“The manifestation of a face is the first disclosure. Speaking is before anything else this way of coming from behind one's appearance, behind one's form, an openness in the openness.”
Emmanuel Lévinas - Meaning and Sense
PREFACE 1 is the first of a series of video portraits of texts by various authors. Fascinated by the Book of Questions by Edmond Jabes, I asked a French actress to read a short excerpt from it. French being an alien language to me, I wanted to hear the melody of the original. Elsa Houcade reads “Au seuil du livre”, a dialogue with absence, with the invisible that reveals itself as lack, a failure. I wanted to engage with the text without trying to illustrate it. I liked the idea of a dialogue being read, aloud, in a single voice, emphasising the internal quality of the text. The female voice removes it even further from the imagined author and closer to the Other. Elsa did not know the text and as I found out later she made some mistakes in her reading, which I left as it brought out, through another dimension, the distance between the text, the writer, the reader and the translation.
She is the first reader. We see text upon a white background, a screen-page; the text is the English translation of the original. The structure of the work allows a certain ambiguity in how it can be looked at. Looking can involve reading or not, listening or not, reading and listening and looking, or just looking. Mastery of French and English defines the limits of what becomes accessible through sound and image in text. Jabès begins the Book of Questions with: "You are the one who writes, and the one who is written". And the viewer follows, line by line, crawling over the screen, writing that slowly, but never completely, reveals the readerʼs face. From a single point, the cave of the readerʼs mouth, a dialogue en- sues between the original and its translation, between text and image, between reader and listener. The work thus offers a meditation on ʻsenseʼ as emerging from, as forever mediated by and escaping into these absences, foreclosing the completion of a whole.
gary HURST, Berlin 2011
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