Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 2#3 Eric de Moffarts 1 Jan 1988

A la Recherche d’un certain Grey

The Belgian artist Jacques-Louis Nyst (1942) presented his most recent video production L'Image and his Pyramides installation during the 2e Semaine Internationale de Video in Geneva.

One of the two seminar days that took place during the week on the theme of Video and Writing was dedicated to him.


According to JACQUES-LOUIS NYST, there is a constant interplay between what a word and an image really are and the meaning they acquire. Or, to put it in semiological terms: they are invariably situated between their denotation and their connotation, on the edge of the signifier and the signified. In L'Objet, JACQUES-LOUIS NYST directs himself as a researcher who returns from a far-away journey with a mysterious object which the public immediately identifies as a small, blue teapot.
This, however, does not stop the researcher from formulating a number of hypotheses: Is it the effigy of a famous man? A sculptor's implement? An animal?

Of course, the teapot makes a farce of all the hypotheses, but, through a kind of charming absurdity it retains a trace of what NYST has projected onto it. The simultaneity between the object-teapot and what it suggests is perfect. Half-way between seriousness and humour, and thanks to a touch of the ridiculous, NYST also manages to situate his own character between that of artist and eccentric. Nothing is acquired definitively is this simultaneity of two worlds, this doubt while passing from one to the other, that constitutes the success of the video, of this art that always feeds off its own ambiguity. The teapot metamorphoses but does not forget itself.

Methode pour le tir a l'Arc (1977)

JACQUES-LOUIS NYST symbolizes uncertainty, the absolute necessity of not having to choose between seriousness and humour, between reality and its fiction by the use of grey. Grey or more specifically that of the television screen, slowly disperses, he says, like a trace of chalk in water. Chalk is to stone and to water what grey is to black and to colors: a middle course, a transition, a temporary interstice. Television is simply a transitory stage, a flux of images on the edge of the material and the visible. Not just physically, but mentally too. The objects filmed by NYST are perfect intermediaries, flaky substances, uncertain messages resulting from unambiguous communications. He keeps us between black and white, between day and night, between naivety and lucidity, in the vague, grey zone: The objects I remember, he says, are color amnesiac. The content of my memory is proportionally equal to their poor capacity to absorb the range of the color spectrum.

Amnesia and Memory

Let us go beyond the interpretation of this grey, of this vagueness or indecisiveness between oblivion and memory, between murky amnesia and clear memory. My job, NYST says, is to preserve history well.

What is history? Here too, we are caught in a pincer movement with history as an objective approach of past events on the one hand and narrative history on the other. As a permanent connection between those two versions, history is a short-cut taken to infiltrate the interval between color and night..., a grey that does not give away too much, or too little, that, like TV-grey, oscillates between reality and its visualization.


Let us immediately move on to MARCEL PROUST who, according to GILLES DELEUZE's analysis wrote Remembrance of Things Past under the influence of an involuntary memory. This memory, DELEUZE says, is not made of recollections, is not the result of their long, painstaking inventory, but of the sudden appearance of a past where writing and art, as artifices, reinforce the effect of reality. It is the comeback of the imaginary that emerges with that which has been lived and constitutes its worth. History is a sieve, NYST also says. There are lapses of memory, which he also calls black holes or sink holes that makes the story denser again.

Trois Miroirs (1978)

JACQUES-LOUIS NYST consequently maintains contact between both sides of the mirror - history as a scientific endeavour and history as an invention, both fact and fiction. In his preparatory text to the video Aile Quatre Neige, he envisages passing through the looking glass and, as in L 'Objet, he tells us what has happened during a hypothetical expedition. What concerns him in this crossing, is not either side of the looking glass, but, once again,. the razor's edge between the two..., the moment when birds think they are landing on a tree that is just a reflection in a puddle so that the birds end up with wet feet.

Aile Quatre Neige (1978)

Aile Quatre Neige is a star heading for the Seventh Season. The stars, NYST says, never shzft without taking a trap of silence and a mirror with them. This specific mirror has one distinctive feature: it is the inversion of an inversion, it makes it possible to read a reality itself in versed, the earth being one of the mirrors of the universe ...In other words, the mirror of Aile Quatre Neige modifies nothing! On the contrary, it rectifies, it adjusts the original but without replacing it. The journey is made, and its long detour arouses a double impression of marking time and of distance covered, of a return trip and the superimposition of the point of departure and the point of arrival. Aile Quatre Neige is a tribute to childhood as the major point of departure. Childhood itself being the end of the star's journey, when it ultimately encounters PINOCCHIO. PINOCCHIO, the video tells us, stimulates the formation of constellations because he lies within the light's trajectory. Childhood, like art, is this bordering grey, this prism full of colours and ideas.

Theresa Plane (1983)

Yet another journey, another encounter, between THERESA and Professor CO DCA. The two of them engage in a dialogue where THERESA, played by DANIELE NYST, is CODCA's (JACQUES-LOUIS NYST) indispensable complement. This couple is two characters, two personalities merging. Again, it is the space between them that tells us about the past and its double. Beyond the simple fact that DANIELE and JACQUES-LOUIS NYST both mark their realizations now, there is also the constant presence of the figure 2: When I think of my work, I feel as if I am falling between two chairs. It takes two or more people to make a situation interesting.

Hyaloïde (1985)

In a way, Hyaloïde is the outcome of NYST's overall reflection on duality: the duality of all images and of all surfaces. Hyaloïde means translucent yet not transparent, enlightening yet not evident:
THERESA: The marabout talks rubbish! Which would be okay if nobody had listened to him and, what's worse, written about him!
CODCA: And once something is written, it's transmitted!
THERESA: And once transmitted, it's the beginning of a story.
CODCA: A story that begins with a mar about who talks rubbish...
THERESA: ... is a story that has got off to a bad start!
Whether written, painted or filmed, the story always remains uncertain between THERESA-DANIELE .and CODCA-JACQUESLOUIS NYST, their twin personalities, and their functions both objective and narrative. Tossed about like the small boat we see in the video (and from which DANIELE falls) it shows us the poetic reversability of when a surface clouds over.

L'Image (1987)

In their latest video, simply called L'Image, DANIELE and JACQUESLOUIS NYST explore the Nomala desert (abbreviation of no man's land) that is the place of pupation where images are metamorphosed. This place is the environment where images, signs multiply. It is not imaginary, a third protagonist, Professor ICONOSCOFF, specifies: THERESA and CODCA really went on this expedition. It is there that they discovered the pepasaupa, a pastille of legendary luminosity that enables the mulberry bombyx, the silkworm, to weave itself into a cocoon of history before turning into a butterfly. Silk is the unwinding of its mind, supple and glossy. It is this flake of thought, made by the worm, that will give it wings: Enclosed in the fabric of its imagination, the pupa dreams of tearing itself away from its old body and flying over the leaves of the white mulberry-bush. And if the dream is not suffocated, a butterfly will emerge from the cocoon. Images are transformed under our mind's influence in exactly the same way. Art exists to grasp this transformation. To the NYSTS', art is a strong yet frail moment in a luminous grey.

Translation: Nadine Malfait