Dreaming of Le Gibet is a magical journey that unravels the mind at sleep. Featuring 24 black-and-white photographic pieces (each 110cm x 55cm), this hallucinatory work by the contemporary British artist James Dean Diamond draws on the music of the French composer Joseph-Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) – in particular, his 1908 piano piece ‘Gaspard de la Nuit’ (‘The Keeper of the Night’). The inspiration lies with the temporal and formal innovations of Ravel’s second movement ‘Le Gibet’, which reveal a ‘nonlinearity, continuity and discontinuity’1, paralleling the obscure nature of dreams.
Using urban environs to illustrate a state of mind, the artwork oscillates between figuration and abstraction. Diamond conceives the work in film, with formal rigour, over a period of five years. Shooting in London and Paris with multiple exposures – up to 200 within a frame - structures, constructions, surfaces, space and scale are overlaid to make a unified composition.
This twilight state – Diamond’s most cinematic – is imbued with an ambiguity within which ethereal figures and unidentifiable buildings merge into an abstracted pictorial language. Alluding to Dante’s Inferno and Francisco de Goya’s etchings, the densely black compositions lure the viewer to a stage engulfed by a metaphysical darkness – a revolutionary crowd stirs to assemble at a medieval public gallows. Other pieces are set amid the resemblance of a nuclear shock wave, where the disintegration of architecture exposes skeletal frames. Diamond’s thoughts are clouded by the plight of ‘the world’s 65 million forcibly displaced people (the most ever recorded)’2 and an unease towards the rise of nationalism.
Diamond’s own dreams have triggered his fascination with the field of oneirology, the scientific study of dreams. Brain-mapping research suggests dreams are contributed to the transference of the short-term memory, a day or a week into a long-term retention. From an unconscious state the brain awakens and permits the semiconscious to observe the collation, slicing and sequence of multiple scenes. Diamond’s visually complex vistas contemplate the uncertainty that pervades these fragmented images – and present a world where ‘time scintillates, and the dream is knowledge’3.
1 Jessie Fillerup Temporal Strategies in Ravel’s Le Gibet, March 2013
2 Simon Kuper The power of a Syrian success story, Financial Times, 15/16 April 2017
3 Paul Valéry Le Cimetière marin, The Graveyard by the sea, 1922