Franck Eon - Sans titre

Making images dialogue: meaning and signification.

When one attempts to make images dialogue, the heart of the problem is always not to let them have an unequivocal position. How does one make John Currin's Sociology Professor « say » something else without producing a position on art? How does one make a colour « say » something without laying down a system of semantic concordance that is too rigid (see Herbin for example)?

Franck Eon's solution is as follows: destroy the signification and go back to the real meaning of the surface. Saussure is the person to whom we owe the distinction of the elements of language: the linguistic sign is broken down into a signifier (« the acoustic image ») and a signified (« the concept »)[1]. In language, the image is therefore unequivocal: its whole nature is to refer to the concept. An acoustic image: a concept: a signification. The latter therefore works in depth: the image represents the concept that is hiding behind it, it needs to disappear in order to represent it. On the contrary, the meaning concentrates itself on the surface element[2]. Giving back to the images their ability to dialogue, without making them represent an unequivocal concept, that is to say: bringing them back to the surface, destroying depth and its well-oiled game of significations in order to release the meaning. The latter is the living principle: the signification is the dead, crystallised or frozen meaning. In the end, the method will be quite simple: making images proliferate, multiplying them, quoting them, deforming them. We will see later on in what sense all this implies a dialectic link with the world: the objective one, where the images move around, and the one of the images themselves.

So, what are the elements of dialogue here?

Apparently, nothing, or almost nothing: a panel of cut-out wood, punctuated with coloured zones and more layered areas. On the other side, it is the same: a piece of furniture in pure white cube style, and on a flat screen television, a video displays a character taken from a John Currin work (Sociology Professor), watching the visitors, the empty space, that could also be the one in which it is in ? and from time to time the almost invisible flash of an eye blinking.

One could, of course, see in the painting on wood the echo of a long tradition, which developed as from the 13th century and during the Renaissance, in the dazzling altarpieces of masters like Cimabue or the Titian for example ? but here it is plywood, and the lesser nobility of acrylic is combined with the grandeur of oil. Junk tradition. One could also recognise, in the differences of pictorial techniques used in this panel of cut-out wood, aside a possible allusion to Herbin, a sort of summary of the formal research that modernity explored (coloured surfaces and zones where the matter is more worked on, carving the base to integrate it into the surface, optical effects that stem from it, etc.). On the other side, the way in which Franck Eon uses the model of Currin's sociology professor, transposing him into a video where he is looking at the room, blinking and giving a hint of an enigmatic pout, and staging it on a desk made typically for a ?white cube?, one could see a way of paying tribute to the experiences of John Armleder and his furniture-sculptures.

 A dialogue with tradition, therefore. But also with the past of his own work: the red of the painted panels brings us back to an older painting (Young Derrick with a turban / Jeune Derrick au turban) in which the artist quoted an Anita Molinero sculpture of 2005; Currin's sociology professor is almost in this sense a Franck Eon image, as he regularly brings it into his work, etc.

 But, in the end, this referral game doesn't interest Franck Eon: the important thing is to make the images coexist, finding, behind the signification that is attributed to them, their ability to produce meaning. Repeating, repeating, constantly stirring the same visual matter, forgetting what one has seen, and reconfiguring it. A echo, in the world of the visible, of this childlike or schizophrenic experience, until one returns to the multiform and moving ground of verbal matter, half way between the signification and the pure meaning: « fourchettefourchettefourche ètte four chette fou reché tefour ché te fourche ètte ». He will use the Derrick figure again, the one of the sociology professor, the circles, the same colours, until they lose their ability to represent, in an unequivocal manner, one signification or another. One will unravel the images: significations: to release their meaning : that is to say, here, the infinity of possible significations, the labile zone that runs at the surface of the canvas without reducing itself to that. And the images, free from what they usually represent (a women, a sociology professor, an abstract painting located in history of art, etc.), can finally meet. Thus the paradoxical dialogue: a mute dialogue, mute speech, in the full sense, void of signification but full of possible meanings - like a look, that watches, a pure watching machine, located in an unassignable space; not even inquisitive, maybe.

 The images are watching us from a strange world, in dialogue with ours.


 Images of the world and world of images

 There are images in the world, there are images of the world, and there is the world of images. The world is the ensemble of sensitive objects that surround us, as well as a layer of significations, representations, images, projected perceptive schemes. It is the law of composition of phenomena in a whole.

