The waves, an emblematic work by Thierry Kuntzel

by Frédérique Seyral

The Waves is an interactive video installation created by Thierry Kunzel in 2002. The artist filmed the movement of the waves, the perpetual ebb and flow of the sea accompanied by Frank Sinatra’s hit It was a very good year. As we approach the screen the movement of the waves progressively slows down, suspends and comes to a halt. The moving image, coloured and musical  gives way to a still black and white silent photo. 

The waves projected on the screen are the same but their rhythm varies according to the movement and the position of the spectator in relation to the screen. Initially the waves and the viewer engage in what appears to be a unique and intimate dialogue which is altered radically according to their proximity.  As the viewer attempts to possess the image by coming closer he in fact provokes its colourless inertia. The fantasy of possession, the desire to know all, draws the spectator closer and closer into a trap where  his overall view is eventually lost.

The complexity  of Kuntzel’s work is however more intricate than it seems. Though several viewers may be in the hall, only the viewer closest to the screen will interact with the image. Kuntzel’s Installation brings about an inevitable sense of isolation.  Alone facing the wave, a vision that all surfers know, the moment of truth, an incentive to take risk. The visitor’s close confrontation is essential to the dialogue. Once the interactivity begins the viewers are rapidly obliged to adjust their movements while estimating the distance between themselves, the others and the screen and discovering the effect of their actions on the image.  A sense of rivalry between the active and the less active may arise. The setting  has an inevitable effect on how the spectators interact.  The slightest movement alters the image and binds the viewers and the wave.

However,  the lone visitor before the screen, not knowing  that his approach will suspend and annihilate  the image, will be relentlessly drawn towards it. There is in this work an upheaval that touches the very foundation of humanity,  an interaction with our environment and our inevitable path to death. The title, The Waves is in echo to Virginia Woolf’s eponymous masterpiece. In the ocean, the waves, water and foam, the characters, the individualities dissolve to become nothing more than sensations, as in the life of Woolf herself, persistently on the edge of the abyss, on the brink of drowning (cause of Woolf’s death), torn between the desire to see and to experience and the fear of the unknown. The ecstasy of knowledge and discovery and the frustration of the incapacity to be all-embracing.