R for Real
3-channel video installation
(hd, colour, strereo sound), 3 x 3',
The CNEFG (Centre National d’Entraînement des Forces de Gendarmerie, based in Saint-Astier, France) has set up a urban environment for training the police force in urban guerilla tactics. This ambitious “stage set” is a highly significant example of a certain way of superimposing fiction on reality by imitating that reality as closely as possible: the Gendarmes are confronted with a real problem—urban violence—which they learn to deal within a fictional site.
R for Real blurs the lines between this fiction and reality. Police officers at the CNEFG play themselves (except for those who, during the performance, play the rioters) and the entire exercise is controlled, unlike a real riot that can get out of hand at any moment. And yet everything seems real—the façades of buildings, the cars set on fire, the objects that get thrown, the tear gas, the taunting of rioters, the police charges, the arrests. Except that, at a given moment, a signal announces the end, when it becomes clear that it was all a game.
R for Real is a video triptych presented as three consecutive projections viewed by the beholder one after another. The first sequence shows the site, based on slow shots of details of the buildings. Nothing indicates that this is just a set. In the second sequence, we see the same location but this time there is great agitation—an urban riot is underway, and a nervous camerawork shows the clashes between police and rioters. Everything seems very real. Then the third sequence reveals the whole arrangement: starting with mock rioters waiting to go into action, the camera zooms out to reveal the surrounding countryside and the limits of the urban stage set.
In the first and second sequences, we notice the discreet presence of a character dressed in a pink, short-sleeved shirt of the type worn on vacation. And we recognize the trademark of "War Tourist", a character created in 2004. The War Tourist travels the world to visit cities that have recently experienced war or disaster. He goes there once calm has returned, and he hires a guide to take him on a tour of the most heavily affected zones. The War Tourist is someone who gets a close look at destruction, chaos, and the suffering of others; he constantly seeks ever stronger sensations to quench his appetite for strong imagery, all the while wanting to remain safe. Thus he was inevitably attracted to the CNEFG, which provides a dose of strong imagery within the controlled environment of play and performance.