by Pierre Zaoui

From a text about the show Circumambulation at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, june 2007.

“This morning, I watched the destruction of the world as an attentive spectator, then I got back to work” – Franz Kafka, Journal

What happens when an event occurs, falls upon us, and transforms us? In a sense, almost nothing, because an event is barely ever perceived as an ‘event’ when it unfolds. It is only in its aftermath that we can attempt to give it significance. But then the event is no longer unfolding, it is already reconstructed, it has already become a fable or a series of established clichés. Events “that move the world enter on dove's feet" Nietzsche remarked in Zarathustra. They are beyond measurement, and perhaps even perception: what defines them in a sense is precisely that nothing occurs and nothing can be seen.

But in a different sense, the event is what upsets us fundamentally, what completely reconfigures our past and our future, what “breaks our history in two” (again Nietzsche in Ecce Homo). The paradox is that these two meanings of “event” are not in opposition to one another, they collapse onto each other: everything must seem to repeat itself precisely for something truly singular to occur, and this singularity must repeat itself and foreshadow others to be truly seized as an event. This paradox is, in a sense, the paradox of time that goes by.

What happened on the morning of September 11th in the south of Manhattan? Recent work by Eric Baudelaire is a meditation on the meaning and lack of meaning of this event, on the meaning and lack of meaning of trying to create a trace of it or extract meaning from it in its aftermath, on the linked times of its capture and of its loss. A double necessity to understand this event in terms of what it has left us with, which is to say almost nothing: a Ground Zero that is an empty space, and suffering that is either repressed or expressed but is devoid of images; and at the same time, a necessity to understand this event in terms of what it announces: possibly the daily experience of terrorist violence, where terror borders indifference, where hatred looses its object as it multiplies, where war can no longer be thought of outside of its staged nature, where image is only a witness to what is no longer there.

It is important to be aware of the ambiguity of this double necessity: who can be a witness to what occurred? Who will be able to say “I understand” or even “I did not understand at first, but now I do?” Perhaps an art of contours, a form of artistic practice that focuses on the areas surrounding, rather than the thing itself, an art that reveals our impotence at actually seeing : it was before (‘Manifest Destiny’ 1), or we circled around it but failed to see anything (‘Circumambulation’ 2), or all we saw were images (‘The Dreadful Details’ 3), or we were in fact there that terrible day, we were shown images of the explosion, but we did not understand it, make it our own, because it was embedded in a system of images and the ephemeral time in which they were shown (‘Sugar Water’), or, finally, we were only able to grasp the cascading ambiguity that followed, unsure of what is more detestable: the event itself, its commemoration, it dissimulation or its recuperation (‘Blind Walls’).

Or perhaps no art at all. Maybe no form of artistic expression can grasp the event, or even its contours, its before or its after. Indeed images made before September 11th can no longer be seen in the same way in its aftermath (cf. ‘Manifest Destiny’), and images made afterwards cannot be seen without those made before, nor those that will continue to be made after the event, despite the event, or next to the event (hence the endless dialogue and repetition of all the war imagery in ‘The Dreadful Details’). In this sense, it is important to understand the force of the “we” that emanates from the various devices/practices in Eric Baudelaire’s work: it isn’t from a singular perspective that he orchestrates the works, neither is it from the perspective of the victim, the witness or the spectator, nor that of the media, the journalist or the artist. Because vision presupposes not a single event visible to a single gaze, but a multiplicity of events that appear to a multiplicity of anonymous gazes. In “Logic of Sense” Deleuze describes the vast “communication of events” in which the “great events” of the world penetrate each other to produce strange resonances with our own affects and private or common traumas, making them “pre-personal and pre-individual.”

Eric Baudelaire approaches this “communication” within our image-based society, images from advertising, news media, cell phones, TV series, that connect as they can to the great images of our pictorial tradition, offering us a vision of a plural and anonymous gaze.

The veritable problem of such a communication is therefore that of time. When time contracts, it is the singular point of a unique event that becomes visible, contraction of all events, event-zero, primordial field, ground zero. When time expands, all events reference each other: spectacular and daily events, advertisement and reality, distant wars on terrorism and ordinary riots in the Parisian suburbs (as in ‘Sugar Water’) ; or September 11th and the battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci (like the two videos of a circular ambulation around Ground Zero in the video diptych ‘Circumambulation’ installed with an excerpt of Leonardo’s journals on how to paint a battle). Or in the same vein, the Iraq war and Goya’s 3 of May 1808, and Manet’s Execution of Maximilian from 1867 (referenced in ‘The Dreadful Details’). Or in yet a different vein, the graffiti laid on top of the frame of photographs representing angular buildings and seemingly interrupted architecture in Paris, buildings that seen from the side appear as mere façades, and that Roger Caillois, in “Learnings of Paris,” thought to be inhabited by phantoms (the ‘Blind Walls’ series).

But the idea of “phantoms” goes beyond this series of works, it is in a sense an expression of this expansion of the time of events that resembles a haunting silence. An obsession is which all rings false, all seems false, badly articulated, confused, in the manner of false film cuts in Nouvelle Vague cinema, but also in the manner of segments that are poorly made, poorly conceived, on nightly TV news shows. Where are the phantoms? In the folly of images that dissolve into one another until everything becomes indistinguishable? Or in the folly of men creating fabricated relationships between a war in Iraq and September 11th, between the urban riots in France and the war in Iraq, between advertisement and news merchandising of very real corpses?

