Joshua Schwebel

Nov 9 - Dec 18, 2013

Opening: Nov 9, 7:00 PM-11:00 PM

Artist Talk: Saturday, December 7, 2pm

Screening of Caché: Wednesday, December 4


…Of course, knowledge never ceases to butt against its own frontiers, its own limits. This movement seems to found its energy and is the principle motor of its development. The trope of the beyond: it agitates to go always further in the revelation of the hidden mechanisms of the world in an attempt to force open the doors. But there rest zones, passionate and vertiginous, that are by definition, impenetrable, unresolvable paradoxes, conceptual situations imaginable but in excess of all possible experience…

An installation of work produced during a three-month artist’s residency in Paris, France. The subject of this work is partially reflected in its form – it is about the secret, or what cannot be experienced. The collected pieces are documents, but show only a barrier or a limit to communication. They propose the occurrence an event that cannot be re-presented. The presence and absence of the spectator remains in place of a certain event.


Twice Void if Uncovered
Sophie Castonguay
Upon entering the exhibition (Caché) by the artist Joshua Schwebel, one immediately finds oneself in front of a second entrance door, that of the exhibition Nul si découvert  (Void if uncovered) presented at Plateau/Frac-Île-de-France in Paris from June 9 to August 7, 2011. As a complement to the presence of this facade in the gallery space, placed alongside the reconstituted Plateau door, there is the catalogue of the exhibition Nul si découvert. In perusing the catalogue, one discovers the work of twenty-four artists, among which a selection of works by artists such as Bas Jan Ader, Eric Baudelaire, Alighiero Boetti, Chris Burden, Marcel Duchamp, Ceal Floyer, Ryan Gander, Man Ray, Lawrence Weiner and Ian Wilson. To find out more, and in the absence of a catalogue about the current exhibition, the curator Guillaume Desanges’ introduction provides guideposts about the issues raised in the exhibition Nul si découvert. One notably learns that the entire exhibition revolves around “a figuration of inaccessibility” and that, according to Desanges, “conceptual art, in particular, is emblematic of this unequalled capacity to represent the unrepresentable.” In fact, the exhibition Nul si découvert gathers works that foreground “the representation of an eternal hidden,” “the revelation of which is “ontologically impossible and self-destructive.” Each of the presented works displays an “experience of an impossible experience.” There is a very strong relationship between the exhibition Nul si découvert and Schwebel’s artistic work. Far from being a staging of a whatever exhibition, the (re)presentation of the Nul si découvert catalogue here appears as a reflection on the “removal of the object from the gaze” to which Desanges refers in his introduction.
The presence of the catalogue quite clearly reveals that the exhibition Nul si découvert is here represented in a fabulous display of the present absence through which Schwebel pays tribute to Guillaume Desanges’ curatorial reflection. The reconstitution of the Plateau entrance highlights the necessity of an additional removal from the gaze. Though absent, the works of Nul si découvert are mediated once again through the catalogue’s presence, the very object that is usually situated on the periphery of the works, and the status of which is increasingly being questioned in its relay function to provide greater visibility for art. One can raise the question if the catalogue shows or hides, reveals or covers the range of work it promotes. Does the catalogue enable a greater transparency, or on the contrary, does it have the effect of abolishing the experience of the work all the while replacing the experience through a discursive description of it? Faced with the Nul si découvert catalogue, one can, by way of a far-fetched extrapolation, imagine oneself before Man Ray’s L’énigme d’Isidore Ducasse: this form wrapped in a wool blanket and held together by string. Whereas before Man Ray’s work the wool blanket “triggers an ambiguity regarding the nature of what is partially made visible,” before the catalogue it is quite difficult judge the real transparency that it makes operative. It covers all the while revealing Nul si découvert, for it too offers only a partial view of the exhibition. The striking parallel here makes it possible to reflect on all that screens the reception of the work and the diversity of uses one can make of it, depending on whether one partakes in the art field as a creator or as a curator. While “artists sometimes abandon the imperative necessity to produce a work of art that is directly and entirely visible, choosing instead to hide rather than show, to suggest rather than impose, detail rather than totalize” thus valorizing the use of screen shields as poetic catalysts, given that mediation tools continue to be, even nowadays, authoritarian screens corresponding to the generalized movement which requires more transparency: a requirement that is almost impossible to elude. As Nathalie Heinich has so cogently stated in Faire Voir: “all mediation is ambivalent in its constitution: like a screen, it is what makes things visible or which blurs visibility, depending on the situation. It is therefore always susceptible to be perceived either, positively, as that which brings viewers closer to the object, or, negatively, as that which separates them from it.” Guillaume Desanges, who is quite aware of the context in which the catalogue partakes, states: “[this journal] is a paradox—because the exhibition is tied to the limits and aporias of knowledge, to the multiple and dissimulating character of the work, to art as the edifying other side of knowledge—, to carry on proposing such cognitive extensions.”
