Roman Signer

Galerie Anne de Villepoix

A garden table’s four legs fly away with a bang, while the top crashes, distressingly, to the floor. The flight of a stick of furniture, carried joyously aloft by three orange balloons into the blue sky, then violently stopped in its course by rifle bullets. The absurd efforts of a table mounted on four tin cans to slide over water. The useless resistance of a suitcase, bloated by the pressure of a white balloon swelling inside it like the seed of a nightmare. . . . These are some of the fifty conflagrations, collapses, flights, imbalances, ruptures, dispersions, and implosions that take place in this video, which is a kind of mid-career retrospective of Roman Signer’s work—work that spans the period between 1975 and 1989.

A formidable museological document, but also a real disappointment, when one was expecting to come upon clues to one or more of these events: they occupy a territory created by the unpredictable combination of the energy of a Piero Manzoni, the obsession with seriality of Conceptual art, and the agitation caused by the fireworks of our childhoods. Signer wanted, apparently, to preserve the memory of all these solitary actions, usually shot out in the country, in Super-8 film that was aging dangerously. What is much less clear, on the other hand, is the photographic marketing that accompanies the video: a series of photos taken from film-stills, which cut up, record, and illustrate the performances. If video restores the sense of being a spectator at the actual performances, photography decomposes and fixes them into what current criticism has dubbed “temporal sculptures.” But it is precisely this act of Signer that, in its precariousness, is not attempting to give form to time: it has to do with the formation of time, with the immaterial production of temporality.

In other words, Signer’s films are not movement-images, that is, time rendered visible (shocks, explosions, imbalances and so on). The question here is more of time-images (as Gilles Deleuze calls them), or accidents of time, which harness the event not as form (movement or temporal passage), but as a nonmaterial, non-chronological intensity—an “explosante-fixe” (fixed-explosive), in the words of André Breton.

The accident as contemporary temporality is presented as time that endures, an instant that persists (outside of its representation), a temporal shock wave that branches, spreads, propagates itself. That time, a contemporary one, comes right to the surface of the video. One may doubt whether it is also to be found in the limping chronology of the photos.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.