in conversation with Camille Paulhan
Palais des Beaux-Arts
Camille Paulhan : After Situations suivantes, your degree installation, which showed a fictional screenwriters’ room in South Africa, what’s your next project?
Virgile Fraisse : It will be developed through a series of three films, the first of which will be presented at the Les Voyageurs exhibition. It draws its title, SEA-ME-WE, from the name of an optical fiber cable that links Singapore to Marseille via Mumbai, Karachi, Alexandria, Suez, Tunisia or Algeria. The acronym means “South-East Asia, Middle-East and Western Europe”, but I am also interested in the play on words about “the sea, myself and us”. I want to go from one port to another, just like a merchant ship in the old days.
CP : In Situations suivantes, you addressed the issue of copper, which makes up most of the submarine cables of the internet; how did you come to be interested in SEA-ME-WE?
VF : I became interested in the networks that enable internet access, and found out that 95% of the grid was not connected via satellites, but with actual cables, which disproves the notion that technology has become entirely immaterial. SEA-ME-WE 4 is an optical fiber cable at the bottom of the ocean, invisible but nevertheless material. Therefore, our communications, our internet exchanges, are dependent on very concrete links. These tiny cables, though out of sight, are a potent economic and symbolic force.
CP : Ultimately, are you more interested in economic or diplomatic issues?
VF : Diplomatic issues, because states must ma- nage their interdependence to be able to access the internet. However, the balance remains very fragile: if one cable is cut, everything falls apart. The issue of interdependence is probably linked to my personal history: when I was a child, my first cervical vertebra was fractured, which damaged my nerves. The networks of cables I’ve been working on, from Situations suivantes to this new project, reference the permanently pinched nerve in my neck, which constantly irradiates the surface of my skull. I experience these relations of energy daily.
CP : How do you intend to materialize the idea of a network that spans the globe in your film?
VF : In the film, the cable will remain invisible. It’s the paratext that matters to me: it will be shot in ports, with actors and very little décor. Star- ting from practically nothing, I’d like to make the actors play on a potential text about the movements of people around the Mediterranean, as though it were a game in which each participant formulates hypotheses. There should be a lot of dialogue, inspired by the different ways people write online, with the anonymity that characterizes the internet. The film will be presented on two screens, like a diptych, with sequences shot in Marseille and others in Palermo, the two ports that are the first points of connection of the cable on its way to Singapore.
CP : What would you like the viewer to take away from the film?
VF : I’m a great believer in the impact of language, in its capacity to create tools of reflection that bring to light certain things that aren’t visible, such as these submarine cables, for instance. My work isn’t the work of a moralist, it’s a reflection on language, on cultural interaction and the influence of technology on these exchanges. But it’s political because language is political, access to information is political.
CP : Why use the medium of video to work on the invisible?
VF : I believe in direct action, in performance art, in activism. But today, our relationship to the real has completely changed, public structures have become immaterial. Like a video, I think a film can become viral. And I believe in viruses, in contamination.