View of “Maxime Bondu,” 2015. Foreground: The Remote Viewer (Endgame), 2015. Background: The Deep War, 2015. Photo: Nicolas Brasseur.

View of “Maxime Bondu,” 2015. Foreground: The Remote Viewer (Endgame), 2015. Background: The Deep War, 2015. Photo: Nicolas Brasseur.

Maxime Bondu

View of “Maxime Bondu,” 2015. Foreground: The Remote Viewer (Endgame), 2015. Background: The Deep War, 2015. Photo: Nicolas Brasseur.

At the core of Maxime Bondu’s work there often lies a fact whose sole claim to existence is that it has been produced in a past to which we were not witness—a fact that, in the process of being recorded and transmitted, becomes an enigma. How can one make something as impalpable as the past tangible? How can one concretize the images that it generates? Bondu reproduces objects associated with series of given facts, taking meticulous care with his materials and fabrication process. These objects are silent witnesses to the facts in question. Bondu seems to be putting his faith in objects—rather as in Georges Perec’s novel Les choses: Un histoire des anńees 60 (Things: A Story of the Sixties, 1965), with which the artist has worked in the past—and they contain the fleeting sense of something that has happened.

Bondu’s recent exhibition “The Remote and the Deep War” focused on the final world-chess-championship match between the American Bobby Fischer and the Russian Boris Spassky, in Reykjavík, Iceland, in the summer of 1972. Bondu has faithfully reconstructed the two original chairs from the match, based on video documentation. The two replicas, resting on a square pedestal, faced each other in the installation, titled The Remote Viewer (Endgame) (all works cited, 2015), just as the two champions once faced off, each scrutinizing his adversary’s face and the horizontal board for hours at a time.

While the latter element is absent in the artist’s reconstruction, a digital LED chessboard, The Deep War, hung on the wall behind. Conceived with Julien Griffit and inspired by Deep Blue (the computer programmed by IBM engineers that, in 1997, challenged and beat champion Garry Kasparov), this piece shows a match played between two machines, one programmed to attack, the other to defend. The match went on, uninterrupted, for the entire duration of the exhibition, even when the gallery was closed. The learning algorithm evolves over time, and will gradually adopt a slower rhythm of play, as if this artificial intelligence were learning, not unlike the 1972 Russian and American champions, to reflect.

The path from man to machine, however, is not irreversible. Bondu is equally interested in the development of human perception and mental faculties, in the unknown power that ideas have to drive our actions, and, above all, in experiments in “remote viewing,” a parapsychological technique of long-distance perception that resonates with his own approach to the past. The artist concentrates on the case of Fischer’s niece Elisabeth Targ. The daughter of the physicist, parapsychologist, and author Russell Targ, who promoted the idea of remote viewing at Stanford Research Institute, she is said to have predicted Ronald Reagan’s victory in the 1980 presidential election, based on her selection of a white whistle hidden in a wooden box—an object Bondu re-created for the show, just as he did the armchairs used in the chess match.

However, from the logic underlying the choice of objects on display, the true leitmotif of the exhibition emerged: not facts in and of themselves, but the possibility of exteriorizing the artist’s own mental process. What counts is not the pleasure of narration or representation, but the chain of associations the facts unleash and that turn an event into an anecdote, a coincidence, a scientific experiment, an archival document, an idle speculation, a paranoid interpretation of reality, a possible future, or whatever. Unlike conspiracy theories that find causal relationships among unrelated elements, this additive process remains open to fortuitous encounters.

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.