Fred Forest - Retrospective
Sociologic art - Aesthetic of communication
Exhibition Generative art - November, 2000
Exhibition Biennale 3000 - Sao Paulo - 2006
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Louis-José Lestocart English version
Louis-José Lestocart : l'oeuvre-système invisible ou l'O-S-I English version
Vinton Cerf English version
Priscila Arantes Curator of the exhibiton "Retrospective au Paço das Artes" English version
Michaël F Leruth English version
Evelyne Rogue French version
Annick Bureaud English version
Mario Costa English version
Jean Devèze English version
Vilem Flusser English version
Derrick de Kerckhove English version
Pierre Lévy English version
Marshall McLuhan English version
Pierre Moeglin English version
Frank Popper English version
François Rabate English version
Pierre Restany English version
Pierre Restany English version
Pierre Restany English version
Pierre Restany English version
Edgar Morin English version
Harald Szeemann English version
1 - Synthetisis note on the activities of Fred Forest
2 - Manifests Sociological Art (1974) and Aesthetics of the Communication (1983)
3 - The Aesthetics of the Communication by Fred Forest (1983)
4 - For an Aesthetics of Communication - Fred Forest
5 - The Video family by Fred Forest (1976)
6 - Learn to watch TV through the radio by Fred Forest and Pierre Moeglin (1984)   
7 - Why present his candidacy for President of the Bulgarian TV by Fred Forest (1991)


Vilem Flusser, few translated in France, is considered like a philosopher of reference in dutch-saxon area, for everything that raises from the photograph and the new medias. Accidentally disappeared, he collaborated to very numerous actions of Fred Forest during twenty years, during which developed their friendship, writing about twenty texts about these actions.

Fred Forest or the destruction of the established points of view

Vilem FLUSSER, (Fontevrault, December 1975)


A hot afternoon in 1974, Forest visited me in Fontevrault, in Touraine, where I began to write a phenomenology of the human gestures. We were in the garden. I explained him my thesis according to which if one was able to decode the significance of the gestures, we would have found the being's significance in the human world. Forest always provided of his equipment video passed his nearly automatically to record my explanations on a videotape. I continued to explain, accompanying as I always make it, my verbal speech by gestures suitable of my hands and my body. The camera that Forest held between his hands followed inevitably my gestures by corresponding "gestures movements". But his gestures obliged to their turn, my own gestures, to alter in answer. So a dialogue had settled, whose numerous levels were not entirely in conscience for Forest, nor for me, because they were not all deliberate. My hands answered to the gestures of the camera, and the modification of their movements changed, subtly, my words and my thoughts. And Forest not only moved in answer to my movements, but also to the thoughts that I articulated verbally. When this very curious dialogue (because non usual) ended, Forest immediately presented the videotape on the screen video. We were sat to look at it, but it was impossible to us to remain quiet. It was necessary for us to debate on the videotape as for the theme conversed (the gestures), as the transformation of this theme by the videotape itself. It was regrettable that there was not to our disposition a second equipment of video to record this new dialogue to add it like "metadialogue" to the first videotape. (And so forth maybe, in receding infiniteÖ) Very later in Arles, where I participated in a roundtable on the topic of the photograph, Forest presented before an aid of photographers and critics, this videotape of the gestures. Suddendly, I saw it from a radically new point of view. It had become a dialogue " inserted " in the Arlesian dialogue about the photography, to demonstrate the essential difference between video and photography, and to suggest a possible cooperation between the two media.

In the illustration by this second example of the type of action of Forest, his subject is not as obvious as it is in the first. His initial motive was probably to his habit to play as always with the camera. (His constant "research") But as the action took place, his subject became the one to understand actively my explanations. The camera became, as spontaneously, a epistemological tool, an instrument to understand. But this instrument had a direct effect on the "thing to be understood": on my speech.

