Ludovic Duchâteau’s work presents visions of ambivalent technologies, uncannily inert and uncertain in their impotence. His objects are often scattered and sprawled along gallery floors or empty streets as if discarded or depleted. Their forms resemble our technological objects and fantasies, and imagery from science fiction. They look almost like crashed alien probes or satellites, disconnected from their users or power sources, vaguely threatening in their unfamiliarity but pitiable in their vulnerability. It is unclear whether one’s recognition of a prone form is an accurate reading of the object. The effect is a careful negotiation of the space around the objects, a mingling of curiosity and anxiety one might imagine experiencing in encounters with alien technology.
But Duchâteau’s work is a commentary not so much on technology but rather on technological fantasy. As digital and machine technologies become more complex, the objects become harder to interpret by visual analysis alone—who knows what really goes on among all those circuits and cables? In effect, high-tech objects may as well be alien to those who do not recognize their function. Visual interpretation fails to give sufficient information; what’s left is the visceral sensation, a viewer’s physical reaction to the object. If one cannot trust one’s senses to analyze an object or situation, the only recourse is ambivalence, a tension held indefinitely between fear and curiosity, security and danger. Duchâteau’s dejected sci-fi probes are the detritus of uncertain fantasies, a constant vacillation between the threat of technological power, the impotence of technological failure, and the inability to distinguish them.
This vacillation is felt most keenly in Duchâteau’s installations, where his objects can create a narrative within their settings. In Dynamic Confirmation (2016), a tentacular machine-object lies immobile in a construction zone, its black cables sprawled across the concrete. Its sleek, conic form suggests an object meant for flight, ill-suited for ground mobility. Its white plastic casing appears to be split, as if it had become dislodged from the impact of a crash landing. A bright construction light spotlights the object, and the viewer’s perspective, positioned behind a chain-link fence, makes the image read like a zone cordoned off by police. Though the crashed machine appears broken or disabled, there is ample room left around it, as if it might still be dangerous. Here, Duchâteau re-creates the wonder of a first-contact fantasy and tempers it with mechanical failure, as if our wildest dreams would be tainted by their realization. Dynamic Confirmation feels not unlike Neil Blomkamp’s 2009 film District 9, in which a Johannesburg filled with literal aliens is still banal and grossly human.
Perhaps what is most compelling about Duchâteau’s pieces is how well they are able to hold this tension, keeping in check both coarse realities and fictional anxieties. Somewhere in between these two extremes lies his newest work, In Dreamland (2016), an installation seemingly straight out of the same kinds of fantasies that produced the hit Netflix show Stranger Things. In this work, a ramshackle tarp tent is erected in the gallery space, accompanied by a Radio Flyer wagon full of books, with more piled around the tent. The setup is not unlike what a child fleeing the strictures of daily life might make, with a child’s essentials for escape: shelter and books. But from within the tent, beside a child’s prone form, extends a long, snaking tentacle; outside the tent, its color shifts from black to glowing orange. It seems that the sleeping child’s fantasies, the nightmares, have come alive and are creeping out into the world.
The same tension between sinister activity and prone vulnerability seen in Duchâteau’s probes are brought to life in In Dreamland, but this time the roles are split between two figures rather than inherent within a single form. Here, Duchâteau pulls apart the tangle of ambivalent desires packaged within technological objects and mythologizes them with a monster. But the relationship between the sleeping figure and the tentacle does not feel inherently dangerous—if anything, the child seems to be the least threatened by the lurching tendril. The suggestion here is not a resolution between wonder and reality but rather the potency of unknowability. The only way to make space for wonder is to accept the possibility of unknown consequences, perhaps even violent ones; the alien probe may be a precursor to invasion, or the only escape from reality may be a nightmare. But each of Duchâteau’s pieces holds that moment of ambivalence apart from the rest of the story, making room for greater possibilities yet to be imagined.
Ludovic Duchâteau studied visual arts in Paris, France. He spent several years envisioning interactive 3D software using behavioral models, with human–computer interactions as a creative resource. Before moving to the Bay Area three years ago, his sculpture, drawings, and installations were exhibited in Paris. His current work has recently been shown at The Lab in San Francisco, Oakland Art Murmur, and A Stark Project. Ludovic lives and works in the East Bay. He can be found on Instagram: ludovicduchateau.