Michel Kapelli
Michel Kappeli
Michele Käppeli
Lecture London 2011

As I imagined myself standing in front of you, telling about my discoveries, my first thought, or rather the first question which forced itself into my mind, was:

How relevant a piece of art can be (or has to be) in relation to its time?
Or more provocatively asked:
Should an artistic concept exceed the perception of the present? Meaning: Should art project from the known to utopia?  

Is it possible, that an imagination, a vision, can lead to yet unknown fields?

(As often, questions reveal answers.
I could have simply asked; how successful is a search without a vision?)

So, what notion of the present stirred my imagination?

It is a certain value of time: it is on the one hand the increasing speed and complexity of the flood of data and the flux of images. And on the other hand an intensified experience of a fragment of time.

One could call it a search for transformed conditions. Or a search for transition, for interspaces.

This search actually started with my light performances where I used darkness as a transformatory axis.
The term darkness is in this case related to the conception of the atavistic. In the performance with the painting of light, darkness served as a base to weave a complete action in to one photographic image. The performance was an experiment to intensify the perception of time with the means of time expansion.

As you now probably get the impression that it all sounds rather abstract, I also searched for a crystallized method for the idea of interspaces.

Instead of constructing symbols to find an entry to the transition from the volatile to the concrete, I dreamed of a circumstance which offers a straight access to the structure of that space what I’m looking for. Something like an image within a process of transformation.

Since I’m not a scientist, I did not think of technical aids to penetrate a surface. I wondered if I could find a way, a straight way to capture the volatile, to make the flood of impressions manifest itself. To find THE mirror to reflect the decelerated structure.

As sometimes in life, things manifest themselves in unexpected levels.
The enhancement of my imagination was offered in a special moment of desceleration and transition: it was a road accident.

Driving my motorcycle I was hit by a car. Before the actual impact my body switched to emergency mode. Sight vanished completely and sound alone remained. The sound described a space unknown: the impact revealed an extremely slow scratching sound, ending in a low rumble without any high frequencies.
This intensive memory of a kind of crossing a border, entering an unknown space, describes easiest my approach in seeking new spaces, new conditions of time, of transition, of split moments…

After the accident I reconsidered my former concepts.
Only what was certain, was, that it still would have to happen at night (as a symbol of the vanished sight which allows a stronger focus to the unexpected).

Then I had to define an extremely pure circumstance or image of the volatile, the flux.

As a symbol of the existential, a basic element like air or water might be the choice.

The moving water as the symbol of the existential, merges well with the image of flux. Moving water as a current, as a constantly transfiguring “body”.

I once made a little text describing this imaginary diving into a current –  into a picture current:


Possessed by the spirit of water

Capture the moment of drowning
Give in to the overpower of images and data and simultaneously make for an escape
Delete the mistrust towards surfaces, penetrate it, dive in to it
Advance into new space
Perish in the constant rush
Anticipate the dark bottom

Turn the focus
Look up
Perceive the underface
The inner structure, the static, spot the shape of force
The refraction of light, the pureness of the prisms
Decode the sound as speech
Get into dialogue with the current
Abolish the status of transmitter and receiver

Recognise the outer space as inside

Experience water as a body


From imagination to concept

How would I find a straight, unfiltered access in to the stream of the flux?

As a painter you can imagine, I resist just reproducing an image by a digital camera.
Besides the increasing speed of the current of data, the digital revolution caused a flood of pictures. This circumstance is relevant in context with art historical and epistemic questions.
The accelerating flood of pictures, results in the regard of the visual, as according to the technical possibilities of the media; the recipient adjusts his imaginative ability to the present offer of the technical possibilities of the media. Seeing and imagining is disconnected from the intellectual development; the intellect is subordinated to the media.

My attempt is to revert this!

Would I then try to capture an image without a camera?

To capture a purest possible image of the flux, the most consistent way would be to reduce technical aids as far as possible. I was obsessed by the idea of an “organic” attitude. For the mechanic functions of a camera I would find other solutions.

With analogue photography on the verge of its last breath, I found photosensitive material without any aid of a camera, as the most accurate tool to capture a picture.

From the imaginary we now go to the real capturing method.

It is night. We drive in to my camera (video on). The whole space of the valley of the river Lucelle serves as the body of my camera.
A flashlight takes the part of the shutter of the camera.
And what takes the function of the lens? If I had no distance to my motif, if I went in to the motif, if the picture were taken within the motif – no lens would be needed.

In the glaring light of the car the bridge appears over the river Lucelle, which we cross. I turn off the engine and sit for a moment in silence, surrounded by darkness.
As my eyes are getting used to the darkness and only see the immediate environment, I am overwhelmed by the acoustic space. The sound of water as I experience it in daylight, I hardly recognize. The babble and murmur of the water tunes me in, to that world of voices of the night, to my atavistic responses.
A low voice caused by the deep current around a rock sounds like old men debating. The sudden high voices are like laughing girls…
I stand in darkness, motionless, surrounded by countless creatures, as it seems.

Standing out clearly from the sky, the silhouettes of the trees act as pillars in the nave of a cathedral. Acting like a priest I try to turn an unknown space in to a body and try to show what escapes our view.

In the light of a torch I scan the surface of the water. Exposed to the unbearable number of possibilities of image content, I choose a location for extraction. It feels like intending to steal something from this living organism.

Or is it the river taking a picture of itself?

To get the film holder level with the water surface, I support the holder with stones.
I unpack the large format film, protected by a slim waterproof case. I place it into the water.

I hold photosensitive material into this stream / under the known structures of the surface / to stop the current for a fragment of a moment /

The flashlight tears through the darkness and freezes the image of the moving water to the film.

The resulting blindness feels like a hand covering my eyes. In this fragment of time, even the sound is interrupted. This time window illuminates the whole environment and gets tattooed into my memory.

To enter this volatile interspace /
a space known as a transparent liquid with an eventually rippled surface / to extract an image, valid only for this instant. 

What refused a conventional seeing, is now spellbound.

Due to the incident angle of the flashlight, the image reveals a three-dimensional insight. To a world, known, yet totally disguised: a body with a physical structure and statics of motion.

What started as a purely conceptional artwork resulted initially in simple images of a mess of superimposed lines. I cared more about the voices of the darkness and the impact these circumstances have on me, and whether I could cross the border to the atavistic, or if there were other levels of transition.

As the intention was to enter unknown space, I was pleased enough with the result of the images. The recorded sound offered further opportunities for transformation, although with the help of more technical equipment.

Since there is also a reversed effect, from the photographic result back to the water, I learned to read the water. The more the quality of the images improved, the more miracles were extracted. Or more precisely said: the reason that the quality improved, was due to the obsession of working at the river. It was the need to feel that kind of hilarious sense of being a receiver as well as a transmitter.

As a painter I was confused about the aesthetic outcome of my conceptual idea.
Although the media of the result of my concept has a photographic nature, I count myself among the painters.

The essence of my intentions is less of a documentary type, than just a way to learn to see.

I revert the value of image to a basis of experience, meaning; the revelation of seeing causes the irreversible impact on the imagination.

I am not longer able to regard water as a shapeless transparent liquid.

Is imagination the concept of seeing?

The ISIS Celebration London

Science and Art Lecture 26.03.2011