Verfremdungseffect or V-effect

Questions of witnessed presence, then, lie at the core of Huyghe’s billboard. Witnessed presence, or the witnessing of the presence of others, is questioned through the co-existence of natural and mediated presence of what looks like one and the same event.

The witness himself, the observer of the event, also plays a central role in the work. The peculiar unity of the two kinds of spaces creates a typically Brechtian Verfremdungseffect, a deliberate act of ‘rendering strange.’ Bertolt Brecht used the V-effect (as the term is abbreviated in English) as a theatrical tool to prevent the spectators of his theatre plays from becoming absorbed by the actors through mere identification. He wished the public to reflect upon the play — theatre should arouse the critical consciousness of the spectator rather than numb it. The intention of Huyghe’s work and his use of the Brechtian technique, as I understand it, is that the passerby of the billboard in Paris (or the visitor to the museum or art gallery who looks at a photo of the construction site and the billboard) is ‘awakened’ by the V-effect. This encourages the observing subject to think about the way in which images are being made instead of thoughtlessly accepting them as a fait accompli in media society today. By thinking of the construction of the image in front of him, he would also be able to detect his position vis-à-vis — and within — the image. In the photograph of the work, one notices a passerby who seems unaware of the strange juxtaposition of the construction site and its photographic image. It is this kind of indifference that Huyghe attempts to remedy through art. What the artist cultivates is a new kind of media-savvy observer, who is not only able to witness an event first-hand but also its secondhand mediations.

Sjoukje van der Meulen