FRED FOREST
loading...

fred
forest

Sharing Media

— a proposal by Maud Jacquin and Ruth Erickson

Fred Forest, 1975

introduction

introduction

On January 12, 1972, Fred Forest published a blank space in the newspaper Le Monde. Beneath this space appeared the following text: “This is an experiment. An attempt to communicate. This blank space is offered to you by the painter Fred Forest. Make it yours. By writing or drawing. Express yourself! The entire page of this newspaper will become a work. Your work”.

The artist received almost 700 responses to his request (artistic proposals, anecdotes, political messages, etc.), which he presented to the public in an exhibition at the Grand Palais. This project, entitled Space Media, provoked a break within the discursive system of the press: by leaving a blank space to be used by readers, the artist invited them to express themselves and to actively participate in the creation of information, thereby denouncing the ways in which the media is positioned, directed, and even controlled.


Reader Responses, Space Media / Le
Monde newspaper, January 1972

Through this dual gesture of infiltration and participation, Fred Forest laid the foundation for his artistic approach. He would continue throughout his career to transform the structures of communication by diverting the use of media and by creating participatory platforms.

From this point of view, Forest's work extended the political project begun by the movement of May 68, which strongly critiqued the media's monolithic power and urged taking control of it. This can clearly be seen in the numerous posters produced by the “ateliers populaires” that denounced the collusion between the media and political power through slogans such as: “Brainwashing is coming to your home”, “Beware, the radio lies”, and “The police talks to you every night at 8 o'clock”. May 68 also gave rise to the ideal of “free information” and to speaking out, which led to numerous cooperative and self-managed structures: committees and work groups, as well as independent media platforms such as free radio with which Forest collaborated on many occasions and community television (whose methods he engaged). Born in the social and political context of post-1968, Fred Forest's practice is in dialogue with the hopes and limits of the May movement. Shortly after his intervention in the newspaper Le Monde, Forest expanded the principle of Space Media to radio and television by convincing the hosts of the channels Europe 1 and Antenne 2 to interrupt their programs and make room for a “blank minute”, using this blank to draw attention to the false openness and highly codified nature of the media. Even though these experiments sought to stimulate public participation, the possibility of genuine feedback from listeners or viewers remained limited. Conscious of these limits, Forest tirelessly worked to invent new formats moving forward, in order to open up the closed world of mass media and to initiate authentic exchange with and among viewers. By infiltrating and interfering with radio and television, he wanted to provoke a transition from a one-way and passive transmission of information to a democratic and interactive mode.


Space Media on the Television,
Channel 2, January 1972

By inviting people to seize control of the media, he was urging people to “free the imagination”—to shatter the ideological framework imposed by the media—all the while sharpening the critical stance of participants. For Forest, it was not a matter of encouraging expression as an end in itself, but rather as a means of calling the status quo—and the ideologies that perpetuate it—into question. “The sociological artist”, wrote Forest, “intervenes directly with newspapers, radio, and television. He strives to slip ‘parasitic’ messages in their circuits.... If he is able to do so... he will be doubly satisfied: on the one hand his ‘act’ will exist beyond the specialized and artificial circuit of art, and on the other hand he will engage in dialogue with a different audience. His ‘act’ becomes a social act within the very structure he is subverting”. The subversion initiated by Forest therefore has two goals: to attack the elitist and exclusive character of the art world, and to transform the structure of the media, whose untapped social potential he fully reveals.

Beyond his actions in mass media, Fred Forest constantly sought to seek out less privileged groups (for example people from popular neighborhoods), and in his own terms to “incite social events to come to life”. Technology also played a key albeit different role in Forest's projects, which could be described as “sociological animations”. For the artist, the intrinsic properties of the medium of video (its portability, ease of use, potential for almost instantaneous broadcast) made it an ideal instrument to urge participants to a critical reflexivity, and to create the conditions for a genuinely inter-subjective situation. When he devotes himself to a field of study (street, café, retirement home), he is not satisfied with recording social relations, as would a documentary filmmaker, but rather invites participants to actively involve themselves in the process of filming, and to collectively deconstruct the resulting images. Video, just as radio or television, becomes a tool for consciousness raising and social intervention.

