The fascination of ruins, Georg Simmel wrote in 1907, is that they ‘allow a human work to be almost perceived as a product of nature’.
With its bird’s-eye view (thanks to a drone) of the deserted alleys of Pompeii and the lunar and menacing heights of Stromboli, Soleil Noir, a 16 mm film created in 2014 for the ‘Soleil Double’ exhibition, seems similarly to reflect on the association between artificial and natural, inert and lively, landscape and humanity – even without visible humans.
In the ancient Roman city (ultimate symbol of the power of ruins upon the imagination), the only movement comes from the spectral figure of a dog, with the air of a mythological beast escaped from a fresco, and the unguided machinic eye of the drone. In Soleil Noir, humanity exists only in the negative, the absent mode. It is not, however, relegated to the long-gone past of the conventional historical universe. If to stand before ruins
is to stand before time, what Soleil Noir offers, with its parallel editing and hypnotic soundtrack, is an opportunity to stand before a time characterised by its undecidability.
This is an abstract time, capable of evoking not only the mythic time before time (so often stirred up by the fury of volcanoes and other natural catastrophes), but also what was and will be no more, as well as what may come. For ruins remind us of our ineluctable finitude, joining the past to the future and the robotic performance of the drone in the face of our fragility.
A technical instrument attempting to do without humanity – and which could constitute the sign of a potential catastrophe to come (or already here?) – the drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle whose military mission is to survey and destroy.
The philosopher Gregoire Chamayou has demonstrated how drones radically modify the ethics and philosophy of war: they are warriors without a battle or a battlefield, turning humans into targets, offering a very particular political and affective economy of the relationship to death (dealt or risked).
But the drone also evokes the contradiction of a vision at once mechanic and subjective, whose prowess and power provoke strong reactions.
Answering the ancient desire to see more, better, and otherwise, the drone substitutes for conventional human vision a form of intoxication through fluid movement and elevated viewpoint.
The aporia of this vision results from a strictly ‘modern’ conception and reading of the world, as demonstrated by the various works of Bruno Latour. A mechanic actor endowed with a genuine power to act, the drone flying over Pompeii and Stromboli indeed seems a cognitively capable and free-willed entity whose thought and will are unfathomable.