|Mark Lewis, Invention au Louvre, 2014|
Much as I am an admirer of Mark Lewis’ work, this exhibition of four short films he made at and for the Louvre is disappointing. It’s almost impossible not to come away wondering what it would have been like if more care had been taken in the exhibition of the films. Screened on continuous loop in a room at the end of the medieval moat in the Sully wing, the viewing conditions are less than ideal. The room is not fully blackened, and worse, the light from the open entrance to the space shines across the image.
|Mark Lewis, Invention au Louvre, 2014|
These particular examples of Lewis’ works create a shifting play of light and shadow around icons from the Louvre collection to make the treasures dance across constantly moving images. In addition, one thing I love about Lewis’ work is the nausea and sense of disorientation, the destabilization they invoke in the viewer. The ideal viewing position to create this effect would place us consumed by the images, in the main auditorium at the Louvre, for example, or another comparable cinematic space. Three wooden benches are placed in the middle of the room, and as people come and go, or even use the space as a thoroughfare, it’s extremely difficult to enjoy an uninterrupted experience of the films.
Lewis is the next in line to use the Louvre collections as inspiration for his own art. He selects The Blessed Ranieri Frees the Poor from a Prison in Florence by Giovanni Sassetta, Child with a Spinning Top, by Chardin, and the gallery of the Venus de Milo as his subject matter. The camera becomes a viewer –it looks up, around, distractedly moving, always, just like our eyes do. The camera confronts crowds of tourists, lost in their reveries as they visit the Louvre, tired. Watching the behavior of the tourists is as interesting for the camera as the Sassetta and the Chardin. We see visitors stand back from the camera, to allow it to pass. In marked distinction from the delegates who disembark the Staten Island Ferry in the Lumières film, the tourists at the Louvre remain discrete – they know what a camera does, and they assume it doesn’t want them in its viewfinder.
|Mark Lewis, Night Gallery, 2014|
Lewis’ camera reproduces our vision, travelling, finding a painting, stopping and then wandering around the surface of the painting, looking at it from different angles, as though we will, somehow, see inside of it. Technically, Lewis’ films are seductive, people move in slow motion, the camera is moving at the pace of a person wandering through the Louvre. To achieve this effect, Lewis has invented one of his characteristic maneouvres that must move forward and pull back at the same time.
My favorite of the films was that in the hall belonging to the Venus de Milo. The camera encircles her, examining the ceiling as much as it does her, again the environment of her display is as much to be wondered at as the ancient piece. In a fourth film, The Pyramid, Lewis’ camera watches, upside down, the people walking across and underneath one of the Louvre’s most famous attractions: pyramid. The shadows are mesmerizing, sensuous, and even in their distortions, it is as though their shadows were made by and for the cinema. If only this true magic of this short film of 8 minutes and 18 seconds were able to be witnessed through better viewing conditions.
The publication that accompanies the exhibition is inventive and well worth the 20€. In fact, in some ways it’s more provocative and more interesting than the films themselves because it can be read, at leisure, and the images can be viewed as they are meant to be. For the publication, Lewis has chosen still images from films that have influenced him, to create a montage of fascinating and suggestive connections. Perhaps the most provocative of all connections are those Lewis makes to the silent cinema, particularly, the Lumières films of the Eiffel Tower, Murnau’s Last Laugh, and others that explore the phenomena of modernity that were so much a part of the context that defined the cinema’s history.