Multiple presences in the quest for truth

The complicated questions of witnessed presence in The Third Memory are closely linked to comparable dilemmas inherent in mediated presence, in particular in the form of a quest for truth (which is also at stake in the legal sense of witness).

And yet it must be noted that even if the bank robber and the artist find each other in their wish to empower the figure of the witness in media’s signifying system, Huyghe is not primarily concerned with disclosing the truth. In analogy to the billboard on the construction site, the artist’s major point is that media images are constructs. Rather than establishing the truth, then, Huyghe makes visible the structure of media in which such claims of truths are being endlessly produced and conveyed.

The underlying questioning of the whole concept of truth is reminiscent of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, who in his writings regards the concept of truth as a playful but fictional entity, justified by what he identifies as the logic of the ontological. Or as Derrida formulates it: “[T]he presumed possibility of a discourse about what is, the deciding and decidable logos of or about the on (being present)” (Derrida 1987, p. 191). And he clarifies:

“That which is, the being present, is distinguished from the appearance, the image, the phenomenon, etc, that is, from anything that, presenting it as being present, doubles it, re-presents it, and can therefore replace and de-present it. There is thus the 1 and the 2, the simple and the double. The double comes after the simple; it multiplies it as a follow-up” (Derrida 1987, p 191).

I quote this passage because it helps understand Huyghe’s inquiry into the relation between presence and representation in the context of the media, even if the artist counters the irreversible logic described by Derrida. The artist, after all, questions the hierarchy between presence and representation by recognizing the co-existence of multiple presences today that can not be captured in simple numerical terms like the single and the double. Huyghe makes the point that the Derridian logic of presence (“what is”) versus mediated presence (“the image”) is not irreversible — the “two,” or “double,” in Huyghe’s work, can come before the “one,” or “single.” In other words, the artist questions the hierarchy between these binary terms because in the process of signification that takes place within media’s system, the distinctions between reality and fiction, real and image, present and past, true and false, the simple and the double — in short, presence and representation — are often blurred to the point where they merely act on each other, in no set order of hierarchy.

One concrete example in Huyghe’s remake of how an image can precede the present is when the bank robber informs us that he has seen a film, The Godfather, just before he committed his crime, which influenced some of the decisions he made in relation to the robbery (remarkably, both The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon feature Al Pacino in a leading role). Another noteworthy moment in Huyghe’s remake is when the bank robber exclaims “but in the REAL film...!” Referring to the real event as film, he seems to fictionalize the event itself, thereby not only pointing out the paradoxical bond between reality and representation, but also implicitly questioning the ontological logic of their fundamental difference. Confronted with contemporary media conditions, Huyghe necessarily takes a step further than Derrida by going beyond the binary of simple and double, presence and representation.

This brings us back to Nevejan’s theory of YUTPA, because in The Third Memory Huyghe interrogates the more complicated interrelations between natural, witnessed, and mediated presence. The different kinds of presence and mediations in Huyghe’s work operate, in sum, in an intricate network of what we could call fictionalized facts and actualized fictions, where “doubles and simples,” in Derrida’s vocabulary, change roles endlessly.

Sjoukje van der Meulen