Ronde de Nuit
September 21 - November 2, 2013
In celebration of the Getty Research Institute’s recent acquisition of Lewis Baltz’s archive, Gallery Luisotti presents Baltz’s 1992 work Ronde de Nuit, the first piece in the series that includes, Docile Bodies and The Politics of Bacteria. In Jeff Rian’s words the three works join together to examine “the technology of watching.” This will be the first exhibition of Ronde de Nuit in Los Angeles since the showing of the complete trilogy in 1998 at MOCA, LA. Ronde de Nuit’s scale, 35ft long by 6ft high, suggests sites of collective experience – railway stations, airports, underground corridors, shopping malls – where alienation and surveillance abound. An extension of Baltz’s Sites of Technology 89-91, Ronde de Nuit fuses images of technology and public space with photographs made in the police surveillance system of Roubaix, France. The result is a work that distills our public lives as both spectators and perpetrators of surveillance.
Ronde de Nuit shares its title with Rembrandt’s 1642 painting The Night Watch. The penetrating gazes and dramatic lighting of Ronde de Nuit may suggest Rembrandt’s conspiratorial scene, but Baltz owes as much to Godard’s 1965 Alphaville. Godard’s science fiction found the future in the present. The director filmed the emerging outer suburbs of Paris, and set his instamatic-carrying protagonist Lemmy Caution in a world of recording, redaction, and a repressively powerful technocracy (Alphaville is literally a world governed by a computer, Alpha-60).
Ronde de Nuit is as attuned to its contemporary world as it was to its past references. Baltz made this work only a few short years after relocating to Paris from California. He had revisited the Los Angeles landscape in 1991 to make a photograph, 11777 Foothill Blvd., Los Angeles, Ca., which captures, in scorching daylight, the scene of Rodney King’s beating by the LAPD. On color film rather than a viral amateur video, the site read as no less a damning portrait of the city. Furthermore, the Gulf War, which, as Cornelia H. Butler wrote, was “the first modern, apparently virtual combat,” was then under way. Similar to King’s mediated dehumanization, the Gulf War was a terror reported through video (night vision images of tracers, and still others from bomber-mounted cameras). The grain of video became a sign of the moment, of our society transposed, edited, and remixed, in ways that both depersonalized and emboldened.
Baltz has a long held fascination with architecture, of course, and the presentation of his work has always been architectonic. There were already strains of Ronde de Nuit in Baltz’s 1979 Park City. Then, Baltz transformed the emerging resort destination into a panoptic landscape. Across the 102-photograph series, Baltz’s mastery of concatenation was becoming clear. The work read as a series of passages, first on outskirts and mountaintops, then cycling inward toward new, deserted byways, onto foundations of future abodes, homes rising from sand, and still inward to unfinished drywall surfaces and, finally, a map plotting the territory we had just surveyed. Park City saw Baltz‘s camera as a dispassionate eye scrutinizing land use the way Google’s Street View camera-cars would later make redundant images of every last banal American street.
With Ronde de Nuit, the viewer has a newfound role, unique in Baltz’s work. We are no longer simply the spectator, reading his images. Instead we are put in a position such that we see the wires of data centers from behind the curtain of technological power. Furthermore, we are provided with the subjects being surveyed, their empty stares and mannerisms revealing that they are not aware of our presence. We see their homes and their sidewalk cafes. On the brink of a new era of infotainment and expanding information systems infrastructure, Baltz leaves us on a knife’s edge: does a dispassionate camera service a powerful public, or is private space at the mercy of emerging visual technologies?