There are no longer two times in our society of globalized imagery, the time of the instant (photography) and the time of movement (video), but a single time, the time of the event, which contracts and expands and must be reflected upon in the hope of escaping its haunting. Eric Baudelaire’s work can therefore be seen as an art of living the event of one city, New York, which has become the event of an entire world, and the time of an entire world. Whether we are in Wyoming (‘Manifest Destiny’), in Iraq (‘The Dreadful Details’), or in a pseudo Iraq (the production of the image was set in Hollywood), or in Paris (‘Blind Walls’ series), or precisely nowhere (the subway station in the film ‘Sugar Water’ is named “Porte d’Erewhon,” an anagram of nowhere borrowed from Samuel Butler’s novel about an island where time has stalled), we find ourselves brought back to New York and at the time of his question: what happened on September 11th?

With the last lines of Caillois’ book on Paris in mind, this show Circumambulation could easily have been titled Learnings of New York:

“A rapid voyage through a city isn’t enough to sow a lingering memory of a city: the memory must become inseparable from the self by a slow discovery that enriches an entire lifetime.”


On the works in this show:

Sugar Water’: Awaiting the Time-Image

Henri Bergson, who didn’t care much for cinema, wrote in “Creative Evolution” that in order to have an authentic intuition of duration, one had to experience it, and he took the example of sugar in a glass of water. The lesson seemed clear: “I must wait for the sugar to dissolve;” it is in the experience of vision and waiting, when my duration blends with that of the world, that the intuition of a moving reality emerges. But how does one learn to wait in a modern world that seems to be a constant flux of continuous images, yet never ceases to extract stopped images, obsessive images, and then projects these fixed images into what seems to be a perpetual cycle? “Sugar Water” can in a sense be seen as a vast metaphor of the days that followed September 11th experienced like a challenge to Bergson’s edict: the same fixed images, almost like advertisements, constantly cycling in the very heart of our daily lives, until they produce a perfect misunderstanding: we wait to see the moment where the car explodes, while the “real people” in the film (for the most part) simply await the metro and don’t see anything at all. But it can also be read as something else entirely: the daily nature of violence, of advertising, devoid of subject, void of significance, with the same PA announcements and the same barely audible song that create the rhythm of the sound track, in a cycle that mirrors the sequence of images overlapping on top of the blue monochrome of a billboard frame. How does the time spent waiting for the next image to reveal itself become something else than a repetitive old tune? Here, a sort of portrait of the artist as a billposter.

Blind Walls’: An Unbearable Ambiguity

In the end, the meaning of an event’s time is its appalling, unbearable ambiguity. We would like to see it in the present, we would like to seize its “decisive moment” in the manner that Lessing describes the Laocoon, yet we find ourselves stuck in images from the past that continue to haunt our present. We would like “not to judge, not to hate, not to mock, but only see and understand” like Spinoza, but we see nothing, and an unconscious hatred seems to underlie every image. In a way, the series of tags on the surface of framed photographs of “phantom” Parisian buildings function as a form of catharsis. Who is the author? Who is the subject and what is the object of this discontent? A survivor of the events that unfolded on what is now ground zero? Or on the contrary somebody supportive of the terrorists aims? An average citizen of the world who cannot stand that the world’s time was suddenly set back to zero by the time of a single city?  Or perhaps also the artist himself, forever marked by an event which he seeks to comprehend, to make his own, but which will never be his own, and yet will never let him go.

1. An earlier body of work photographed in the American West
2. A two channel video installation (not on display) from which this show is titled
3. Exhibited at Elizabeth Dee Gallery in the group show Adrian Piper, Eric Baudelaire, Josephine Meckseper, Wayne Gonzales in December 2006

by Pierre Zaoui

in Vacarme 37 – autumn 2006
Original French version here.

What can a war image do? The Dreadful Details, a diptych composed by Eric Baudelaire, proposes an answer. The piece, a "grand machine" on modern forms of conflict, revisits all of the images of war that haunt us. It also engages in a subterranean exchange with Gilles Deleuze. In the process, we understand how a beautiful photographic image can, in a single stroke, let us see again and reaffirm the sacred persistence of the human.

Eric Baudelaire photographed the second (or third) Iraq war in Hollywood, on a set used by a number of actual TV productions, with thoughts of Over There in his mind. The work that resulted is both a radical critique and layered apology of those clichés that haunt our souls, our screens and our literature. Let us try to understand how this apology can be thus woven into the critique, to a point where both the images of war and their traditional justifications seem linked in an infinite regress.

The piece is a vast fresco, nearly 7 by 12 feet, filled with heroes and suffering, blood, smoke and jarring contrasts (on the one hand the rubble, smashed watermelons, and severed legs in the foreground, and on the other the apparent tranquility of the hills in the background). A first layer of meaning leaps out at us: this is a fresco that symbolizes modern warfare. Meaning neither great conventional battles nor guerrilla warfare as practiced by jungle partisans or other guevarist "focos," but an urban guerilla war where conventional troops, local recruits and civilians are intertwined. It seems to be a "grand machine" in the sense used by Delacroix: a great piece, extremely composed, expressive both in the power of its overall movement and the precision of its minute details. A piece that attempts to reconstitute the full grandeur of a great event, both in its tragedy ( The Death of Sardanapale ) and in its triumphant bestiality (the Attila of the National Assembly dome).

