Portrait with violets


Portrait with violets - video still

Olfactive video installation, in collaboration with the perfume designer Alexis Dadier, for TV set, video player, sweets and spray.
1 video loop, 48 mn 06, 1 perfume.

Portrait with violets associates an extract of Psycho which mainly shows the face of Lila Crane (Vera Miles), combined, through a fade-in effect, with the hand of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and with a bouquet of violets painted by Edgar Manet for Berthe Morisot.

The film extract is shown on a television screen placed above a video tape recorder. Presented in a loop, in slow motion and with different lengths, the film extracts are regularly superimposed, by fade-in effect, with the still life of Manet. The videotape recorder is kept open with adhesive tape. Some crystallized violets appear inside the machine. Other violets are exhibited in front of the video tape recorder, as if they overflowed from it.

When the painting of Manet appears on the editing, it introduces colour within the frame. Exposed in a light layer on the screen, it makes the face of Lila partly disappear. The colour is used as a veil on the features of the character, inducing flowers to mute, through a light orthographical change, from violettes (violets) to voilettes (veils).

The same kind of disturbance invades the portrait, causing a threatening metamorphosis: from an effect of voile (veil) to the sensation of viol (rape). Slow motion intensifies the impression that the fingers of Norman Bates, which clasp a telephone in the film, slide into the brain of Lila strangely kneading her head into suppleness.

A kind of infatuation is expressed in the film extract which is less representative of the attitude of Norman towards Lila, than of the spirit of the deceased mother who intrudes at that moment to unsettle the young woman and to distress her son. During the scene which follows the film extract, Norman will go directly in the house which overlooks the motel to try to hide the body of his mother, simulating her voice. At that moment there is an obvious confusion of identity that the fade-in effect of the film extract comments on.

The intervening image of the Manet’s painting in the video editing has the same kind of effect. The coloured veil that the flowers design is not used to embellish the features of the petrified Lila Crane. It rather expresses a threat that Hitchcock suggests by substituting her face for Norman’s hand. The editing then intimates the associations induced by the violet perfume. It won’t define something which refers to Lila but the spirit of the late Mrs Bates which emerges at that moment in the film script.

Not withstanding the part the colour plays in the installation, the olfactive sensation is also made possible through the crystallized violets. As they overflow from the video tape recorder, they help the viewer, who can put one in his mouth, to smell the perfume of the late mother.

By tasting a sweet, something occurs at the borders of the Image, as if once appeared on the screen, the violets would materialize and escape through the opening of the machine. The colour layer produces a similar effect to the appearance of the ghost of Mrs Bates in the film. It allows for an alternative perception of the perfume that the image of the violets projects in the film universe. The nature of the painting of Manet which can be defined as a still life, comments what is happening in the film extract. The flow of Time is suspended. Like the spirit of Mrs Bates, crystallisation process confers eternity on the flower.

In the film extract, it is the fade-in effect that makes the pictorial reference possible. Each of the shots which are combined in the film editing produces specific effects which help to recreate the painting of Manet (the curve of a face and a shoulder on the one hand, the shapes of the phone and the hand of Norman on the other). The still life wouldn’t be recognizable without one of them. Something then occurs when the shots coalesce, as if, while gripping the film material, the hand of Norman were to mould it.

The violets overflowing from the video tape recorder help the viewer to consider what literally happens at that moment of the film: the crystallization the object that the representation gives form to during the fade-in fade-out effect. Thus, the flowers not only materialize the perfume of the late mother, her ghost or the emotions that the Image creates; they also appear as a metaphor of the sculptural work that the film produces.

The installation offers Psycho as an amalgamation of forces and impressions which demands, via sensorial experimentation engagement with touch, taste and smell.

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Copyright © 2016 Laurent Fiévet