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Gone with the wind
Philippe-Alain Michaud

Susanna Fritscher’s artworks are always conceived in relation to the place in which they are installed, a way of thinking about form not so much in terms of its outline but its power to alter the environment, disrupting neutrality and stability. The setup that the artist has devised for the Musée d’arts de Nantes does not deviate from this rule, but rather radicalises and complicates it. In this succession of achromatic installations, in which nothing forms an image, the aim is to cancel space, or to “blow” it – by dematerialising, suggesting and inflating it – by isolating the viewer in a perception without object, in which the experience of the visible merges with that of vision.

The ground floor of the museum, comprised of four galleries surrounding a two-level quadrilateral topped with a glass roof and lit from above, has been used in its entirety. In the gallery near the main entrance, five crystal balls are displayed in cases: they were produced by blowers who were asked by the artist to unlearn their technique to find – or refind – a way to give shape to their own gestures, for example by tilting the rods vertically, preserving the heterogeneous nature of the molten mass, or by heating the point of detachment until the piece detaches itself. What remains are irregular spheres of extreme fragility without any form other than that of the breath that generated them. At the four corners of the peripheral galleries, four sound installations made up of two, three, five and six sandblasted Plexiglas tubes two metres long, connected to a silent rotary motor concealed in the ceiling, slowly rotate. By accelerating, they rise and turn into horizontal disks floating in space. The gradual acceleration of the blade movement produces a bullroarer-like sound, which becomes more complex as the fundamental frequency produces more acute harmonics. As the outline of the tubes disappears, the form becomes dematerialised and turns into sound: the spatial experience is reduced to a play of vibrations, or the experience of a breath.

In his “First Papers of Surrealism” exhibition in 1942, in New York, Marcel Duchamp displayed his Sixteen Miles of String, a game of entangled threads which prevented visitors from moving freely while stimulating their vision: “It was nothing,” declared Duchamp. “You can always see through a window, through a curtain, thick or not thick, you can always see through if you want to, same thing here.” 1 Although the issue of “seeing through” is also central to the installation Susanna Fritscher devised for the museum patio, Für die Luft, she counters the spider’s web and the restrictive device designed by Duchamp with an immersive installation. Eight elements composed of 350 km of ultra-thin silicone thread (a translucent cable 1.1 x 0.75 mm in diameter, manufactured by extrusion) form a vibratile elastic grid which takes on the structure of the architecture and provides a sort of immaterial deduction: sixteen equal squares including voids (three per square) that allow visitors to circulate in a three-dimensional abstraction. The slightly ovoid cords, spaced 8 mm apart, are twisted, preventing the forming of lines: in oblique light they fall like golden rain, like the golden filaments of Tteia, the environmental sculpture that Lygia Pape endlessly reworked between 1977 and 2000. But beyond the Brazilian artist’s final work, it is that of another South American artist, Jesús-Rafael Soto, that Susanna Fritscher’s in situ artwork indirectly echoes. In an interview with Ariel Jiménez in 2001, Soto, referring to the genesis of his works in space in 1967 (named “penetrables” by Jean Clay in the third edition of the magazine Rhobo) explained that he had sought to place himself “inside the vibration” produced by his first works made from Plexiglas sheets: “That is what I did at the Venice Biennale in 1966, even though [the work] was not truly penetrable. I took a corner [of the hall of the Venezuela Pavilion] and I covered it with stalks in an attempt to wrap the viewer. Thus, in 1966–67, the idea of the Penetrable gradually emerged, but it was by multiplying the stems until they completely covered the space and became an autonomous work.” 2 Like Soto’s Penetrables, Susanna Fritscher’s work combines two types of vibration: one is optical, produced by the movement of the viewer’s gaze that passes through the translucent walls and is modified according to the angles of vision; the other is physical, produced by the movement of air and light passing through the cords.

