Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 8#1 Paul Groot


Stefaan Decostere, Travelogue 5: Déjà Vu, VPRO, 1993

DéjàVu is the last instalment in the Travelogues video series, directed by Stefaan Decostere. This ultimate hallucination of an artistic ambition, which deals with mass-media, is a disturbing film.

Its message is that in the future it will no longer be the interventions and intentions of the intellectuals and artists, but rather the reflexes and schemes of commerce and tourism that will determine the nature of cultural institutions.

This is the new Japan, where everything is different from what you see, as long as it manages to evoke a sense of recognition. Fiction is reality, reality is fiction. The rituals of ancient culture have become obsolete, the world of the mechanical sublime is imminent. This new culture preaches the equivalence of kitsch and art, religion and entertainment. Churches, temples, museums, department stores, hotels and sports centres have been incorporated as equal partners into the new theme and amusement parks. Time and place, weather and nature -- all are virtual and can be experienced at your own discretion. Experience sunset and a new sunrise within the time span of your choice. The old vertical hierarchy has been replaced by horizontal programming. Art, nature, religion and the sublime as consumer articles.

While discussing yet another surprise, the presenters wonder how this programme works and, what is Decostere aiming at? Despite the confusion it creates, Déjà Vu is not a Tower of Babel of graphic material, for such a metaphor has lost all meaning here. Literary language has been ousted by a new imagery. The past has been relegated to an anonymous memory which resigns itself to the colonialism of the new culture. The classical heritage has lost its battle, literary fiction has perished in virtual reality. This is no yearning for catastrophe, this is a ruin with a future! Melting icebergs, viruses, floods, wind and gale, parched crops and starving people accompany the downfall of `our' humanistic culture. Nero plays his fiddle while Rome burns. Suicide on camera, with a pistol in your mouth.

A disturbing film, but also a moving one. Although the film had its première on prime-time on Belgian TV, Decostere makes his audience look into a mirror made from the last remnants of alternative video aesthetics. Throughout the film, there is a conscious syntactic mystification around the question of what was sampled and what was shot in Japan, of what is real and what is fiction. It is an expression of sample model as style genre coming to an end because of the sophisticated copyright laws. It is the euphoric approach of the Eighties, deployed against the virtual mammoth for one last time (so many times faster, so much more intensely). Acceleration as artistic manipulation, with developments causing themselves, and all of them staged. A last, brave attempt to deploy a form of aesthetics which is over and done with against the technological Japanese fixations and fictions.

Against the aesthetics of a crazy merry-go-round which lightheartedly anticipates the end of time, `the memory awaits its own loss.' Against the totalitarian high-tech society which turns us into the same kind of robot as the speakers disguised as newsreaders, who confuse the viewer even more by using a senseless and meaningless language.

Apparently Decostere does not yet see much relevance in the question of how we should respond to the disappearance of a tradition and the irresistible rise of this new `exhibition model'. This new world is flooding us with so many irresistible images and inventions that there seems to be no time for reflection. But in a miraculous way he manages to make the old and weary aesthetics triumph over the new standard. The issue: the sublime.

Decostere has found precisely the right content for his aesthetics, his style of filming and editing, which is an encyclopedic, zapping search for quick reflexes. A hand often pushes itself in front of the image, like a visualised voice-over complementing the glib cynicism of the real presenters. An alienation which becomes reconciliation when these hands finally turn into the gesture of blessing of the founder of the MOA, museum of art. Then we glide into the Museum of Modern Art, softly zooming upwards on escalators. And by then, the viewer has had to digest such a flood of images that he will physically experience this sudden quietude. These escalators literally elevate you to the materialised sublime. And it is not the MOA apotheosis itself (a ceiling full of colourful laser and other kinds of effects) which matters, but rather the cinematic journey towards it. Content and form meet here: the mechanised sublime experience, which Déjà Vu is too.

No cinematic translation of the practice of mortification and mental exercise which developed in the Romantic nineteenth century through paintings (Friedrich) or music (Wagner), but rather, a very literally, mechanised experience. The escalators and coloured corridors which guide you into the ultimate experience have, in Decostere's hands, become a directly perceivable physical effect. Is this a vision, am I a vision myself? he asks himself. It is a fair comment, certainly as much on the Japanese phantasms as on the video itself. Rabotnik (Amsterdam local TV) aesthetics which, in extreme claustrophobia, is brought to a final apotheosis.

And then there is the terminal pavilion where we await the end of time staring out to the sea. Or the sanctuary of Battleship Island, with ropes between two rocks joining god and goddess together. Or Ise, the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan, resounding with the noise of the hammers of labourers working on the new temple which replaces the old one every 20 years.

This is where time stands still, and the film ends. Spatially, temporally, but first and foremost conceptually.
The new era has dawned, as a copy of the old one.