Yet the piece seems to have been produced to function backwards. First of all, the image is fractured in its center: there is a single photogram, but it is presented as a diptych, deliberately and immediately shattering any promise of unity or overall movement. Furthermore, the movement seems at once frozen and carved into zones of visibility and meaning that are each almost hermetically sealed off from one another. One quickly notices that there is in fact neither action nor spontaneous overall movement. The characters are actors striking a pose; a hieratic or falsely natural pose. Slowly, one begins to understand that each zone of visibility is essentially autonomous, and only relates to the others through the medium of two artificial devices: the unity of the set's pastiche and the single photographic shot. And finally, although the work is titled The Dreadful Details, upon close scrutiny one observes no such frightful minutiae: the child in her mother's arms, probably dead, shows no traces of blood; the other corpses, when not hidden under a blanket, show neither mutilation nor gaping wounds; no cries of desperation are heard; no acts of bestiality are shown. In truth, the details themselves are no more realistic than the overall composition. Its truth lies in between, in the juxtaposition of its motifs and sequences. This is an anti-fresco.

It is only when one has arrived at this view that the true "mise en abîme" (infinite regress) begins between the clichés of war and their justification. Here, the term cliché must be taken seriously, in the sense of ready-made images, devoid of affect because they are already known and pre-digested, and are present both within the viewer (in the form of blurry and overwhelming memories) and in front of the viewer (in the form of worn out images in magazines and advertising), thus rendering obsolete any distinction between interior and exterior, between the spirit and the real world, between us and them, between actor and spectator. And this is an essential notion in Deleuzian esthetic modernism: in a world submerged in images, art images can exist only through merciless battle with clichés. More precisely, if one were to believe fully in the "untimely" value of his philosophy (in a nod to Nietzsche), one could say that Deleuze devoted at least two texts to Eric Baudelaire's The Dreadful Details. The first deals with the crisis of what Deleuze calls the "action-image," an image capable of embodying in a "grand form" relationships between environment and behaviors. More specifically, he wrote the following, inspired by Godard (in Cinema 1. The Movement Image, Minnesota University Press, 1986, pp. 214-215):

"[I]f images have become clichés, internally as well as externally, how can an Image be extracted from all these clichés, "just an image," an autonomous mental image? An image must emerge from the set of clichés... With what politics and what consequences? What is an image that would not be a cliché? Where does the cliché end and the image begin?"

How not to read in this quote the precise program of Eric Baudelaire's piece: first of all, to express the crisis of the image-action, emphasizing the extent to which war images can no longer convey the slightest "grand form" but only multiply poisonous clichés; and then "extract an image from all these clichés." Because everything here is either cliché or reference to clichés. Cliché of the dead sniper, who has been set up in a pose, just like Alexander Gardner had set up his Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter during the American Civil War. The body, in the background against the wall, to the left of the right-hand panel, is a quasi-citation, and the very title of the piece, The Dreadful Details , comes from the caption of a plate (no. 36) in Gardner's Photography Sketchbook of the War, 1865-1866. More photojournalistic clichés, recent ones this time: how can one avoid being swept back to Vietnam by the left side of the left-hand panel, between a woman opening her arms facing an armed soldier who keeps her at bay and the figure of that shell-shocked man, clutching a rifle and sitting behind a screen of smoke? Yet more cliché from war painting itself: on the right side of the right-hand panel, with those soldiers ready to fire, and a supplicant figure, arms open. How could one not find oneself in Spain, on the 3 rd of May 1808, under Goya's gaze? And again, with that indifferent-looking officer, slightly to the side, we are not only with Goya and in Spain, but also with Manet in Mexico at the execution of Maximilian. In the last version of the painting, Manet made the officer resemble Napoleon. Here one recognizes no one, even the ultimate denunciation disappears in indifference. And once again "cliché," this time in the common French sense of the term - a photograph - as practiced by the two civilians on the balcony. They are taking photographs with a cell phone, as if implicitly referring to the "amateur" images of Abu Ghraib. Their shot is from above down towards a TV journalist fiddling with his camera, in another implicit allusion to the explosion of anonymous images, especially on the Internet. In other words, every war image temporally resonates with all wars past, and one is indeed very close to the "mental image" that Deleuze sought in Welles and Godard, beyond the crisis of the action-image, where images claimed to express a coherent relationship between "a context and behaviors." Near a mental image that would no longer be "movement-image" but "time-image," superimposing layers of pure time, and generating as much thought as sight in order to escape clichés that operate only in the present and erase all ideas beneath their dead, neutral and numbing affect.

And what would this idea be? Precisely the "mise en abîme" (infinite regress) of justifications of war images after the death of the hero and the great frescos meant to do him justice. One can trace at least four: to fabricate heroes , as Goya did, not with the fighter in action but with victims, civilians or occupied people, even local draftees working with the occupiers (and it is worth noting that there are no dead Americans in the piece, except, possibly, the corpse covered by the blanket); to denounce , precisely in the manner of Gardner and O'Sullivan (" Such a picture conveys a useful moral: it shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition of its pageantry. Here are the Dreadful Details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation " as stated in the caption to O'Sullivan's picture A Harvest of Death ), or even in the manner of Picasso or Vietnam war films (and both are present in the piece) the brutal horror of war; or in the manner of more straightforwardly militant art, to disturb viewers, to implicate them in the image or the scene, to "make something happen" as Auden did not say, or to break the "fourth wall" as Brecht said (and on the right side of the right-hand panel the soldiers and their victims do that twice: the first aim at the viewer, the second implore the viewer); or finally, to identify with the image , to offer within the war image itself the reflection of our most intimate disasters or our strongest doubts (and one notices, all the way to the left, a somewhat western and intellectual looking man who is observing but seems not to understand; and symmetrically, to the far right, a calm man, skeptical, who seems to be holding back the supplicant as if to say "what's the use?") In short, the first response of The Dreadful Details at the apex of a long series of "mise en abîme" (infinite regress) is at the same time both a synthesis and a reversal of all of our spontaneous questions about war. After having for so long attempted to justify images through discourse, should we not now attempt to justify discourse through images, justify the justifications and therefore learn to once again see in images that which can no longer be heard? The piece is a form of ethical response: it is precisely where there are too many blinding images, clichés, that we must introduce an image capable of teaching us again how to see.

