SURGICAL STRIKES "The art of war says many things about our contemporary world." says French artist Clément Cogitore (*1983). His first full-length feature film, Ni le ciel Ni la terre – selected by the 2015 Cannes’ Critics’ Week – is now showing for the first time in Germany at the Galerie Reinhard Hauff. In Ni le ciel Ni la terre, we are in the company of a French garrison at the Afghan border. Clément Cogitore makes abundant use of surveillance footage, thermal imaging and night vision. The language of art consolidates the political reach of the images. A progressive transition from a Western notion of war towards a system of beliefs carried by the "enemy" spells trouble for the most Cartesian minds of heroes and spectators.
The Digital Desert series of photographs in the exhibition bring to mind the group of works Otages (Hostages, 46 hideous and formless masks inspired by photographs of the dead) by the painter Jean Fautrier, created at the end of World War II. Otages evoked admiration, revulsion and scandal. Like Fautrier then, Clément Cogitore’s Digital Desert series now offers a representation rather than an image of modern conflict and its collateral victims. The three large scale photographs and the four photographic diptychs presented in the gallery, Digital Desert #1 through #8, 2015, first remind one of aerial images of charnel houses that have hounded our collective imagination in recent years. But doubt progressively insinuates itself: what first look like remains turn out to be military uniforms littering the ground. Filmed in the Moroccan desert, Clément Cogitore points out that the series is "the first without human figures" and brings to the stage a new camouflage technique called "digital desert" that allows one to escape not an entrenched enemy anymore but the invisible eye of drones. How to disappear is Clément Cogitore’s big theme. The film Ni le ciel Ni la terre also focuses on disappearance – the mysterious disappearance of four French soldiers. A 1992 law prohibits the distribution of satellite images that exceed 50 cm/pixel to prevent any risk of litigation concerning the invasion of privacy. Yet, as much as this resolution makes the "surgical strikes" of drones very difficult to detect, in turn it also means that their targets cannot be seen if they remain under the threshold of representability. Amongst other things, this is what philosopher Grégoire Chamayou decrypts in his latest book La Théorie du drone (Drone Theory) understood as an instrument of violence without reciprocity.
With his images, Clément Cogitore shows what is at play in the transition from the famous "jungle" weave of brown and khaki military uniforms of the 20th Century to this pixelated motif of the 21st Century that scrambles the most sophisticated receptors. In this David versus Goliath fight, one can’t help but be reminded of "Razzle Dazzle", the camouflage method very prized by First World War vessels. In other words, an optical wall painting that prevented the adversary from knowing the precise position and course of the ship to be torpedoed. Obsolete as a result of the advent of radar, this ruse inspired by an artist and Royal Navy reserve demonstrates the formal inventiveness that presides the art of war. But if the French army once called upon avant-garde artists and cubists in particular, requisitioned for their technical know-how regarding the deformation of reality, today it is to American engineering that we owe the "digital desert" that ironically, as Cogitore points out, ends up clothing "the soldiers of Daech or the Russian army". Therefore, what interests the artist here is both the subject, that of a rapport de force now in the arena of technical innovation, as much as the new aesthetic landscape it gives rise to.
"I’m a hyper believer" jokes Cogitore who has made it his hallmark to superimpose narratives, factual or rumoured, and combine the material and political. "A great part of my work focuses on this, on the way narrative resolves the real, on its absolute necessity." (Claire Moulène: Art critic for Les Inrockuptibles, ARTFORUM).
After studying at the École nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg, and at the Fresnoy – Studio national d’Arts Contemporains, Clément Cogitore developed a method half way between cinema and modern art. Mixing film, video, installation and photography, his work questions the modalities of cohabitation of man with images. It is most often a question of rituals, collective memory, representation of the sacred as well as a certain notion of permeability of worlds. His films have been nominated at numerous international festivals (Quinzaine des Realisateurs at Cannes, Festival del film Locarno, Montreal among others) and have won prizes on a number of occasions. His work has also been projected and exhibited in many museums and art centres (Palais de Tokyo, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MoMA, New York). In 2011 he received the Grand Prix du Salon de Montrouge and was resident artist of the Académie de France in Rome, Villa Medici in 2012. In 2015 his first full-length feature film Ni le ciel Ni la terre won the Gan Foundation Prize at the Festival de Cannes’ Critics’ Week and has been internationally acclaimed.