- When Forest felt that his effort to understand me changed my explanation his subject was modified once again. From that time, he wanted the dialogue with me to the level of the videotape. But the result of this action was of an different level of all this various subjects. In the Arlesian context it had become a videotape that provoked the non foreseen dialogues, with unforeseeable participants, in non foreseen situations.

What is the proof: how a material reveals its virtualities during its manipulation, and how an initial subject changes under the impact of the new virtualities so discovered.

In this example, the method followed by Forest is the one of the observation of a social phenomenon (in this case: myself in relation to Forest) while accepting more and more consciously the fact that this observation changes and the observed phenomenon and the observer of the phenomenon. It is about indeed, of a variation of the phenomenological method. But with this difference: in philosophy and in the sciences this method is " contemplative " (a look), while in the case describes it becomes active involvement. A "technique", an "art". It is so, because the instrument (the equipment video), imposes, by its structure and by its function, an active attitude on the observer. It is not about here of a pretended reformulation of the phenomenological method. Forest didn't choose the video to be able to observe actively. The opposite is the case of it. The revolutionary method of observation was imposed unknowingly to Forest by the instrument. But once discovered, then this method can be applied to most varied social phenomena. Forest is located in the phase of training of this method and I doubt that he seized the whole parameter of action so opened by his method. A few years ago an experience was led in a retirement home in Hyères. His subject was double: to study the situation of aged proletarians after a life of poverty and hard labor (suddenly dived in a luxury and a leisure without other future that the one of the death) and to try to help these people to come out of passivity, inviting them to make something to give a significance to their existence. The experience was driven by a team of sociologists, of Forest and myself as "critic-observer". Forest was provided, as to his habit of his video equipment and he recorded some documents on the daily life of this house for pensioners. Then he projected these videotapes. The effect of the projection on the old people was normal: they saw themselves of outside, "as other peolple", and they was some fascinated. He explained them the elementary manipulations of the equipment, and invited them to use it themselves with his help. Some groups formed themselves among the old people, and every group achieved a videotape, a kind of movie. There is a very widespread misunderstanding: one considers the video as if it was a kind of "movies at home". Therefore the old people made very primitive movies, they became the actors, the singers, the dancers, the clowns, etc. The different movies were projected then during a kind of film festival where the competition was followed of a quick discussion at the same time as of senile quarrels. Forest recorded this event again on a videotape. In the example mentioned of this action, there was various subject that crossed themselves in a complex way. First, there were sociological subjects: to study a given social situation, and to use Forest as instrument of investigating. There was the subject of the old people: to entertain themselves in order to escape a little of the daily stupor while leaning on the presence of the animation team. There was my own subject: to observe the action of Forest in a very specific context to be able to criticize him. And there was the subject of Forest finally: to seize the opportunity offered to achieve an experience. What is fascinating in such a complex gearing of subject is the following fact: all individual subject had the tendency to transform the other participants in tools, because it took itself for "meta-subject", but the result of it was a cooperation of all, with all: a kind of "synthesis of subject".

The subject of Forest was to provoke the old people to look at himself, and to stop looking at the past and the future (therefore: the death). He wanted to force them to look at the present, that means their "reality". In this case, the "reality" was evidently, the alienation of the retirement home, of the social reality. Therefore the subject of Forest was "don-quichottesque": these people were condemned to die in the alienation of the comfort and of the stupor; and Forest pretended to make they conscious of this unavoidable alienation while directing their looks on this situation. The result was translated in this ludicrous competition of ludicrous movies. But this "don- quichottesque" engagement of Forest can be generalized from this example: isnít this retirement home of Hyères, indeed, a way of midget model of our present Western society? One can discover in this case, a fundamental aspect (although entirely conscious) of all the engagement of Forest: to "be the Don Quichotte of our society". Proposing ludicrous movies to better see us dying.