Deleuze's second text on Eric Baudelaire, in chapter XI of Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (London: Continuum, 2003, pp. 91-92), is one that attempts to show to what extent, in the struggle against clichés, painting will forever be irreplaceable by photography. In particular, he writes the following about photographs:

"They can thus lay claim to aesthetic pretensions, and compete with painting. Bacon does not believe they succeed at this, because he thinks the photograph tends to reduce sensation to a single level, and is unable to include within the sensation the difference between constitutive levels. But even if it could happen, as in Eisenstein's cinema-images or Muybridge's photo-images, it would only be by means of a transformation of the cliché or, as Lawrence said, by mauling the image. It would not create the kind of deformation that art produces (except in miracles like those of Eisenstein). In short, even when the photograph ceases to be merely figurative, it remains figurative as a given, as a "perceived thing" - the opposite of painting."

By the standard established by this quotation, it is no longer a question of congruent programs, but of a challenge to be met. Yes, Eric Baudelaire's fresco seems to promise, photography can rival painting; or at least it can rival painting on the question of war. And this, for a precise reason: because in this field, photography is undeniably preeminent visually. Painting has never succeeded in depicting war, only battles, triumphs or defeats (except, to parody Deleuze, for miracles like Goya's). Photography alone has succeeded in capturing war for what it is: always "hors-champ" (out of field), always being prepared for or appraised after the fact, always multiple and split in its motifs (the scared soldier, the cruel soldier, the stupefied soldier, the dead, the defeated, the haggard witness), always captured in images that primed it, accompanied it, made it real, but never seized it completely, never led to its essence or "an" art (in both senses of the term). In other words, photography can, as well as, if not better than painting, express the truth not of war itself, but of our relationship to war, because it alone, both through its technical realism and its resolutely universal nature (anybody can take pictures), spontaneously expresses the radical transcendence of its experience: war cannot be truly felt by those who did not experience it, and cannot be uttered by those who did.

More precisely, Eric Baudelaire seems to take on Deleuze's challenge in two ways. First, in adopting the precise meaning of Deleuze's notion of cliché, which is to say that he reminds us that the true cliché that must be deformed and traversed is not the photographic "cliché" (in the sense of its French double meaning of photograph/stereotype) as with Bacon, but the indistinct switched-off image within us and outside of us. From that point on, the object is not "to bruise the images" in order to at all costs "not collapse sensation to a single level," but on the contrary to light images up, to bring them back in their original power, to show how from the outset two levels of radically transcendent and incommunicable sensations are at play within them: the sensation of those who have experienced war in the flesh beyond any image and discourse, and the sensation of those who have experienced it only through images. From that perspective, art photography retains all of its power to deform, not in order to layer sensations, but to show us that, whatever one feels, there will always be a sensation that escapes us: that experienced by the protagonists. For example, on the right side of the right-hand panel, the soldiers of the 3 rd of May 1808 and their illuminated victims have rotated 90 degrees. It is no longer the latter that the former are aiming at, and it is no longer the former that the latter are supplicating, but the viewers. The sensation for the viewer is therefore entirely different. But has the sensation of the protagonists changed? Probably not: one sees the same gestures, the same frightful concentration of the soldiers, the same pain on the face of the victim. But perhaps it has changed: the heroic victim is no longer central and light up but off-center, darkened, and possibly mad (he is no longer in the line of fire, as another civilian seems to be reminding him). The soldiers too are no longer wearing the variegated uniforms of Napoleonic times but seem professional, homogeneous and without any affect outside of fear. One does not know, and will never know: the sensations of the real will forever vanish underneath the image.

From that perspective, one should not turn so much to Muybridge and his photographic decompositions to look for Eric Baudelaire's sources, but rather in the direction of Jeff Wall, and particularly his large 1992 fresco on the war in Afghanistan, Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a red army patrol near Moqor, Afghanistan, 1986) . In that work we see dead Russian soldiers talking to each other but telling the viewer absolutely nothing. They have nothing to say to the viewer, they can only be painted. War, in its suffering and death, is unutterable. It remains silent and is forgotten under images that can only aspire towards silent tribute, frozen and anxious about their broken youth. Eric Baudelaire seems to address this very point in Jeff Wall's process: what images can restitute about war will never be the truth of its sensations, but only the hieratic tremor of the transcendence of that feeling, much like Byzantine icons do. Along the way, Baudelaire seems to push that logic much further; and this is his second way of taking up the challenge laid down by Deleuze. The point is to fully accept the implacably iconic nature of war images, to make art photography not only a pictorial and voodoo fantasy of reality, but a sacred space. A space that welcomes its great icons: the dead, the destruction, and the suffering as well as the inexpressible anesthesia of its protagonists. To make icons of clichés , in the proper sense of the term: indefinite variations on a single sacred theme, which is to say forever transcendent, forever beyond any judgment aside from a negative one that states the impossibility of feeling it and understanding it here on earth. And variations, here, charged with underlining the appalling, shared and astounding beauty of that part of humanity which survives - one knows not how - the disasters of war. What is remarkable, in this sense, is the work on the pieta that is alone and almost at the center of the original photogram. It is at once Michelangelo's pieta where the veiled woman, so small and frail compared with the other characters, seems to become the daughter of her son.But it is also the pieta in Guernica (on the left in Picasso's work, she moves to the right of the left-hand panel here). It is also, no doubt, the Madonna of Bentalha, by Hocine Zaourardu which was printed around the world, and again it could well refer to something else. But she is all these: sculpture, painting and photojournalistic image. All of the visual arts, from the greatest to the most common and mercenary, always revolve around the same icon which only art photography can present for what it is, an icon whose Figure will always transcend all of its visual incarnations.

