Moules à volonté
Interview with Mathias Domahidy and Pierre-Philippe Hofmann on the occasion of their Ad Libitum project at KIOSK (17.04.2021 - 25.04.2021)
KIOSK: Who are you?
MD: I write, I film, I make music, I have taken photographs for more than twenty-five years. I dropped my studies at eighteen to make my life a situation. For my last feature film, Jean-Luc Godard lent me sound equipment and I never returned it.
PPH: Oddly enough, this question seems more difficult to me than the others. Or is it a trap? I don't know who I am yet. I produce works to better understand who I am. I think I'm complicated enough to keep me busy for a while. I discover by doing, and therefore I discover myself by doing.
I don't do much with my hands—they do not like doing things. So I use a camera and ideas. After all, it's between the eye and the brain that it happens. Under these conditions, I don't really have a studio practice. My studio is reality, anywhere. I have always observed reality and walked through it. And eventually my hands are becoming a little jealous.
KIOSK: What is Ad Libitum?
PPH: Ad Libitum is a body of research around the notion of description. Because before being able to make a judgment about or intervene in the things which surround us, we have the challenge of describing them. And two elements guide our thinking. On the one hand there is a kind of dizziness, because in a defined space and a defined portion of time, everything is ultimately only a question of scale and proportion. How far is description possible? This essential question quickly appears on our path when we undertake a visual or writing project: “how far should we go?" Then, we wonder how our gaze or pen will position itself in relation to the fragile membrane separating description from interpretation. Ad Libitum is a set of explorations of banality, undertaken through the prism of these two questions.
MD: Two extremes can be reached in describing reality. And one pitfall—at least for the writer and filmmaker that I am. The extremes are Georges Perec and the haiku, and the pitfall is believing that we are talking about the truth. In Kino-Pravda, I prefer to wash my eyes between two shots, two sentences, as was recommended by Kenji Mizoguchi. So it is for Ad Libitum.
KIOSK: When did you start the Ad Libitum project?
PP: Mathias and I used to take the train together every day. As he has the gift of bewitching through words, I saw that the only way to create a place for myself was to limit his logorrhea by the image! That's how it started. As the journeys became too short for our exchanges (and we did not necessarily want to travel further just to give ourselves the opportunity to continue them), we set ourselves the challenge of working in an enclosed space for a few months and taking a single image as a starting point. For three months we worked on a photograph taken at 1/125th of a second. At the end of that experience we had the idea of the first Ad Libitum film. Initially it was to be a feature film, but the full cast was not available.
KIOSK: What does Ad libitum mean, by the way?
PPH: Ad libitum is a Latin phrase used in literature or music which implies that things can be continued as one desires. Several teams of linguistics researchers are on the job, but still fail to define whether this desire can be infinite. The real question is therefore what our rights are when it is written "moules à volonté" (a simple way of saying ad libitum). Do waiters remain within a legal framework when they sneakily remind us of a restaurant's closing time?
MD: Being of good will and a very good procrastinator, this concept is the most reassuring that I have come across.
KIOSK: What makes the fourth episode unique?
PPH: First of all, and this is a fundamental principle in the art world, what makes the fourth episode unique is the fact that it is numbered, and its number defines its uniqueness. But I feel that that was not exactly what your question was getting at...
For the first three episodes we filmed banal situations, accompanied by the step-by-step instructions necessary for their staging. Everything was very controlled, organized. This was the case in Brussels where we carried out the first version. For Ghent, the experience was very different—chaotic. We were shocked to find that the pace of the city was dictated by cyclists and delivery people. We could no longer follow, and our project had to take a new turn. We wanted to take a look, some might think it an offbeat look, at what is happening in our streets, in front of the eyes of our children. In the four corners of the city, bicycle couriers follow one another at full speed in a massive competition against the clock. So much so that we no longer have time to write a WhatsApp message between one Deliveroo passing and the next!
