Saison Video - march 2024 - Interview with Mo Gourmelon

Mo Gourmelon : On the occasion of the development of your new project “Where the ruins grow” (2023, city of Toulouse, Cantor Dust Lab), you told me you wanted to develop a series which extends the history and the universe of “Cantor Dust Man” (2009 Le Fresnoy) and the following “3D Puzzle” (2010 with Géode). You continued by saying that like these two films you would like to keep the experimental, hybrid form, the freedom that you had for these projects guided by plastic and conceptual ideas. First of all, where does this name Cantor Dust come from, which is rather pretty and poetic and which we feel “made”. Can you introduce us to this set that you called “Iterative Memories of Cantor Dust Man”? How does “There where the ruins are born” embody a sequel?


Sébastien Loghman: The title of the series “Iterative Memories of Cantor Dust Man” comes from “Cantor dust” which means, in English, “Cantor dust”. This mathematical set was "made", to use your expression, by the 19th century scientist Georg Cantor. This is the first example of a fractal in the history of mathematics. To put it in perspective, fractals were already in nature before appearing in math. For example, take the romanesco cabbage that appears in my film Cantor Dust Man: if you look at a detail of this vegetable, that detail resembles cabbage as a whole. Thus, we find the same structure at different scales. And this is also true for the mountains, the snowflakes and the coasts of Brittany.


The idea of “Cantor Dust Man” was to depict the plurality of a being. The character Romanesco describes having lived several lives, and sings that a memory contains a memory which contains a memory, etc... The 3D Puzzle relief film is a sequel: the character Romanesco has aged and is looking in a memory for an object which missing from his collection. The film “Where the Ruins Grow” deals with the memory that forms identity and, as in the other productions of “Iterative Memories of Cantor Dust Man”, it is a very musical film in which I play the protagonist. We can therefore see it as an alternative episode of the series. It would be a life of Romanesco, parallel to the musical “Cantor Dust Man” and “3D Puzzle”. Romanesco has multiple lifelines and time is not so linear.


MG: However, this series does not only include films: it was born from a drawing and it generates others, as well as music. All these iterations echo and nourish each other conceptually.


SL: Absolutely. For example, I created the installation of drawings “No Place Like Home” echoing the film Where The Ruins Grow. It is composed of two large drawings in felt-tip pen and black stone, suspended back to back. On one side the right profile of a face, on the other, the left. Like a cage, this very geometric face is composed solely of edges in the colors of the skin and hair. Inside this “head cage” is a miniature prisoner. To draw these profiles of the “cage head”, I first scanned my head in three dimensions, flattened this volume in 2D to have it drawn in large size, in pencil, by a plotter (a drawing machine of the artist Nicolas Guillemin) and I finally went over this sketch with colored markers. Finally, I imprisoned the little character there, which I drew freehand with black chalk. This freedom to move from one medium to another is the foundation of cinema and video: a sum of media that become one. Exactly like saying, conversely, that an artist is a person who multiplies. I love the idea of total art but also the transmedia principle of a universe extended beyond the media.


MG:Where the ruins are born” features a death row inmate who is granted, as a matter of ultimate compassion, one last cigarette. Where does the tragic dimension of this new project suddenly come from?


SL: Until now, my work has always been born out of melancholy and anguish. In my films, it is the internal conflicts of the characters that emerge on the image. My interest in the subject of deprivation of liberty was born quite early. My Iranian origins make me particularly sensitive to this subject. In Iran, my grandfather died in prison. My father and I cannot go to my country of origin at the risk of being locked up there for “espionage”; or other arbitrary reasons. In 2013, Monique Mabelly's testimony on the last execution in France, in 1977, was made public. In this document, the magistrate describes the final minutes, the obscene situation of this spectacle, with irresistible empathy. The condemned smokes his last cigarette and he knows that with the last puff, he will be thrown into the Beaumettes courtyard and, as Badinter said, he will be “cut in two”.


