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Alexandre Maubert : "I wanted to add a participatory dimension for the spectator”

Alexandre Maubert © Alexandre Maubert

The Mint project team has worked with artist Alexandre Maubert on a work entitled Monade. The piece was shown at the Panorama exhibition hosted by the Le Fresnoy Studio National d'Art Contemporain from 9 June to 24 July and uses gesture detection and virtual reality.

Monade in brief?

Alexandre Maubert: Monade  is a video installation projected onto two screens placed back to back. The image takes us through a very large gated community to the north of Buenos Aires (North Delta), a micro-society where 30,000 people live under optimal protection.

How did your collaboration with the Mint project team come about?

Alexandre Maubert:  I presented this film at Transdigital, held at Le Fresnoy last year. There was an impressive reaction in the theatre. Laurent Grisoni (leader of the Mint project team) and Christophe Chaillou (a member of Mint) were present. So things really happened quite naturally, as my project involved gestural detection and research in this area. The Mint team had liked my film the previous year, and so the collaboration took shape spontaneously. In addition, Laurent Grisoni and his team had already worked with students from Le Fresnoy the previous year and wanted to repeat this experience

Have you previously worked with a research team like Mint?

Alexandre Maubert:  This is the first time that I have worked with a large laboratory. What was fantastic was that I arrived with completely wild ideas, and little by little, the technical side of things began to have a strong influence on the filming of Monade. A sound recording system was created taking account of the possibilities of the installation. The aim and the parameters of the installation were taken into account during filming. I concentrated on gestural detection. The Mint team made it possible to map the human body in real time and without calibration, so as to be able to remix the sound of the installation, allow the actors to speak, silence them, remix the ambiance, the sound effects, etc., all using gestures.

Working with a scientific team resembles working with a film crew

I really enjoy taking media out of its usual environment, and here I wanted to move film into the arena of the exhibition, to give a participatory dimension back to the spectator. When we are watching a film, there is an aspect of interaction with the film, but of a more emotional nature, of reflection, what effect the film has on us. Through Monade, I wanted to involve the body of the spectator in the narration and the sound development of the film.

How do you involve the spectator ?

Alexandre Maubert:  Aside from the participatory dimension possible through gestures that affect the shots, the music and the sounds, everything was filmed in subjective view. At times, the subjective view transforms into a medium shot when other characters arrive. So we are at the same time in an exploration and on a stroll. Throughout my work I have considered the representation of territory and the idea of community. This is the concrete realisation of many of my ideas, many of my wishes.

Monade © Alexandre Maubert Monade - © Alexandre Maubert

To use film in the arena of the exhibition, while involving the spectator’s body in an interactive dimension with the idea of recreating an exploration, an experience, a projection of his stroll, his reprensentation and his discovery of North Delta. There are a tremendous number of film references. For example, I used a whole scene from Cocteau’s Orphée , where Heurtebise drags Orpheus between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

As for the other scripts I wrote, they involve reflections on memory and our comprehension of the world. What also interested me in this phenomenon is that we come back to a physical and territorial separation of the social classes. And there, what is interesting is that an artistic gesture allows us to pass from one world to another. I also wanted the installation to convey to us the fact that this passage from one world to the other is impossible except by fictionalising it. Every eighteen minutes the two worlds are reversed on each side of the inst

allation, without ever being on the same side. The loop ends at the entrance to the gated community. We leave one community to enter the second. These two worlds are in essence completely different.

How did the technical constraints affect the project?

Alexandre Maubert : When you are working with a film crew, you have the cameraman who handles the image for you, the sound engineer, and even if all the ideas are ultimately yours, it’s the talent and expertise of your team that make it all possible. With a scientific team I approached the work in the same way. I arrived with ideas, intentions, and I wanted them to bring me everything they had to offer in terms of ideas, design, technical possibilities, and even in terms of distribution. To surpass what had been possible while observing the schedule and the budget. That involves an enormous number of things. Sixty people worked on the project over the year (image, sound, construction of the structure, installation).

All the elements are interdependent and necessary. I had come with my sound engineer to meet Samuel Degrande (a member of the Mint project team) and see how the sound mixing and recording could work effectively with his program and the development of the interface. They did not simply settle for managing the gestural detection part but also handled everything that allows a very high definition video to be read, the ten or so different soundtracks, the control of the speech of the characters and the localisation of their position in space. All this represented a great deal of work, and I am delighted with the way it all worked out.

Keywords: Le Fresnoy Inria Lille - Nord Europe Research Centre Virtual reality Mint project-team