St. Malo, Facsimile

St. Malo, Facsimile: an essay [January 2004; Cambridge University Moving Image Studio] is a digital video that examines the experience of walking the French city of St. Malo. Musicians Chris Weston and Eric White were asked to compose a soundtrack using an original poem ‘St. Malo, Facsimile’ as a loose script. The video derived from four-days spent filming inside the old city walls of St. Malo. The method used was adapted from the Situationiste Internationale’s practice of the dérive to explore the city’s architectural routing and re-routing of pedestrians, and also included a simultaneous investigation — through written notes, which eventually became a second poem also titled 'St. Malo, Facsimile' — of the subjective and at times obstructive experience of interacting with the city via the camera lens. Following, a rough cut was made of the footage, and then the final piece amalgamating music/images/text was negotiated with Weston and White.




Returned, the site surfaces in gradations.  A camera angle roots in the frame
            of a building, body parts puncture the image [these: the precise coordinates
where the x of the present greets the y of the past].  In the distance
            the image thickens, and then up close.  So the subject presses through
and beyond its frame; that liminal space becomes the subject, unbounded,
            sutured to the world around it — and the world around it always an impossible
subject.  In Nabokov's Pale Fire Kinbote chides, "We are absurdly
            accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain
immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people..."
            Consider this accretion of signs a sieve, the imagery as having sifted
into the cracks of the city wall.  How, when a pink shell
            attracts the eye, the camera — blinded by the zoom — swiveled
fretfully across the beach, could not frame it; but in skimming the sand
            revealed how the eye might mimic the hand, might accumulate texture.
How sight might harvest space [what I mean by harvest is materialize], and materialize
            via touch.  See it pass through the image, surface?  Consider Y
this caption; X, 25 frames per second of the world beyond the word.
            Killing time, a lens cap — tethered — swings to and fro, keeps time.



A person [I mean the subject she] cannot walk without meaning
            when with a camera, cannot be, naturally, both the movement
of a body and the movement of an eye.  She realizes this is learned,
            and not instinct.  Off-frame, the water thrums, attends its close-up,
is indistinguishable from sky.  At dusk will come a sunset, a purpled
            and orange-roughened screen that does not cede to seascape or
stone; but now, dissipated, the subject finds the horizon untraceable
            and, like memory, that it cannot be recovered, but reappears.
For example, the hostess offers her the same window-
            seat in a cafe she once occupied years ago and, quelling the impulse
to choose another, the subject settles over herself in the chair,
            sees rain where there is none.  The vision: a return.  Across the wall,
the sky, bruising between buildings, distinguishes itself.  Where past and
            present gather, something waits; the seeing in them and the seeing of them.
And these, eventually, become the seeing toward.  Consider the following
            passage of Heidegger: "and once we, being so attracted, are drawing toward
what withdraws, our essential nature bears the stamp of
            'drawing toward'... We are who we are by pointing in that direction."



This is from What is called thinking, but the subject found it quoted
            elsewhere, thought: yet how can a person recover how she was first drawn toward
what withdraws once it — or the withdrawal of it — has been stilled, made
            many frames?
  Her shot: an accumulation of those accretions we call
memory.  The image of it rooted in the horizontal, or now; and the impulse to rotate
            the camera 90˚, its desire for a vertical, confounded — the need for another method
of easing past into present.  How high tide overtakes the piscine plein air,
            approaches the wall; inside the city, abstracts of stained glass lend the cathedral
a watery light.  It's the way the light takes to the stone, grainy, or the simple
            disregard the cleaners, running their vacuums, have for the aura of it all.
[This purple, pew-rooted frame I refuse you.]
            So place directs its re-collection, and the practice of language.
The syntactical positioning of sun vis-à-vis clouds; i.e., gray.
            How a subject here might press again and again towards an image, still
each pass through the city produces a different dead-end, alley or elusive
            texture slipping from the view like vertigo.  For, you see, it is this elusion
that attracts: how by she I mean I and surface, an eye — at last appear
            to inhabit this depth of si[gh]t-e which even now ascends the vertical.

WorkS Cited

  • Heidegger, Martin. an epigraph found in Region of Unlikeness by Jorie Graham.  Hopewell: Ecco Press, 1991.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. London: Penguin Books, 1991.

St. M
alo, Brittany / East Aurora, New York; 2003


The punctum, then, is a kind of subtle beyond — as if the image launched desire beyond what it permits us to see [...] toward the absolute excellence of being, body and soul together.
+ Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography


St. Malo: gray, all gray and sand and my body
            posed in the froth of a crashing wave, bent.  I sat or stood on the rock
and the pose was a punctum: pockmarked, jagged: piercing
            the pockets of my jeans or the soles of my sneakers.  All your photographs
from this period are gray and blue-gray and green-
            gray, with only a touch of tan or only a touch of sand. 
The waves were tame compared to their postcards;         
            there was no breaching, no breaking
or rushing of city walls.  I was not afraid of drowning.         
            Only later, the night we ate Indian food and I broke,
flung my napkin on the floor and walked out to walk back
            alone.  Out the door I thought I was going to die.
Three years old: you snap me climbing out back — not rock
            but my father's sculptures.  Yellow metal, brick-coloured metal, cobalt
cold on the limbs, on the skin, on the gripping hands. 
            The yellow is a circle: a steel orbit: a mobius strip I imagine suspended
in sea and gray.  I am a butcher: a baker: an owl or a pussycat. 
            Adrift.  Imagine the floating: my body fierce with movement, fluid



becoming fluid, becoming beyond matter: a state of motion
            folding over motion.  Perpetual morphing.
The city that night: sudden black and cobblestone, someone waiting
            in every alley, every corner a wrong turn and leading
always back to the beach: to the shipwrecked skeleton
            of the swimming pool: (dull, hollow in the blackness:
cement emptied of high tide): to the frigid water:
            to the sand: (shifting silver): to the stone
walls: to the wet and the wet of the sea.  I wanted you
            to be water: I wanted and from the sand
that evening I threw myself at the water, sought
            no more of stone and alleys and restaurants
and you taking your photographs, so many
  No more of you bleakly spooning
chutney onto your plate because you are an artist
            and this is or is not all
about temperament and idiosyncrasy.
            No more copies; no more originals. 



The morning we drove off you said you were going
            for a walk, but see me.  In the image I am reading
in the window of our hotel room.  I am watching
            you watching me through the lens.  There is sunlight
and dirty stone in the background; there is the hotel sign
            'Les Chiens du Guet' in the background. 
The angle is upward; the hotel is yellow.  Me from the street:
            I thought I was going to die on the street: on the beach:
with you still back there chewing.  No, I am not reading. 
            I am wondering where were your thoughts while I floundered,
where was your compassion, instinct, corroboration
            of love and how do you do this—

frame and re-
            frame an image pitch me bear me under and under and
under the waves? 
And yet no, I am not reading.  Or yes I am
            not reading.  Yes in the image I am watching you.
Yes the hotel is yellow.  Yes you were there
            in the sunlight; and yes I am opening the shutter—


Buffalo, New York; 2001