> Christian Noorbergen 

Christian Noorbergen interview at the Cour d'Or Museum

 

Christian Noorbergen:

Your work resists direct explanation and analysis, and the enigma resists…

Michel Kirch:

First of all I’m looking for the enigma inside myself. That’s what interests me about the artistic approach – not having to think ahead about What am I going to do? What work is going to emerge from the material I’ve collected? I’m interested in getting rid of the mental side and letting my body act for me, organically and subconsciously . . . That teaches me things about the world, but things about myself too, as part of a strategy that gives free rein to what’s happening deep inside me . . . And gaining access that way to the depth of the universe . . . There’s a very disturbing parallel between the world that lives inside you and the global world.

Christian Noorbergen:

It’s as if at bottom, by discarding modernity and maybe even the modern man inside you, you’re confronting the depths of the mental and the Universe itself as well.

Michel Kirch:

Yes, because the Universal isn’t just a matter of geography, or history, in that what’s interesting about it – what could be a connection between people – is bringing together not just cultural elements, but unconscious factors as well . . . I think there’s a real collective unconscious that unites us, and when I immerse myself in that I’m linked to the deepest part of humanity. 

 

Christian Noorbergen:

It may even be that your travels, which show through in your work, have helped you discard western Man and become imbued with universal Man.

 

Michel Kirch:

That was the first temptation when I started taking photographs . . . To get involved with less technological, more carnal civilisations, to get into my own history, the one I haven’t actually known but which I feel: the history of medieval, prehistoric, archaic man . . . The man who lives in a deep relationship with nature and its demons and shadow zones. The West seemed to me too transparent, too clear, too rational. My travels have let me decipher a book, something like a myth, about the stories of old. These trips aren’t about exoticism, they’re actually the opposite – about going into yourself.   

Christian Noorbergen:

You’re more on the side of nature as something primal, stripped down, de-sedimented, wild, chaotic even . . . and so you force the viewer to scrap his habitual criteria.

 

Michel Kirch:

That comes from my personal history. When I was a small boy there was nothing I enjoyed more that getting out of the house, hurtling down the stairs four at a time and making for the river . . . The river was my refuge, an imaginary world of contact with nature: fish, insects, wild vegetation; and that’s stayed with me, like a world beyond this one. There was the polite, conventional world where I was expected to be a model child and a good student; and the wild, unpredictable one where I hung out with the local roughnecks at night. That stayed with me, to the point of turning me into an insatiable traveller later. That irresistible need to hurtle down the stairs four at a time and run to the river…

The discipline I practise, photography, is a modernist one, with all the drawbacks that implies; by which I mean constant zapping from one image to another and the non-possibility of remaining unhurried and meditative in your dealings with the world. But I use the positive side of modernity, because I use cutting-edge technology to produce work that generates a detached attitude towards this technology; it does this by celebrating the grandeur of nature, man’s position in nature and his position in relation to himself – all things that elude today’s modernity, which more and more is pressuring man into being a mere passive, spur-of-the-moment consumer. You might say taking my distance from all that is my vocation.

Christian Noorbergen:

You conjure up, maybe without knowing it, something hard and implacable. You heighten the contrasts between the blacks and the whites and these tensions maybe suggest a closeness to some of the Expressionists: a few exceptions aside, the way you play on the infinite subtlety of the greys does not result in work that’s potentially appealing and gentle; on the contrary, you accentuate the contrasts and make no secret of it.

 

Michel Kirch:

There’s probably some speculation involved, but at the start there’s quite simply a taste – a sensual taste – for those contrasts. I’m caught in a permanent duality, the dialectic between me and the world, between technology and nature, the explicable and the inexplicable, the visible and the invisible, the negative and the positive . . . All sorts of things which in fact are issues in art in general, and in photography. So there’s this sensory, sensual taste for black and white, which is fundamental, but most of all there’s the fact that I didn’t want to let myself be flattered or seduced by colour. Colour is delicious and subtle, but to get my thinking moving faster I opted for the stark framework of black and white. I’m more concerned with a formal architecture than with trying to be impressionistic…

Christian Noorbergen:

I find myself referring to your works rather than to photographs as such, and to pure visual creation.