With and against Deleuze, but also against a certain movement in contemporary art that disregards beauty, in the name of reality or of the "bare life," Eric Baudelaire thus reminds the viewer that war, at least, indomitably transcends all markers of reality (sensation, speech, resistance, surprise) and that that transcendence prevents one from grasping war in any other way than through the iconic semblance of beauty, through beauty of clichés elevated into icons, where those icons were attributed to war by those outside of it. In that sense, whether one sees them as testimonial, denunciation, or question, beyond fear, blindness, disgust, scandal or shame, in spite of any catharsis, pleasure or naive educational hope, war images will perhaps always force one to accept the same painful observation: the horrible but undeniable beauty and its indivisible power of both fascination and repulsion that survives, or endlessly re-emerges like an eerie obsession from ruins, rubble, corpses, victims and supplicants. Ethically and politically it is almost unbearable to have to acknowledge such beauty in war and because of war, even if it reveals itself in spite of war, and even if Eric Baudelaire is careful to leave out of field any allusion to the blind spot of genocidal wars (no reference to concentration camps here, no reference to what may be the most famous war photogram: that young child raising his arms in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943.) But here may also be the power to console and relieve, similar to that with which religious icons were once freighted. One could call it an affirmation of the sacred persistence of the human.

par Pierre Zaoui

in Vacarme 37 – automne 2006

Que peut une image de guerre ? Proposition de réponse avec le diptyque photographique Dreadful Details composé par Éric Baudelaire. Cette composition, « grande machine » sur la forme moderne des conflits, revisite toutes les images de guerre qui nous hantent. Elle renoue aussi un échange souterrain avec Gilles Deleuze. On comprend alors comment une belle image photographique peut dans un même mouvement réapprendre à voir et réaffirmer la persistance sacrée de l'humain.

Éric Baudelaire est allé photographier la seconde (ou la troisième) guerre d'Irak à Hollywood, dans les décors des séries télévisées qui se tournent actuellement,  Over There en tête. L'oeuvre qui en est ressortie apparaît à la fois comme une critique radicale et comme une apologie feuilletée des clichés qui hantent nos âmes, nos écrans et nos livres. Essayons de comprendre comment l'apologie peut ainsi se tisser dans la critique jusqu'à mettre en abîme et les images de guerre et leurs justifications traditionnelles.

C'est une vaste fresque, de 209 sur 375 cm, emplie de héros et de souffrances, de sang, de fumée, de contrastes saisissants (d'un côté les gravats, les éclats de pastèque, les jambes étales de l'avant-plan ; d'un autre la tranquillité apparente des collines à l'arrière-plan). Son sens obvie saute aux yeux : c'est une fresque symbolisant la forme moderne des guerres, à savoir ni les grandes batailles conventionnelles, ni la guérilla des maquis de partisans ou des focos guévaristes, mais la guérilla urbaine où se mêlent troupes conventionnelles, supplétifs locaux et civils. C'est donc apparemment une « grande machine » au sens que pouvait lui donner Delacroix : une grande oeuvre, extrêmement composée, valant à la fois par la puissance de son mouvement d'ensemble et le soin apporté aux détails, tentant de restituer le plus fortement possible la grandeur tragique ( La mort de Sardanapale ) ou bestiale mais triomphante (l' Attila de la coupole de l'Assemblée) d'un grand événement.

Celle-ci semble toutefois produite pour fonctionner à l'envers. L'image est d'abord fracturée en son centre : il n'y a qu'un seul photogramme mais il est présenté en diptyque, brisant ainsi d'avance toute promesse d'unité et de mouvement d'ensemble. Plus encore, ce mouvement apparaît vite à la fois figé et découpé en zones de visibilité et de sens presque hermétiques les unes aux autres. Très vite on s'aperçoit qu'il n'y a en fait pas d'action ni de mouvement d'ensemble spontané ; les personnages sont des acteurs qui prennent la pose, hiératique ou faussement naturelle. Et un peu moins vite, on comprend que chaque zone de visibilité ne vaut primordialement que pour elle-même et ne se compose avec les autres que par un double artifice : l'unité de carton-pâte des décors et la prise unique de la photographie. Enfin, cette fresque s'intitule The Dreadful Details , mais à y regarder de près, on n'observe précisément aucun détail « effroyable » ou « insupportable » : l'enfant dans les bras de sa mère, vraisemblablement mort, ne porte nulle trace de sang, les autres morts, quand ils ne sont pas dissimulés sous une couverture, ne portent ni mutilation, ni blessure éprouvante, on n'entend nul cri de désespoir, on ne voit aucune bestialité en acte. En vérité, il n'y a pas davantage d'effets de réel des détails que de la composition d'ensemble. Sa vérité est à mi-chemin, dans des motifs ou des saynètes juxtaposés. C'est une anti-fresque.