 In this ensemble, the images play a paradoxical double role: they are objects as well as schemes. We know for example in what way a form of representation of the world can become a symbolic form, modelling, through our way of perceiving the world, the link that we have with it[3]. History of art is therefore not only the cemetery of artistic utopias that follow one another, but also and mainly the first material of the information of a look, a result of their sedimentation in this unconscious memory that is perception. Historically, some images become the matrix of looking: more than simple representations, they play the role of schemes for the apprehension of the visible. Art transforms the land into a landscape, nudity into a nude: the artialisation[4] process that extracts the banal from the world of utilitarian objects (or not) that will then be destined for contemplation, transfiguration from the banal into the exceptional. All this, no doubt, goes back far: one can remember the Galilean sentence, reducing reality to mathematics, namely geometry. The world is made up of geometrical figures, said the erudite[5]. And yet this conception of the world will be the basis of the development of contemporary physics, and its great project to master science and technology: « to make us the masters and owners of Nature »[6]. This scientific objectification of the world concerns, from the start, humanity as well as inert bodies; mastering the frail machines of flesh that the scientist and the technician can improve. A chimera of which Husserl showed the theoretical limits, the inability to grasp what is the most intimate texture of human existence, its phenomenality: « the world of life » (Lebenswelt), that science ? that has built itself up since Galilea, persists in forgetting[7]. Many years afterwards, sociology will take up this objectification of human reality, even if the idea wasn't to link it anymore to the movements of a matter; « to consider social facts as things » - this will be the methodological and inaugural decision of sociology[8]. The presence of the images in the world is therefore doubly important: as a moving object, almost omnipresent, and as a way of apprehending the world's objects. Does Franck Eon engage himself in an ironic reminder of this objectification of the world, by some of his historical symbols? The geometry of the wooden panel refers in a distant manner to the problems and hopes that pictorial modernity has embraced, and the presence of the sociology professor can, in this context, act like an echo of this objectifying look - a look that will not produce any knowledge here though.

 The question of the artist (painter, video artist, collage artist) is therefore the following: how does one hold all this together? How does one make a world with images, whereas the one that surrounds us already seems to be diffracted by them and in permanent circulation? It is a political question: differences, incompatibility, and nevertheless, it is required to « hold ». A monochromatic silhouette of Derrick, or a falsely naïve laid-out nude, in the emptied corridors of a German motel inspired by the Bauhaus principles, with the social fields that these images imply (upper middle class / « working class », art / daily life, etc.) - and all this must make up a world, work together without disintegrating.

 Quotation seems to be a privileged medium. Nelson Goodman showed in what way it could be considered as a means of production of world[9]. It creates links between different elements of a same register, and in some way, between elements belonging to distinct registers: oral quotations, iconic quotations, iconic quotations of oral elements, etc. Here, one finds quoted images, and one could think at first that all they do is consolidate the links that make up the microcosm of artistic images, the art sphere: quoting Currin, Herbin or many more. One can also see that these works, by their base, refer to other domains of social reality, and can be considered as quotations of these images that surround us constantly (use of video, and virtual characters), as well as social statuses of which they are weaved (the study object of the sociology professor, and the status of this character).


Finally, the most important element consists in looking. One can see that Franck Eon's entire effort is aimed at this goal: to find a more innocent look. And paradoxically, such a goal involves geometry and a meticulous work of investigation. Knowledge of the world and of the images of the world. To even produce a simple line implies passing by all the recesses of reality that images show us. In a society where we are aware of the links between certain political projects and a possible fascism of the straight line, where one knows that the complexity of human existence rarely submits to the rigidity of the straight line, the important part is still geometry. In the end, is it the painter's only problem: how to draw a line, still and always? Thus, in Mason and Dixon[10], in order to lay down the demarcation line between abolitionist States of the North and slave States of the South, the two heroes will cross all the abounding and outrageous textures of reality. Hence the necessity, for the painter, to add the task of abstraction to the profession, after having passed through all of reality?s recesses, after having collected all the images, having composed an iconic treasure; this is in fact another important aspect of Franck Eon's work: the compilation of images, the repossession and deformation of the material built up on the computer - a big stock of what is visible, acquired slowly, without any other hierarchy than that of the power of the images, where proximity allows them to lead a secret and silent life. Geometry, correctly articulated, could be their language.

 There are images that are more important than others: here we find elements that Franck Eon has already presented (recurring colours, coloured surfaces and layered zones taken from an Anita Molinero sculpture that the painter has already represented on canvas, the sociology professor that has already appeared many times in older canvasses and videos, etc.). The world is created through these repeated quotations, it is therefore not that of art, but that of the images themselves: the artist?s work will consist in releasing them from their initial context of enunciation, to give them back to their life as images. To undo their use as a sign (this painting of a woman is a work by Currin, located in a certain History of what one calls art), to give them back to their real nature (a woman, with a strange look, watching me, or looking through me, into the empty space).