 

Michel Kirch:

I use photography as a raw material, the way painters use oils and sculptors use stone. I use silver salts and their reaction to light. That’s my raw material. Having said that, I’m first and foremost a photographer in that I really enjoy going looking for material in the world/space and find enormous pleasure in discovering it. I’m in terra incognita. I feel something of the pleasure and anxiety of those people of 40,000 years ago who had no maps and went to places where no human foot had ever trod before. This is something I feel throughout the process. First there’s a purely photographic undertaking: I collect the material, then I bring it to the studio, where it’s scanned. Out of the computer files that result emerges another task – longer, more patient, more conscious. A truly pictorial task, out of which comes my idea of the world, of myself and of my work.  

 

Christian Noorbergen:

As with any creative artist, landscapes that are too conceivable don’t suit you. The man in the street settles for what he can see. The conceivable landscapes you photograph are not enough for you: because you recreate them and ultimately, in the created work, you shape inconceivable landscapes, at once possible and impossible.

 

Michel Kirch:

I come from a tradition for which the visible isn’t enough. I felt this need when I was a kid and bored during class, and distanced myself from my body. I imagined myself three kilometres up, and that relaxed and calmed me . . . I got into the habit of travelling at a distance from things and passing through the looking glass . . . And it became a reflex – which is a really photographic way of putting it!

 

Christian Noorbergen:

In your work the power of the West takes quite a battering. On the one hand you never actually show it, and on the other what you do show is mankind alone, confronted with the infiniteness of the universe. As if this were a course in nudity, in stripping down, and maybe also in spirituality.

 

Michel Kirch:

When I first began to travel, in Africa, I was always surprised and awed by the extraordinary smiles I saw among the destitute, the incredible generosity shown me by the poorest people, when my roots were in a society hooked on wealth, culture and technology. What struck me was the contrast between the world. 

I came from, where the smiles were most often half-hearted or even false, and the spontaneity of the smiles in these poor countries. So I kept the West at a distance, but without ever despising or rejecting it. I have the West’s tools, and a fascination with everything this world has produced. But it’s important to me to keep my distance, because I can sense the insidious fault line lurking beneath a world that’s too rational.   

 

Christian Noorbergen:

There’s always a threshold to cross, an «out there» to reach, something one strains towards but maybe doesn’t attain to, as if you were suggesting a healthy lifestyle to a weary world.

 

Michel Kirch:

Closed worlds have always been sources of anxiety for me. I’ve always looked for the line of flight and been tempted by aspiration into infinity. I found that in Renaissance pictures, where I often saw doors opening onto other doors, one gateway opening onto another; you ask yourself where it’s all leading.  You’re constantly on thresholds when you feel this aspiration . . . The thresholds in question are also stages in my life and I can’t manage to conceive of myself as a fully-finished human being. I’m always in the process of becoming, and my work’s like that, and the world too! I really like the idea you find in Asia of a closed space as a kind of moment in time with infinity residing in that moment: the eternity in the moment so well described by François Cheng in The Way of Beauty: Five Mediations for Spiritual Transformation.  So the breath of fresh air I propose is no more than a proposition: we’re here, but that here isn’t definitive. It’s a promise of an elsewhere, and I’m not promising that this elsewhere will be any better – it will just be different. It’s not an end in itself, either: it has an extraordinary capacity to suggest another elsewhere . . . And in this ongoing sequence of finites you have this concept of the infinite . . .  I also really like the idea developed in the Talmud: infinity in the Jewish tradition is the infinity of interpretations . . . I think that can be found in my images. In themselves they’re endless launching pads rather than theories or certainties.

 

Christian Noorbergen 

Cour d’Or Museum, Metz, 10 february 2014