Digicult / 02-2007 / Giulia Simi


I didn't know Nicolas Clauss until a few months ago, when I occasionally read the communicate of the Bananram Festival that announced the purchase of one of his work Scalpe for 15.000 euros. Maria Rita Silvestri , director and curator of the festival, defines the work as “characterized by a strong European identity” and states that “he contaminates with poetry the digital instrument”. My curiosity was already going sky-high and in less than one sec I was on his site. I there discover a complex work, educated but involving at the same time, where analogical dialogues with digital openly, creating evocative, poetic, challenging images.

Born as a painter, Nicolas Clauss get in touch with multimedia on 1999, 33 years-old, after a six-years travel, back to France . He attends a 3D university course, but love is not at the first sight. Than the explosion: during an exposition he sees “Alphabet”, CD-ROM of interactive art multi-awarded in France and developed by Frédéric Durieu (informatics engineer) and Jean-Jaques Birgé (composer). Clauss decides to contact both the artist and starts studying the functioning of the software and the programming language – Lingo – at the base of almost all of his works, even nowadays. They're developed vertically, that means without using a timeline, rather enclosing the entire code in a frame. It is not a case if Director overbears Flash in his work. Clauss affirms that the first one gives him the opportunity to use a method more equal to the one he used as painter. It gives him the chance to manage levels and transparencies, a key for his works.

Flash is the program used for the website , a sort of virtual gallery where Clauss collect his works since 2001. It is his independent space, as he like underlining, where without commitment or financing he can expose his works. There are almost 60 interactive paintings, united by the effort on the matter, on the duo sound/image, on the mechanical and obsessive repetition of some fragments, where the occasion command the games, catching the spectator unprepared. Spectator that tries to understand a fil rouge in the cause-effect relationship linked to the movement of the mouse or the click.

In six years of work the technologic progress, especially the connection speed, influenced some stylistic changes without creating value differences between the before and after. It actually underlined the ability of Clauss to use the potential offered by the media. I met Nicolas Clauss, obviously in a virtual manner, asking some question about his work.

Giulia Simi: Flying Puppet is a project born in 2001 and still open. The interactivity characterized your works since the beginning, but changed during the years. The first works where an experiment on the potential of the digital medium, while now your approach put side by side the interaction through the mouse with the senses. What do you think about interactivity? Which role does it have in your aesthetic experience with paintings? Do you think the mouse restrain the interaction between the spectator and your work?

Nicolas Clauss: When I was a painter, I tried to induce the eye to follow a path on my painting. The painting could do that because of some significant elements or its own structure. In my interactive works, not only the look is involved, but also the gesture. This one reveal the work, caressing some sensible zones that it can modify, accompanying the music.

The interactivity allows a real appropriation of the object, an active approach strengthen the immersive aspect of the aesthetical proposed experience. Pay attention though: my online project are interactive, but there is a conspicuous number that evolve in an uncertain, autonomous way. Even if the most significant aspect of my work is the interactivity, the dimension that apart from the interaction with the user it is not to be underestimated. The events are casual, both sounds and images. We never hear or see the exact same thing, nothing is completely still, everything's changing because of the spectator and the computer. The more time passes, the more interactivity loose importance. This is the reason why I'm developing autonomous paintings, where the spectator can interact or let the machine “do the talking”.

Talking about the mouse, even if it seems an obstacle, it may turn to be a sensual object. There's obviously nothing sensual in clicking a cross to close a window, it depends on its function. Exploring the screen with a hand gesture to interact with the music can be (this is my opinion obviously) very sensual. I think we're using cold instruments, but it depends on the use. In my paintings I try not to evoking the computer aesthetic – or better the absence of aesthetic, refusing clickable buttons and windows. I try to conserve only the use of the mouse that allows to forgive its real essence.

We have to say that the mouse is now so natural that we could define it has a physical extension of our body. I would precise that, when I create installations I use also interfaces that does not require the use of the mouse ( “Les Portes”, “L'Ardoise” or even “De L'art si je veux” – installation version ).

Giulia Simi: You use to stratify and over impress your images, even through graphical signs that remember the typical flaw of the analogical, highly exposed to time. In some cases – like “Nocturne” – the digital elaboration recall the typical gestures of painters. There's always an open dialogue between analogical and digital that renders your work very poetic. What do you think about it? What kind of relationship is there in your work? Is it only because of your painter formation or is it something else?

Nicolas Clauss: From the beginning I worked on the matter, the grain and other corrosions you evoked. I refused the iconographic images. I was attracted by the possibilities of the machines, but not the aesthetic linked to them – for example Flash with all its vector images and the flatting colours. It derives I'm sure from my painter background, where I used to a worked based on the material. In this sense I always searched to turn the screen into the substance I work with, even if it's composed by cold pixels. After paintings such as “White Vibes”, a work on the pixel itself, I started creating images introducing the digital elaboration, although always from an analogical images. A painting such as “Blu Han” is a good example: all the colours of the image that remember the pictorial world are pure digital processes.

