Alain Fleischer on Barthes’ heritage and crisis of visual culture

Alain Fleischer on Barthes’ heritage and crisis of visual culture

On October 22-24, 2015 EHU and Vilnius University organized “Times of Roland Barthes” conference, dedicated to centenary of the distinguished French theorist. Famous French film director, photoartist and Honorary Doctor of EHU Alain Fleisсher participated in the conference as one of keynote speakers.

Are the ideas of Roland Barthes still relevant, whether visual culture is in crisis, and what are the most common challenges for Belarusian students - Alain Fleischer shared his opinion in the following interview.

Monsieur Fleischer, these days you are participating in the conference organized by EHU and Vilnius University, dedicated to centenary of Roland Barthes’ birth. How would you describe the role of Barthes in contemporary visual and cultural studies?

I was very surprised how important the texts and books by Roland Barthes are in our world, and I was very interested in seeing how even 100 years after his birth and many years after his death people around the world still study and discover him in several languages. Nowadays Barthes can be re-studied and re-read and we can continue to discover the meanings of his ideas.

Would you agree that Barthes belongs to the group of the most influential European thinkers of the 20th century? Why?

Yes, he still belongs to the group of people, who became important not only for me personal, but also for my generation in France. There was very strong activity in the field of Humanities in 70’s. We were young and fascinated by questioning language, anthropology, sociology. He was kind of guide for us. He represented the structuralism for us, a way to think and to work that defined our minds. I didn't proceed being a researcher or professor, but as an artist, director and photographer, I’m sure that my work has been formed by Barthes and by some others of the period. Of course theories and ideas have been dying. I’m not sure, whether Barthes’ works will be relevant in 15 or 20 years, but now we can see he is not forgotten at all. He continues to teach us images and relations between text and image. I'm sure he is a very important person. There are very important masters like Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault on the French science scene of 60-70’s. And we can compare, how different the current situation is. Those great names have been disappearing from student attention. If you visit class of linguistics or semiotics, there would be only 10 students while earlier there had been 300.

What are the greatest challenges of visual and cultural studies?

I think that less and less students are interested in researching it. That’s all because of the social situation. In those days people didn’t think a lot about future living or possibility about being unemployed, they felt confident in the study field, became teachers, published own books. And nowadays students are afraid of life challenges, job possibilities. That’s why they prioritize economics or finances. People want to become rich, but nobody cares about intellectual richness.

In 2013 European Humanities University awarded you Doctor Honoris Causa for your distinguished contributions to strengthen cultural ties between France and Belarus. What would be your advice to EHU students, who consider to deepen in visual and cultural studies?

I was very honored and also surprised by this [award]. But what have I actually done? I just came to Belarus and filmed the documentary, read some lectures and seminars, presented my works and tried to find students to come to France. I’d like to see students coming to France to study and to produce films and also to see interest of French students in Belarus. I’d expect increase of such exchanges, because students that I have already met in my school are very successful. Most of them became successful artists, some of them were rewarded in France or Germany. They are just brilliant. I know, they exhibit in many countries and work in cooperation with students from USA, Europe, and, for instance, Brazil.

Political situation is one thing and people’s relations - another one. We can build stable connections whatever the situation is. It is absolutely inappropriate that EHU had to leave Minsk. But now EHU exists in Vilnius and successfully follows its mission. I’d appreciate to foster exchanges between young people from France and Belarus.

Your students should be more confident in their possibilities. I figured out,when they come to France they professionally use an artistic language and technical means. Otherwise if they remain in the same place, they won’t be successful enough.


Interviewed by Aliaksandra Makas

Co-financed by:European Commission