[-empyre-] Merleau-Ponty weighs in on Nicholas Claus' "Nocturne"


I am not going to channel Merleau-Ponty, so anyone reading this can rest easy. But I would like to try putting your work and a phenomenological perspective in dialogue.

For reference to my comments, I spent extra time looking at one of your works that you produced last year, titled "Nocturne"


Thanks, Nicholas, for your previous comments that elaborated on the connection of your media work to your painting practice.

One of your comments described the influence of painting this way:

"how the eye will start from on particular point to travel on the canvas from one element to another and to finally 'read' the work"

You do not state it explicitly, but experiencing the work "Nocturne" makes me conscious of the hand of the viewer whose interactive gesture "reads" the work. The hand that holds the mouse becomes an extension of the "eye". The imagery becomes a kind of Braille that the hand reads to assist the eye.

Is there a hierarchy in this way of understanding "Nocturne", i.e., the hand of the interactor is the "hand-maiden" of vision (of your vision)? Then would that be true in painting too, where the composition leads the eye as a function of the painter's vision?

I am not against hierarchy. Obviously certain contexts make them necessary. I am interested in your response, though, in relation to the interview that you did with Jim Andrews.

In your interview you discussed translating interactivity to a physical installation. Here is what you said to Jim about your new installation project based on the shockwave movie, "De l'art si je veux":


"we will use four modules of the online project that will be done in real space without mouse but with
the movement of the spectators like a chair that makes the work move while you sit on it, or a sensitive floor in which the works are projected and even a wooden bridge on which you walk and which interact on the projections ..."


In this re-working of "De l'art si je veux", you will eliminate the gesture of the hand, in order to allow more expansive and varied gestures on the part of the viewer. Interestingly, you use the term "viewer" when you describe the audience for your shockwave applets, but transform the viewer into a "spectator" in relation to the large-scale installations.

Aside from that shift in language, I am interested in what might be changed or gained in the immediate experience of the work once it is translated from hand-interactivity to full-body, quasi-immersive experience.

This morning, by chance, I found on the web a scientific study of conversational gesture in a person who had lost the sensory awareness of his body from the neck down. He could speak and gesture, but he had no tactile awareness of what his gestures were.


One unexpected observation was that if the person was blind-folded, that his hand gestures became more precisely correlated with the content of his spoken words. This seems like a contradiction, since he cannot feel his hands and arms. There is no feedback! Wouldn't he need to see his gestures in order for his gestures to be expressive and accurate?!

I am interested in the study's theoretical conclusions based on that paradoxical observation:

Gestures used in conversation are not analogs of instrumental action. Gestures used in conversation are not "virtual action" re-enacting or reproducing a functional action to mimic "what we mean". Instead of gestures performing as a supplement or intermediary for communication, the research hypothesis is that gestures are used in order to "map semantic space onto concrete space." Gestures are direct communicative actions that create a space for dialogue.

"gesture is an action that helps to create the narrative space that is shared in the communicative situation"

(-- quoted from the text of the above url.)

Okay, here are 2 questions:

When the viewer of "Nocturne" uses the hand-gesture with the mouse (an otherwise useless gesture, linguistically-speaking), isn't this an integral creation of narrative space?

When the interactive applet "De l'art si je veux" is dependent on the instrumental actions of sitting in a chair or walking across a bridge, how do those gestures push further a dialog with the images on the screen (i.e., further than was already available in the shockwave movie)?

Based on your experimentation in preparing for the installation, is it possible that the fully spatial experience of the work will minimize the intensity of the viewer's dialog with the screen image? What do you see emerging in place of that previous form of interactive dialog?



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