This work consists of a long, corridor-like gallery fitted with a dark blue carpet, which matches the colour of one of the walls. A set of infrared motion detectors mounted close to the floor are connected to a series of bright footlights, which point towards the long blue wall. The lights are spaced at even intervals along the length of the room. When a motion sensor detects a movement the corresponding light illuminates, and only switches off again when that which triggered it has passed. As a result, if a viewer were to move from one side of the room to the other they would be bathed sequentially in a series of lights, which would cast shadows onto the blue wall. When several viewers occupy the room the lights can switch on and off in various combinations. The shadows that appear on the wall can also vary in intensity, becoming stronger when fewer lights are on and weaker when more are activated.
Séance de Shadow II (bleu) was made by the French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster for the exhibition Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno, which was held at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris in 1998. The exhibition aimed to show how each of these three artists, who emerged simultaneously in France in the early 1990s, made work that engaged viewers as participants in a social environment. In that it depends upon the presence of a visitor to be activated, and that the experience of the work is determined by the number and behaviour of people in the room, Séance de Shadow II (bleu) is characteristic of this approach.
The French word séance is often used to denote a film screening or theatre performance, and in relation to this work emphasises the way in which viewers are invited to become performers, enacting a shadow play by moving around it. However, séance, which literally translates into English as ‘gathering’, is also used to describe a meeting of people who attempt to communicate with spirits. This second meaning is evoked by the ethereal and eerie nature of the elongated shadows, which fade in and out of focus, and by the way the experience is affected by the presence of other people. The bracketed word bleu, meaning blue, refers to the work’s colour scheme, distinguishing it from several similar installations by the same artist, which include walls and carpets of different colours.
Gonzalez-Foerster has produced large, immersive installations since the 1980s. Her works often defy the traditional separation between visual and time-based art by inviting viewers to explore them over time or having elements that operate across an extended duration. Indeed the artist has stated that, despite being a visual artist, her work has ‘more to do with theatre and staging than making objects such as paintings or sculptures’ (quoted in Alaistair Sooke, ‘Tate Modern Unilever Series: Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s Grand Design’, Telegraph, 11 October 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3561934/Tate-Modern-Unilever-series-Dominique-Gonzalez-Foersters-grand-design.html, accessed 9 September 2014). Séance de Shadow II (bleu) relates directly to a series of installations made by the artist in the late 1980s entitled Chambres (Rooms), in which meticulously composed interiors bathed in light of a certain colour offered visitors a sensory experience of a particular mood or atmosphere. This work is also significant for the way that it combines the artist’s installation practice with her engagement with film, which became increasingly important in her work in the 1990s. Not only does the word séance allude to a film screening, but the colour of the wall and floor are also extremely similar to the hue of the blue screens often used as backdrops in studio shoots for film and television shows.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. 88:88, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Krefeld, Krefeld 1998.
Daniel Birnbaum, ‘Enchanting Emptiness: Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’, Parkett, no.80, 2007, pp.74–87.
Supported by Christie’s.