Interview with Barbara and Michael Leisgen by Lou Jonas and Blaise Diagne, November, 2014
Lou Jonas: If I understand correctly, your piece A Landscape near Erménonville Seen by a Camera (1975) was produced in 16mm for a French television program.
Michael Leisgen: Yes. At the Paris Biennale, we presented a sort of installation with two large photos. It was exhibited in a round room, and in the middle there was a small looped video. It was the video The Never Ending Water (1974–75). I believe that is where the idea of inviting us to television came from, because the video interested the public.
L.J.: So basically, in 1975, you took part in the Biennale of Paris with this installation and you produced A Landscape near Erménonville Seen by a Camera for the occasion.
Barbara Leisgen/ M.L: Yes.
B.L.: We directed the few things we undertook with institutions. We also worked with television in Belgium. We really enjoyed it. It was very open.
Blaise Diagne: You’re talking about Interior / Exterior (1979)?
B.L.: Yes. That was really great.
L.J.: What was your collaboration with the RTBF (Radio Télévision Belge Francophone) like?
M.L.: We asked them if they could imagine something around Goethe’s color treatise. Jean-Paul Tréfois had to be given a script. In the studio, they prepared the scene: There were lamps, seats, a small table dating back to the 1960s, and a monitor in the middle. As for the technical means, the cameramen performed a sort of mixing or mask effect. I do not know exactly.
Goethe’s Theory of Colors is a very precise and purely Romantic text. At that time, Newton had published his experiments on the prism and the division of colors. Goethe never wanted to accept that. He added to this phenomenon, to each color, many feelings, thoughts, and reflections.
B.L.: There is some irony on our part.
L.J.: So as to take a certain distance from Romanticism?
B.L.: Yes, that’s it.
M.L.: We looked towards Romanticism because, in our opinion, it influenced German painting, first and foremost, but also photography. Photography, as a product of the nineteenth century, first tried to imitate painting in many ways. But we are not Romantics. We work on Romanticism.
B.L.: I think initially we also tried to work on video, on photography.
L.J.: On the medium?
L.J.: Now I would like to talk about Still Life (1970–71), in which, in my opinion, the relationship between mobility and immobility, especially the use of the soundtrack, is put forward.
B.L.: This piece required a lot of work. We both worked on it together in our studio.
M.L.: This had to repeat the action several times. Plus, it was a bit difficult because this photo was actually in color.
B.L.: A photograph that, with sound, becomes a film.
L.J.: This piece was presented during the exhibition “Mimesis” (1974) at the Neue Galerie, along with Die ersten 365 Tage aus dem Leben der L.L. (The First 365 Days from the Life of Lili Leisgen, 1973–74).
M.L.: Die ersten 365 Tage aus dem Leben der L. L. was shown in a room. We put the 365 photographs up and the walls were filled.
B.L.: These photos were printed on very fine paper, architect’s paper. The video is made up of the pictures.
M.L.: But before entering this room filled with photos of L.L., there was a sort of corridor and we put two monitors there and showed this video. It was a sort of installation. This video lasts 44 minutes. Nobody watches it for 44 minutes, though.
J.L.: I was just wondering what would be the proper context to present this work.
M.L.: In the “Mimesis” exhibition, there was this corridor with the video and photos of the video. Did you notice that there is sound in the video? It is a sound called sinus. By definition, it is the purest sound. It is barely audible at first, then the sound increases and becomes purer. The point was to keep this tension going until the end. That’s why we always thought of the situation in terms of having people look at the photos and there being a sound to bring them back to the video. It was a passageway. The change had to be perceived. The noise remained throughout the duration of the exhibition.
B.L.: If you take Still Life, it’s something you can only see once and if you do not look, you do not see it. The concept plays the biggest role. You have to be very careful. But with Die ersten 365 Tage aus dem Leben der L. L., there were no seats. We even dreamed of several monitors. But there were only two, also for reasons of money.
L.J.: A wall of monitors?
M.L.: No, placed on bases, and through which you could have circulated. The idea wasn’t for someone to stay looking at baby pictures for three quarters of an hour.
L.J.: I was thinking of your more abstract works, those on the Sun, where there is a game going on between the movement of the camera and the Sun. The Line of the Sun (1973–74), for example, was produced with ICC in Antwerp, wasn’t it?
M.L.: Yes, it was done at ICC.
B.L.: But the Folkwang Museum in Essen supplied the camera, because it was destroyed at the end. The vidicon is broken. If we look at the sun for a few moments, an arch, an image remains on our retina. It’s the same thing with the camera.