Dominique Petitgand

12 Mar - 08 May 2010

"Proche, très proche / Close, very close, 2002/2009"

12 March | 8 May 2010

Words are the primary medium of Dominique Petitgand’s works: sequences of words, excerpts of recordings — often the same ones — that he produces with different people. These voice fragments are cut up, isolated, repeated, associated with other sound or musical fragments. His sound works are then unfolded in space in the form of installations using one or several loud speakers, substituting in the place of usual linear listening —for instance, that of a concert or a CD — a spatialized listening: “We move from a temporal approach to a spatial one, from a horizontal composition (in which sounds appear in sequence) to a vertical one (in which sounds co-exist in contiguous spaces). Listeners themselves create the sequence of events through their movements and various positions, by visiting the different spaces.”

It’s this kind of progression through space that the installation Proche, très proche (Close, very close) invites us to perform. The work features a female voice presented inside a central space, confronted with other sounds diffused through four loud speakers distributed in the exhibition space. Appearing in the form of snippets, the voice describes (in French) a certain confusion. It evokes the presence of “invisible bonds” between people or things.

Above it all, various narrative beginnings alternate with fragments of speech concerning the difficulty the woman has in finding the words for what she is trying to express. These words are thus punctuated by expressions similar to those we might say, almost unconsciously, automatically when, indeed, words fail us: “I don’t know,” “ah, yes,” or even, “it’s strange.” Like the sounds emitted on the margins of the voice — coughing, exhaling, breathing, humming, chuckling—, these expressions constitute a large part of the vocabulary in Dominique Petitgand’s sound works: “For me,” he explains, “breathing, coughing and isolated words are like entire sentences.”The snippets of voice function there like “vocal gestures,” triggers bound to prompt perceptual states, reflections, memories, and other narrative snippets in the spectator’s mind.

The sounds broadcast by the four loud speakers share with the voice the same ambiguity: they sound familiar, evoke sounds produced when manipulating everyday materials, but remain indistinct. They circulate in the space, passing from one loud speaker to another according to a logic and a frequency that one cannot grasp. It’s in fact these sounds that the visitor first discovers before approaching the central space where the voice is broadcast. Presented in the form of subtitles on a screen situated at the juncture between the two spaces, the translation (in English) functions like an interface between the two sound sources, between the sounds and the voice. Like many of Dominique Petitgand’s installations, Proche, très proche plays upon an essential characteristic of sound: its permeability. Depending on where you stand, the different sound sources are layered with more or less insistence. A play on synchronicity thus takes hold between the voice and the other sound elements: the latter are traced on the former according to a mimetic process that makes their rhythm, intonation and timing correspond with the voice’s rhythm, intonation and timing. One surprises oneself by passing from one sound to another, progressing through the space, playing with one’s own listening experience.

It’s here, on the level of listening, that the silences between the fragments acquire all their presence. They create a zone of permeability, generating “invisible bonds” between the work and its exterior: the listener, the progression of his or her train of thought, the architectural and sound environment, the other spectators. “‘In my installations, silence makes it possible for the site, for the setting, for everything that is outside the work to exist... Every silence is the negative framework of what is heard around it, a way of making the work co-exist with what is not part of it.”The silences also function like spaces for montage, “left to the listener,” between the fragments. Dominique Petitgand’s works are organizations of sound elements that tend toward connecting themselves, straining against themselves, one with the other, one against the other. They place listening at the center of the process out of which meaning emerges. “It’s on the level of perception, on the level of what happens in the listeners’ minds, where the study of a form is located for me. My work has more to do with the phenomenon than with the object.”

Christophe Gallois

Tags: Dominique Petitgand