 And this strange Stimmung (atmosphere) that emanates each time from Franck Eon's works, made from an empty sensation and, at the same time, from a very strong presence, becomes clearer: what looks at us, when we are faced with these strange abstractions, with these cut-out silhouettes on neutralised spaces, with these circles and these ellipses, are images as such, free from the constraint of signification. It is the spectral-aspect specific to the image that is reactivated, underlined: what happens when one turns his back, when one turns off the screen on the surface of which the sociology professor appears, laying his white eyes on us or calling John? Even more: what life does the image live when it is not fixed on a canvas or in a video? What becomes of the colours when they are no longer visible, that is to say, not painted?

 Some images persist: the moon, seen in its purity through the eye of a telescope, continues its life in the sky, anonymous; a portrait of a professor roams like a ghost in one's memory; a character from a German television series walks slowly in hospital-green coloured corridors, searching for who knows what, etc. They are the look's matrixes: they inform us of the way the artist could connect himself to reality, could see it, be sensitive to it. They don't superimpose themselves to the world, but instead shape its matter, giving the idea of another world, spectral, where they roam, on which windows would open from time to time with a painting or a video. If painting is a window open to the world, it is not purely and simply open to the outside, neutral and objective, that Cartesian physics justly calls the scope; it is open to the spectral and inaccessible world of the images themselves. And at the end of the day, this is what Franck Eon shows, through the multiplicity of supports he uses: the invisible life of images that never leaves them, and that they continue to lead, behind our back, in the spaces in time that separate their fixation by the artist onto the support. More than representations, they are presences: icons, without the sacredness. This exhibition, like all the others, is the occasion for a reunion: the images are back, as if from a long journey from their invisible land, they welcome us. They can't tell us of their adventures ? speechless ? but their appearance allows us to guess; they have the faces of someone who has travelled for a long time: throughout the world.


Art, banality, utopia. 

 Franck Eon therefore operates a disorganisation of hierarchy and a multiplication of images, a large intermingling of broken reflections. A profound scepticism, half-moved, half-amused, impregnates his work. Impossible to believe in the possibility, for an artistic movement, to revolutionise aesthetics ? and even less politics, the daily life of men ? in a definitive way.

 There is a strange dialectic that takes shape between the world of artistic images and those of daily life, banality. They move constantly, and cannot let themselves settle down in one place: from a banal land to an exceptional landscape, one goes back to landscape as a daily environment, an omnipresent image. From a person to a portrait, then on to an identity photo. One therefore goes from daily life to art, from the banal to the exceptional, from usage to contemplation - and back again. In the popular images he refers to, one almost has the impression of a fascination for the banal, the mediocre - not even almost kitsch: Futuroscope in Poitiers, the theme park that seeks to be modern and technically state-of-the-art, is almost old-fashioned at the exit; a detective series, but a German one, with drab colours and a slowness more adapted to digestive functions that its time-slot allows one to suppose, than to the possibility of keeping the spectator in suspense, etc. It is as if everything that claimed itself as modern, from the future, from technological utopia, can only be brought back to this touching and slightly ridiculous anachronism of Futuroscope.

 Impossible, in these conditions, to propose a new artistic utopia. So, what is to be done? Simply play with references, juggle with post-modern once the great party of History is over?

 Utopia is dismissal. The artist proposes a transfer: towards this dismissal. To live in the ou-topos of images, in the non-world that they involve virtually, due to its own spectral aspect, and that pictorial work must show through the connections that are imposed. The difficulty is there: to allow images to hold together, in a way in which one can feel the essential emotional tonality of this dismissal in which they lay. And the low-fi character of some of Franck Eon's videos, the fact that they are sometimes made up of short loops, the simplicity of the volumes and their modelling are in this view significant: it is like being in a huge theme park, deserted before even being opened to the public, where images roam constantly, all claim to found a new humanity having been lost. Franck Eon inhabits these places, at the same time he is haunted by them. But no room for nostalgia in all this: one can see the beauty of these spaces for themselves, speak a language made by the fragments of modernist dreams, a language for the future, maybe. Utopia, in a diverted meaning, is in fact the world to come, the promise of a universe where the current problems will be resolved. In his big theme park with a slightly moving and laughable banality, deserted even before the opening, Franck Eon proposes a paradoxical utopia: a utopia of contemplation, a return to more sensitivity in images, in objects - in the world. Utopia of a primitive look.


To paint like a primitive.

 The challenge is therefore to free the images, by means of proliferation, quotations, repossession, repetition. But by freeing the images, the artist also frees himself from the weight of a certain tradition. The release of images is also the release of the painter, and vice-versa. In the end, the task is very pragmatic: to learn again to look at the colour yellow, red, etc. To stand the look of a woman in a white blouse, of Derrick, of Futuroscope itself. To know how to see again, in the system of hierarchies that we call culture, that for which we generally look away. Laying everything flat, and making all these images co-exist, independently from their origin, without considering that they are all the same: some are more powerful than others, and this power shows in their ability to shape the look. It is no less than learning again to look and to paint - at this level it's the same thing. Putting to one side the hierarchies established in the visible, to really be able to see again. And for this, bringing life back to images, learning to detect those that have their own.