The four actions by Forest presented here cover a period spanning from 1973 to 1995. Each combines technology and participation in a singular way, and together they document the artistic and political project of an artist who has never stopped questioning dominant institutions. Many of the archival documents, photographs, texts, and videos that make up these works are being seen by the public for the first time. We hope that they will inspire visitors to learn more about the multifaceted work of Fred Forest.

VIDEO
THIRD AGE,
1973

VIDEO
THIRD AGE,
1973

A video image fed into in a closed television circuit offers the fascinating feature of including, for the first time, the observer and the observed in the same virtual image...The situation of the video operator is, from a ontological point of view, radically different from that of a film operator. The difference resides in the fact that this new “dialogic” situation is opposed to the previous, solely “discursive” situation... For sociological art practice, video has proven to be an invaluable tool because it allows us to force “feedback” in our ongoing concern for establishing dialogue.
— Fred Forest, 1979

In 1973, Fred Forest and a team of collaborators constructed a video studio at La Font des Horts, a senior citizen home in southern France. Over two weeks, they invited residents to learn how to use video equipment and to collaboratively produce a series of films about their lives. Commissioned by the Service in Social Research of the C.N.R.O. (Caisse Nationale de Retraite Ouvriers du bâtiment) and carried out in collaboration with the sociologist Jean-Phillipe Butaud, the project Video Third Age sought to animate the residence by transferring the tasks of observation, representation, and creative expression from the artist and the sociologist to the residents. Video Third Age countered a tendency in society to associate old age with passivity, dependence, and isolation. Equipped with portable video cameras, microphones, and technical and logistical support, participants occupied both sides of the camera; they were the observers and the observed, utilizing video's capacity for instant replay to examine existing conditions and, perhaps, to incite new ones.

The residents organized themselves into five groups of six to ten people working together to manage all aspects of production, from the conception to the filming and editing of the videos. This collective labor necessitated lengthy meetings and discussions, which Forest documented in a “film of the films”, insisting that these negotiations were an essential component of the project because they had a direct impact on the lives of the residents.

The final videos primarily take the form of discrete scenes strung together. The film by “group c”, for instance, features two residents acting out a scene from Romeo and Juliet, Monsieur Turpin's opinionated declarations about life, and a staged meeting of two residents performing as beggars. Bolstering the residents' work was a multimedia communication system that included the distribution of daily “Flash Film” to incite participation (“Say what you don't dare to say”, one bulletin encouraged) and to circulate information, as well as interviews by Butaud and by the Czech-born, Brazilian philosopher Vilém Flusser.

Through this multimedia platform, Video Third Age changed conditions on the ground, disrupting the course of everyday life, encouraging new connections between individuals, inciting a critical reflexivity vis-à-vis the institution, and ultimately revealing, in Forest's words, “a community to itself”.

At the conclusion of the project, the group of fifty or so participants came together to watch the films, the fruits of their collective labor. What they saw in these films—from one woman's idiosyncratic doll collection to ephemeral performances taking place throughout the residence to a group visit to a park—were expressions of their individual and communal life; of their rights, needs, and duties in the face of the institution; and of ways to alter these elements through play, collaboration, and technology.

In Video Third Age, video did not serve as an instrument to bear someone else's political or aesthetic message but rather as a means to counter the disenfranchisement of a community and to challenge societal conceptions of old age. Instead of being a passive documentary tool, video was an active way to effect change in the hands of Forest. Reflecting on his role in the journal Television en partage, Forest writes, “I am not seeking to make objects but to create fields of awareness”. Video Third Age marked Forest's commitment to be an “animator”, to involve individuals not for the novelty of participation but for the psychic and political effects of interpersonal exchange and liberated creativity.

Preparatory discussions about
the film content

Fred Forest begins the filming

The residents learn to use video

A television studio in the residence

Romeo and Juliet

Mr. Turpin speaks

The meeting of the hobos

Analysis of the films by the sociologist Jean-Philippe Butaud

DOWNLOAD THE PDF - 11 PAGES

Excerpt of Flash-Film Intervention no. 5

Interview by Jean-Philippe Butaud
with the resident Mrs. Blangy

Residents watch their films

Work session by the philosopher Vilem Flusser

DOWNLOAD THE PDF - 9 PAGES

Newspaper article, Var Matin, 1973

DOWNLOAD THE PDF

Summary and analysis of the action by Fred Forest, Vilem Flusser, and Mr. de Moussac

