- In the Still of the Museum: Jean-Luc Godard’s Sixty-Year Voyage
Voyage(s) en Utopie, Jean-Luc Godard 1946–2006, In Search of Lost Theorem was presented at the Pompidou Center in Paris from May 11 to August 14, 2006. With this installation, Godard pushes the cinematic envelope a step beyond his legendary experimental aesthetic. Rather than offer a retrospective or traditional cinematographic exhibition, Voyage(s) en Utopie stands at the intersection between cinema and the visual arts. Faithful to Godard’s cinematic style, his museum piece does not pre-digest the filmmaker’s thoughts for his audience. Juxtaposed signs and symbols produce unexpected associations; combined, they form a gigantic puzzle. The viewer is expected to gather and decode a plethora of information in order to create an individualized mental montage. The exhibition uses strategies such as appropriation of imagery, found text, and film that have been championed by Godard since his early films. Although contemporary visual art is little quoted in Godard’s films, Voyage(s) en Utopie confirms that a two-way dialogue exists between Godard and other contemporary art. The poetry, revolutionary aesthetics, and political engagement of Godard’s films inspired numerous art practitioners. His influence on several generations of filmmakers, visual artists, and video artists is well documented. Correspondingly, Godard is clearly aware of developments in visual arts where strategies of appropriation are strongly rooted. From the cubists to Marcel Duchamp and Sherrie Levine, visual artists have endlessly quoted one another. Additionally, many visual artists such as Douglas Gordon or Matthias Müller have appropriated from cinema.1 While the form of Voyage(s) en Utopie is not necessarily groundbreaking, the multiple meanings and associations found in this exhibition set Godard apart from present-day artists who use similar strategies only to reduce their comment on contemporary culture to one-liners.
Voyage(s) en Utopie was originally planned as a different show titled Collage(s) de France, archéologie du cinema, d’après JLG.2 The former director of the Cinémathèque Française, Dominique Païni, who was the curator of Collage(s), explains that in the original show, space was meant to be “used to describe a temporal process, that of thought itself.” Païni adds:
In fact the visitor was invited to experience the time of a film’s conception in a new way: the time of “materialization” (to use JLG’s words), the time that passes between the phases of imagining and making, before arriving at the condensed time of the finished work, which is then painfully separated from its maker and swallowed up into the tomb of distribution and communication.
Voyage(s) en Utopie differs from Collage(s) de France. Here space is used not merely to provide the viewers with the experience of the duration of a film’s conception, but more as a mean to travel in time, give a material form to memory, and reify the history of cinema and culture. Godard’s shift from motion pictures to the presence and power of still objects in a museum setting appears to conjure up a desire to stop the forward motion of cinema. The filmmaker’s object-based installation is grounded in the material world, but like all installations it will cease to exist at the end of the show. A still frame in the history of motion pictures, Voyage(s) en Utopie provides a short pause in the filmmaker’s prolific sixty-year journey.
Despite having abandoned the original project, Godard refers to Collage(s) de France throughout Voyage(s) en Utopie. From the moment viewers enter the exhibition space, they are presented with the history and archeological strata of Voyage(s) en Utopie. On the wall immediately behind the entrance turnstile Godard places an initial placard indicating that the Pompidou Center decided to cancel the exhibition because of artistic difficulties. Two other reasons (financial and technical difficulties) are also mentioned but crossed out by Godard’s hand along with a photo of one of the scale...