C'est quand l'on parvient à un tel regard que commence véritablement la mise en abîme. Celle des clichés sur la guerre et de leur justification. Il faut prendre au sérieux ici cette notion de cliché, c'est-à-dire d'images toute faites, sans affect car toujours bien connues et digérées d'avance, présentes autant en nous (sous forme de souvenirs à la fois flous et envahissants) que hors de nous (sous forme d'illustrations éculées de magazines ou de publicité), et rendant donc essentiellement obsolète toute distinction entre intérieur et extérieur, esprit et monde, comme entre eux et nous, acteurs et spectateurs. C'est notamment là une notion essentielle de l'esthétique moderniste deleuzienne : dans un monde submergé d'images, il n'y aura encore des images d'art dignes de ce nom que par une lutte sans pitié avec les clichés. Plus précisément, si l'on croyait pleinement dans la valeur intempestive de sa philosophie, on pourrait dire que Deleuze a consacré au moins deux textes à The Dreadful Details d'Éric Baudelaire. Le premier porte sur la crise de ce que Deleuze appelle « l'image-action », c'est-à-dire l'image capable d'incarner sous une « grande forme » des rapports entre des milieux et des comportements. Il y écrit notamment ceci s'inspirant de Godard (in L'Image-mouvement , chap. 12, p. 289) :

« Si les images sont devenues des clichés, à l'intérieur comme à l'extérieur, comment dégager de tous ces clichés une Image, « juste une image », une image mentale autonome ? De l'ensemble des clichés, doit sortir une image... Avec quelle politique et quelles conséquences ? Qu'est-ce qu'une image qui ne serait pas un cliché ? Où finit le cliché et où commence l'image ? »

Difficile de ne pas lire ici le programme même que s'est donné Éric Baudelaire : exprimer d'abord la crise de l'image-action, souligner combien l'image de guerre ne parvient plus à restituer la moindre « grande forme» mais seulement à multiplier des clichés empoisonnants ; et ensuite devoir « dégager de tous ces clichés une image ». Car tout ici est cliché ou référence aux clichés. Cliché du cadavre de sniper , à qui l'on a fait prendre la pose avant de le photographier, comme l'avait fait Alexander Gardner avec sa photo Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter lors de la guerre de Sécession. Le mort, en arrière-plan et contre le mur, à gauche du panneau droit, en est une quasi-citation et le titre même, The Dreadful Details , provient de la légende d'une photographie du livre publié par Timothy O'Sullivan et Mathew Brady sur cette guerre, Gardner's Photography Sketchbook of the war, 1865-1866 . Cliché du photo-journalisme plus récent : comment ne pas se sentir au Vietnam à la gauche du panneau de gauche, entre cette femme qui ouvre les bras face au soldat qui la met en joue et cet homme accroupi, fusil posé au sol, derrière un écran de fumée ? Cliché encore de la peinture de guerre elle-même : à droite du panneau de droite, avec ces soldats prêts à faire feu et ce suppliant qui ouvre les bras, comment ne pas se sentir en Espagne, le 3 mai 1808, sous le regard de Goya ? Plus encore, avec cet officier à l'air indifférent qui se tient légèrement à l'écart, on n'est plus seulement chez Goya et en Espagne, mais tout autant chez Manet et au Mexique, à propos de l'exécution de Maximilien. Dans sa dernière version, Manet avait prêté à l'officier les traits de Napoléon : ici, on ne reconnaît personne, même l'ultime dénonciation s'efface dans l'indifférence. Et clichés derechef, cette fois au sens le plus commun, que ceux que prennent les deux civils au balcon. Ils les prennent avec leur téléphone portable, comme en une référence implicite aux images « amateurs » d'Abou Ghraïb ; et ils les prennent en surplomb d'un journaliste télé qui est encore en train de régler sa caméra, comme en une allusion tout aussi implicite à l'explosion des images d'anonymes, notamment grâce à Internet. Bref, toute image de guerre fait résonner temporellement toutes les guerres passées, et on est effectivement bien proche de cette « image mentale » que recherchait Deleuze chez Welles ou chez Godard, au-delà de la crise de l'image-action, c'est-à-dire de l'image qui prétendait encore exprimer un rapport cohérent entre un milieu et des comportements ; image mentale qui ne serait donc plus une « image-mouvement » mais une « image-temps », superposant des strates de temps à l'état pur et donnant ainsi autant à penser qu'à voir, pour échapper aux clichés qui eux ne se jouent qu'au présent et effacent donc toute idée sous leur affect mort, neutre, anesthésiant.

