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(sans femme et sans aviateur)

Rhea Myers

Jorn Ebner’s “(sans femme et sans aviateur)” is an atmospheric time-based multi-window web-browser image work that presents an evocative exploration of contemporary Paris.

It consists of four series of pop-up browser web windows containing image slide shows which are programmatically arranged in turn on the desktop. The content of each window is static but animated by blurring or scrolling. The frames of the windows are also animated, being opened, closed and placed. Window choreography in net art has a long history, but there’s something subtle and satisfyingly compositional about Ebner’s windows. They are part of the flow of the story, or absence of story.

The build-up of windows on the desktop resembles the way that windows accumulate during the average computer user’s working day, only arranged with more intent and precision. Instead of word processor and spreadsheets or web pages and emails the windows present what looks as if it should be a narrative told using photographs of the streets, alleys and parks of contemporary Paris.

But there are no characters and nothing happens. It becomes obvious that the people who appear incidentally in the background of the images really are just people who appear incidentally in the background. There is no foreground. There is an absence of presence. This is alienating, like being a stranger in a unfamiliar big city.

I didn’t know precisely what was absent, though, not being familiar with Eric Rohmer’s film “The Aviator’s Wife” which the launch page for (sans femme et sans aviateur) explains is its inspiration. Would this familiarity improve the experience of the piece? It would definitely change it. But (sans femme et sans aviateur) is a very successful as an alienated portrayal of a city even without that extra point of reference. A viewer who does not spot the references to the film can still spot the references to Paris and to the haunted empty spaces of a modern city.

I did have to struggle with Firefox’s popup blocker to start the piece, but the instructions on its page at Turbulence explained what I needed to do. (sans femme et sans aviateur) uses Flash but it’s a mark of how far web technology has progressed since FutureSplash was first released that it could as easily be made entirely in JavaScript and HTML using the new “canvas” tag. This isn’t a technology demonstration, though, it is a work of art that uses technology to embody its aesthetic.

The wandering of a city guided by an incongruous text, especially if that city is Paris, evokes Situationism. (sans femme et sans aviateur) has the feel of a modern psychogeographic investigation, a tour of a city guided by a film rather than an inappropriate map. The measured pace of (sans femme et sans aviateur) allows it to deliver an increasingly strong feeling of immersion in its made-strange world. Repeated watching only increases this.

Whether as a homage to a film or as a psychologised depiction of urban space, (sans femme et sans aviateur) is worth taking the time to watch unfolding on your monitor. And to watch repeatedly, to let it draw you in. It is mature work of net art, relying not on visual or technical pyrotechnics but on the viewer’s visual competence to present a compelling meditation on the meanings we give to places.

(sans femme et sans aviateur)

The text of this review is licenced under the Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 Licence.