Fictional presence

We have drifted away somewhat from Nevejan’s theory of YUTPA through this reassessment of relational art, but the point of my analysis of The Third Memory is that the different kinds of presence are brought together in such entangled configurations that they trouble a clear characterization of “its” YUTPA, or relations between “You and not-You,” “Now and not Now” and “Do and not-Do.” For that reason, the work serves as a catalyst for my proposition that Nevejan’s three categories of natural, mediated and witnessed presence should be complemented by a fourth if we wish to grasp the complex relations between presence and representation in Huyghe’s work: fictional presence.

In an interview with George Baker, Huyghe clearly expressed his interest in fiction; or more precisely, in investigating “how a fiction, how a story, could in fact produce a certain kind of reality. An additif of reality (Baker 2004b, p. 84).” Fiction is usually at stake in the artist’s work, from the billboard Chantier Barbès Rochechouart to The Third Memory, but probably most directly in one of his large-scale projects, A Journey that wasn’t (2005).

“Fiction” is something of an odd term because it refers at once to the imagination, as well as to something invented or made up. This double meaning of fiction, in a positive sense as something created imaginatively, and in a negative sense as something as opposed to fact, makes it a rather useful term for Huyghe’s oeuvre, which as a whole hovers between facts and fiction. In Nevejan’s theory, fictional presence would most likely be classified under “mediated presence,” as can be deduced from her statement, “For centuries people have mediated presence consciously by telling stories, making drawings,…and writing books, etc” (Nevejan 2007, p. 13). That fictional presence is not given its own category is understandable in a book that is written from a sociological standpoint, but from the point of view art — the profession of fiction par excellence — it seems legitimate to ‘petition’ for a distinct category of fictional presence.

Fiction, of course, is not the same as fictional presence. Fiction refers to an imagined story, while fictional presence points to something that is both fictional and has an acte de présence — it involves the position of the viewer/listener/reader vis-à-vis the story. In the context of Nevejan’s theory, I define fictional presence as a type of imagined or forged presence that can nonetheless be in a dynamic dialogue with, and have a decisive impact on, all other forms of natural, mediated and witnessed presence.

Sjoukje van der Meulen