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  • Marc Fichou’s Habitus: Video Feedback Art in a Philosophical Context
  • Stefan Mattessich (bio)

French-born artist Marc Fichou has exhibited an intriguing body of work in a string of shows around L.A.: “Contenant Contenu” at the Robert Berman gallery (January–February 2013), “Ouroboros” at the Young Projects gallery (January–April 2014), “Outside-In” at the Chimento Contemporary (June–July 2016), and, most recently, “Uncertainty,” a group show at the Pasadena Arts Center (October 2016–February 2017). Much of Fichou’s work involves video feedback and looped, interactive projections that recall the inter-disciplinary experiments of Fluxus artist Dick Higgins, the video installations of Num June Paik, and other works by Steina and Woody Vasulkas, Peter Weibel, and Peter Campus. While all of these artists focus on the mediation and displacement of the object, the artist, and the viewer alike, the stakes remain a subjectivity that persists through its various attenuations.

Fichou is a very self-effacing artist. We see this in his installation “Plastron,” with a video monitor that shows, by reverse projection, the artist in close-up as he applies plaster of Paris mixed with black paint to his face. He gradually covers his whole head, including the eyes. Mounted just opposite the projection is the impassive, mineral-like cast that will be (or is already) the result of this process. On an interposed double mirror, its reflection combines with the video image, creating an almost holographic superposition of the face and its mask that confounds relations between before and after, inside and outside, subject and object. The artist fashions his own likeness, but he subtracts himself in it, too. He presents his own disappearance. The installation, containing its production in time, is also penetrated by negativity, volatilized by absence.

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Fig. 1.

Plastron. 2010.

Used by permission.

We sense Fichou touching here on a history of art going as far back as Greek sculpture, which strove to find in the human body the coincidence of material substance and soul that made the person essentially what he or she was. This perfect self-identity came about through the development of qualities, faculties, and talents that lay dormant in the person, as natural potentials made actual and explicit, known to the mind. We still take our cues from this Greek tradition—it still informs the ways we think about identity. Few of us, however, have much practical experience with the self-possession it celebrates. Rather, becoming ourselves implies inner conflict and alienation from a nature that is never quite recovered in consciousness. Autonomy depends on technical supports or prostheses (from writing to digital screens) that decenter the “soul” —if they don’t relegate the notion to some metaphysical past.

Fichou’s interest in subjective dispossession nonetheless engages that past; his work, to be sufficiently felt, asks this engagement of us. French philosopher Catherine Malabou provides a useful framework for this history. Her reading of modern subjectivity turns on the figure of kenosis as a self-emptying of the will that occurs when the subject becomes aware of its own limits in a contingent universe. This Copernican shock has typically been narrated as a withdrawal of metaphysical guarantees but in two senses. God abandons the world (and we feel abandoned by him), but God also abandons himself in it. His kenosis (or death) entails not only a fall into time and mortality (in the person of Christ) but the converse spiritualization of a fallen condition. God in his essence “becoming accident,” as Malabou puts it, affords a template for the modern subject’s encounter with finitude, grasped as a struggle to achieve self-understanding through a “divine” alienation—to achieve what Hegel, on whom Malabou relies for her account, calls “absolute knowledge” (71).

This distinctly Protestant internalization of negativity entails a sublimation of social freedom into moral conscience; as such, it affords the formula, as critics from Marx onwards have pointed out, for an abstract universality that sustains, in resigned acceptance, the irrational social conditions of a bourgeois capitalist order.1 We see Fichou interrogating this sublimation in another of his installations, “Primer.” It involves two rooms. In one, a chair fashioned of...

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