I was overwhelmed by this text and I vowed to adapt it. But I didn't feel ready. Ten years later, I exhibited at the Castelet in Toulouse and the project seemed tailor-made because before being an exhibition space, the Castelet belonged to heritage, but not the happiest: it was a former prison. So I first wrote a few versions of screenplays adapting the last minutes of the last guillotine in France, Hamida Djandoubi. Not satisfied with a literal adaptation, I spent a year researching, documenting myself on the death penalty and the daily lives of prisoners in France, the United States, Iran... So, at the same time, I wrote the script for another film project on the subject: “Clouds in a Jar”. Constrained by time and money, I wanted to formulate a simple and refined expression, which resulted in the film Where are the ruins born. I looked for what I had in common with a prisoner; to go further, what we, the people on the outside, the “innocents”, have in common with a condemned man. First there is the interiority which is opposed to the exterior, outside the walls, but also which is opposed to the persona, our surface. Above all, I viscerally felt dizzy in the face of disappearance. We entertain ourselves so as not to think about it, but obviously it is imminent, it concerns us all. I then projected myself into this situation.


MG: The relentless ringing of the clock, it’s 4 o’clock, the smoking of the cigarette, punctuate the duration of the film, materializing the countdown. This time the body is constrained after having been in your previous films split, multiplied to infinity “fractalized”, crossed. Then the film shifts into another dimension. We hear: “What will you do when you get out? ". Black. Close-up of the condemned man. White. Faced with this impossibility, do freedom and the life of inner thoughts fight against imminent death? How did you design and organize these following scenes?


SL: The film is structured in epanadiplosis, that is to say it loops on itself, it ends on the same empty shot of the chair and the clock, like a reset of the counter. At the end of the film, the place is free for the next one. It begins with an entrance to the fields, exactly like in the theater. This refers to the last minutes of those on death row in the United States. Even today, an American session takes place during the day to allow visitors to attend. So the family of the condemned and that of the victim can come. In France, from the 1940s (end of executions in public squares) to 1977, this took place in front of around ten professionals from the prison world, justice, religious personnel... In short, in front of spectators, but before rising of the sun, like a shameful thing that was hidden behind the scenes of justice, among professional people.


Still in France, during his last minutes, the condemned man's hands were tied and he was seated on a chair in front of his audience. Then came the ritual of smoking and, a French specialty, a glass of rum. In my film, the hands of the guards, which seem to hold (or support) the condemned, evoke a situation during American executions. It thus happens that guards contain the condemned while others strap him to his execution bed. In short, my film mixes French references with those of the United States to achieve a more allegorical form. Mixture, hybridity, impurity are part of my work. The American inspirations come from the fact that part of my family lives there, I studied there and I find French culture still strongly under American influence. Ultimately, we don't know what era the film is set in and we don't know the purpose of the condemnation. What remains is the human.


From the moment he smokes, the condemned person goes into his thoughts. The reminiscence of a female voice (“What will you do when you go out?”) sets off the flow. Are his thoughts a literal answer, what would he do if he could get out? Are they memories? Never mind. All imagination is only a memory adaptation, projection towards the front while relying on the front. But above all, what is outside the prison has become a virtuality for him: before, during and after.


MG: I would actually like to read you on the adequacy of interior thoughts with virtual images. How were they shaped? This feeling we have of floating between memories or dreams. You could also approach the relationship with music, which we have not yet mentioned.


SL: For the mental images of the film, I wanted places and people evoking important aspects of a life that the inmate might miss. Being outdoors, in nature or in the city; love, friends, family… For this, I captured 3D scans. I chose a 3D rendering in “wire”, which can evoke a cage of course, but also a web woven by memory. I also wanted the colors to remain on these edges, so that we always feel an immersion in a space that existed. I kept the imperfections of these 3D captures. My goal is to play on the ambiguity of these virtual spaces. In their making, they are unfinished imprints of reality. Yet, in the context of the film, they are also ruins. For example, there is an interior space where you can hear wind rushing through the “holes” in the walls. These holes are artifacts from the 3D scan. Of the trees outdoors, only trunks often remain. The room ends up disappearing, disintegrating and moving away from us into nothingness.


Concerning the music of my films, it is the emotions that guide my composition. The melody takes precedence, the rhythm follows. She has an important part in the series “Iterative Memories of Cantor Dust Man”. This is evident in the “musical” for soloist, Cantor Dust Man.


