Tide Foam Portrait


Vendôme, Chapelle St Jacques

Video installation for 1 or 2 video-projectors and 1 or 2 bubble machine(s).
2 video editings, 5 mn 27 and 7 mn 57 (presented together or separately).

Dedicated to the character of Madeleine in Vertigo, Tide foam Portrait plays out across two adjoining spaces. In the first, on the outside of the piece, a bubble machine is placed inside a window frame so as to intermittently launch batches of soap bubbles out into the sky, which are faintly rose-tinted by a spotlight. In the second space, inside the piece and further back, a montage is projected, bringing together several extracts from Vertigo.

Echoing some of the concepts developed around the portrait of Mrs. Bates in the arrangement Portrait with violets, another piece within the series of olfactive portraits, Madeleine’s portrait does not function through a direct representation of the actress it embodies. Instead, the soap bubbles convey the idea of a disembodied character, excluding, in this first section of the work, the use of any images from the film. In line with the status conferred to her by Hitchcock in Vertigo, Madeleine is identified with an empty husk. She is compared to a transparent surface that threatens to disappear at any moment.

In the same way as the rosy tint infusing the backdrop, the bubbles suggest the material representation of a scent trail. While hinting at a person’s passing through the area, they simultaneously expose that person’s absence. Madeleine figures at once as a ghost and an inaccessible being, a sophisticated, radiant object of desire, revealed by bubblestxt_quote_single_close fragility as impossible to contain.

This representation, which does not correspond explicitly to any feature within the film, stems from the reference that first led the film-maker to it. Madeleine is, in fact, repeatedly, and most notably in her first appearance in Vertigo, identified with the central figure of Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. All the while evoking his ability to create a disturbance around Madeleine and to solicit desires, this pictorial reference allows Alfred Hitchcock to convey the fragrance worn by the character and its very composition; a shower of roses raining down around the goddess creates a sense of the olfactory beauty that the figuring of further roses throughout the film will continue to create around Madeleine, notably through the repeated inclusion of a small bouquet eching her movements. Released into the sky at Vila do Conde, where the piece was shown for the first time, the soap bubbles thus mirror the shower of blooms figured in the painting. They also give physical form to the surf, which is said in Greek and Roman mythology to have given birth to Venus, as is reflected by the imagery of the sea serving as a frame to Botticelli’s work.

The bubbles also express a desire. Those of a delicately heady pink champagne or, more prosaically, the mouth-watering effect on a bewitched viewer: they highlight the character’s sensual dimension, and the dizzying array of senses she stimulates.

Projected in a separate space, the video montage dwells on several backdrops from the film, which are grouped by location thanks to a fade outs (McKittrick hotel, Scottie’s apartment, San Juan Bautista mission etc.). Although these locations appear at first glance to be devoid of any human presence, they are nonetheless animated by the movements of ghostly apparitions, which add in their own pulsating rhythm to the projection as soon as the viewer becomes aware of them (shadow and light effects sliding over the floor, quivering leaves at the heart of the scene, movements of vehicles in the distant background, movements of the sea, the furtive twitching of doors and shutters, the crackling of flames in a fireplace, coloured marks drifting across the scene).

Despite the figurative absence of all characters and specifically of Madeleine herself, who at the very most can be detected in some of the scenes through the fleeting passage of a foot or shoulder across the image, which nonetheless remains unidentifiable as hers, each backdrop can serve as an anchor point for the spectator’s memories. Assisted by the rhythm infusing the scenes and the order in which the backdrops appear, which remains, on the whole, strictly faithful to the progression of Vertigo itself, visitors are constantly able to conjure memories of the film, just as a stave engraves itself in the mind of the musician.

Another expression of nothingness comes in the form of the black voids created by the fade outs, which find certain figurative resonances within the scenes, serving to prolong or foreshadow their insurgence. As the projection runs, darkness contaminates the image, seriously obscuring it. In the final scene of the montage, it even succeeds in effacing the motifs entirely. This penetrating darkness postures as a contrast to the evocation of light created by the soap bubbles released outside of the gallery.

While emphasising for some visitors nothing more than the deficiencies of the work’s sketchy memory, for others, the voids’ attack within each scene serves to open the floodgates for their own memories, thus actually concretizing images from the film and allowing the full impact of the associated emotions to be felt, in material form, like each of the soap bubbles. These voids cry out to be filled. The serialised backdrops offer up enough empty spaces to house the ghosts that populate the work and to conjure up the array of sensations it provoked in each of its spectators.

As though in a deserted studio, spectators are able to dominate the film’s backdrop, directly imposing their own image on it by moving in front of the projector.

Fleeting shadows, insidious flux and shifting, ghostly motifs: the representation of each successive scene equally forcefully suggests the idea of an intervention on the part of Madeleine. Despite her figurative absence, her movements within the frame come across discreetly, like the scent trail of a highly subtle fragrance.

The appearance of the bubbles, participating, as we have seen, in that same olfactory metaphor, conveys this suggestion into the outside world. Composed of signifiers for the same fragrance, they send out those messages into a different landscape – more diverse in form and made up of several elements that reflect those shown in the montage (a garden with roses growing, a church and staircases can be seen outside Galerie Solar, sea-spray can be smelled and the ringing of the bells heard) – thus creating a greater degree of physical involvement on the part of the visitor.

Spaces belonging to the present moment and past memories, those of reality and those of fiction all collide, illustrating the mastery of emotion over the subject and the sheer power of memories.

Two versions of the exhibit were shown at Vila do Conde: one at Galerie Solar as part of the Under Hitchcock exhibition, the other a fringe exhibition at Forte São João Baptista. At Galerie Solar, the montage Tide foam Portrait was shown in a room whose structure allowed the perspective effects used on the landscapes to be accentuated.

At Forte São João Baptista (whose name ties in with that of one of the emblematic scenes from Vertigo that appears in the first montage), the images were projected onto a pane of glass fitted in one of the monument’s openings. Thus the montage could be seen equally well from the inside (allowing visitors to see, in place of the usual sea view, an ever changing palette of landscapes through a French door) as from the exterior, just a few metres from the ocean, accompanied by a backing score of waves crashing against the rocks. The soap-bubble machine was placed in one of the fort’s towers, whose architecture is reminiscent of that of San Juan Bautista church, in whose bell tower the character Madeleine appears twice in Vertigo.

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Copyright © 2016 Laurent Fiévet