Re: [-empyre-] in memoriam Thierry Kuntzel


I deeply appreciate your posting such a deeply moving tribute to Thierry Kuntzel who was a dear friend and superbly smart and subtle artist. Yesterday, at the same moment Thierry was being laid to rest in the Père Lachaise cemetary in Paris, I happened to be giving a lecture to my students in Introduction to Visual Studies on queer video in the age of AIDS. This is a lecture that fits well with our -empyre- theme of TechnoPanic: Technology and Terror since so many of the tapes made in collaboration with ACT UP and other international AIDS activist groups turned to the technological experimentations of video to grab back, through form and content, the discourse on AIDS from the media panic generated around the disease in order to make thoughtful, provocative, and sometimes wistful interventions on the complicated terrain of desire and disease. As, Isaac Julien urged his viewers, "feel no guilt in your desire." At the opening of this class, I suddenly realized that I was screening Julien's sublimely gorgeous and melancholic tape, "This is not an AIDS Advertisement," at the precise moment of Thierry's funeral.

Just as coincidental as Julien's evocation of loss in the face of death, and so uncanny that tears filled my eyes in front of my class, was that I follow this tape every year with a contextual explanation of independent art production in the age of AIDS, a lecture that opens with images from Robert Mapplethorpe's Black Book and my retelling of Mapplethorpe's memorable account of how most of the black boys he photographed in the seventies had preceded him in death by the late eighties because they lacked the access to and financial resources for the experimental drugs that kept Mapplethorpe alive with HIV a little bit longer. As I was recounting this anecdote to my class, I stood with amazement when I realized that an image filled the screen of one model who survived Mapplethorpe, Ken Moody. Those of you familiar with Thierry Kuntzel's later work in video installation will appreciate the uncanniness of Moody's presence on the screen, at that very moment marking the celebration in Paris of Thierry's friendship and artistic and theoretical accomplishments. It was Ken who collaborated with Thierry in his complex video adaptation of Poussin's Four Seasons. Most telling is the sublime image from the installation, "Winter: The Death of Robert Walser" that haunts me still this afternoon. This 3 track installation depicts the body of Ken Moody, wrapped in a scrimlike shroud whose folds envloped in white light come to rest momentarily on his suddenly opened eyes. The track of Moody's deathlike body is framed on either side by screens of cobalt blue (the cobalt blue that happened also to mark for Derek Jarman the wistfulness of his own gradual blindness and subsequent death from AIDS). In an article about this installation, I make the connection between the wistfulness of perceiving "Winter: The Death of Robert Walser" from within the cobalt haze of Jarman's Blue and his own death at the sime time period.

Now I find myself again enveloped in video's inhuman field of touch and techne. I now find myself again witnessing the electric cobalt blue borders of Thierry Kuntzel's Winter while haunted by my projections of his own enshrouded figure as it speaks to us from something like Derek Jarman who described his crypt of Blue:

"Blue protects white from innocence / Blue drags black with it / Blue is darkness made visible / Blue protects white from innocence / Blue drags black with it / Blue is darkness made visible . . . For Blue there are no boundaries or solutions. / How did my friends cross the cobalt river, with what did they pay the ferryman? As they set out for the indigo shore under this jet-black sky--some died on their feet with a backward glance. Did they see Death with the hell hounds pulling a dark chariot, bruised blue-black, growing dark in the absence of light?"

The lively specters of these sounds and images add melancholic weight to my cherished memory of Thierry Kuntzel as read through the cobalt traces of his cinematic brothers and sisters whose memory resides with his in the quiet of Arcadia.


there is the awful leaden weight of death over the thought of Heidegger. what is so depressing about it is the absurdity which he gives it: the meaninglessness. I don't mean that deatth is intrinsically meaningful, but that it has many meanings, for specific dyings. And each is embedded in a locale, in a world, among the living and the dying, for whom it means immensely

Thierry Kuntzel's Nostos is currently showing at ACMI in the Beaubourg touring video retrospective. It is a lovely thing, the inhabitance of a room with light, recorded in greyscale, on a bank of (memory supplying details) nine monitors in a 3x3 grid (might be 4x4). They are heritage boxes, and the light trap is excellent, so you are alert to the fading of light, the flare in the camera - which would have been a tube camera, liable to comet tails and saturation - and the sluggish decay of the phosphors in the old tubes, longer and slower than the modern ones, and longer and slower than the simple line scan overwriting a flare of brightness. Because the light trap is so good you're aware of the blaze of light - you are basically in night-vision mode, all rods, few cones, straining after the photons, but when they burst your rods flare out and carry the afterimage.

These beautiful artefacts (as engineers will call them - unexpected or unwanted products of the technology) are integral to the devices it is shown on (I recall seeing a single channel version years ago at the Institut Francais in London, in a dimmed but ambient-lit room, very differently - i recall a blue tone to the image there, but that might be a trick of memory). These screens will eventually lose the capacity to show the work, and it will be reconstructed, in a new form on new screens. With luck it will be around for years to come, transferred to new storage media. Perhaps the archivists will try to register some of these artefacts - tone the screens with an ambient grey to denote, or point towards, the off-black quality of video black back in the day.

The archive of digital materials points us always to the fundamental ephemerality of this seeing, this version, this event, this mounting and staging, this moment of viewing which is so tragically tied to time, but which makes its statement against panic by offering, as the obverse of tragedy, the utterly now.

Kuntzel's Nostos is its own tribute to the way electronic media more perhaps than any other except performance -- which Nostos records in the actions of the woman in the room we see passing light over the walls -- , or the media of everyday interactions, kisses, kindnesses - the way electronic media can, if they wish, announce their own fading as integral to their experience.

In this way Nostos teaches us not to mourn, or to mourn in the knowledge that life is for the living, but dying is for the living too.

_______________________________________________ empyre forum

Timothy Murray
Acting Director of The Society for the Humanities
Professsor of Comparative Literature and English
Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Video Studies
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
A. D. White House
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853

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