In our latest instalment of #OnMyMind – a monthly curation of artists we admire – Instagram account @ideapdf has selected the unbound book IN)ABSENTIA by Olivier Pin-Fat to uncover the engrossing mystery behind Pin-Fat's ethereal work. The story goes that one lonesome night in Bangkok, 1995, a man walked around stubbing cigarettes out on his body before he metaphorically - and literally - 'crashed'. On one tab of acid, Pin-Fat photographed the 'crashed man'. Holding a camera that he recalls as 'feeling like marshmallows', Pin-Fat used one roll of film - something that remained untouched for 25 years until 2020.
An artist dedicated to analogue photography, Olivier Pin-Fat's approach to his work is visceral and experimental. IN)ABSENTIA imbues the essence of forgotten memory, aiming to retract, reinterpret and manipulate the past through a brutally honest exploration of the notions of time and perception, manipulating images to erode and disappear, just like his memory of that night - a spaced-out photographer photographing a spaced-out stranger. Each frame has been hand-printed in a darkroom with various analogue printing techniques in homage to the faded experience of the psychedelic drugs; black and white is interrupted with bursts of a fauvist colour palette. His artist's statement, recalling the somewhat fractured night, is written as follows:
In terms of answering the question, 'why I decided to paint over the photographs', I want to start with trying to put both the past and present into context, as both themes are pretty pertinent to the whole notion of time and memory I'd been playing with. Actually, let's go back to the flat two-dimensional plane, the photograph and the developed roll of film - a contact sheet that I'd thrown in an envelope and completely forgotten about until now). I'd been using the old contact sheet I made from 1995 and incorporating it into some installations (the exhibition' Eyes wild Open' at the Museum of Botanique in Brussels and 'Hunger' by the Void team in Athens). It was with Void (in my issue of Hunger), I started cutting up this contact sheet into multiple grids and strips. It was only a matter of time before I would take this cutting up technique of the contact sheet that I had begun with Void, even further.
After publication, later on, that year I was looking at the contact sheet (then 25 years old), observing the surface more than the photograph itself. As you know, over time, the chemical stains become more prominent, as if they're beginning to bleed out of the fibres and silver with more potency, haemorrhaging. This idea of visible decay, either through chemistry, or the alchemy of light and time, has always interested me, aesthetically and otherwise. I find it so brutally honest in its rejection of attempting to preserve and 'frame' with time. It confronts the photographic medium head-on, with a sense of naked immediacy. There's no point in framing (metaphorically speaking); it's just all vanishing, very, very slowly.
So, I was holding this contact sheet up into the light and tilting it at different angles, studying the sheen and decaying silver halides under the surface in phosphorescent light that outlined the man I'd photographed in 1995. These outlines were glistening and sparkling in silver; stencilled, delineated, it was all very interesting to me. So interesting, it gave me the idea to print the entire roll of film from beginning to end. Frame by frame, something I'd never done before. Nothing edited out, all frames rendered ‘equal’, a short cinematic sequence; all inclusive.
That was all in 2019, the present, so to speak. Now I'm going to write about the past, that night, and that night's events. At the time (this is 1995, in Bangkok, I was 25), my partner was a co-owner of an underground bar, so I'd often be hanging out there at nighttime. It's worth mentioning that a lot of drugs flowed through that place (Bangkok has always been a gateway due to its close proximity to the Golden Triangle). There was 'top grade' heroin, tabs of LSD (or blotters) smuggled into Thailand in CD cases from Europe (they were a real novelty due to their rarity/scarcity); anyway, you get the picture. I forget precisely how a few friends and I ended up taking these tabs of acid, but we did.
Suddenly I was in the 'inter-zone stage, the stage before the full strength of the drug takes hold, and you're flying somewhere in the crab nebula, and you still have your faculties functioning, but the 'screen' is beginning to shift kaleidoscope - no hallucinations, yet, this is before everything happens - like a camera, for example, makes complete nonsense to you. A camera feels like a marshmallow when you hold it, you're under the delusion that you're in control, but you're not. That was me; I was like that when I saw him.
I always had a camera on me in those days, so I just focused and began photographing. I seriously don't remember the actuality of photographing him; I obviously knew he had 'crashed' because I'd seen him around and bumped into him and talked to him quite a few times before this weird night of disturbing conjunctions. In this Asian setting, he was German, totally lost, totally wired, totally manic or insane. He had that 'edge' to him, something was following him, and I could, or thought I could at least, feel it in a flash as if this tumultuous halo of pterodactyls crowned him…as if you could feel the presence of imminent death when you spoke to him, his death... it was as if he'd been walking around the neighbourhood in endless figures of 8, no sleep, no rest, just walking from one street to another, repeating the motions again and again, for days, nights. He was topless, wore jeans, had manic eyes. He would always stub cigarettes out on his body whilst walking around, aimlessly.
I called him the 'crashed man'.
So, as mentioned, I decided to print the entire roll for the very first time frame by frame in 2019. Breaking the contact sheet up entirely, and the grid to work on every singular frame without the impositions of an 'edit'. For me, this work was never about 'good photography' or 'good painting', it was more about complete demolition than anything else. This is an anti-edit. This is anti-art. This is anti-book. This is anti-photography. This is about memory & reinterpretation. I wanted to, somehow, through the brutal paintwork, retrace those aesthetic elements I saw when tilting the contact sheet in the light and seeing the figure outlined in silver, to create this man as if he had literally fallen from outer space and landed on the pavement indenting it by 2 feet. I also wanted to paint him (again brutally and crudely, naively even), ton make it appear like he was hovering from 2 feet above the pavement, like a hologram - a complete animation.
I painted old 1990's inkjet transparency film that were used for overhead projectors to create the templates. 1990’s projector transparency film suited the project in so many ways. Notions of the cinematic are introduced (projection), notions of photographic enlargements in the darkroom (projection) also. But most importantly, memory, in a sense, is a layering of templates, of reinterpretations, of projections, and this old 1990’s painted inkjet transparency film being placed on the photograph not only added to the work but eliminated what needed to be taken out. For me, the painting strips the image bare, rather than embellishing it. It makes it bleaker which, in turn, makes the crashed man more exposed, isolated, vulnerable and raw. Some of the pages - like the cover in fact - are a combination of these painted templates with their origins in photography, but of course, the photographs are missing. This is how he appears in IN)ABSENTIA, (as he was meant to, is he really dead? Where is he? Where was he? Where was I?) templates upon templates, nuances upon nuances; the meaning and suggestion to me is obvious. This painting was done at the end of 2019. For the Special Collectors edition, I painted directly onto the prints which emphasised that feeling of animation even more. I decided to adopt the painting medium for all the reasons briefly touched on above. It's certainly not something I would want to appropriate into my repertoire or practice. It makes sense to me as it is, in IN)ABSENTIA.