Giulia Simi: Often your works are related with dreams and memory, maybe because of the darkness and the evanescence of the images. I find particularly interesting the images from the occidental art ( “Eden”, “Deadfish”, “Massacre”), but even archive films ( “Jazz”, “Les Dormeurs”, “White Vibes”… ) or from the movie history, as “The Shower” elaborated from Psycho. Which is the value you give to the citation/elaboration of these images? Is it only an aesthetic choice or is there something deeper that links you to this patrimony of collective visual memory?

Nicolas Clauss: Most of the artists inspire themselves, re-interpret and ask themselves about productions of their predecessors. When I creates a module such as “Massacre”, for example, where the Gioconda turns to be Jesus , I mention more Duchamp with his LHOOQ than Leonardo Da Vinci. With “The Shower” I'm in the world of works that re-interpret works . What I found interesting in “The Shower”, more than the plastic treatment that remember the drawing, was the possibility to introducing an uncertain editing of a filmic scene. This is stronger because it's a scene belonging to the familiar patrimony. The estrangement born from the familiar upset. This is one of the reason why I used this extremely famous scene. Looking at the editing made by Hitchcock we can see that this sequence is plenty of foregrounds that seem to tell a different story from the global sequence. You can find sensuality, almost voluptuousness, but even violence. Actually Hitchcock said he filmed the scene of murders like lovers and vice versa.

Giulia Simi: You talked about estrangement about “The Shower”. We can say it's a characteristic reproduced even in other works, that means it's a significant part of your work, isn't it?

Nicolas Clauss: I think the concept of estrangement can be found in my entire work. Sometime, as in “Trauma”, through ordinary images or a simple movement (a young women sat on a tube wagon, closes her backpack and put it on her legs) that reproduces continuously, creating mechanical and grotesque movements that surely bring to an estrangement sense. “White Rituals”, my last work, online from a few days, is based on estrangement. A couple seems imprisoned in this white painting that hide them and at the same time reveal them. Absurd movements, a ritual sound environment… I could mention half of the paintings on Flying Puppet that talks about estrangement: “ 3 études”, “La poupée”, “La photo”, “Look at me”, “Heritage”, “Art cage” . Maybe the question could be: why the estrangement? It is connected with surreal, with dreams, it's a sort of discomfort of the mind and, most of all, it is imaginary

Giulia Simi: Sound is important in your works as it contributes to create a sensation of impalpability but even uneasiness and, why not?, mystery around your works. You often collaborated with professional composer, first of all Jean-Jacques Birgé. How do you develop the teamwork during the process of creation of the work?

Nicolas Clauss: I'm not a musician, even if I've always listened to music and I sound the guitar (that allows me to create most of the sound for my works). Working with a musician gives me the possibility to create something that I couldn't do alone, but it's also a pleasure. I usually arrive with an interactive draft of the future painting that I show the artist. It creates an audio file that I integrate on the program in regard of its indication. There's an exchange of feedback after that until images, sound and structure become one. There isn't obviously a precise pattern, things change due even to the musician I work with. In the case of Jean-Jacques Birgé the collaboration goes further the musical composition. It happens that he changes some elements of the story-board and I contribute with audio file. Often Jean-Jaques enrich or even modify the first vision of the object through his sound dramatization (it is not a case if his band is called “Un drame musicale instantené”). Moreover he has a cinematographer, thing that brought him questions on sound/image relationship. This reflection is without any doubt what this collaboration mostly carried in term of creative enrichment, out of our friendship.

Giulia Simi: During an interview with Randy Adams in 2002, I was stroke by your statement: “I'm happy for the visibility internet gave me, but I see my work, when I create it, as something made for installation with big screens bound in the dark, not on little insignificant monitor with poor sound and noises on the background”. You often defined yourself as a net.artist, but at this point I'm asking myself: would you define your works as or rather as art functional for the net? When do you think art becomes and when the Net is only a medium?

Nicolas Clauss: Talking about names, categories and etiquettes for my works, I'm an opportunist. If a curator asks me to participate to a work, well my work is You can ask me to expose as interactive art, digital art, multimedia or even new media: I'll be whatever you want. I don't care. It is not my job to classify works inside cells. But if I need to answer your question, I'd say that mine is not, in the sense that it doesn't need the Internet to exist, contrarily to Mouchette work or people that considerate time of connection, IP addresses as levels of their work.

Looking to some of my online works with attention though, even if I show them in big projection (such as “Somnambules” at the Art Museum of Seul , exposition called “Dual Realities”), I can understand their conceived integrating the bonds imposed by the Net. For example the “computer” weight of my paintings is conditioned by the speed connection (even if it won't be a limit in a while). It means little images and less files, both visual and sound. Moreover, as you saw, my online works are introduced by a preloading that allows the spectator to interact waiting for the painting to be uploaded. Most of all, my works are online, so they transcend the space and my presence. They can be lived wherever, whenever, from everybody. Maybe this is doing Despite everything, as Randy Adams says, I create and imagine my works projected on huge screens, in the dark, with an hi-fi system. The immersion is there manifested and so my work.