by Christoph Kluetsch for AV Art Service
Cedric Bregnard is artist in residence at the Centre d’Art in Auroville during February and March 2023. He will take a photo of the Banyan tree in the Matrimandir garden. This photo will then be scaled to the size of a wall (approx.3x7m) in the gallery. Residents of Auroville are invited to trace light and shadow of the bark, leaves, roots with ink on the wall. What lies behind this process is complex and touches the essence of photography, the materiality of trees and the power of life.
The tree itself is the geographical center of Auroville and represents a very special place for many people, a place of contemplation, concentration and meditation. This tree is for many more than just a symbol of nature, man and cosmos. It evinces something.
So what is it all about? Let’s start with photography, because Cedric Bregnard is a photographer. In 1998, as a final project of his studies at the Ecole de Photographie de Vevey, Bregnard photographed deceased people. He took several months to accompany four people in a palliative care clinic in Switzerland on their final journey. They agreed to let Cedric Bregnard take a photo of them. After life had left the body, he took 3 hours to spend alone with the deceased, a kind of wake, to then take exactly one photo, the only photo, of the body – a portrait.
The arc that is drawn here is existential: what is the transition from life to death? What is a portrait? What can photography represent? What exactly happens when a photograph captures a moment – technically, temporally, metaphysically?
Photographs are technical images. In 1826 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the first photograph. Louis Daguerre developed the photochemical process to patent maturity in 1839, and it was the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière who invented the cinematograph in 1895. This device made it possible to both shoot and project films. The life-size running image projections replaced the magic lanterns and phantasmagorias.
In 1907, Henri Bergson, in his book Creative Evolution, criticized the cinematograph as an apparatus that produced mirages. The sequence of individual images that create the illusion of movement are ultimately a lie. Plato argued similarly: painting is a lie, because you can’t eat a painted apple. In 1985, Deleuze ‘saved’ cinema from the accusation of lying by arguing that the criticism was correct, but short-sighted. The film strip contained more than just individual images, it was not the illusion of movement but pure thought, material philosophy. The cuts and collages allow streams of thought that are only possible in film. Film is not ‘truth 24 times a second’ (Godard) but pure philosophy. The Elan Vital (Bergson), i.e. the life force, which the cinematographer lacks according to Bergson, is expanded by the power of thought according to Deleuze.
Cedric Bregnard performances implicitly relate to this discussion, albeit with a distinctly different tone. For it is about how photography can transcend the technical image.
So back to the beginning of light images. Light rays are captured with the help of photochemical processes. A latent image is created, i.e. there is a light imprint in a chemical film that is on a carrier material. The latent image becomes visible when the transparent chemical compounds altered by the light are replaced by colored chemical compounds. With Daguerre, this was still silver on a glass plate. However, Kodak film made working with negatives popular and inexpensive. The negatives could be efficiently enlarged in large laboratories. We refer to these prints as photographs in general. So it is nature that ‘paints’ here, the light is captured with the help of an apparatus and made visible through chemistry. The photographer merely chooses the place, the time and the frame.
In Bregnard’s process and performances there is a very significant shift within this ‘painting of nature’. He too chooses a place, time, and frame – that is, an object – specifically a tree – that he photographs with a camera. However, instead of using a photochemical process, he uses a very high-resolution digital process. The pixels, which act somewhat like a latent image, are made visible by printing them out on paper. The mathematical description of each pixel is transformed into a graphic representation using an algorithm and a printer. Most photographers who work digitally take these printouts as their final results. They are the equivalent of analog prints, i.e. photographs.
Making visible together
Bregnard works a little more finely. For him, the printouts are quasi projections. An intermediate stage to the final image. The print of this negative is created in the performance. And this is where it gets a little magical.
The ‘negative’ that Bregnard prints is black and white without gray values. That is, every light reflex captured by the camera is fixed to either black or white, ‘light or shadow’. This printed projection serves as the basis for the performance. Everyone can now participate and trace the traces of light and shadow. The image of the tree is collectively traced with ink. A nice detail here is that ink is made from charcoal, which in turn is charred wood – dead tree.
The collective tracing with ink itself is a process that Bregnard ‘lets run’. He takes himself out of it. It is again nature that draws here. Nature in the sense of contrast to technology. But it is a higher form of nature, it is consciousness in the collective. That this process is now taking place here in Auroville in relation to the Banyon tree is wonderful. That this is happening at a time when Auroville’s driving force ‘Diversity in Unity’ is undergoing a trial of strength may not be merely symbolic for some.
Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1911.
Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. 9. print. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.
———. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.
„Cedric Bregnard | Cedric Bregnard“. Zugegriffen 10. Februar 2023. https://www.cedricbregnard.ch/.