Portrait with a Fly


The Hague, Galerie Ramakers

Olfactive video installation, in collaboration with the perfume designer Alexis Dadier for labtop, fan and spray.
1 video loop, 36 mn 45, 1 perfume.

Portrait with a fly associates a close shot of Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) in North by Northwest with a painting of Turner entitled The Shipwreck which depicts several boats lost in a storm.

Extracted from the famous sequence of the auction sale, the shot in which the character appears is shown on a computer, to which a small fan is connected with a flexible arm whose blades are revolving. The portrait initially appears almost motionless, until Eve turns suddenly her head to look over her right shoulder. Later, the video editing contrives to make the painting of Turner emerge on the features of the young woman by means of a fade-in. The painting disappears after a few seconds and the face resumes its initial position.

The video installation clearly makes a connection between the air blown by the fan and the storm represented in the painting of Turner. The air fanned by the rotation of the propeller is presented in Portrait with a fly as the principal element which disquiets the contrived calm the portrait. When the young woman turns her face towards the direction of the fan, her hair, when by the swirl, produces the effect of a wave. Spreading out from within the frame, it submerges the boats of The Shipwreck which appear at the same moment in the video editing.

Portrait with a fly is clearly a variation of Circulations, an installation realized by Laurent Fiévet in 2003 for the Continuations of Hitchcock series. Eve Kendall was already associated with the same type of weather through the intervention of another composition of Turner: Snowstorm.

In reference to this work which transmits on five television screens different shots of North by Northwest among which there are some shots of the famous sequence of the dust-plane at Prairie Stop, the fan which is used in Portrait with a fly acquires a double meaning. It represents, on the scale of Turner’s painting an evocation of the plane chasing after Roger (Cary Grant) and on the scale of the face of Eve Kendall the evocation of an insect flying around her head. In that sense, the fan effects a double-take recalling the crime Roger has accused his mistress of committing. A few minutes later, he will openly denounce the methods employed by the young woman, reproaching her using sex like a flyswatter. This allusion provides an interpretation of the tension which is built into the installation. Comparing Eve to a femme fatale, presents her as a danger to all potential suitors.

The title of the portrait is also an allusion to a famous article about Vertigo written by Eric Rohmer in Les Cahier du cinema : L’Hélice et l’Idée. The rotation of the fan alludes to the 1957 film where spirals appear regularly.

This evocation is not insignificant because as Laurent Fiévet pointed out in his university research on the entomological references how Hitchcock used in Vertigo, it stresses the importance of how Madeleine’s (Kim Novak) perfume was used to trap Scottie (James Stewart). In this film, which Alfred Hitchcock directed before North by Northwest, the presence of the insect in Portrait with a fly reveals in the frame some olfactive charm. It suggests the presence of a perfume restored so perfectly in the work of the filmic representation that it could mislead the sharp senses of a fly.

Along with its metaphorical import, Portrait with a fly recalls the fifteenth century pictorial tradition of simulating flies in the paintings. In the installation, this detail was modernized and put in motion but it equally underlines what is usually interpreted as a proof of technical virtuosity, something which celebrates the excellency of the Hitchcock’s art. This homage is not meant to underline the realism of the image. It suggests the effectiveness of the olfactive data that the work of filmic representation sets up within its framework.

It is also possible to imagine that the fly, when attracted by a corpse, suggests the threat that Roger represents for Eve. Like the sailors in the painting of Turner, the woman will almost sink after the revelations made by Roger in the auction-room. In the close shot, a ruby necklace gives the illusion that somebody cut Eve’s head off. It clearly illustrates of the threat her partner poses. All the editing of Portrait with a fly plays with the idea of the cut. At the end of it, the sail of one of the ships represented in the painting simulates an axe ready to decapitate the young woman.

A smell of death mingles with the perfume of the red roses represented on the dress of the victim, a sinister smell that the perfume associated to the installation mixes with the smell of the sea and the sweat of the sailors represented in the portrait.

In Vertigo’s credits, a flight of multicoloured spirals emerges from the depths of a female eye. In Portrait with a fly, the fan also calls forth the image of an eye : the eye of Roger whose arm can be seen on the left part of the frame. The fan partially completes the character’s body suggesting the origin of the threat. An alternative interpretation views the fan as the eye of the audience present, watching the installation. This re-emphasizes the danger of exposure and criticism that it ushers in.

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Copyright © 2016 Laurent Fiévet