Willem van Weelden


Immemory one

To each his Madeleine is the slogan with which the aging French filmmaker Chris Marker presents his cd-rom Immemory One. The madeleine is best known as the cookie which, dunked in tea, is the vehicle in the first volume (Combray ) of Marcel Proust's monumental A La Recherche de Temps perdu which lets him access his synaesthetic universe of memories. For Marker, Madeleine is most of all the name of the heroine in Hitchcock's Vertigo, the film that for him is the personal symbol of someone's search for a time lost. In the film the main character, Scottie (played by James Stewart), is convinced that his dead love, Madeleine, is not really dead, but living in the form of his new love, Judy (played by Kim Novak). It is an obsessive search against common sense that can only end in a doubling: The new Madeleine must also finally come to a bad end. According to Marker, this doubling must be understood as a trap door in time, and the ultimate affirmation that time is an illusion. The democratic watchword of Marker's cd-rom could, then, be understood as the gesture that provides access to the maelstrom of the past of a remarkable artist.

From the time of his early work, the memory has been the carrier of Marker's creations. The cd-rom Immemory One, commissioned by the Musée National d'Art du Centre Pompidou for an installation made in the period 1993-1997, is another work that has memory as its central theme. For Marker his art is entirely in the service of research into the working of memory and the task of activating the memory of the viewer and thus making the viewer partly responsible for his works. Choosing to do a cd-rom gave a new twist to his wish to actively involve the audience in the transference process. In his video installation Silent Movie (1995) he was already playing with an archaic form of interactivity. Five monitors mounted in a metal construction show independent images from the history of cinema (silent film). He chose films that write history through their ingenious montage (such as Vertov's The Man with the Camera, Leger's Ballet Mechanique and Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou ). Except for the middle monitor, which shows explanatory text in the style of silent movies, each monitor has its own theme: the trip, the waltz, the face, and the gesture. A computer programme ensures the images never appear in the same combination of five. Every combination of images is always unique. It allows you to be a sort of director, choosing yourself which monitor you view at each moment. You could call it a montage with the eyes.
The cd-rom medium is generally said to be a transition medium because on the one hand it makes interactivity possible, but on the other it has the boundaries of older mediating formats. Like a book or a film, a cd-rom is a medium that demands a final edit, a moment at which the whole is definitively concluded. The choices made by the maker of a cd-rom in that final phase are comparable to the choices the director of a film must make when he must conclude the final struggle with his material and the various options for montage. In that sense, in choosing the cd-rom medium Marker has stayed faithful to the mentality with which he made his films, and an interactive work that radically breaks with the conventions of authorship cannot so soon be expected from him.

His cd-rom is a hyper-personal document that refers in all its details to his biography, although as in his other work, as an author he chooses not to be all too ostentatiously present. In making the cd-rom Marker took as his goal the ordering of his own memories, and in doing so he uses the metaphor of the book. He wants not to chronicle his life of greatness through the chronology of compelling memorable facts (he quotes Napoleon in an accompanying text: My life, what a novel), but more modestly, wants to provide a topographical model that will allow the user to make contact with his life via an apparently indeterminate collection of images. He assumes that however arbitrary that collection seems, it will manifest a certain structure. The user, just like Marker the traveller who gradually collected the images on impulse, can follow his or her own impulse to make an alternative cartography. His Immemory becomes the struggle with memory in the user's here and now.

From Marker's texts, it seems that he has long wished for this technique of remembering and therefore only now has come up with this memory work. Thus he refers to the similarities between the Franciscan monk Filipo Gesualdo's representation of memory as a tree structure with branches in his Plutosofia (1592) and the models of computer software. It is in itself an obvious metaphor and not really informative as an introduction to the cd-rom, but rather evidence that for Marker the new possibilities presented by the computer for making the past dynamically accessible can probably redeem a deeply cherised wish. For the cd-rom he draws on his private archive of photographs, film fragments of himself and of historic material, text quotations, drawings, and paraphernalia. It is a private museum of memories that demands a clear interface if it is to offer the user enough points of departure to make his or her own adventure of it.

He did much of the cut-and-paste work as well as the graphic design himself with the simple programme Hyperstudio (sort of a combination of a stripped-down Photoshop with a somewhat more advanced Hypercard). This is part of the reason that this cd-rom does not satisfy the high expectations for it. A too-simple and distinctly ugly interface, awkward animations and a poor use of quasi-filmic effects make navigating through his postcard collection a much more static experience than you would expect from Marker. It seems as if, despite the ample time he took for this production, he expected too much of the medium himself. As if right at the end, looking back at a lucid and above-average oeuvre, he falls into the trap of media hype and as a new-media bricoleur lets himself be carried away by the vertigo of the technology. Yet there are some things to see here. What the cd-rom offers in any case is a kaleidoscopic insight into the (sometimes needlessly over-scholarly) sources of the Marker universe. Many of the implicit references that characterise his films have gained accessibility through the form they are shown in on the cd-rom. Besides that, the cd-rom is also somewhat salvaged by its abundant attention to his impressive photographs which were previously published in the collections Coréennes and Le Dépays.

Immemory One'' (a second cd-rom which far surpasses the first is supposed to be on its way) has seven categories, or Zones (a reference to his highly esteemed colleague Tarkovski), each of which is organised so that it is natural to examine that section thoroughly before switching over to another section, although the rickety interface does make the latter theoretically possible. It gives a linear approach when you would expect a sidelong approach from Marker. But Marker has probably proven his integrity anew through this anomaly, and has almost found his lost time again.

translation laura martz