Robert Morris and the Midnight Sun
During the late 1990’s the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon extended an invitation to Morris to create a trilogy, which was subsequently exhibited over three successive summers between 1998 and 2000.
White Nights was a reworking of a installation made the year previous, in 1999. It then consisted of a wooden maze whose corridors led to impasses showing videos from his choreographic performances of the 1960’s. In White Nights this structure and format was repeated, replacing the wooden walls with suspended, translucent, white sheets. Additional mirrors were placed in strategic places at the installation. At the centre of was a slowly rotating projector showing some 86 archival images of german-occupied Lyon during the Second World War. These images were chosen from the archives of the Centre d'Histoire de La Résistance et de la Déportation (Resistance and Deportation History Centre) in Lyon which functioned as the previous headquarters of the Gestapo during the German occupation. They show the execution of hostages; prisoners being taken to concentration camps; Wehrmacht officers; and the architecture of Lyon. Through the rotating projector, set in the heart of the labyrinth like the proverbial minotaur, moving film images and still slides intersect at times on the white walls. Looking at the way the images float around the white, confused space, projected on translucent white drapery or reflected through mirrors, it is clear in the way this work is constructed that it is an attempt by Morris to refer to both the literal and ethical problems of exhuming the past and of recalling difficult memory. Reflecting across the mirrors and vaguely penetrating the thin walls the images become muddled, overlapped, and ensnared in their own literal and figurative context. It also spoke to exercising caution toward the ideological usage of images, and to the crude obscenity of their violence and to the real lives of the people being depicted. One writer to speak about this work expressed the disturbance they felt in seeing the shadow of their own figure projected on a wall against that of Klaus Barbie; the ‘Butcher of Lyon’; a man responsible for the torture, deportation, and sexual humiliation of many men, women, and children. I think that the mirrors play an significant, if similar, role besides that of confusing the projected imagery, they include the spectators in the imagery allowing them to be shown as two dimensional images amongst the images of other perpetrators and victims of war. Under projected images of the german occupation, we could see ourselves as projections of socio-historical circumstance, and perhaps feel the dangers, for ourselves and others, of our floating identities as they take shape in fields of power.
The enveloping walls, the mirrors, and the moving projections allow the spectators to themselves become elements of the work; it was not something external that they saw but it was something they were indistinguishably part of; their bodies passing through the projected images becoming a supplementary, mobile, material support. Morris’ selection selection of imagery is not, however, limited to depictions of violence and among these pictures of war are also numerous images of daily life and social spaces in Lyon. Among the different sites represented, perhaps most interesting is the inclusion of bridges and public squares. Their symbolic dimensions as sites of junction and unification served to narrate a history of the evolution of the war. Bridges were deprived of their communicative function and destroyed at the end of the war to protect the retreat of the german army. The image of the bridge was thus charged with the geographical trace of the manifestation of power. This was equally true of public squares, as pivots of city life, spaces of popular assembly and activities. The archival images presented them as sites for the display of power. While this work is not Morris’ first foray into a disorienting architectural space that precludes and problematizes all exit, in this work the labyrinthine form also provides a metaphor for the complexity of recalling memory and of the mythologizing of images in such a way in which the true circumstances of their creation get caught up with the fragility and relativity of their perception.
The title of this particular work is difficult to pin down. The first point of reference for anyone reading the title may be the short story by Dostoyevsky of the same name. However, it is my submission that the both titles refer to the same phenomena of when, in winter, the sun does not go beyond the horizon and so two consecutive days meet. I say this because it makes the most sense in relation to Morris' desire to recall memory and to allow the viewer to view themselves in the past and therefore to evaluate their own identity in relation to power strucutres. In this way the past is not cut off from the present but comes to meet it as the sunset turns, inextricably, into the sunrise.