Vincent Grenier
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Post-Dated Selections from the 2008 New York Film Festival
- Michael Sicinski
The Academic  

Les Chaises (Vincent Grenier, U.S. / Canada) [v/s]

Grenier's work always entails a very direct, very tactile engagement not only with the material potentials of digital video as a medium, but with its unique ways of registering the outside world, and Les Chaises is no exception. Program notes cite Renoir's A Day in the Country , and although I couldn't necessarily discern direct correspondences between Grenier's piece and that medium-length masterwork (not to say that VG was claiming any), there is a sense that Renoir's open frame and lack of closure in the face of nature's plenitude might be ways to understand certain indeterminate gestures within Les Chaises . Composed chiefly of a vibrant nature morte in the midst of an all-over, windblown al fresco sway, Les Chaises is first and foremost a color study. The titular chairs are deep red, just a shade or two lighter than crimson but resembling ovoid little fire truck cameos in the backyard landscape. Whether they are vinyl, hard plastic, or some glasslike material I'm not sure, but they reflect the light like burnished chrome, the form of trees, sun, and camera operator partially visible within this red field. Now, the main construction principle of Les Chaises , apart from Grenier either setting up or capturing unexpected juxtapositions of red and green (one trick shot of red through close-up leaves is a wry beauty), has to do with the meticulous use of fades and superimpositions.

This is a specific potential of video that Grenier has been a master at manipulating for complex phenomenological ends, in works like Tabula Rasa and North Southernly , and he's certainly on his game here, possibly working with new equipment. The movement from the first to second shot, which harnesses the normal movement of the sun behind clouds, seamlessly blending the light on the top of a house facade into a view of shadows on the ground. Likewise, Grenier employs the reflections off the chairs to create on-site superimpositions, so that we cannot tell whether we're viewing at-the-console video effects or "live" light distortions created by the chairs' placement in the wooded arena. It's a complicated situation that seems simple at first. In fact, if there's any criticism I have with Les Chaises , it's that from beginning to end, it isn't entirely apparent to me where Grenier is taking us by way of a conceptual or optical trajectory. That is, the piece demonstrates a series of dazzling effects generated by the situation, and Grenier's acute perceptual response to it, but as an 8 1/2 minute work, I cannot always perceive why one thing follows another, or why it begins and ends as it does. In fact, this isn't a "fault" per se but just gets my mind thinking in a different direction, that Grenier's work is beginning to pull in the direction of video installation art.

[UPDATE 8/12/09: At Vincent's kind behest, I took another look at Les Chaises , and I've very glad that I did. I generally feel confident in my assessments of films, but I also find it valuable in any case to go back and look again, and in this case I was quite off the mark in many ways. For one thing, I had been looking at the video in a slightly squashed aspect ratio, which my new monitor corrected. This made a world of difference. For example, when I saw Les Chaises squashed, the opening image of the circular portal at the top of the house was a perfect circle, and the chair backs were ovoid. Now, seen correctly, the house form is elongated and the chair backs describe perfect circles. This completely alters the movement of forms that Grenier was going for. What's more, seeing the piece for the first time on HDTV allowed me to observe the incredibly subtle use of controlled superimposition and fade, which in many cases was used to generate rhyming surface textures between the scuffmarks on the chairs and natural forms like the grass or the trunks of trees. These crosshatched lines combine in design but compete in color, and in so doing they seem to refer to video's unique ability to treat pixels like a drawing medium, to forge line quality and mottled textures out of purely synthetic and combinatory patterns. Grenier uses his editing patterns as a kind of tension and release mechanism in terms of relative density of the image, and I see that much better now. So there you go. I was wrong.



This page was updated on 12/2/09