The French artist Robert Cahen (born in Valence in 1945, lives and works in Mulhouse) is one of the great pioneers and narrators of video art. After studies in composition in the context of Musique concrète and first experiences making short films, Cahen developed in his early videos the key principles which have characterised his oeuvre: a narrative approach scarce in words that relies on the montage of images and music, an interest in the passage from still to moving image, the use of slow-motion to heighten the perception of the otherwise unseen. The exhibition Robert Cahen. Narrating the Invisible seeks to shed light on the artist’s recent video installations and invites reflection on his oeuvre as a whole.
In parallel with his activities as a composer and director of experimental video at the French national television service ORTF, Cahen began to create videos in the early 1970s which conveyed non-linear and multi-layered narratives through the conscious juxtaposition of image and sound. His editing style bore witness in equal measure to film and video history (notably to the tradition of Surrealist film) and to Musique concrète. This musical movement stood for music-making freed from the constraints of writing and encouraged an experimental handling of sounds fixated by way of recording devices. Similarly, Cahen freely edited his video material through the use of electronic instruments, obtaining surprising visual effects which enabled him to express his narratives.
The exhibition presents eight video installations by Cahen, a format in which he has been working since the mid-1990s (he was awarded the ZKM's International Video Art Prize for his installation Sept Visions Fugitives in 1995). The majority of the works on show are large video projections which require a dark exhibition space. A cinematic experience is created in that the work envelops the viewer both through the image and sound and through its spatial environment. In his works Cahen does not aim to convey ideas or criticism head-on, rather he seeks to seduce the viewer, merely hinting at potential interpretations, helping him read the invisible.