DOWNLOAD THE PDF - 11 PAGES

‘The External Look’, Jean-Philippe Butaud interprets the experience

DOWNLOAD THE PDF - 19 PAGES

TV-SHOCK / TV-EXCHANGE,
1975

TV-SHOCK
/
TV-EXCHANGE,
1975

Under the pretext of an exchange of objects, it is in fact an experiment reflecting on the medium of TV itself. The question asked is the following: can television—a tool for information, entertainment and education—also be used as a tool for social communication?
— Fred Forest, 1977

In January 1975, Fred Forest conducted a participatory television experiment in connection with the television show One Future Day, hosted by Michel Lancelot on the national channel Antenne 2. Like many of his projects, the experiment began with a request for participation via the press and on television. During the first broadcast, the artist invited viewers to send him an object of symbolic or sentimental value (or its representation in the form of a drawing or photography), accompanied by a caption recounting its history. He explained that the purpose was to organize a live exchange of objects and services on television, in which viewers could participate either in person or by telephone.

A few weeks later, after having received approximately three hundred objects, Forest hosted a second broadcast, in which all sorts of exchanges took place: two guests shared childhood memories; one viewer offered to exchange a withering plant for a nature reserve in order to draw attention to ecological problems; a private airplane pilot successfully traded an airplane trip for a train trip at the conductor's side. With live commentary by the sociologist Jean Duvignaud, these exchanges provided an opportunity for unexpected encounters and collective discussion of the imaginary of objects and their role in social interaction.

A third planned broadcast would have gathered all the participants at the base of the Eiffel Tower for a meeting, but it did not take place for administrative reasons. The experiment nevertheless gave rise to numerous encounters beyond the television set, some of which were documented on video. For example, one video shows a participant going to a company's office to share a quiche he prepared for the occasion. In another clip, the artist himself carries out a viewer's proposal: he finds someone in the street willing to give him a franc so they can buy and share a religieuse au café (pastry) together. The television show thus presented an opportunity for viewers to interact with the hosts, and to meet one another on and off the air.

Because it gave priority to the experience of social relations, Fred Forest's proposal was a kind of precursor to relational art. The artist is no longer a producer of objects but rather a mediator, an “inventor-animator of social facts” seeking to prompt sociological reflection, and to create new links among the community members with whom he interacts. TV-shock / TV-exchange was also a proposal for reforming television. Opposing the model of one-way information transmission, Fred Forest defended the notion of an open and participative kind of television. The exchange of symbolic objects implemented in this action was a concrete example of the dialogic form of communication which television, as the artist conceived of it, should promote.

The presentation of this work on the Jeu de Paumes online space ends with a video in which the artist questions clients in a café about their opinions regarding television. This film demonstrates Forest's constant efforts to elicit the reactions of his audience, as well as his commitment to ceaselessly question our relation to the media.

Call for participation in the press

Call for participation on the television – Excerpt from the archives of INA

The exchange takes place during the second broadcast

The group of participants in front of the submitted texts and drawings

Realization of a proposed action:
meeting for a meal
Feedback of the public: what do you
think of television?

LEARN TO WATCH
TELEVISION WITH YOUR
radio, 1984

LEARN TO WATCH
TELEVISION WITH YOUR
radio, 1984

Learn to Watch Television with Your Radio gives researchers and journalists the opportunity to participate even more actively; this time there will be approximately fifteen of them offering live commentary on the evening's television programming, and they will not be doing so ex cathedra but under the control of ordinary TV viewers, capable of participating at any moment by using their local radio stations and telephone lines.
— Fred Forest, 1985

In 1984, Fred Forest invited the public to use the mass medium of radio to deconstruct—critically and humorously—another mass medium: television. For Learn to Watch Television with Your Radio, Forest set up a mobile studio in front of the Grand Palais that served as the engine of an event unfolding across a network of local, low-wave radios. On October 19, 1984, from 7 to 11pm, Forest gathered a group of specialists, including the media theorist Abraham Moles, art critic Catherine Millet, and Professor of media Pierre Moeglin, to comment on and discuss television programs on view. Circled around a monitor, the group analyzed the televisual image, deconstructing its form, values, and its creation of meaning, while debating the medium of television. This commentary was aired in real time on ten local radio stations, including Aligre, Espace 1901, Fréquence Gaie, Radio G, Spectacle, Poste Parisien, and others. Those who sought to participate needed simply to position themselves between a radio and a television tuned to the indicated channels. With the television's sound muted, the commentary on the radio replaced the audio of the television, instantiating a break between image and sound. Participants could also add their own voice to the on-air commentary by calling the mobile studio and speaking over telephone. Described by Forest as “pedagogical, critical, and playful” Learn to Watch Television with Your Radio brought one mass media to press upon another.

