Turning Off the Offbeat
In music, a regular pattern of accents creates a mathematically strict structure capable of organizing sound in a way so that it can form a proportionate and well-balanced organism which tends to keep its rhythm. However, this musical organization contains a risk: regularity of the beat leads towards a certain monotony of sound. In order to break it, a trick can be used. It makes symmetry oscillate and alters the rhythm so that it can escape a rigidly dull order of things while briefly switching to a new temporality. Such is a silence, a sudden syncopation, occurring on a strong beat, precisely in a place where, logically, we are supposed to hear sound. This silence, or an offbeat, suffocates the music theme, cutting it off for a moment, and turns it into its own shadow – a sort of phantom or a half-present half-absent echo of the last sound played. This silence invites the viewer to turn off his senses, and then wait, and project himself in some possible future while waiting, but also ask himself all sorts of existential questions (as, after all, it’s not just the beat that can go “of the script” or simply “off”). Will there be something else? Is the beat about to crash once and for all? And all the waiting, could it last forever?
For his forth personal show at Xippas gallery, Dominique Blais explores the idea of an offbeat in order to shake things up and imagine a different sort of temporality, which is, a tempo of waiting. The exhibition takes the shape of a music sheet created with the use of objects, and their shadows, and beats “turned off” by unexpected silences.
The music composition opens with a troubling note: “de la lumière, le silence interrompu”. A lamp suspended from the ceiling keeps blinking following an irregular and limping rhythm. Is it an invitation to enter? Or an apparent problem of the lighting system which advises us not to do so? Sudden flashes illuminate the entrance of the gallery and let the shadows dance on the walls for a relatively short period of time until they finally disappear into intensified obscurity. This game of light and semitones becomes a silent metaphor of a musical composition, in which the rhythm does not cease to get disrupted by pauses, and moments of hesitation, and, as the exhibition title suggests, by the offbeat.
The musical theme, from which there is nothing left but a luminous and mute rhythmic skeleton, continues its run with a new piece of a Revolution series (the forth opus in situ was visible at La Sucrière in the framework of “Les Mondes flottants” of Biennale de Lyon in 2017). The lights placed in the exhibition space along a curved line turn on briefly one after another followed by a pronounced period of extinction. They form an inclined and suspended ellipse, only partially visible, as its other segment, extending towards the exterior, seems to escape from the fiction of the white cube towards the supposedly “real” world. Finding itself at a slim frontier of the visible and hypothetical, the artwork falls under two temporalities. One is dynamic and lets the viewers follow with their eyes the luminous trace played in allegro in the exhibition space. The other is of a different logic, that of waiting, and makes the time dilate and expand until it reaches a no-time zone suggesting that the one who is waiting, usually believes that it has been an eternity. This type of temporality offers a choice: either make a full experience of waiting, or create a mental projection and reconstruct the elliptic form by both geometrical and musical necessity in order to make a full circle, or rotation (litteraly, a revolutio).
Entropê is also focused on the idea of two temporalities side by side. The shape of the sculpture made of glass repeats that of a spinning top and makes reference to the dynamic concept of rotation already suggested in the title: etymologically, entropê meaning “turn”, “get turned around”, “worry about”. Its base – a table of a refined form and made of solid oak – adds a timeless touch. The movement, only suggested by the shape of the sculpture, is suspended, as if caught a little offbeat, but it can, potentially, get back into game and start moving, activated by a sort of a mental projection by the viewer. Indirectly, it plays with a famous ancient paradox thought backwards: as Zeno’s moving arrow remains motionless, likewise, the spinning top does not move even though it keeps potentially spinning. Paused, the artwork gives itself to the experience of waiting while its silent rhythm, which is, a repetitive movement suggested above, is closed up in between reprise signs: when we are waiting, we cannot but wander in circles.
An exit out of this loop opens up at a polyphonic two-way road: Empyrée, a series of four “pictures” created with the use of mosaic tiles made of plastic reflective material, and Dynamique des fluides, an artwork of a new series which Dominique Blais produces letting oil paint mixed with golden pigments freely drift over a tarred surface so that it forms a stain similar to that of a motor oil. Both enter into a falsely contradictory logic of a positive and a negative image. One is radiant, even spectacular, and is made through a juxtaposition of multiple parts of a puzzle in a way of a Bach’s fugue, inviting the spectator to go up towards the “empyrean”, heavenly skies where poets find inspiration. The other, dark and profound, takes for its generic principle a free and quite unpredictable flow of fluids, imitating the Wagnerian mode of making music, and proposes to adopt an opposite direction: one is welcome to go down to underground waters. However, the contradiction between the two is quite superficial as both seek to reveal the faces of the same image and tend to capture the physical nature of color, which is an encounter between light and surface. Either the light reflects from the mosaic tiles or gets mixed up with a black matter to explore its own limits and, depending on the movements of the viewer, unveils all colors of the Newtonian disc or, in the second case, shows unexpected highlighted zones.
The exhibition enters into its cadence phase and becomes more and more dramatic as its two final points incline towards an existential dimension. At the end of the first hall, multiple folds cover a piece of furniture so that it is possible only to guess its outlines or contours. The hidden object could be a musical instrument, a piano or maybe a harpsichord. Abandoned, it seems to have lost its ability to produce sound, which becomes even more apparent as its cover is made of acoustic fabrics (borgnolle) used in cinema or performing arts in order to isolate sound from exterior noises. Music, put on silent mode, a dreamed or only imagined melody, a sleeping harpsichord, as suggested by the title of the artwork – Morphée [mɔʁfe]. The latter is two times absent as deprived of sound on the one hand, and non-existent on the other, knowing that there is no musical instrument hidden behind the white curtain. The withheld form may be likened to that of a coffin while the borgnolle takes its name from a funeral company, so that one might think that the dream which the piece is making reference to is more extended in time, if not eternal.
After being played as a silent note of a non-existent harpsichord, the absence fills up by a phantom presence, only suggested before. The lack, visible in previous artworks, is now compensated: finally, we hear a sound. From a locked chamber, turned into a living room and decorated with a poster Coil, a telephone rings and we can hear two different tonalities. One is the sound of being put on hold before the receiver picks up the phone, the other is its sudden interruption requiring us to hang up. The sound occupies all the space and annihilates the very possibility to have a telephone in the room, which, eventually, could have produced it. Silence. Then, it’s happening all over again, in a loop. The title is more than eloquent: the visitor is invited to project himself inside the locked room and sit down, waiting. Waiting for whom, or maybe, for what? « …Waiting for the night, waiting for Godot, waiting for… waiting. All evening we have struggled, unassisted. Now it’s over. It’s already tomorrow. »2 The music is over. The offbeat finally goes off.
1 Aristote, Physics, VI:9, 239b5.
2 Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot : A Tragicomedy in Two Acts, Ed. Faber & Faber, 2006.