 To paint like a primitive, doesn't only mean to go back to a sort of innocence specific to painters at the beginning of the Renaissance, to take back this gesture of relative freedom earned from religion, namely by referring to the Ancient tradition. It is above all to make aufhebung of modern tradition and what followed, to go past it from the inside. It is, in the end, to leave history: to be primitive today, to be able to paint the world as if we had never seen it, as if images and an entire tradition hadn't inserted themselves between us and the world; but also, to take these images for what they are: presences, visual matrixes. Not to be fooled, while also remaining sensitive to them. It means: accepting them as presences, as the temporary and partial incarnation of a thing that continues its invisible life out of canvasses and videos: they are powerful, they have an immaterial flesh, and as this, they act. The image is alive: a spectral existence in the invisible limbo, that doesn?t stop it producing images in reality.

 Every painting starts the story from the beginning again. In art, no doubt like in all the rest, there is no cumulative progress. In art, no doubt even less than elsewhere, in the sense that the world to be represented changes constantly, and the images that compose and represent it multiply themselves and at the same time continue their life, apart from the moments where they let themselves be fixed onto a support. It is as if one progresses by chance, as if the fact that one developed a solution pushed the moment back where one could reach the solution; as Merleau-Ponty said: « the discovery is what calls for more research »[11]. Franck Eon proceeds slowly and his discoveries don't claim to renew everything: he is far too conscious of the fact that one can only reuse the tracks laid down by tradition, without however getting into the same ruts as those created by modernity. History of the latter has often been a continuation of trials to find the final formula, the language that will no longer be overridden - until the temptation of silence, sometimes. But every time chance wins, and one has to keep on: « one must continue, I can't continue, one must continue, one must speak words as long as there are some, one must say speak them until they find me, until they tell me  strange sentence, strange fault, one must continue, it is maybe already done, they may have already told me, they have maybe already carried me to the threshold of my history, in front of the door that is opening to my history, I'd be surprised if it opens.» Always the same reference for the profession: Franck Eon knows that it is impossible for the painter to live without telling of the images and the world, but he also knows well that the image behind is a dream : one must constantly reuse history's attempts to leave some canvasses behind on the road, which allows us to undo the stitches of looking that tradition has left us, and find a more innocent look. Franck Eon?s work consists in a series of die throw, that reuse all of history's stakes, those of art and the profane visible, to attempt a new combination: every time, it is abstraction, Flemish painting, Currin, Derrick, and Futuroscope, Herbin and the seedy motels on the side of the road that come together to compose new paintings or videos, with as many new incarnations of images. And every time, one must forget everything, and reuse everything in the same gesture.

 In the end, it is the world that is reconstructed, and our look, reconfigured: the images gyrate, the objects and characters, the words change mouth. A big dilapidated merry-go-round. To see them move like that, we sometimes feel dizzy.


Guillaume Condello



Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense

Descartes, Discourse on the Method

Emile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method

Galileo, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems

Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking

Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Philosophy

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind

Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form

Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon

Alain Roger, Nudes and Landscapes. And also Short Treaty on Landscape

Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics

[1] F. de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, 1st part, Chap. I, paragraph 1
"In short, sense is always an effect. It is not an effect merely in the causal sense; it is also an effect in the sense of an optical "effect" or a "sound effect" or, even better, a surface effect, a position effect and a language effect. Such an effect is not at all an appearance or an illusion. It is a product which spreads out over, or extends itself the length of, the surface; it is strictly co-present to, and coextensive with, its own cause, and determines this cause as an imminent cause, inseparable from its effects". G. Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 11th series, of nonsense
Erwin Panofsky shows that in Perspective as Symbolic Form (1975), this representation technique produces neutral, objective and objectifying images, absolutely non "natural".
See Alain Roger, Nudes and Landscapes, Paris, Aubier, 1978 ; and also Short Treaty on Landscape, Paris, Gallimard, 1997.
"Philosophy is written in this vast book constantly open in front of our eyes (I mean the universe) and one cannot understand it if we first learn only to know the language and the characters in which it is written. And yet it is written in mathematical language, and its characters are the triangle and the circle and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word." Galileo, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, 1632.
Descartes, Discourse on the Method, 6th part, (1637).
Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Philosophy, (1935-1936).
Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, ch. II, (1895).
Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, ch. III, (1978).
Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, (1997).
Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, V, (1964).