the limits of landscape art being pushed forward: along with this visual expansion, the whole of the cosmos and its extraordinary phenomena suddenly entered my field of quotidian representation. I started to design perception devices in the hope of rendering the familiar world visible through the prism of a similar extraterrestrial perspective. My kinetic video machines are terrestrial automatons that produce extra-ordinary images of people and common spaces.

Pascal Dufaux