WITHOUT RETURN WRITTEN AS A DIALOGUE BETWEEN LEAVES (2009) BY SUSANNE BÜRNER AND LA JETÉE (1962) BY CHRIS MARKER.
Susanne Bürner: LEAVES, video still, 2009 (c) the artist
The guise of the woman’s face flashes up in situations that are otherwise ordinary, during everyday moments. It emerged the first time on the jetty at the airport. Her gaze clung to him while a man died, as it was reported subsequently; that he died with her gaze upon him.
Weeks later, he sees her window shopping. Another time she is in a car. She follows him with tender violence. He cannot get rid of the appearance of her face, and this is the reason for the experiment: a memory sutured by the face of a woman, which becomes manifest in an image. The experimenters only have to set the image in motion. They have her under their complete control. Again and again, she must perform her role in situations as banal as possible. The reproduction of her image is a repetition of her surface as visible. Like clockwork, the repetition both irritates and activates the man by means of its constant difference. To him, it seems random. The experimenters are very pleased with her.
The key meeting is being prepared. Much later she will leave a note for him. It will tell him that one reason for arranging the encounter at Black Park is its proximity to Pinewood Studios. They meet after the thirtieth day of the experiment. Humans surround them. Her face, as his face, is one face among others; hers, one image among others. After appearing again and again, there is no escape – neither for her nor for him. He is able to distinguish her clearly.
She looks at him. He is sure now, when he wasn’t before: it is her, here, in the park! They welcome each other without surprise. She gains his trust, which, at the jetty, was still opaque. It becomes a trust that does not need images. A trust independent of images is of the utmost importance for the further progress of the experiment.
The effect of the Black Park goes above and beyond the expectations of the experimenters. The rustling of the trees test the man anew. The sound is so loud as to make reality unrecognizable to him. Images leave the park in order to move to the future. They start in slow motion, without pause or return. Where is she? He has lost her.
A huge green screen remains. It looks like a motif of a landscape, a photographic slate staged again and again. It vanishes in an instant, at the instant of an event. It crops images so as to utilize them for a re-performance at another time and place. This green screen, in which spaces and temporalities multiply indefinitely, helps him archive the memories that he cannot remember entirely. Imagining the absence of her face, he defines the word partiality for himself. In another moment of looking, a single tree dissolves away from its green surrounding, as if it wants to show him something. He looks, but cannot see anything. He hears a susurration behind the rustling of the trees. Does it originate from trees he cannot see, beyond the absence of the trees in front of him?
He is sure that she is present even if he cannot see her. He points to the thicket and tells her: "This is where I come from." His hand indicates the location of his memory. He is not sure what it is that gives him the assurance to locate it there, as it feels to him as if the memories fold in on themselves, drift and branch out. He does not know that the experimenters have planned the meeting in the park and calculated its effects. He is struck with unease against the surety of his hand, raised to detect his origin in the thicket. The park is not a site, but the delivery of an image at the margins of memory. At the edge of the park where the trees cease to exist as single figures, the park becomes a protagonist of the scene.
She asks him about his necklace. She touches him and looks into his eyes. He did not want to remember. He has worn the necklace since the war started. Somehow, then and there, he invents a story: “Before I was drafted to serve in the war, my mother gave me this necklace. I kept it while in the army, because it indicates where I come from. Each threaded piece is a piece of my memory. It kept me alive.” She knows that it is the piece of memory in which she appears as an image. She looks at him. She smiles. She observes him. She is exhausted. She shoves herself in between images in front of his gaze. She is forced to do it. Her role is determined anew again and again. At one point she transforms herself in a moment of danger and violence; at another time, in a moment of joy and ecstasy; always without words. The rustling of the trees covers reality as it tries to depict the scene. Is it a dream? Her image penetrates the green of the trees over and over. Supplied with the past, it appears through the strata of time, at unexpected moments and unexpected events.
It is the story of a woman, driven by her experimenters. Their experiment sends her to different locations and temporalities in order to orchestrate success. There are images of the past being performed in the present in order to take place in the future. She is like a document shuffled in time, but one that changes with each new apparition. The experimenters calculate with each change. She knows it is up to her to disturb and destroy their work.
The park is a place-less mirage where past and future meet. It holds within its borders a speechless articulation of desire and uncertainty. The trees create a white noise from which fragments of indeterminacy fall to the ground, silent and hidden as they slope downward. She falls asleep in the sun. He gets cigarettes. She uses the moment of his absence to escape from the experimenters. When he comes back she is asleep. Or is she dead? If so, she would no longer be at the disposal of the experimenters. He knows that he does not know whether this place exists, but she returned to this place regardless, for him. He does not know whether it exists. Whether she exists. "She calls him her Ghost," he says.
The meeting in the park has changed her. She moves her body and directs her gaze towards the experimenters. She knows where they are. She wishes to convince the man to rebel against them. They ruin her life. She is tired of performing the same role again and again. It is torture. He must know! He must see the twisted dimension of the image of her face! But he is even more helpless than she is. He is guided into the galleries and placed on a bed with a flat base. Care is taken as he is strapped to the bed, so as to achieve good posture and beneficial results for later tests. He is drugged. His muscles contract constantly, and yet he is immobile.
The Black Park is clouded. Winds gather and grow into a storm. Leaves whirl as if sensate, as if they create the wind. Sand blows into his eyes as images overlap, but not the images of his memory. He does not see the image of the woman. Is it because she withdraws for a moment, when instructed by the experimenters? Or because he lost her between the flying leaves and branches?
The experimenters carry the meeting to excess. They play with their power and misjudge the effects of their control. They increase their blurring of orientation, visibility and temporality. Gazes as well as images superimpose. The man cannot see anymore. The storm blows as a gale, as it blows itself up, as it blows his seeing up. It blows her image up. He remains in a state of terrible loneliness. In that moment of total absence and blindness, he realizes what his memory constitutes.
There is nothing spontaneous, nothing natural about the desires captured in his memory. It is artificial, all of it. He has been taught to remember in order to desire. He realizes that the park is a set, that it marks a stage for an image. He has been put on display like in an animal in a museum. Well, he keeps his thoughts to himself. The meeting in the park is a caesura in the experiment, recorded as the most notable success in the history of the experimenter’s research. They believe that they prepared the man as well as possible to send him to the future, from where they want to govern. Yet, for him, the caesura hosts the realization of his own illusion. From this moment on he meets her more often. Sometimes she is anxious. Sometimes she is eloquent. He starts to sense her overwhelming exhaustion. She knows about his unease.
Published (forthcoming) in LEAVES by Susanne Bürner, Boabooks, Geneva 2010.