Seagulls frozen in midair and other strange stories: David Claerbout’s mesmerizing ‘The Time That Remains’

Sometimes exhibitions should come with subscriptions. Instead of a ticket allowing you to visit the exhibition just once, you would get a booklet of tickets, allowing you to see it again and again. Take The Time That Remains, for instance, David Claerbout‘s extraordinary exhibition at Wiels (Brussels; through May 15). The Belgian (video) artist is an expert in stretching time. Either you will give up immediately, or you’ll become spellbound and you’ll find yourself spending more time than you’d expected to, watching his works of art. Some of his videos are thát mesmerizing that just one is enough for the day. Watch it, go home and come back another time to take in the next one. Subscriptions. Didn’t I mention it?

Sometimes you do feel like a fool. During the vernissage at Wiels I spent some minutes watching a couple of the 600 or so photos that make up The Algier’s Sections Of A Happy Moment. They didn’t seem that interesting to me. It was only when I returned, a few days later, that I realized that they are all pictures of one single moment, frozen in time, taken from many different angles. Impossible. How the hell did Claerbout pull this off? My jaw dropped and I kept on watching, enchanted by that slow guitar music.

How the hell did he pull this off is a question you will be asking yourself also while watching The American Room. It looks like a movie, but again: it’s a movie depicting one frozen moment in time. A room full of people – not moving; not even blinking their eyes – filmed from quite a few different angles. And then Claerbout plays some tricks with his soundtrack. 

As a matter of fact: you’ll find yourself asking yourself a question or two about every single of Claerbout’s often painstakingly constructed works. Or you’ll be a bit angry, when you realize that Claerbout has been toying around with cinema conventions and the expectations of the audience. Which means that you will not get what you wanted to. Take The Bordeaux Piece, for instance. It’s not about the story in that film, but about the changing of the light, and it would take you 13 hours to watch the whole video, as it comprises in fact some 70 short movies.

But I’m going to stop here. And I’m going to let you discover all of it yourself. Let me just add that I love the way Claerbout combines concepts such as beauty, poetry and time, and I’m fond of the way he investigates and toys with preconceptions and many of the set rules of movie making. I’ll leave you with this one quote from a recent interview with Claerbout that I really like: ‘When we’re looking at an image, two moments are essential: our first glimpse and then the moment upon which we understand that image. I’m interested in the space in between. I want to make that tangible, I want to unravel and freeze it.’

Oh, and isn’t it just great that you’re allowed to keep your shoes on, on that white and dark blue carpet in Wiels?

PS: Upon returning home, don’t forget to download Present, Claerbout’s first computer art project, from 2000: an amaryllis, gerbera or rose that will bloom on your computer. You’ll find it here. And do visit Claerbout’s website, for plenty of images, here. On April 4 two new works will be added to the exhibition (The Quiet Shore and Orchestra). More info about The Time That Remains at Wiels (Brussels) here.


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