Discover (Caché)
Before walking through the door, one can view a list of names on the gallery window, a list which covers the entire surface of one of the windows. One recognizes several names of French actors, associated with the credits of Michael Haneke’s film Caché. It is at this point that one realizes that the entirety of the presented works refer to the world that unfolds in Caché. The exhibition consists primarily of drawings of VHS cassettes, of a photograph created through a superimposition of stills of the house depicted in Caché and a VHS player, not hooked up to any screen, which plays a cassette in loop, the content of which we can’t see.
Each of the displayed elements was developed in the context of a residency Schwebel undertook in Paris in 2011. The artist residency provided a context to delve into a vast research construction site in which the city figured as a huge studio in which the artist worked in a roaming mode. It is during this residency that Schwebel photographed the location at 49 rue Brillian-Savarin, which is where the house that was used for the filming of Caché stands, and he thus replayed the role of the intruder. It is also during this stay in Paris that Schwebel carried out another furtive action as part of Nul si découvert.
The entirety of elements that comprise Schwebel’s exhibition opens a dialogue between the fertile reflexive terrain proposed by Desanges in Nul si découvert and Haneke’s use of the exacerbated dissimulated image in Caché. While Nul si découvert plays on the “figuration of an inaccessibility,” Caché  “rearms the filmic and dialectic powers of the off-screen.”[1]
The film begins with a long static shot showing the house of Caché’s protagonists. This house is that of a bourgeois family who lives in Paris. It is only at the moment where a freeze-frame appears and is followed by an image-rewind mode, typical of a VHS cassette operation, that one understands that the static shot of the house was filmed by a stranger and sent to the residence’s address. In this scene, this in itself rather banal image is accompanied by the dialogue of the couple, who want to know what is on this mysterious cassette, and who in viewing it become aware of this eccentric gift. The shot itself has an eccentric place in the film, and it is inserted, like a commentary and an intruder, into the film’s plot. It is precisely the intrusion of this shot which will allow the story to be revealed; both in terms of a story and in terms of history, because historical revisionism is what contributed to abolishing the underlying tragedy.[2] It is hence through this shot’s opacity that the film Caché is structured. The opening shot implicitly represents the staging of an amnesia and/or symptomatic image that gradually forces a return of the repressed.
This shot, which one assumes to be the first one filmed by Caché’s director, takes on a metadiegetic status as the unfolding story reveals that its author is a stranger whose motivation to keep watch over the home of this apparently ordinary family remains unknown. Several VHS cassettes are sent to the family, which makes the couple increasingly paranoid and prompts  them to discover the motives behind this intrusive gesture.
Everything leads one to believe that the status of the image and the shot’s central place in the film indicate something unseen, something repressed, which haunts the protagonists from the very beginning of the film. As Saad Chakali observes in his brilliant analysis of the film “an image perhaps exposes less than it hides much, deep down the image indicates—and is there that its unthought resides—only that which it fails (involuntarily) to reveal or mask (consciously).”[3] In Caché the spectre that haunts the film is the postcolonial unthought, the first symptom of which is its historical revisionism. The film’s opening shot is therefore an implicit image which reveals the postcolonial archival malaise through its present absence.
It is because the stranger no longer claims to support “the contemporary ideology of communication with its fallacious transparency utopia of beings in which the film’s bourgeoisie seems to be comfortable ensconced,” that s/he, however sadistically, restores the image’s hauntological status; “a restoration that cinema is much in need of,” Saad Chakali tells us. This hauntological status is also, and this is no coincidence, at the core of the Nul si découvert exhibition.
To bring together the elements of Nul si découvert and the Caché derived works, makes it possible to insist on this concern to rearm the image in the face of a positivism which has the perverse effect of obscuring the off-screen and suppressing the outside. Aware that the symbolic order is fully constitutive, the symbolic workings here become a restoration work in which more and more artists are—thankfully—engaging in. Marked by a great reflexive coherence, Schwebel’s work partakes in a movement that is contributing to reiterate the importance of the off-screen as an instance that makes it possible to ensure the image’s survival and its subjectivating nature, to give shape to the world’s incomprehensibility and to valorize the image’s capacity to be at once irremediably sealed off and infinitely gaping.



[1] “Le spectre du colonialisme, l’actualité du néocolonialisme—Caché (2005) de Michael Haneke”, published in the magazine Cadrage in 2006.
[2] The historical tragedy to which the film refers is the massacre of over a hundred Algerians by the Parisian police during the peaceful demonstration organized by the F. L. N. on October 17, 1961.
[3] “Le spectre du colonialisme, l’actualité du néocolonialisme—Caché (2005) de Michael Haneke”.