Coinciding with the inauguration of the annual contemporary art fair FIAC, Forest's project inserts an open and critical dialogue about the visual image. The invited respondents pointed to montage, framing, pacing, placement of figures, and the many ways that the treatment of images shapes their content. Rather than taken as natural or given, the televisual image becomes strange and constructed. Such a process is powerful at the level of instructing a kind of critical looking, but it is also a riposte to state-run television by the more local means of neighborhood radio stations. In bringing together these dramatically different scales in the media economy, Learn to Watch Television with Your Radio suggests that minor and community media offer powerful tools to intervene in dominant institutions.

Forest's portable studio—a converted trailer parked on the curb in front of the Grand Palais—embodies this very ethos. It occupies a visible location just outside of FIAC and utilizes the social and press networks attracted by the fair to undertake an artistic experiment with mass media.

While Forest had previously used television to incite participation, such as sending a picture or object for exchange in TV-shock / TV-exchange, he introduces yet another layer in Learn to Watch Television with Your Radio by replacing a fundamental component of television—the audio—through the transmission of real-time commentary over the radio. This alteration enabled a sharp and critical analysis (felt to be overly negative by some listeners), and it also jammed televisions codes, opening up multiple paths for creative expression. All of a sudden, image and sound, television and radio could be misaligned and combined in countless ways, launching a multimedia space—“living art”, according to one passerby—that would increasingly serve as the setting of Forest's practice.

Project brochure, recto/verso

The mobile studio during FIAC

Installation in front of the Grand Palais

The participants watch the television

Deconstruction of television

Intervention of Catherine Millet

Feedback of the public

“Three pillars structure our fundamental concept, from which could be developed wild ideas of an improvisation that is part of the very configuration of the experiment:
- an educational pillar entrusted to visual specialists. They will be tasked with elucidating the importance of framing, shots and scene pacing in order to demonstrate how, in the end, the meaning of any image is dependent on its form of production.
- a reflexive and critical pillar encouraging the invited guests as well as listeners to speak out about the programming offered by the three French channels.
- a playful pillar calling on the public's imagination, inviting the public to engage in systematic distortion of meaning by superimposing their purely whimsical commentary onto the presented images. ”

Fred Forest, ‘Learn to Watch TV with your Radio’, 1985

Two texts of Fred Forest and Pierre Moeglin analyzing the action in ‘Communication and Languages’, 1985

DOWNLOAD THE PDF - 13 PAGES

FROM CASABLANCA TO
LOCARNO: LOVE SEEN
AGAIN BY THE INTERNET AND,
ELECTRONIC MEDIA, 1995

from Casablanca to Locarno:
love seen again by the internet and,
electronic media, 1995

Instead of sending a message toward recipients outside the creative process, who proffer understanding after the fact, the artist [Fred Forest] forms an environment, a structure of communication and production, a collective event that implicates those being addressed, transforming the interpreters into actors and coupling interpretation and collective action.
— Pierre Lévy, 1995

On the occasion of the centenary of cinema and radio in 1995, Fred Forest conducted a large-scale media performance for the Festival des arts électroniques de Locarno [Locarno Electronic Arts Festival directed by Marco María Gazzano] using a variety of platforms: television, radio (the experiment was produced in partnership with Radio Télévision Suisse Italienne and Radio Rete 3), the telephone, and, for the first time in the artist's oeuvre, the Internet. In Locarno's theater, which had been converted into a television and radio set for the occasion, the artist invited viewers in the audience or at home to rewrite in real time the dialogue for Michael Curtiz's film Casablanca. Participants were asked to improvise in the roles of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart for the duration of a scene from the movie, which was projected on a big screen before them.

There were numerous ways to participate: volunteers at home could suggest written dialogue through a dedicated website, or could contact the television show by telephone, with the partnering radio chain handling the incoming calls. On-site participants were invited to come on stage and use one of the six telephone booths at their disposal. In the excerpt of the action presented here, two Italian art critics, Achille Bonito Oliva and Glauco Benigni, accept the challenge and act out a surprising scene of a couple before an amused audience. In between the improvisational sequences, Fred Forest, joined by a translator and RTSI hosts, coordinated the event, sometimes inviting other artists to intervene on the air.

