Dominique Blais, Coil, 2017, ink-jet print. Installation view. Photo: Frédéric Lanternier.

Dominique Blais, Coil, 2017, ink-jet print. Installation view. Photo: Frédéric Lanternier.

Dominique Blais

Dominique Blais, Coil, 2017, ink-jet print. Installation view. Photo: Frédéric Lanternier.

What tied together the works in Dominique Blais’s exhibition “La fin du contretemps”(Turning Off the Offbeat)—orchestrated more than installed in the space—was an irregular but precise rhythm encompassing both visual elements and sound. Rhythm, whether audible or visible—the two types do not necessarily go hand in hand for this artist—can mark time. Even the faintest sounds, or entirely inaudible ones, have this effect. In Morphée (Morpheus), 2018, an opaque sound-absorbing fabric covers what appears to be a harpsichord; we hear no sound, and it’s impossible to tell whether the fabric conceals a real instrument or merely a scale model.

In Blais’s work, a rotary form—a circle or ellipse—often generates rhythm. The artist has previously used vinyl records (Apparatus [Rotation], 2011) or a floodlight making a full 360-degree turn (Light House, 2013), for instance. The ellipse, a geometric and astronomical figure, is also a rhetorical figure, the ellipsis, which indicates the omission of elements that remain implied. It is no surprise that Blais is fascinated by messages in code; his works translate these in different ways without offering explanations. Similar to the potential music in Morphée, Entropê (Entropy), 2014–15—comprising four glass tops resting on the copper surfaces of as many small tables—suggested possible movement, though of course the tops were not actually spinning. The technique of glassblowing, which has remained unchanged over centuries, interests Blais because it gives material form to something invisible, namely, air, which gives glass its shape. In Revolution IV, 2017, elliptically arranged bulbs lit up, one by one, at intervals; their layout, evoking the tail of a comet, guided the viewer’s gaze within the gallery, implicitly carrying it beyond its walls.

Blais’s painting is also characterized by an unpredictable and indeterminate temporality, which takes shape and evolves thanks to the action of its constituent elements. In Dynamique des fluides (Dynamic of Fluids), 2018, for example, a mixture of water, oil, and metallic pigments continued to dry on a pitch-black canvas and to drip onto the gallery wall. In a series of four works titled “Empyrée” (Empyrean), 2016, mosaics of reflective tiles changed their sheen depending on both the viewer’s position and the quality of light filtering through the gallery’s windows.

The show began and ended with pulsations in, respectively, visual and acoustic form. At the gallery entrance, de la lumière, le silence interrompu (From Light, Silence Interrupted), 2016, consisted of a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. It continually blinked, spelling out the final Morse code message sent by the French Navy, on January 31, 1997, to mark the end of the telegraph era, which was replaced by satellite communications. The exhibition concluded with Coil, 2017, an inaccessible waiting room, visible only through a glass door. It contained a portrait of Nikola Tesla, comprised from images taken from both sides of a Yugoslavian banknote, one side showing Tesla’s face, the other the coil he invented. Superimposed, the images seemed to show him emitting cerebral or electrical waves.

This show appeared under the aegis of Tesla and Samuel F. B. Morse. On the one hand, there was Tesla’s dream of the wireless transmission of energy and of an interconnection among planets, thanks to the subtle fluid of electrical energy. As Jonathan Crary has written in “Eclipse of the Spectacle” (1984), electricity was for Tesla “an immanent substance into which anything was transcodable and which could instantaneously intervene anywhere, even to literally occupy the full body of the earth and atmosphere.” Morse’s invention in 1836 of a code transmissible at a distance emerged in an era when people were avid for magnetic phenomena, spiritualist séances, and messages from the beyond. The final Morse code message from the French Navy read: “Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence.” And yet in Coil, visitors could distinctly hear an invisible telephone ringing in vain.

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.