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Archéologie du présent

This installation has had several titles, including "Autopsie de la rue Guénégaud" and "Archéologie du présent". Among other things, it's a project about time. The essential part consists of a fixed camera that takes a closed circuit of the street along its length and projects the image inside onto a large wall screen.


Paris (FR)

Typology: Dispositif

Medium and media: Vidéo


Archéologie du présent ou Autopsie de la Rue Guénégaud, Paris

1973 Archéologie du présent ou autopsie de la rue Guénégaud

First of all, I'd like to thank Christiane and Eric Germain for making their gallery available to me so that I could present the first video installation they produced in Paris in 1973, which shows that they were extremely aware of the research into contemporary art that only they were able to grasp at the time. The installation was entitled Autopsie de la rue Guénégaud and Archéologie du présent. Among other things, it's a project about time. The essential part consists of a fixed camera that takes a closed circuit of the street in its entire length and projects the image inside onto a large wall screen. But here's the really important thing: this image starts with the words: "LA RUE GENEGAUD A CETTE EPOQUE ETAIT ..." (GENEGAUD STREET AT THAT TIME WAS ...). But the image comes from the street at this very moment. The present is presented to the visitor as if it were an archive image.

When visitors arrive, they are in a contingent present, and as soon as they take their first step into the gallery, they find themselves placed in their past, even though the image they are shown is that of the present. This artifice, devised by the artist, leads them to perceive themselves in their own past through a language game.

In addition, various clocks placed in the space corroborate the real present time. Finally, a time clock allows visitors to mark the exact time of their visit on their invitation and take it with them. The invitation mentions the names of Vilem Flusser and Pierre Restany, my two usual accomplices, who will be investigating the Rue Guénégaud with their bodies equipped with a tape recorder, each on one of the two pavements, describing everything they see, from one end of the street to the other, producing a kind of urban sociological report. A tape recorder is available for the public to use to investigate the street, in keeping with the participatory approach so dear to the artist.

In the middle of the gallery is a large crate containing a variety of objects taken daily from the rubbish bins on rue Guénégaud. These objects also enable a sociological investigation of the street. They took it in turns to enter the street one day with each of the residents. They went round the various floors, ending up in the bins and leaving rue Guénégaud after a round of communication. For the duration of the exhibition, Fred Forest is taking them on a journey of communication.

Archéologie du présent

Investigation électronique de la rue Guénégaud Paris.
MAI 1973
Commentateurs/Reporters/Archéologues du présent : Vilém Flusser,
Pierre Restany, René Berger et différentes personnes anonymes.

Concept and purpose

  • 1- The initial project involved exploring the entire length of the street (190 m) by placing it under the continuous scrutiny of closed-circuit video cameras. These different cameras, installed in sections perpendicular to the street, cover its entire length. Each of the cameras sends a section back to a monitor in the gallery, which in turn is connected end-to-end with the other receivers. All the receivers in the gallery are designed to "reconfigure" the street space at certain times of the day. The chronological organisation/disorganisation of the linear and continuous movement of passers-by and cars in a one-way street that looks a bit like an organic traffic "hose". Establishment of a system of real-time relationships juxtaposing the physical reality of the street with its 'reconstructed' cathode-ray representation in the gallery.
  • 2-The second initial project envisaged linking the Germain gallery, on rue Guénégaud, with the Stadler gallery, on rue de Seine, two blocks away, in the same district, in order to create a 'single space' and visual communication between two simultaneous audiences, at a distance, through the interface of a giant screen.

Both projects had to be abandoned quickly, as the Paris Highways Department refused to issue the necessary permits to deploy cables across the urban space.


1 Dassault telemeter, 3 Grandin TV cameras, 10 18-inch monitors, 2 Syder demodulators, 1 Sony CV 2100 ACE video recorder, 1 Sony AVC 3200 CE video recorder, 1 Dehocadet time clock, 1 dator 6 RS 220 volt digital clock, 1 Kodak SAV 250 w projector, various objects in the bins in the rue Guénégaud between 15 and 30 April 1973, between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.


An exterior camera permanently covers the street lengthways towards the quays of the Seine, facing the flow of cars. The image captured is sent back into the gallery, projected directly onto the white wall on the right in black and white (colour does not yet exist...). The image delivers a continuum of fundamentally unpredictable information in real time. And it is this very 'unpredictability' that makes it such a powerful factor of fascination and emotion. In addition to this 'something to see', uninterrupted in its raw contingency, the installation invites us to reflect on our relationship with time. The artist has painted the following words in red letters beneath the image projected onto the wall: "At that time, the rue Guénégaud was...". The artist's proposal places the viewer in a distanced situation, in which his or her 'present' is experienced and apprehended from the historical perspective of a bygone past. The visitor's successive passage from the street, where he is an "object" on the screen, to the gallery, where he acquires the status of "subject", and finally back to the street as an "object", provokes different temporal states, juxtaposed and successive, which modify his situation and affect his thinking. The outside is brought inside, and vice versa, as a camera inside the gallery puts this image on display, facing outwards. Depending on the point of view, the perception of space and time is altered. Time is reconfigured and inexorably disrupted by this interplay of mirrors in which the artist intervenes. The electronic medium used by Forest in this form functions as an instrument for questioning our experience and space-time. The clock, the date and time, and the objects recovered from the street bins that very morning are used as visual markers and traces of an archaeology that can be described as an electronic autopsy of the present.

  • " La télévision en partage " dossier N° 3, IDERIV-Institut d’Étude et de Recherche en Information Visuelle, sous la direction de Jacques Monnier-Raball, École des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne, 1973, avec des textes de Pierre Restany, René Berger, Edgar Morin, Vilém Flüsser, Fred Forest
  • " La rue Fred Forest ", François Pluchart, Combat, 21 mai 1973, Paris
  • " L’objet télévision ", Maurice Achard, Combat, 8 mai 1973, Paris
  • " Rue Guénégaud ", Gilles Février, Saltimbanque, 23 mai 1973
  • " Dis-moi ce que tu jettes… ", Philippe Bouvard, France-Soir, 7 mai 1993
  • " La rue Guénégaud de Fred Forest ", Marie-Claude Volfin, Les Nouvelles Littéraires, 14 mai 1973, Paris
  • " Forum des Arts ", Télévision Nationale 2e chaîne, André Parinaud, diffusion 13 mai 1973


Fred Forest has a special place in contemporary art. Both by his personality and by his pioneering practices which mark his work. He is mainly known today for having used one by one most of the communication media that have appeared over the last fifty years. He is co-founder of three artistic movements: those of sociological art, the aesthetics of communication and ethics in art.

He represented France at the 12th São Paulo Biennale (Communication Prize) in 1973, at the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976 and at Documenta 6 in Kassel in 1977.