The structure of this proposal by Forest recalls that of the preceding action, Learn to Watch Television with Your Radio. Both cases involve silencing images to make room for the speech and imagination of viewers, although to different ends. If Apprenez pitted one medium (radio) against another (television) in order to awaken the critical attitude of viewers, From Casablanca to Locarno willingly embraced a form of spectacle that converged different mediums in celebration of the participatory potential of new technologies.

While the Internet was still in its early stages in 1995, Forest foresaw how its widespread use would profoundly transform human relationships with more traditional mediums. Consider for instance how today's television viewers are invited to give their opinions on the air through digital platforms, or the innumerable montages, remixes and parodies that abound on YouTube when a new American film is released for download. Forest's invitation to rewrite a cinematic masterpiece on the air presaged, in a way, these types of practices. Through his use of appropriation and the remix, From Casablanca to Locarno looked ahead to a producer-consumer (or prosumer) model specific to the Internet age.

The internet site for participation

Project announcement on the cover of a television journal

Preparing the broadcast

The participants and technicians at work

The participants intervene
through all the medias

Newspaper article, Gorniale del Popolo, 1995

conclusion

conclusion

Beginning in 1995, when Fred Forest used the Internet for the first time in From Casablanca to Locarno, digital technologies have played a growing role in the work of this artist recognized as one of the pioneers of digital art. This development appears as the logical continuation of an artistic practice that has endlessly sought to develop the social dimensions of media. Fundamentally open and participatory, the digital network fulfills the desire for connectivity (spatiotemporal and social) present in all of the artist's work. These actions represent a kind of prefiguration of the social possibilities offered by digital technologies, before their very invention. At a time when it is difficult to escape the constant solicitations to participate, or to resist the compulsion to text, tweet, or post on Facebook, Fred Forest's work presents an opportunity to take a fresh look at the close relationship between art, technology, and participation, both historically and in their future development.

Jeu de paume Jeu de paume
The online exhibition
“Fred Forest.
Sharing Media”
was produced with
the collaboration
and support of the
Jeu de Paume
CURATORS MAUD JACQUIN (PH.D.),,
INDEPENDENT CURATOR
& Ruth Erickson (Ph.D.), 
ASSISTANT CURATOR, INSTITUTE
OF CONTEMPORARY ART, BOSTON


CREATION & DESIGN Pierre-Elie Coursac

TRANSLATION AND SUBTITLING (FRENCH-ENGLISH) Arby Gharibian

TRANSLATION AND SUBTITLING (ITALIAN-ENGLISH) Martina Tanga

COORDINATION Sylvia Segura


THANKS THE CURATORS WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE ARTIST FRED FOREST FOR GENEROUSLY GRANTING ACCESS TO HIS PERSONAL ARCHIVES.

THEY WOULD ALSO LIKE TO EXPRESS THEIR GRATITUDE TO MARTA GILI, MARTA PONSA AND MÉLANIE LEMARÉCHAL OF THE JEU DE PAUME, AS WELL AS FRANÇOIS CARTON, JEAN-GABRIEL MINEL AND DOMINIQUE THIERCELIN OF THE INSTITUT NATIONAL D'AUDIOVISUEL (INA) FOR THEIR INVALUABLE HELP. FINALLY, MANY THANKS TO THE AUTHORS AND ORGANIZATIONS THAT ALLOWED REPRODUCTION OF TEXTS AND DOCUMENTS FREE OF CHARGE.
CREDITS Archives de l'INA
Antenne 2 (France télévisions)
Archives personnelles de Fred Forest
Jean-Philippe Butaud
Communication et langages
Editions I.D.E.R.I.V. (Institut d'Etude et de Recherche en Information Visuelle)
Editions Necplus
Fonds Fred Forest / INA
France Soir (http://www.francesoir.fr)
RSI Radiotelevisione svizzera
Giornale del Popolo
Pierre Moeglin
Monique Pantel
Ch. Roman
Ticino 7
Var Matin

FRED FOREST'S ARCHIVES ARE CONSERVED
AT THE INSTITUT NATIONAL DE L'AUDIOVISUEL