1 – 30 SEPTEMBER 2020

What is it that we really see? This question is central for David Claerbout, as he deconstructs the habits of looking to reveal the way time and process affect our perception of the world and the meaning we ascribe to it. In his seminal book Camera Lucida (1980), Roland Barthes claims that the foundation of photography is a reference to reality and to the past. Similarly, cinema cannot disengage from movement. Yet Claerbout places them under the effects of a new experience, which makes these two distinctive visual systems converge. By deploying 3D and new media technology, he manipulates the components of an image such as its background elements - from water to sunlight - and “sculpts in duration”, animating photography and deconstructing the cinematic narrative. The result seems often a contradiction in terms, but in a world without lenses, where the physicality of film has been replaced by the abstract concepts of digital technology and VR, Claerbout’s visual poems are just another reconfiguration of images that mostly exist in our head. One which moves away from pure speculation or entertainment and carries instead the responsibility to question sensory authenticity and the now disappearing system of trust between reality and its representation.

Oil workers (from the Shell company of Nigeria) returning home from work, caught in torrential rain is the original title of a low-resolution image that Claerbout found in a library. To an audience familiar with visual culture, it seems a darker and more contemporary version of one of the first motion pictures in history by the Lumière brothers, a documentary film of employees leaving a factory in Lyon. Here, the working day is over too, but the workers are stuck because of the rain and forced to take shelter under a bridge while waiting for better weather, which also suggests a longing for better times. In a year production, Claerbout and his studio deconstructed the image and applied pictorial 3D technique to the workers, with the two-sided effect of generating volumes while turning the human figure into an empty shell. He also used elliptical motion to simulate the uncanny mixture of water and oil, the two fluid and amorphous elements dominating the title and the foreground of the image. The simple reconfiguration of an anonymous image as an animation bestows it a socio-political weight that seemed otherwise negligible. In fact, as a photographic instant expands into endless repetition, the act of waiting becomes an existential condition rather than a one-time event - the perspective from which to examine productivity and capitalism in relation to the workers and ourselves.

David Claerbout
Oil workers (from the Shell company of Nigeria) returning home from work, caught in torrential rain
Single channel video projection, HD animation, colour, silent, endless
Courtesy the artist and galleries Sean Kelly, New York; Esther Schipper, Berlin; Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich; Pedro Cera, Lisbon


The Eye of the Storm is Blitz’s first online exhibition featuring videos and films by seven international artists and collectives invited to rethink and share their artworks in response to changes due to the pandemic. 

In the physical galleries the rule is always the same: time follows space. A display is created based on the physical space, and the time of the visit will be reliant on the visitors’ attention span for the different artworks, and determined by the viewing conditions provided. For our first online exhibition, we have decided to prioritise time, whereby the artworks will be experienced in a sequence that collectively draws the viewer inward to a full coherence of the project.

From 3rd June one artwork is available monthly until December, when the last work will be revealed and all previously shown works made equally available. The exhibition will close at the end of the year, a symbolic date because that is when a collective attitude towards contemplating what we are leaving behind emerges, together with a confidence for new beginnings. Wherever we will be then, as we take it day by day in respect of fast-changing regulations, we hope that The Eye of the Storm will provide food for thought as we progress into the unknown.