To answer very concretely this time, our recipe no longer worked! The uninterrupted appearance of bicycles going through our frames no longer allowed us to work on a description, as we had done for our previous films. Having to give up the charm of a single frame for the entire sequence, we imagined a different editing dynamic. As we continued to think about it, we said to ourselves that the final object could no longer be the film; this time, the video would document the preparation of an exhibition. This is how we arrived at a proposal that deconstructs a model, habits, a market, curatorial prerogatives... Our real subject is not a result, but the mechanics inherent in all artistic production.
MD: The most depressing exhibition I have ever seen was a John Armleder retrospective at MAMCO Geneva, I can't even remember the year. The artist was present. Three decades of rehearsals occupied all the walls, on three floors. A photo of him, under glass, from the 1970s—him at twenty, wearing his hair, wearing the same clothes. Contentment, laziness, hubris, and disdain. With the fourth episode, we are on the fourth floor and have left our comfort zone.
KIOSK: Did the current health situation impact the project?
PPH: For the organization, the logistics, inevitably. But what we are proposing here perfectly resonates with the crisis, and more broadly with our time. Much recent evidence has shown that our society was already at a delicate point at all levels—ecologically, economically, in terms of relations between peoples and power.... The signals are extremely strong (climate change, geopolitical tension, stock market crashes...), but even a health crisis of unprecedented magnitude is not enough to thoroughly rethink our relationship with consumption, work, travel—or time. In recent months, our spaces have contracted, our time has stretched, and yet many of us are still overwhelmed with work while others simply cannot work. We remain people in a hurry, impatient—little concerned with a common good and deeper reflections. And beneath its light appearance, Ad Libitum #04 is not disconnected from these topical issues.
MD: Obviously for the content and the form. Not at all for the way of working. Writing and editing a film is already a confinement way of living. The COVID pandemic offers everyone a very concrete experience of what reality is for the writer, for instance.
KIOSK: What have you done in this context?
PPH: I have realized that the relationship between space and time has always been a central point—not always a conscious one—in my research. Endurance, slowness, and stubbornness guide a good part of it. The current context, the one that has occupied our conversations for months, has determined my recent plans and will likely continue to affect those to come.
For seven weeks this winter I forced myself to get around only on foot between sunrise and sunset. During this same interval, I also disconnected from the telephone and the internet. This limitation no longer related only to the experience of slowness, but redefined all my daily relationships. It was necessary to approach things differently—all my appointments, my modes of consumption, of living with family, of communicating, of working on the PC not only remotely but also at different times... I found it remarkable to see how this change was perceived from the outside; for some, it seemed like a luxury, like whimsical behavior, whereas for me it was a return to the basics. How capricious is it to limit your purchases to what you feel capable of carrying on a long trip, to go to bed later and get up earlier to meet your commitments, to redefine your priorities according to their real relevance? Would it be less capricious to want everything right away, to cancel an appointment at the last minute, to have your purchases delivered?
My book Portrait of a Landscape: Swiss Attempt had the bad luck of coming out during the lockdown. To deal with the situation, I decided to deliver limited editions of the book on foot—which seemed apt since it is about walking for 2700km in Switzerland between 2012 and 2020! It is an interesting experience to walk all day to bring an object to someone by hand. Something really remains of such a journey and the meeting.
MD: A journey concentrated between the walls of a bedroom.
KIOSK: What's next?
PPH: On May 9, I will leave my home and try to organize a group exhibition on foot. A roll of bubble wrap on my shoulder, I will cross the fields first, residential districts, and then the city to get to the DuflonRacz gallery (Ixelles). Along the way, I will stop off to see fifteen artists who can’t be grouped together by any factor except the location of their workplace or home. We will pack one of their pieces and move on together. And just as neighboring galleries will be opening finished exhibitions, we will deliver our works and eat dishes made of plants collected along the way by the artist Frédéric Fourdinier. But I will also invite Mathias, an unwavering partner of this joint venture!
MD: A film to shoot, another to edit, a novel in progress, Ad Libitum #5.