“Jacques Polieri’s archive at the National Library of France : from scenography to zerography or an art of memory” presented by Ancel


Session Title:

  • Summit on New Media Art Archiving: Opening Talks

Presentation Title:

  • Jacques Polieri’s archive at the National Library of France : from scenography to zerography or an art of memory




  • As part of the 28th edition of ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Art), the one consecrated to the theme of “symbiosis”, Franck Ancel with the collaboration of Federico Biggio (Paris 8/Paragraphe) organizes a conference on Jacques Polieri’s (1928-2011) research and realizations, with the aim of studying contaminations and hybridizations (i.e., symbiosis) between experimental scenographies and other scientific fields.

    The year 2023 is not chosen at random, as it also marks the 20th anniversary of the first conference on “Scenography and Technology” as well as the 40th anniversary of Jacques Polieri’s historic “man-machine interface” video conference in New York, Tokyo and Cannes in 1983.

    Since the Jacques Polieri retrospective, the meaningful scenography, as Polieri announced, has conquered the whole of creation at the speed of technological change. For Polieri, scenography is not only a scenic attribute, but a complex system of different linguistic elements that the director must orchestrate in the spaces, as s/he would do with the living bodies of the actors. This system is elaborated by the designer through the tools of different epistemological fields – scenography, semiology, performing arts, media art. Four of Jacques Polieri’s fundamental works, questioning these disciplines, will logically give the titles of the four sessions on Monday, May 15th, on the eve of the ISEA 2023 week in Paris.

    In the first place, Polieri’s research on scenography raises questions about its aesthetic specificity as well as the semantic significance of the space of the performance. The architecture of the stage and theater space, their hybridization with the plastic arts, electrical engineering and lighting find a solid and coherent systematization in Polieri’s theoretical work. They constantly invite us to rethink what scenography is, as well as its functions, which is anything but incidental, as can be deduced from the numerous encyclopedic and iconographic definitions of contemporary scenography as they have been set out in Scénographie. Théâtre, cinéma, télévision (1990). Here, scenography is in constant dialogue with the twentieth-century avant-garde. Polieri’s scenography is a continuation of the history of stage machinery from antiquity to the Renaissance, as documented by art history and by the producers themselves. This makes this work an important contribution to the morphological evolution of theatrical and stage spaces.

    Secondly, Polieri’s contribution to a formal theory of scenography adopts the methodological tools of semiology, by proceeding to a meticulous analytical deconstruction of the multimodality of the scenic device. The use of structural models allows him to put forward numerous taxonomies and to name different levels of immanence which, until then, had been conceived as an indivisible totality, going so far as to propose intuitions capable of explaining the implicit ideological aspects of language. In order to take his topological research, the adoption of elementary geometric forms to explain the possible interactions and intersections of the syncretic elements that combine to create the effect of symbiosis (sound, image, light, movement, song, dance, mime, play) was fundamental. This opened up a semiography of action, of gestures in a total movement (of actors, audience, stage and theater architecture) which is not, however, a Gesamtkunstwerk.

    A third trajectory is that concerning the performing arts: in this field, Polieri’s contribution was not just historical: for example, in Jeu(x) de Communication (1981), he highlights the use of theater in the experimentation of visual media, and cinema in particular, between the 19th and 20th centuries. From proposals for the use of projections as intersemiotic translations between literature, art and performance to archaeological research on lighting and projection techniques, Polieri’s legacy invites questions about the hybridizations between the languages of theater and performance with other media languages (in the proposal of definitions ranging from “pre-cinema” to “post-theatre”), while preserving a specificity of the art of theater up to the electronic arts. We invite researchers to seize these concepts to propose contributions that transfigure the relationship between theater and stage.

    Finally, the last trajectory will focus Polieri’s contribution on media art: the particular attention Polieri provided to the emerging visual media leads to the definition of new operational concepts that make it possible to imagine a more immersive and “hyper-topic” restructuring of the scenic space, such as cinematographic scenography and an “electronic image”, which will give rise to architectural proposals, from the “Théâtre mobile” (Paris, 1960) to the “Théâtre du Mouvement Total” (Osaka, 1970), or the concretization of his original intuition of a “kaleidoscopic theater”. Furthermore, the research on stage machinery – that published in Scénographie. Theatre, cinema, television – constitutes a veritable “archaeology of the media”, from the prehistory of cinema to the video art of the 1970s, through a documentary methodology capable of bringing together research on the image (in particular the “projected” image), specific to visual studies, and research on the devices and cultural “periods” of vision.

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