I have the impression that our relationship to melody is first and foremost cultural. For my part, I was trained in classical music, then I played drums in rock groups, sang in others and finally I carried out my solo musical project. Since my film “Puzzle”, I have produced my film scores by improvising on an instrument (piano, guitar, etc.) in front of the image. Then I fix the improvisation by replaying it, sometimes identically. Finally, I arrange if I feel the need, I add other instruments... I am therefore first of all a spectator of my montage and I express this state through music. In general, music helps me translate the character's feelings. Often it is also personified by an instrument. In Cantor Dust Man, it is the piano and its chromatic richness which echoes the multiple faces (it is an orchestral instrument in itself, it is not for nothing that it is the basis of many composers).


In Where the Ruins Grow, the guitar is the instrument that I found on the scale of the prisoner. Here, overall the music floats, it is in suspension, like the life of the condemned during this moment. In a principle of purity, I preferred it to be ethereal, full of reverberation. One note echoes the other, at the octave for example, creating a sensation of balance... This produces a paradox. We know we are facing a tragedy. However, many people sentenced to death have prepared for death and leave peacefully. And despite this, obsessive arpeggios turn on themselves like a screw that deepens where perhaps we would prefer to stay on the surface. A refrain that reminds us of reality.

PORTRAIT BY ART CRITIC JULIETTE SOULEZ - in Quotidien de l'Art (june 2022)

translation : Paul Willenbrock

The visual artist and filmmaker Sebastien Loghman, born in 1980, a PHD graduate from Le Fresnoy - National Studio of Contemporary Arts (Lille, France) and a master 2 graduate from National School of Fine Arts (Paris), has just finished an art residency at SOFILM to rewrite the screenplay of his science-fiction film “E-Meet”. His film tells a love triangle story with two lovers who are tearing themselves apart and a robot.

Loghman is at a significant turning point in his career, juggling with projects that require considerable production budgets with improvised contemporary art installations, often with digital techniques of his own invention. What is his subject? Human psychology and neo-liberal society with a particular emphasis on the United States. Indeed, he has also studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and has frequently stayed with the Californian branch of his father’s family, part of the Iranian diaspora.

New technologies offer opportunities to create a world of persistent images that immerse the viewer into the parallel universes of intimate or personal memory and colourful but disturbing fantasies in the Freudian sense. As he himself has said, the cycles of his work are at the same time a way of classifying his works and of adding each time a new window to the themes that he is constantly exploring.

As if with a kaleidoscope, he has created a multi-channel, labyrinthine, polymorphous body of work that has already received several awards and has been exhibited and shown worldwide, and in which he puts himself centre-stage, or creates roles for actors in fiction films.

The cycle Homemade Memories brings together several installations treating the theme of the artist’s passage from childhood to adulthood. The video Maisonvidéo (1990-2020) - fiction aux masques [Homevideo – fiction with masks] is particularly intriguing and melancholy; an HI8 camcorder is placed in the exact places where, 30 years previously, the ten-year-old artist had filmed himself playing with a friend, and this short film is now shown on the screen of the camcorder. The use of these personal archives, recalling the work of Christian Boltanski, plunges the viewer into the process of memory, of images projected and sounds heard in places conducive to reminiscence. The artist’s own mind is represented by this camera, immersed in a setting that is now empty of people.

However, in 2017, never losing sight of the evocative power of the image, Sébastien Loghman made a series of photographs, The TaVReler (le tour du monde en 7 jours) [round the world in 7 days], which became a series of posts on Instagram throughout a week during which he photographed himself wearing a virtual reality helmet. In this way the reverse process is activated, with the viewers projecting their own imaginings of real or imagined travels onto the image.

The artist is a collector of images, particularly of his past, and he uses them for other installations in which he appears as Narcissus with the video changing from a reflection in the water as a child into an adult reflection. This installation has been shown at a number of exhibitions including the “Jeune Création 2008” exhibition in Paris, the “European Video Gathering of Lassie” in Vienna and at the “Espace SD” in Beyrouth.

