The Black Room
In the film The Black Room, the Dutch artist Melvin Moti has written and directed an interview with the French surrealist artist, Robert Desnos (1900–1945), about the obscure sleep-writing séances that took place in Paris in February 1923. This interview has been enacted for the film.
Robert Desnos was known for extraordinary skills, namely ‘a natural facility for self-hypnosis’ even during daytime, and for his explorations in sleep-writing. He apparently wrote poems and full stories in these periods, which Simone Breton wrote down. The sleep-writing séances were intense experiments, however, that only went on for a year since many surrealists – like Desnos himself – developed an addiction to them, and also sleeping and eating disorders. Not to mention Desnos’ chasing writer Paul Eluard with a knife. The latter led André Breton to dismiss the sleep-writing séances in 1923.
On the image side of the film, the camera explores in a meditative pace the murals of the Roman Villa Agrippa near Pompeii (8). The panels represent free-floating ‘natural’ illustrations in infinite, ‘unreal’ black space and derive from the villa’s ‘Black Room’. “This new style, springing up from Pompeii, marks the passage from realistic illusion towards an imaginary and intangible representation of the world, from trompe-l’oeil to magic.” (9)
Spiritual phenomena play an important role in Melvin Moti’s work together with the exploration of how experiences are transmitted and reconstructed. Moti is informed by the scientific approach to spiritualism as it occurred in the 19th century and recently also published The Biography of a Phantom, 2006. In this book you find a careful reconstruction of the serial appearances over more than a century of England’s first officially recognized medium, Katie King. Her first recorded materialisation was in 1852.
Text by Solvej Helweg Ovesen (From: The Throne Stays Empty)
8 The murals were found as the villa was excavated at the beginning of the 20th century. They are preserved in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
9 Thomas Michelon, The Black Room, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, 2005.
16mm on DVD, 24 min
Courtesy the artist