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David Claerbout | Dark Optics

April 27 – June 4, 2022

Exhibition Film


Sean Kelly is delighted to present Dark Optics, a solo exhibition by Belgian artist David Claerbout. The exhibition is the US premiere of Claerbout's two most recent film works, The Close, 2022 and Aircraft (F.A.L.), 2015-2021, alongside a series of works on paper relating to each film.

"The nature of the virtual object, of documentary truth and our access to history have long been key concerns in David Claerbout’s disarming video works, in which complex digital simulation has come to play an increasingly central role. Dark Optics [at Sean Kelly] presents the recent Aircraft (F.A.L.) (2015-2021), in which an impossibly shiny but old-fashioned propellor passenger aircraft (a Douglas DC-4 is this critic’s guess) is found stranded on a wooden scaffold in an empty hangar, a bored security guard guarding it from nobody much. The glossy aircraft is a simulation, presented in neurotic, inert detail, speaking to the disintegration of materiality and our faith in images in the era of deep-fakes, where even twentieth-century optimism of air travel for all is reduced to a virtual collectible. The new The Close (2022), meanwhile, recreates a piece of 1920s documentary film, full of jumps, scratches and speckles, depicting the everyday goings-on in a grimy working-class street somewhere in Europe. Finally focusing on the stilled figure of a little boy, impossibly captured in ‘time-slice’ photography from every angle, The Close offers a sort of redemptive fiction of the photographic image’s access to reality, like a wormhole between our time and a century ago."

- J.J. Charlesworth (ArtReview, April 7, 2022)

The Close

2022, single channel video projection, black & white, 6 channel surround sound, ca. 15 min,
edition of 7 with 2 APs and 1 AC

David Claerbout - Dark Optics - Viewing Room - Sean Kelly Gallery - Online Exhibition

David Claerbout
The Close set image (Leaving Axis of the Eyes), 2021-2022
signed, titled and dated by artist, recto
pencil, washed Chinese ink, hand printed digital drawing, gouache on Hahnemuhle digital etching paper
paper: 36 1/16 x 24 1/16 inches (91.5 x 61 cm)
framed: 42 3/8 x 31 5/16 x 1 3/4 inches (107.6 x 79.5 x 4.4 cm)

Conceived as a journey traversing the past and future of the camera, The Close brings together a reconstruction of amateur film, circa 1920, and a digital 3D rendering of that footage.

Reminiscent of so-called city symphonies during the early days of film, which marked the proliferation of the movie camera into daily life, the film opens with a street scene whose occupants are muted twice - socially and again, technically. Claerbout poetically attempts to restore their voices at the end of the film with a recording of 24 spatially distinct singers performing Arvo Pärt's 2004 vocal composition Da Pacem Domine, thus surrounding an isolated child, who has become the focus of the film, with an architecture of voices. 

"The [sound component] maintain[s] a tension between individuality and harmony, between fragmentation and unity… My idea is not to measure the gaps nor the harmony, but to make them explode without apparent conflict."

-David Claerbout

David Claerbout - Dark Optics - Viewing Room - Sean Kelly Gallery - Online Exhibition

The Close oscillates between sensorial cohesion and fragmentation, the familiar and the estranged. Intended as a short, emotional history of the camera, this film reflects on what Claerbout refers to as 'dark optics,' a profound if chaotic recalibration of the beliefs we share regarding image, information, and language.  

David Claerbout - Dark Optics - Viewing Room - Sean Kelly Gallery - Online Exhibition

We could say that [The Close] is a journey between the past, the present and the future of the filmic image.

- David Claerbout

Aircraft (F.A.L.)

2015-2021, single channel video projection, black & white, stereo audio,
edition of 7 with 1 AP and 1 AC

David Claerbout recorded Aircraft (Final Assembly Line) with a camera in an empty factory hall, then generated the image of the aircraft with the aid of an elaborate 3D model. The result is a hybrid representation that creates the illusion of a photographic reality.

Throughout his work in virtual photography, Claerbout has discussed the effect of having materials stripped of their context and content which results in the loss of optical confidence.

"Working with synthetic images is operating in an extremely fragmented world where masses of details pretend to be a totality," explains Claerbout, referring to the work of neuropsychologist Iain McGilchrist and his theory of divided attention. "The synthetic image with its overreliance on language and computing has something pathological about it, bringing to mind the fragmented sensorial world of the schizophrenic patient."

David Claerbout - Dark Optics - Viewing Room - Sean Kelly Gallery - Online Exhibition

"[3D optic simulations] have made us aware that our perception is too often deprived of our other sensory modes. There must be a reason why we are beings who seek and accept this relationship with surfaces and screens."

- David Claerbout

Aircraft (F.A.L.) features a brand-new object that looks simultaneously unfinished and redundant. In the same way, the factory hall, a place of production for the future, is interchanged with the museum, where the past is often presented. The only intermediary between this past and the future is the echoing sound of the guard’s footsteps, reminiscent of a museum guard, which punctuate the film.

David Claerbout - Dark Optics - Viewing Room - Sean Kelly Gallery - Online Exhibition

Exhibition Programming

Conversation with the Artist and David E. Little, the Executive Director at the International Center of Photography.


David Claerbout - Dark Optics - Viewing Room - Sean Kelly Gallery - Online Exhibition


David Claerbout The Silence of the Lens
Published Spring 2022 by Hannibal Books

In a conversation with Jonathan Pouthier, curator of the cinema programme of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou (Paris, France), video artist David Claerbout reflects for the first time in depth on his work of the past decade in relation to current discussions about photography, film and the virtual. The Silence of the Lens offers a unique insight into the creative process behind such recent video works as The Close, Aircraft (F.A.L.), Wildfire (meditation on fire), The Confetti Piece and The Pure Necessity.

Exhibition Press

About the Artist

David Claerbout studied at the Nationaal Hoger Instituut voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp from 1992 to 1995 and participated in the DAAD: Berlin Artists-in-Residence program from 2002 to 2003. Claerbout's work is included in major public collections worldwide, including Centre Georges Pompidou Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, France; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C; SFMOMA, San Francisco; S.M.A.K, Ghent, Belgium; The Margulies Collection, Miami, Florida; Collection François Pinault, Italy; FRAC Nord Pas de Calais, France; Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany; GAM Galleria D'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin, Italy, and many others. He has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions internationally, including the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, The Netherlands; the Pinakothek der Moderne, München, Germany; Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; Schaulager, Basel, Switzerland; Kunsthalle Mainz, Mainz, Germany; Secession, Vienna, Austria; Tel Aviv Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel; SFMOMA, San Francisco; WIELS, Brussels, Belgium; De Pont museum of contemporary art, Tilburg, The Netherlands; Pompidou Center, Paris, France; Kunstmuseum, St. Gallen, Switzerland; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

David Claerbout on "Dark Optics," e-flux lecture, New York, March 11, 2019 from Studio David Claerbout on Vimeo