Time (Clock of the Heart): On 315 and Artistes en Zone Troublés


At the beginning of Daniel Jacoby’s 15-minute video 315, a hand in a suit and shirt redolent of those worn by 1950s magicians, pianists or music hall performers flits around in isolation. Are we about to witness a sleight of hand? As it disappears, a voiceover in Spanish introduces the protagonist: “31 May 1985: I’m born in Lima, Peru.” The date becomes a recurring motif, a thread that ties together historical facts, personal stories and handheld, analogue archive footage, mostly captured on a camcorder.

As we hear about the artist’s birth, footage sweeps across of a woman holding a baby while other people, presumably family, look on, smiling. In the background, the sound of a slap bass ploughs away like the music accompanying the loading screen of a 1980s arcade game. As the camera pans and the disgruntled child exits the frame, we hear a crucial piece of information, a shadow that will haunt the next eight minutes: “31 May 1989: An unfortunate event occurs in my country.” This fragment of detail provides the fulcrum around which what follows turns. So, the ground is set for a collage of personal, political and historical material, that invites us to examine overlaps and find meaningful connections in the spaces between.

The narrator begins to list historical events that occurred on 31 May throughout the years. For instance, it’s the date the White Star Line certified the list of passengers aboard the HMS Titanic in the Southern Ocean in 1912 (75% of the deaths were of adult men, we later learn), and the date the first football World Cup match was televised in colour in Mexico in 1970. Then mid-way through, the screen hits black. By this point, the bass has stopped, and the family home footage ceases, too.

Jacoby’s project here is about making visible the violence that polite society would have us forget: on 31 May 1989, members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla army, conducted a targeted murder on a group of transgender people in Tarapoto, a city in northern Peru. Jacoby appears to deliberately obscure the details of the incident to situate it in the broader nexus of the film, which associates the tragedy within the trajectory of his life. Jacoby’s voiceover discusses the murder as if it were a military procedure without mentioning the attack by name (Tarapoto Massacre or the Night of the Gardenias). At the same time, saturated abstract footage of the interior of a nightclub flash across the screen. What happened on 31 May 1989 has left a lasting imprint on the artist and the country’s LGBTQ+ communities, but information about the incident is scant online even now.

315 angles at how the everyday patterns of our lives can be implicated in broader political issues and how inimical forces often lie beneath the surface of familiar constellations. What opens is a channel to think about gender, its construction, and its childhood conditioning. As Jacoby ties these disparate incidents (the World Cup, the Titanic, birthday parties and birth) together, the hands of men flash across the screen—they are folded, holding guns, fictional and real. The final hand is that of a footballer, his fingers outstretched; his glove reveals he must be a goalkeeper from the match on 31 May 1970.

The use of personal archive footage to explore a broader historical narratives connects 315 to Stéphane Gérard’s Artistes en Zone Troublés. While Jacoby’s film links an event in his nation’s history to his own biography and relationship to queerness, Gérard assembles pioneering French filmmaker Lionel Soukaz’s archive to celebrate the latter’s late lover, Hervé Couergou, and concurrently speak to the wider, transnational moment of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Gérard scoured over 2000 hours of personal, diaristic footage shot by Soukaz throughout the early 1990s to produce a 39-minute film that reads like a dedication to its protagonist. “My name is Hervé Couergou. I am 29 years old, and, really, it’s been years that I have felt sick without being sick—and that’s just fine,” Couergou, a handsome young man smoking a cigarette, tells the camera roughly two minutes into the film. “We are afraid, afraid and afraid again, and even more afraid,” he continues. The ‘we’ to which he refers articulates the anxiety of a generation of his peers, who were losing their friends and monitoring their own health during the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis. By 1996, Couergou would be dead, and through the film, he becomes the narrator of his own passing. It’s a heartbreaking and intimate document of a love affair and life, often containing seemingly incidental shots in living rooms and around dining tables. Soukaz’s footage seems to withstand the process of historicization whereby the reality of suffering becomes cheapened as an artefact. Seeing this in 2024, its quotidian and hand-held nature allows us to sit in on their relationship, and the everyday experiences of living with HIV at that time, the film’s timestamp operating as a temporal indicator. It all feels remarkably familiar.

Midway through the film (timestamp: 4/10/1994), Couergou approaches an advert for lice repellent on the Paris underground, writing in small letters on its surface in black pen: “come without hindrances but with condoms.” There’s always a sense that he is rethinking how to communicate his experience and leave behind something useful for his community. How might artists support one another?

Couergou often leaves traces in the form of writing or drawings. In another scene, he lip-syncs to a French song whose lyrics are: ‘life is making me tough, fragile and tough’. This moment is particularly captivating as shots of the playful illustrations etched across his window and in his notepads appear overlayed, creating a psychedelic effect.

Couergou is often associated with his lovers, either Soukaz or the writer Doug Ireland. However, with Artistes en Zone Troublés, Gérard places him at the centre of the work, allowing us to appreciate his words and playful nature. After his opening admission, we are acutely aware of time working against him. His belief in the power of art to transcend tragedy emerges vividly, but ultimately, we’re left wondering what could have been.