The method applied by Forest in this case has direct relations with the method that he used thereafter to São Paulo, at the time of the Biennial of 1975. It is about creating an artificial distance (an "épochée") to allow the participants to look at themselves from outside. But in the case of Hyères, there was any irony in the distance. It was artificial, provoked thanks to the artifice of the video, but there is anymore nothing of the climate created "to make as if " that reigned to São Paulo. It was not a comedy at Hyères. The old people were not the "travestied" comedians as the artists of São Paulo were. They were tragic characters, and at Hyères they played a ludicrous tragedy.

I propose a last example. A few years ago, at the beginning of his research, Forest succeeded in convincing by persuasion and ruse some newspapers in France and elsewhere, to include in their columns empty spaces. Somewhere below these spaces, there was a small mention declaring: "Dear reader, finally, your space to you. You can take possession of it as you want it and send back the answer to Fred Forest. " Hundreds or thousands of answers to this provocation have been received: political messages, obscenities, crazy graffiti, works of art, abuse, etc. Forest gathered them, studied "them" to expose them then and to provoke a new reaction of the public.

- The subject of this action was not, I believe, very elaborate by Forest to this stage of his naive research. It rather appeared like a visceral engagement against the mass effect of the mass medium (especially the newspapers), and against their discursive dictatorial structure. He wanted to break the infinite speech of the newspapers while forcing spaces opened to the dialogue. There was, in this engagement, also, his conviction that "the artist" (if there is some again now) must avoid two traps: to be recovered by the mass media or to ignore them and to become thus elitist. The exit of this dilemma consisted for Forest in seizing the mass media as if it was about a material, and no as a communication means. To act on, and no in, the mass media. There was, also, in this engagement, the conviction that it is necessary "to enliven" people around oneself to facilitate the expression, because the civilization of mass chokes all creative tendency. He wanted to force people to become creative. To be a deus ex-machina. And there were other aspects certainly to his subject. But they were all bound to the general subject of all action of Forest: the one to create an artificial distance between the man and his social context. In this case: between the man and the mass media. The method applied to this case is the most refined of all chosen examples. It combines (although no entirely to the level of the elaborate conscience) the results of the research in the domain of the theory of the games, of the theory of information, and of the cybernetics. Of the point of view of the theory of the games, it is about a strategy to open the closed game of the daily press to the active involvement of the largest parameter of the public, and thus to change the structure of this game. Of the point of view of the theory of information it is about a test to introduce the noise in a highly redundant channel, and to change its discursive structure in structure of a channel that permits the dialogic communication. Of the point of view of the cybernetics, it is about a test to break a complex system as the press, acting of in, taking like point of support a weak point of this same system. This is a fascinating method: to open the game of the society, to make it more informative, to break thus the established device. A too beautiful method to be true. For an outside observer, it failed for obvious reasons. The press that Forest wanted to consider as a king, seizing of it like a material finally absorbed the intervention of Forest, and transformed thus Forest, to its turn, in a tool of the very press. The participants to the game that Forest wanted "to enliven" to make them creators became indeed only the pieces of a game invented by him.

Forest cannot change the press, but he can show us what it is. It is important, because from a new vision can result a new action. Forest establishes, in this case as always, a set of points of view, a set of mirrors that sends back themselves one another. The point of view of the journalist is reflexive by the point of view of the reader, that is reflexive by the point of view of the visitor of the exhibition, that is reflexive by the point of view of the journalist that writes, and so forth in circular and practically infinite progression. Such a labyrinth of reflecting and reflexive reflections is an excellent tool for the ethical, aesthetic and existential intellectual understanding of a situation, because it destroys the points of view established (the ideologies) and it allows the situation to be revealed under its multiple facets. It permits therefore the choice therefore.

Vilem Flusser, December 1975

La force du quotidien (The forces the daily), Hurtebises, 1973

Choses et non-choses (Things and non things), Jacqueline Chambon, 1996

Pour une philosophie de la photographie (For a philosophy of the photography), Circé, 1996

Les gestes (The gestures), HC, May 1999


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