There, all is harmony and beauty, luxury, calm and delight
The video installation Fanfare, Calme & Volupté consists of two synchronously linked video loops, one showing the overall picture and the other detail shots of a tableau vivant composed of majorettes and members of a brass band asleep. The overall picture is shown on a small screen and the sixty-odd detail shots that have been edited together are projected on a large scale (3 x 5 metres), in such a way that from a certain viewpoint the spectator can watch both pictures at the same time. The members of the ‘Fanfare des Marolles’ and ‘La Semeuse’, dressed in their traditional red and white brass band uniforms, and their musical instruments (wind instruments, drums and metallophones) are ‘draped’ on a set of five steps, with the young girls in the middle and the somewhat older men at the sides.
The characters adopt the most comfortable sleeping position possible, leaning against each other or their instruments, some of them sitting, others lying on their stomachs or on their backs. The movements we are able to observe are minimal: putting a hat straight, scratching an itch here and there, straightening a uniform, the slight fluttering of a feather on a hat, the up and down movement of the chest with the breathing. No drama. Despite the fact that the video installation does not have any sound, the movements are filmed so evocatively that the spectator can easily hear imaginary ‘sleep sounds’.
Fanfare, Calme & Volupté was first shown as a video installation at the ‘LLS 387 ruimte voor actuele kunst’ (Antwerp) in 2008. The work had been created a year earlier, in autumn 2007, on the occasion of the opening of an arts centre, the newly restored Brigittinenkerk in Brussels.
The festive aspect of the reopening inspired the artist to do something with brass bands and majorettes. But at the same time he wanted to evoke a reflection on the future existence of the arts centre. Which is why the majorettes were not allowed to dance, nor the bands play any music. In a large room in the arts centre a setting was created in which about twenty majorettes and fifteen members of the band appeared for about ninety minutes. The artist’s instructions were simple: sleep or pretend to sleep. Once the cameras started filming, Koen Theys let things take their natural course. One camera filmed the whole scene from the front, while another captured details of the scene. The public were only allowed into the room in small groups of between two and six, so that the restful atmosphere would not be disturbed.
In an interview with the artist, when he was asked how the live performances relate to the later video installations, he replied: ‘I consider each of them as independent works, each with its own character. … Because of the way I film I usually need a setting, which can just as well function as a performance or a happening. In my view, the tension and concentration needed to perform such an event just once for an audience give an added value that is lost if the filming is done with rehearsals and suchlike in a studio. … So the video works are not just recordings of the performance or happening, and the latter are not just mises-en-scène for a film.’
The Fanfare, Calme & Volupté installation is one of a group of works – including the 2005 The Vanitas Record and the 2008 PATRIA (Vive le roi! Vive la république!) – in which Theys goes back to the major traditions of art history. Especially the tradition of 19th-century history and genre painting. The notion of making a traditional genre clash with a contemporary issue does not arise out of nostalgia for a traditional visual idiom, but enables Theys to expose conflicts within contemporary art or culture better.
The title Fanfare, Calme & Volupté refers – not without humour – to the well-known refrain from Baudelaire’s poem L’invitation au voyage from the collection entitled Les Fleurs du mal (1857): ‘Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, luxe, calme et volupté’. In this love poem, Baudelaire gives free rein to his escapist oriental fantasies. In 1904 the poem inspired Henri Matisse, among others, to paint an impressionist work with the same name.
Fanfare, Calme & Volupté refers to the overwhelming formats and associated theatricality of history paintings, by enlarging the details to such a size that the spectator imagines himself faced with a tremendously large scene. When the spectator stands in a particular place in the room with its two video screens, he can constantly zoom in on and out of the picture without moving. He is then both distant from and very close to the scene. The format of the projection means the spectator sometimes seems to be in the scene itself. Just as in history paintings, in this work the artist uses the frequently cited triangular composition, but without giving the triangle its tip. It is as if the dramatic event collapses and is not able to reach its climax. The minimal event shown in Fanfare, Calme & Volupté, set outside time, is thus ironically expressed in the composition of the picture. But references to painting also turn up in the use of chiaroscuro, the rendering of materials and the reflection of light on the metal of the brass instruments and metallophones, and in the texture of the clothing and the feathers in the hats. All this makes a highly tactile experience possible and makes this minimal dramatic event a sensation of silence.
Theys: ‘As a visual artist I am interested in creating that one image that contains the whole of the tension for which others need an entire story. … Precisely because of its stillness, every minimal movement that occurs is a real event..
Ulrike Lindmayr - catalogue 'Home-Made Victories