Although the on-going series of the cycle Iterative Memories of Cantor Dust Man, consisting of two films and two drawings, is not exactly a self-portrait, Sébastien Loghman plays his double in it. These films are “self-fictions”. In the first film, dating from 2009, Cantor Dust Man, which won the “Prix Canal Plus” at the Brest European Short Film Festival, and was produced by Le Fresnoy studio, Sébastien Loghman filmed himself in a living-room eating a Romanesco broccoli soup while miniature self-portraits appear in fractal form on his face. As a multi-disciplined one-man band, the artist also wrote the song, played it on the piano and sang it with multi-tracked choral harmonies. The lyrics of this video, realized with special effects, revolve around the memory of this fluorescent green food that set off his train of thought. Inspired by the scientific theory of the fractal, Sébastien Loghman adds a humorous touch in the décor of the room, with the snow, seen through the window at the end of the musical film, a nod to the mathematical figure of the fractal in the Koch snowflake, just like that of the Romanesco broccoli. Starting out from a self-portrait drawn in ink in 2003, the artist has created a tangy, somewhat surrealistic short-film.

He returned to the same style in 2010 with Puzzle 3D, one of the films selected for the festival of 3D films to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Paris omnimax theatre La Géode. Romanesco, an old man played by André S. Labarthe, notices that a fossil of a shell is missing from his box of souvenirs. Romanesco lowers himself into his bathtub and as he emerges from the water his silhouette transforms into a window onto a happy memory: a distant memory of a picnic by the water with two young women. In the end one of them hands him the missing object and he takes it from her and puts it back into the real box in which he keeps his collection. A happy denouement to the story in this short-film about old age and memory, from which a disturbingly strange feeling already emerges, which is however never devoid of humour and poetry.

In the cycle “Psyché plastique”, this disturbing strangeness was already felt in Je ne connais pas d’Alice [I’ve never heard of Alice], a 15-minute science-fiction film made in 2008, which is set in a mysterious hotel called Protopia. Alice, a new chambermaid, discovers the other side of the “system” in which she is involved. A parallel reality is played out in the rooms, a politician is computer-programmed to win, a sort of modern-day golem (called Henri Golem!), strange meetings of businessmen who seem to be gambling with the future of the world and, above all, in a corridor reminiscent of that in “The Shining”, a ball of human skin, a sort of round belly which makes one wonder what it contains – “Human Paste”, as the artist calls it, with a single orifice, either an anus or a mouth. Alice pushes her finger into this sort of disturbing “Origine du monde” and, terrified, ends up escaping from the hotel and escaping the surveillance cameras of the hotel manager, a young teenager who seems to be playing a video game as if it were all-important.

In the 2019 film Uncut, we witness an argument between a man’s body, using subtitled sign language, and his head (which speaks). This amusing and touching spin-off of Je ne connais pas d’Alice looks at the psychological workings of a man’s soul-searching when he is angry with himself. This quarrel takes place in the same hotel as Alice hotel and works as an allegory of Lacanian extimacy.

Back to 2005, when Sebastien Loghman made an interactive video of a naked woman, lying with her back to the viewer, filmed from her head to her hips, called Le Sommeil [The Sleep] and Adam's CAM. It has already been shown in Brazil, Canada and Grenoble (France), as well as at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where it was shown at the exhibition called “Intime*10” Flash Festival, just after it was made in 2005. This interactive video, shot in the half-light of the night, allows the viewer to activate this sleeping body imperceptibly. Although it can at first be experienced as sweet intimacy with a stranger, it can also give rise to a certain unease, due to the voyeuristic aspect of this installation.

The unseen, the unknown, as Jacques Lacan would say, is at the heart of Sebastien Loghman’s work. For example, in his 2006 video and installation Sans titre (ce que vous ne voyez pas existe aussi) [Untitled (what you can’t see exists as well)], produced with the support of La Caisse des Dépôts et des Consignations and the help of MAC VAL (Val de Marne Contemporary Art Museum), he showed technicians, equipped with a crane and a truck, installing an invisible or non-existent artwork in the MAC/VAL.

In Boys Noize – What You Want (2013), however, beliefs in the supernatural are the prevailing theme, giving rise to an ironic film showing a meeting of members of a cult led by a guru with superpowers; the whole thing is right out of American superhero comic-books.

His insistence and repetition of motifs of disturbing strangeness and derision draw on invisible worlds such as memory or fantasy (which he knows well, having worked for a long time on H.P. Lovecraft and virtual reality). Drawing also often remains a starting point in his work, as can be seen in Portraits 2020, the series of pencil drawings of various figures from the world of the arts that he did during the Covid lockdown periods, playing on the mask and the invisibility of the face.