Lyon

Robert Morris

A NARROW, LABYRINTHINE PASSAGE leads to the center of the vast room on the second floor of the museum. There we are faced with projected images from World War II—photographs from the Centre d' Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation in Lyon, headquarters of the Gestapo during the German occupation. Not wanting to linger over these images because of painful memories they call to mind, we fix our attention instead on Mirror Film, 1969, made by Robert Morris as he walked through the Wisconsin snow, mirror in hand. Turning around us as we stand in the middle of the room, this projection onto great white net curtains encourages us to retrace the footsteps of the man with the mirror as he moves off toward the trees, disappears, and returns. His mirror urges us, finally, to turn back and face the images of war, to position ourselves as accomplices, even, in the destruction, deportation, and other honors we see there.

This first; subjective approach to White Nights, 2000, the work created by Morris for the third in his sequence of exhibitions here, was suggested by its labyrinthine form. Against the musical background of soprano Mirella Freni singing an aria from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, one wandered through
corridors formed by structures of fine, transparent, floating scrims on which images were projected and distorted by large mirrors at different points in the path—mirrors that also reflected us, as we grappled physically and mentally with the images and associations they provoked, concretely illustrating one aspect of the mind/body problem, a key point in Morris's process.

The project of three exhibitions in 1998, 1999, and 2000 was conceived by Morris and curators Thierry Raspail and Thierry Prat as “a kind of grand opera in three acts” in which the works would correlate with and echo one another over three years, just as they resonate with the whole of Morris's oeuvre. The first installation, two years ago, organized around Williams Mirrors, 1977, which was acquired by the museum in 1993, included the mirror works Threadwaste, 1968, and Portland Mirrors, 1977, which opened the space to the endless reflection of the viewers, and the long Passageway, 1961, which by contrast enclosed viewers within an exitless space. In 1999, Morris created a gigantic, thousand-square-meter structure—christened Lyon Labyrinth—into which videotapes of performances from the '60s were projected simultaneously: Arizona, 1963–93, Site and 21.3, 1964–93, and Waterman Switch, 1965–93. The addition of videos to the labyrinth, a son of metaphysical architecture, constituted a maze in time as well as space that was characteristic of the artist's investigations—all the more since we know that several of these works are indebted to childhood memories.

“I thought the simultaneity and repetition of the performances [in the labyrinth] might fix them in some kind of stopped timespace and give each a kind of protected space where it might hover,” Morris says in a long interview in the catalogue. This metaphorical use of the arrested time of memory's repetitive moments was felt in White Nights, a labyrinth whose path Morris traced from memory based on the one he'd made here a year earlier, and which called on the “private memory” of Mirror Film, on the one hand, and on the collective memory evoked by archival photographs on the other. Morris and Prat chose eighty-six images that tell of suffering, shame, and absurdity: a swastika on the Hotel de Ville, Wehrmacht officers in front of the Grand Hôtel, the executions of hostages, prisoners being taken to concentration camps, a young girl still playing with her tricycle before being carted off with her family by the Nazis, collaborators, a torture helmet from the Gestapo prisons, the Resistance fighter Jean Moulin, the cell in the Montluc fort where Moulin was tortured, the crowd cheering Pétain, then de Gaulle at the liberation of Lyon, the Allied bombings, the action of the Resistance fighters at the liberation, and so on. The maze of images, whirling to the rhythm of our steps in the fragmentary labyrinth of memory, remains engraved—frozen?—in the visitor's mind.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.