Quelle serait alors l'idée ? Justement la mise en abîme des justifications de l'image de guerre après la mort du héros et des grandes fresques censées lui rendre justice. On peut en effet en retrouver au moins quatre : héroïser , à la manière de Goya, non plus le combattant en action mais la victime, le civil ou l'occupé, dût-il être membre des troupes auxiliaires de l'occupant (et l'on remarquera que l'on ne voit aucun soldat américain mort sinon, et encore peut-être, celui sous la couverture) ; ou dénoncer , à la manière justement de Gardner et O'Sullivan (« Such a picture conveys a useful moral : it shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition of its pageantry. Here are the Dreadful Details ! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation »1 dit la légende entière d'une photo de Gardner, A Harvest of Death), ou encore à la manière de Picasso ou des films sur la guerre du Vietnam (et les deux y sont), l'horreur brutale de la guerre ; ou, à la manière d'un art plus directement militant, inquiéter le spectateur, l'impliquer dans l'image ou la scène, « makes something happen » comme ne disait pas Auden, ou briser le « quatrième mur » comme disait Brecht (et, à droite, les soldats comme leur victime le font deux fois : les uns nous visent, l'autre nous implore) ; ou encore s'y retrouver , offrir dans l'image même de la guerre le reflet de nos plus intimes désastres ou de nos doutes les plus criants (et l'on remarquera, tout à gauche, l'homme plutôt occidentalisé et intellectuel, qui regarde et semble ne rien comprendre ; et symétriquement, tout à droite, l'homme calme, sceptique, qui semble retenir le suppliant comme pour lui dire : « à quoi bon ? »). Bref, la première réponse de The Dreadful Details à l'apogée d'une immense mise en abîme s'apparente à la fois à une synthèse et à un renversement de toutes nos questions spontanées sur la guerre : après avoir si longtemps tenté de justifier l'image par le discours ne devons -nous pas encore tenter de justifier les discours par l'image, de justifier les justifications et ainsi d'apprendre à revoir en image ce qui ne peut plus s'entendre ? C'est une sorte de réponse éthique : c'est justement là où il y a trop d'images aveuglantes, de clichés, que nous devons faire advenir une image capable de nous réapprendre à voir.

Le second texte de Deleuze sur Éric Baudelaire est celui qui, au chapitre XI de Logique de la sensation , tente de montrer combien, dans la lutte contre les clichés, la peinture sera à jamais irremplaçable par la photographie. Il écrit notamment ceci à propos des photos :

« Elles peuvent donc faire valoir des prétentions esthétiques et rivaliser avec la peinture : Bacon n'y croit guère, parce qu'il pense que la photo tend à écraser la sensation sur un seul niveau, et reste impuissante à mettre dans la sensation la différence de niveau constitutive. Mais y arriverait-elle, comme dans les images-cinéma d'Eisenstein ou dans les images-photo de Muybridge, ce ne serait qu'à force de transformer le cliché, ou, comme disait Lawrence, de malmener l'image. Cela ne ferait pas une déformation comme l'art en produit (sauf dans des miracles comme celui d'Eisenstein). Bref, même quand la photo cesse d'être figurative, elle cesse d'être figurative à titre de donnée, à titre de « chose vue » - le contraire de la peinture. »

À l'aune de ce texte, ce n'est plus de congruence programmatique qu'il s'agit, mais d'un défi à relever. Si, la photo peut rivaliser avec la peinture, semble promettre la fresque d'Éric Baudelaire ; ou au moins, elle peut tout particulièrement rivaliser avec la peinture sur la question de la guerre. Et ce, pour une raison précise : parce que sur ce terrain, il y a une indéniable précellence visuelle de la photographie - la peinture n'a jamais su peindre la guerre, mais seulement des batailles, des triomphes ou des défaites (sauf, pour parodier Deleuze, dans des miracles comme celui de Goya) ; seule la photographie a su la saisir pour ce qu'elle est : toujours hors-champ, toujours en préparatifs ou en bilans, toujours multiple et décomposée dans ses motifs (le soldat apeuré, le soldat cruel, le soldat hébété, le mort, le vaincu, le témoin hagard), toujours inscrite dans des images qui l'ont préparée, accompagnée, réalisée mais sans jamais la saisir complètement, sans jamais permettre d'en ériger une essence ou « un » art (aux deux sens du terme). Autrement dit, la photographie peut aussi bien, sinon mieux, que la peinture exprimer la vérité non de la guerre, mais de notre relation à la guerre, parce qu'elle seule, à la fois par son réalisme technique et par son caractère résolument commun (tout le monde peut prendre des photos), exprime spontanément la transcendance radicale de son expérience : la guerre ne peut pas être ressentie par ceux qui ne l'ont pas vécue, et ne peut pas être nommée par ceux qui l'ont vécue.

Plus précisément, Éric Baudelaire semble relever de deux manières le défi posé par Deleuze. Premièrement, en prenant la notion deleuzienne de clichés en son sens précis, c'est-à-dire en rappelant que le véritable cliché qu'il s'agit de déformer et de traverser n'est pas le cliché photographique comme chez Bacon, mais l'image éteinte indistinctement en soi et hors de soi. Dès lors, tout l'enjeu n'est pas de « malmener l'image » pour parvenir coûte que coûte à « ne pas écraser la sensation sur un seul niveau », mais à l'opposé de la rallumer, de la redresser dans sa force initiale, pour montrer combien d'emblée se jouent en elle au moins deux niveaux de sensations radicalement transcendants ou incommunicables : la sensation de celui qui a connu la guerre dans son corps par-delà toute image et tout discours, et la sensation de celui qui ne l'a connue que par des images. De ce point de vue, la photographie d'art conserve intacte toute sa puissance de déformation afin, non pas d'étager la sensation, mais de montrer combien, quoi que l'on ressente, il y aura toujours une sensation qui nous échappera, celle justement des protagonistes. Par exemple, à droite du panneau droit, les soldats du 3 mai 1808 et leur victime solaire ont pivoté de 90 degrés. Ce n'est plus celle-ci que ceux-là menacent, ce ne sont plus ceux-là que celle-ci supplie, mais nous-mêmes. La sensation du spectateur est donc entièrement différente. Mais celles des protagonistes ont-elles changé ? Peut-être que non : on y voit les mêmes gestes, la même concentration terrible des soldats, la même peine sur le visage de la victime. Mais peut-être que oui : la victime héroïque n'est plus centrale et solaire mais décentrée, assombrie, et peut-être devenue folle (ce n'est plus elle qui est menacée, un autre civil semble le lui rappeler) ; et les soldats ne portent plus les uniformes bigarrés des armées napoléoniennes et semblent autrement plus professionnalisés, homogénéisés, sans affect sinon la peur. On ne sait pas, on ne pourra jamais savoir : les sensations du réel passeront à jamais sous l'image.

