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sentient touch : body maps
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Thecla Schiphorst
by Éric Raymond

Bodymaps: Artifacts of Touch, by Thecla Schiphorst, belongs to that tradition of electronic works, somewhat rare, wherein the viewer's experience derives from concrete immersion in a highly poetic interactive environment. The installation consists of a group of speakers placed around a table covered with a cloth screen made of white velvet, which conceals a battery of electronic sensors. These sensors control a videodisc player linked to a computer, which issues a video projection and generates a sound environment, both of which vary according to the intensity of the viewer's touch.

The narrativity of the work's chain of events is subject to a number of unusual determinants, ranging from the aleatory to the programmed. This narrativity makes it possible for the viewer to roam among the various video sequences, whose order and selection is the product of a sort of "predetermined chance" that calls to mind the poetic structure of Stéphane Mallarmé's Un coup de dés n'abolira jamais le hasard.

Here interactivity is employed for its potential to disseminate. The viewed sequences may follow an order that appears only once. Bodymaps evokes what goes on behind the scenes of an image, the deadly flip-side which distances the image from itself. Sequences that show the artist lying horizontally with her son suggest an oneiric space where the experience of sleeping appears to border on that of death.

A web of contradictions is woven with remarkable rhetorical fluidity, inviting the viewer to see the work as bearing witness to both the distance and the dialogue that constantly operate between intuition and the mediation of language. The work depicts a phenomenological recovery in that it is the image and representation of the world, created by a gaze that constructs experience by immersing itself in the work. Bodymaps: Artifacts of Touch calls to mind the role of the proactive actor, a role that characterises our relationship with the world as we see it. Our representations never exist on their own, because they come to the world from our side of the mirror, a reality embedded with meaning by language. Confronted with this work, viewers are captured and captivated by the play of reflections. These urge them to adopt a distanced, meditative posture, from within the privacy of their relationship, to what is unfolding both within the work and outside of it. This dialogue between the tactile and the iconographic invites the viewer to reconsider the artificial division that separates representations of the real world.

Bodymaps provides fresh fuel for these sorts of connections. The work's meaning is brought to life by the resonances created through the purified challenges of presence and absence that it poses. In this way, the work holds back, it does not give itself up completely, and by means of this reticence, reveals to us the absence that grafts itself onto all photographic images and their referents in the form of residue and trace. Moreover, the work replicates the mnemonic nature of the photographic image by presenting its signification as subjective, the product of a precise moment, and by emphasising the arbitrary and circumstantial nature of its immediacy. Here, meaning is peeled off in layers.

Bodymaps explores the impossibility of arresting fleeting images of consciousness, and the impossibility of touching upon ourselves or the Other in order to grasp -- in a single moment, in the fluctuation of events -- the very movement of the real. By proposing so many unique paths through it, which in turn make us attentive to everything contained within the dilated space of a single moment, Thecla Schiphorst's installation appears to be inviting us to envelop ourselves in the experience of our own memory. The work calls to mind the unfolding and duration of this memory through the passage of time, as it clears a path and indicates its stopping point, its pause, and its mortification through the video's digital memory, which is both immobile and fluid.

Éric Raymond is an artist and professor at the École des arts visuels et médiatiques at the Université du Québec à Montréal. He has published articles on contemporary art in specialised journals such as Parachute, Archée, and Etc Montréal.

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