In the late 19th century, in First Principles, Herbert Spencer endeavoured to construct an undulatory theory of the world, recognising the action of impalpable currents in all objects considered static and even spreading to the universe of solids. Thus Spencer suggests that “a stick drawn laterally through the water with much force, proves by the throb which it communicates to the hand that it is in a state of vibration.” 3 After describing the effects of the wind on the sails of boats, the English philosopher writes: “And should there come a gale, the jar that is felt on laying hold of the shrouds shows that the rigging vibrates.” 4 No rhythm is simple: it is always the result of several forces acting simultaneously that generate waves spreading at a more or less rapid pace; beside the primary rhythms, secondary rhythms arise, produced by the periodic coincidence and antagonism of the primary. In this way, double, triple and even quadruple rhythms are formed, the combination of which ultimately constitutes a world. In accordance with Spencer’s intuition, in Susanna Fritscher’s installation the world does not disappear but is reduced to breaths of air and light which, when confronted with taut silicone threads, produce a rhythmic reaction, in the manner of the brilliant waves that appear in the aurora borealis, and are proof that the current is not uniform but results from jets of greater or lesser intensity. 5 In the abstraction of Für die Luft, this blown space or space given over to breath, is thus reconstituted the appearance of perceptible elements that Spencer described as a complex of intangible fluxes: the trembling of leaves and the waving of branches, the bending of trees exposed to the wind, the rising and falling movement of blades of grass and dried stems, the wrinkles that form on the surface of shallow streams and resolve themselves into undulating renewed wave patterns. And when Spencer evokes the propeller of a steamer which, in passing from a slow rotation to a faster one, communicates a tremor to the whole ship, the sound that results when a bow is drawn over a violin string and the vibrations produced by the movement of a solid over a solid, we find the monistic intuition that animates the circular motifs installed by Susanna Fritscher at the four corners of the museum: devices for the dematerialisation of forms where the visible register merges with the audible. Thus the periodic intervals of sound and of silence, known as beats in acoustics, come together with the periodic resemblance and dissimilarity in the undulations of the air, which at intervals produce variations of intensity in the diffusion of light.

On the upper level of the museum, within the permanent collection, the artist has installed, as a final punctuation, a telescope that makes it possible to frame, down below, a detail of this invisible cosmos whose structure she has reproduced. However, this cut-out in the fabric of the visible not only allows us to isolate a detail, it also gives us a view of its disappearance in action. The image that appears in the viewfinder gradually disappears: what the viewer sees is not the image of reality, but an image of an image produced by a camera coupled to the telescope that fits into the viewfinder, an image that a programme designed for this purpose gradually makes disappear. The device, combining framing and disappearance, thus assumes a meta-discursive function: installed overhanging the installation, it is the instrument of its distant and faraway commentary. How then can we not see in this telescope an avatar of the one Spencer once again evoked as an instrument capable of revealing to us the way in which the impulses that pass through us spread to the objects that surround us in the form of flux (“trembling is rhythmical movement… It needs but to look through a telescope of high power, to be convinced that each pulsation of the heart gives a jar to the whole room”), 6 vibratory fluxes within which Susanna Fritscher invites us to orient ourselves, in other words, to undergo the physical experience, beyond the chaos of appearances, of recurrence, order and regularity.

“And if the movement cannot be uniform, then, in the absence of acceleration or retardation continued through infinite time and space (results which cannot be conceived), the only alternative is rhythm.” 7



1 – “It was nothing. You can always see through a window, through a curtain, thick or not thick, you can see always through it if you want to, same thing here.” Marcel Duchamp, quoted in Lewis Kachur, Displaying the Marvelous, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 2003, p. 183.

2 – Ariel Jimenez, Conversaciones con Jesús Soto, Caracas, Fundacion Cisneros, 2005, p. 174, quoted and translated by Jean-Paul Ameline, Soto, Collection du Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’Art moderne, Paris, 2013.

3 – Herbert Spencer, First Principles, London, Williams and Norgate, 1862, p. 314.

4 – Ibid., p. 313.

5 – Ibid., p. 315.

6 – Ibid., p. 315.

7 – Ibid., pp. 317–18.