De ce point de vue, c'est moins du côté de Muybridge et de ses décompositions photographiques qu'il faudrait chercher les sources d'Éric Baudelaire, mais du côté de Jeff Wall, et notamment de sa grande fresque sur la guerre en Afghanistan de 1992, Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a red army patrol near Moqor, Afghanistan, 1986) . On y voit alors des soldats russes morts en train de se parler, mais qui ne nous disent absolument rien. À nous, ils n'ont rien à dire, on ne peut que les peindre. La guerre, dans ses souffrances et ses morts, ne se raconte pas, elle se tait et s'oublie sous l'image qui ne peut plus prétendre qu'à un hommage inaudible, figé et inquiet à leur jeunesse défaite. Éric Baudelaire semble reprendre sur ce point précis la démarche même de Jeff Wall : ce que l'image peut restituer de la guerre ne sera jamais la vérité de ses sensations, mais seulement le tremblement hiératique de leur transcendance, à la manière des icônes byzantines. Ce faisant, il semble toutefois pousser une telle logique beaucoup plus loin, et c'est sa seconde façon de relever le défi posé par Deleuze. Il s'agit d'assumer jusqu'au bout ce caractère irréductiblement iconique des images de guerre, de faire de la photographie d'art non seulement une fantaisie vaudou et picturale du réel, mais un espace sacré et un lieu d'accueil pour ses grandes icônes : les morts, les destructions et la souffrance comme l'anesthésie indicibles de tous ses protagonistes. Faire des clichés des icônes , au sens propre du terme : des variations indéfinies sur un même thème sacré, c'est-à-dire à jamais transcendant, à jamais par-delà tout jugement sinon celui, négatif, qui énonce l'impossibilité de le sentir et de le comprendre depuis la vie d'ici-bas ; et des variations ici en charge de relever l'effroyable, commune et stupéfiante beauté de cette part d'humanité qui échappe on ne sait comment aux désastres de la guerre. Remarquable à cet égard est tout le travail sur la piétà qui occupe seule presque le centre du photogramme original. C'est à la fois la piétà de Michel-Ange où la femme voilée si petite, si menue comparée aux autres personnages, semble, elle aussi, devenir la fille de son fils ; mais c'est autant la piétà de Guernica (elle était à gauche chez Picasso, elle passe à droite du panneau gauche ici) ; et c'est aussi, sans doute, la Madonne de Bentalha de Hocine Zaourardu qui a fait le tour du monde, et peut-être encore autre chose. Mais déjà celles-là, une sculpture, une peinture et une photographie de reporter : tous les arts de l'image, des plus grands aux plus communs et aux plus mercenaires, tournent toujours autour de la même icône que présente seule la photographie d'art pour ce qu'elle est, une icône dont la Figure transcendera toujours toutes ses incarnations plastiques.

Avec et contre Deleuze, contre aussi tout un certain mouvement de l'art contemporain qui ne voudrait plus entendre parler de beauté au nom justement du réel ou de la « vie nue », Éric Baudelaire rappelle ainsi que, au moins à la guerre, il y a une transcendance irréductible de tous les marqueurs de réalité (la sensation, la parole, la résistance, la surprise) qui oblige à ne jamais pouvoir la saisir qu'à travers le semblant des beautés icôniques, des beautés de clichés relevés en icônes, qu'on lui a toujours prêtées extérieurement. En ce sens, qu'on la pense comme témoignage, dénonciation, ou question, par-delà l'effroi, l'aveuglement, le dégoût, le scandale ou la honte, par-devers toute catharsis, jouissance ou naïve espérance pédagogique, une image de guerre nous obligera peut-être toujours à reconnaître ce même constat pénible : l'odieuse mais indéniable beauté et son pouvoir indivisible de fascination et de répulsion qui surnagent, ou ressurgissent sans cesse comme une hantise, des ruines, des gravats, des morts, des suppliciés et des suppliants. Éthiquement et politiquement, il y a quelque chose de presque insupportable à devoir reconnaître de telles beautés de la guerre et par la guerre, même si elles se montrent aussi malgré la guerre, et même si Éric Baudelaire prend garde de laisser hors champ toute allusion au point aveugle des guerres génocidaires (nulle citation des camps ici, nulle citation de ce qui est en un sens le photogramme de guerre le plus célèbre : ce jeune enfant du ghetto de Varsovie levant les bras en 1943). Mais il y a peut-être aussi là un pouvoir de consolation et de relève comparable à celui que l'on prêtait autrefois aux icônes religieuses. On pourrait l'appeler : l'affirmation de la persistance sacrée de l'humain.

1 « Une telle image porte une morale utile : elle montre l'horreur et la réalité crues de la guerre, et non son spectacle. Voici les détails effroyables ! Puissent-ils contribuer à empêcher qu'une telle catastrophe s'abatte à nouveau sur la nation. »