by Glen Helfand in Artforum, March 2011.
For the past decade, Oslo-based artists Synne Bull (Norwegian) and Dragan Miletic (Yugoslavian) have been working together as Bull.Miletic, producing film- and video-based installations that link the mediating effect of cinema with urban spaces. At Paule Anglim, the former San Francisco residents placed Eiffel Tower and its Parisian environs at the center of their exhibition, “Mise en abyme.” Visible from the gallery entrance, the iconic French landmark seduces, cast as the protagonist of Par Hasard, 2009, a single-channel video depicting the turn-of-the-century marvel in all its evening glory. The piece begins with side-by-side shots of the tower in which (à la Pierre Huyghe’s Les Grands Ensambles, 1994/2001) the two edifices speak to each other via pulsing light: NON, LE PASSÉ EST FANTASTIQUE (No, the past is fantastic), one declares in Morse code; NON, L’AVENIR EST FANTASTIQUE (No, the future is fantastic), the other replies. The work’s title suggests the meeting is “by chance,” and, as in any French affair of the heart, the action quickly moves from talk to more complex, wordless exchange and subjective viewpoints. The camera cuts to tracking shots from within the steel structure and back out again to wide pans of the entire form.
Beyond this work’s suggestion of Gallic romance, the exhibition delivers across four other thematically related works, a Situationist-inspired renegotiation of space, time, and place. Take, for example, Origianl Copie, 2010. Here a transcription of the messages relayed by the towers has been transcribed across two sheets of paper: On one, the line praising the past has been typed in red; on the other, the phrase favoring the future in carbon-copy blue. Perhaps it can be said that the show’s subtext is located in this irreconcilable desire to occupy two temporalities at once, and in the discomfort of inhabiting the present moment. And indeed, returning to Par Hasard, it’s evident that past and presentare merged here too—a duped film (made circa 1900 for Edison Manufacturing) shot from Eiffel Tower’s elevator while it was in motion is interspliced with present-day footage, digitally processed to appear aged, filmed from Métro as it passes over the Siene. Complementing this hall of mirrors, the artists have added audio fragments appropriated from Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad to subtly assert the notion of scrambled time in the city—urbanisme nouveau meets nouveau roman.
In such instances, Bull.Miletic’s efforts generated a translucent sense of history, one composed of faceted, temporal overlays and ghostly impressions of somewhere just beyond reach. But their derive also explores less romanticized sites. For example, in their video installation Révolution Périphérique, 2010, dual projections carry the viewer with opposing flows of traffic along Paris’s boulevard Périphérique, the 1970s highway that limns the boundary between the city’s urban and suburban zones. The image feed appears rotoscoped (resembling the work of Kota Ezawa) and toned in contrasting red and blue, and on the roadways depicted, the lanes are nearly empty, seemingly existing out of any normal time. Further, the movement of the vehicles has been slowed to a lulling, hypnotic pace, which was in turn enhanced by the twelve-inch vinyl LP Révolution Périphérique Soundtrack, 2010. For the audio component, visitors were invited to wear headphones—simulating the private audio space of a vehicle—and place the record player’s needle on the track of their choosing. However, as the disk’s grooves are not spiralled but concentric, the stylus would remain where it was placed, restricted like a car in a beltway of endless traffic.
Chances and sense of ambient inscription are also evident by the exhibition’s fifth work, Drawing Paris by Arrondissements, 2007, wherein the artists literalize a walking exploration of topography, topology, and geographical boundaries. Fitting their canvases with rope, Bull.Miletic dragged them facedown through the streets in each of the city’s twenty districts, so that the resulting traces of grime and dirt provide a gestural index. These monochromatic abstractions essentially constitute a storyboard of the artists’ intentional strolls, an unplugged record of moments in a ville fantastique.