Subduction zone is an area of tectonic movements between oceanic and continental plates that the artist Cyril de Commarque has transformed into a metaphor for the impact that human progress has had on nature.

The work is composed by a six channel video installation that combines footage shot in nature and modern cities.

The principle of split-screen was initially investigated by Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, shortly right after the medium of film was invented. Commarque is continuing this conversation by allowing the screen to inform the perception of space heighten by the use of sound.

The artist is experimenting with a medium characterized by moving pictures, thus implying a narrative content which follows a specific preconceived plot, such as early Hollywood had implemented. Russian filmmakers from the beginning of the 20th century onwards were fascinated a lot more with the connotative potential of the picture sequences transgressing the level of the narrative. Abrupt cutting and parallel montage of disparate pictures encouraged the viewer to find the connections for himself by which the images can emerge anew in the intellect. Eisenstein speaks therefore of an “intellectual montage” evoked through a progression of different “attractions”.

According to Eisenstein the montage ceases to be a notion of conjoined pieces, instead it is made out of independent pictorial parts that find each other in a controversy. The Russian Formalists created films that project images in a consecutive way without being chained together in a visibly logical connection. Instead, they are designed to stand in a constant conflict and contrast with each other.

Commarque’s infinite loop operates similarly, although, here, one has to stress the meditative approach of an almost painting-like quality in the images, than of mere “attractions”. This quality allows for references to William Turner for the treatment of light, and even to Breughel, as in the images of swarming people. The wave images, predominant in this installation, remind through their power of suggestion of the long exposure sea photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

As a matter of fact, the montage of the night sequences in Commarque’s installation evokes the poetry in the legendary Dziga Vertov’s film A Man with a Movie Camera, from 1929. He manages to let a metropolis-portrait emerge through a progression of unconnected image montages. Obviously, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times from 1936 with the humorous depiction of the automated life are also not far.

Commarque’s photographs exhibited near the installation offer an enrichening contrast. They show dramatic and painterly images of seasides and water, as well as depictions of social and industrial waste which together with their inherent social critique unfold their sheer beauty and chromaticity. Cyril de Commarque is an image-poet who thinks in wide associations diachronically in history, yet, with a subtle but unavoidable presence here-and-now.

In the Subduction Zone installation the sea serves as also visually as a connecting element, referring subtly to the fact that a human being consists out of 90% water. A distinct feeling of humbleness before “the whole” stands behind this work, that at the same time stages and documents how the human being becomes a victim of the mechanisms of his own alleged omnipotence.

At the beginning of the 20th century, two years before Ford heralds the industrial age with his assembly line, one still senses the unbroken respect of the poet Rudyard Kipling for the enormous natural power which the sea represents:

…Who hath desired the Sea? — the immense and contemptuous surges?
The shudder, the stumble, the swerve, as the star-stabbing bow-sprit emerges?
The orderly clouds of the Trades, the ridged, roaring sapphire thereunder —
Unheralded cliff-haunting flaws and the headsail’s low-volleying thunder —
His Sea in no wonder the same his Sea and the same through each wonder:
His Sea as she rages or stills?…
Rudyard Kipling, excerpt from The Sea and The Hills, 1902

It is the seductive aesthetics of Commarques power of imagery, that represents for his public a sensible and yet emphatic challenge to reassess one’s own position. We could almost state, referring to Friedrich Schiller’s famous request: “The path to freedom leads through beauty”.

Alexandra v. Stosch

Galerie 5213 Berlin, 28 Feb to 11 Apr 2009
Video installation:
Projection on 6 screens simultaneously, 4’30”, stereo sound