[ Fig. 01 ] <i>Harems</i> (video still), 1991.

Opaque Transparencies

Denis Vaillancourt

A major figure in the 1980s, Marc Paradis has left behind him a body of work of iconic power. His daring, disturbing and uncompromising videos reflect upon romantic and sexual relationships between men and address the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of uniting one with the other.

[ Fig. 02 ] <i>The Path of the Ogre</i> (video still), 1981.

At first glance, some images in the works that this publication covers could be considered pornographic. Yet pornography has no content other than the graphic aspect that speaks to our sexual urges.

Physical relationships are one thing, relationships of the heart are another. Is it conceivable to find an equilibrium between the two? In the works presented, the discourse suggests that love and sex are not good bedfellows. The body’s need to exult overrides love and pushes it away when the time comes to satisfy its urges. The heart is expelled by a body otherwise preoccupied.

This duality manifests itself in Paradis’ work through the confrontation of words and images that rub up against each other without ever working in harmony. The question we must therefore ask is this: is harmony necessary? Can love and sex flirt with each other in parallel without ever committing to each other, without fusing together? Does one need to unite with the other? Does one need to destroy the other? In Lettre à un amant [Letter to a Lover, 1988], the dialogue is obscured by sexually explicit imagery, the words are eclipsed by the images’ opacity. Be they inscrutable, unmissable, oscillating or superimposed, the images take over, monolithic. They are impossible to ignore. Letter to a Lover is a perfect example. The ponderous visuals are abruptly cut by language. Superimposition isn’t a possibility: it has to be one or the other. Naked bodies collide with feelings that they neither want nor know how to incorporate; they want to take control, to enjoy the moment. The narrator reveals the contents of a painful and troubling missive, but viewers have to close their eyes to grasp them, so parasitic is the image.

[ Fig. 03 ] <i>Letter to a Lover</i> (video still), 1988.

While the protagonists see their actions lucidly and accept their choices as well as the consequences of them, sex boldly usurps and conquers feelings. In Le voyage de l’ogre (1981), the artist’s debut and an allegory of (his?) ‘coming out’, the story is boldly told with sincerity and neither prudishness nor taboo. For someone who has existed in the corners of their identity, this constitutes an essential step, a first step towards self-affirmation. Emerging from the shadows into the light can happen smoothly for some and through an expression of unbridled sexuality for others. The heart is paused, it is put on ice, or deeply anesthetized by the carnal command. Le voyage de l’ogre might represent the stage of self-affirmation. It is saying ‘It’s my body, I’ll do with it what I wish’, at risk of then saying ‘It’s my body. It does what it wants’. Must we satisfy the beast? Control it, kill it, or accept it? It is all a question of making choices and standing by them. But is it really? The parameters are defined by excess. The masturbation scenes, omnipresent and invasive in the majority of the videos, shape the limits of the process. What began as spontaneous and liberating becomes mechanical, automatic, pre-configured. The notion of pleasure becomes programmed. What appeared to be a choice soon reveals itself to be a need that, with a craving to satisfy, transforms surreptitiously into an addiction. To find pleasure in addiction is one thing, to become a slave to it is another. The notion of pleasure becomes distorted, it has deviated from its original path. Is this to compensate for the difficulty, the impossibility, indeed the refusal, to love?

[ Fig. 04 ] <i>Harems</i> (video still), 1991.

The gogo-boy must be killed, it is said in Harems (1991). As an indisputable symbol of programmed carnal pleasure, what does the go-go boy have to offer besides his body for pleasure? Should sexuality be sacrificed to allow love to manifest itself? But can love exist amputated from the former? And is the inverse possible? Connected vessels that don’t communicate; therein lies the dilemma. 

[ Fig. 05 ] <i>La cage</i> (video still), 1983.
[ Fig. 06 ] <i>La cage</i> (video still), 1983.

Because real communication between the men in Paradis’ videos does not exist, except through caresses and the friction of flesh. For example, La cage (1983) and Délivre-nous du mal [Deliver us from Evil, 1987] demonstrate a certain aimlessness of bodies that could be said to be drifting. The naked men, using few gestures, risk a smile, a caress, with no more precise goal than living in the ‘here and now’. They let themselves live in the moment without any resistance. The bodies bare and mutually excite themselves, conditioned to follow certain steps or the semblance of an orgiastic ritual. Their movements are mechanical, they lack passion. They are just gestures for their own sake. Love has no place here, nor even words, and the sex is without affects or lures. Does Simon not say, ‘one thing I have learned… is the banality of the orgasm… someone who jerks themselves off… who comes, who orgasms, is a poor schmuck… a nice line of coke is much better…’ (Deliver Us from Evil). The judgement seems severe but is also revealing. It is the impasse. In this suspended, frozen time, in which the bodies pose, motionless, like statues, a paper airplane thrown by the protagonist could signify that everything is up in the air, or futile perhaps, or both. Or is it a missive thrown to the water? A bottle in the sea? A hope of reconciliation? Or simply a statement of facts?

[ Fig. 07 ] <i>Deliver Us from Evil</i> (video still), 1987.

As deep as the discourse in Paradis’ body of work is, we can ask ourselves, why does it collide with images that act as barricades and claim the supremacy of the body?

Simon’s reflexions come from a tormented, lucid and blasé being, for whom sexuality seems to no longer have importance, and who even feels it to be futile. He will be the eternal gogo-boy condemned to die in Harems, Paradis’ final work. He must be delivered from this pain, for he cannot be tamed…?

[ Fig. 08 ] <i>Harems</i> (video still), 1991.

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