Nicolas Provost, Plot Point, 2007, still from a color video, 15 minutes.

Nicolas Provost, Plot Point, 2007, still from a color video, 15 minutes.

Nicolas Provost

Tim Van Laere Gallery

Nicolas Provost, Plot Point, 2007, still from a color video, 15 minutes.

It is hard to believe that Nicolas Provost filmed the entirety of Plot Point, 2007, with a concealed camera on the streets of New York. The production value of the images and styling seems more like what you would see in a vintage Lynch film, and with a similar sense of artifice. Ordinary life is transformed into pure cinematography, as if you were watching a Philip-Lorca diCorcia photo come to life. The light feels like stage light. The people on the street move like dramatic performers. There is a suggestion of an intangible tension in the streets, and we feel that something is about to happen. Policemen on their walkie-talkies seem to be nervous about something. Suddenly, one of them appears to notice the artist’s camera. For less than a second he looks into the lens. Then he continues on doing what he was doing—acting important. And what about that sharply dressed bodyguard? Who is he watching, and why? Is it that woman who is acting so strange? What are her intentions? Why is the bodyguard focused on her, or is this just an illusion? The tension builds. Police cars drive off—toward the place of action, we assume. Meanwhile, a suspicious guy walks out of a building; the guard looks up at the sky; a helicopter flies over Manhattan. And then the grand finale: A row of police cars, lined up side by side, drive away, one by one, just in front of the camera. Sirens howl, lights fl ash. It’s all like a gigantic choreography, a staged world.

The term plot point—which was also the title of Provost’s show—is used to describe the moment in a screenplay where the story switches tracks, develops into something different. Provost uses all the tricks of editing to suggest that something dramatic is happening, but we are trapped in a visual cul-de-sac. This is paranoia in its purest form: fear of something that isn’t real.

Another work on view here evidenced a similar mastery of editing. Gravity, 2007, includes a variety of clips from classic films but turns their original meanings inside out: A passionate kiss becomes an assault; an embrace appears to be a fight. On the other hand, in The Divers, 2006, nothing has been edited at all. On a balcony somewhere in Brussels a man walks toward a woman, apparently attracted but hesitant to get too close. Suddenly, gigantic fireworks color the skyline of the city. Again an illusion is presented: You might at first think that these fireworks were produced especially for this film, but a split second later you realize how improbable that is. Provost shot the video around the planned event, using the city as a gigantic readymade. This magnificent yet enigmatic scene goes on for a couple of minutes. The contrast between the bursting fireworks and the characters’ clumsy behavior is strikingly beautiful, expressing what they cannot say: It is yearning visualized. At the end of the festivities, the man walks away. Beyond the pyrotechnics, on an emotional level, nothing happened. And this could be said about all of Provost’s work. The cleverly builtup expectations are intense and result in a sense of anticipation that ends only when the film does; yet somehow we don’t feel let down. The very fact that nothing happens is reassuring (Plot Point), tragically poetic (The Divers), or in a way even silly (Gravity). As David Byrne sang, “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”

Jos Van den Bergh