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David Claerbout’s Indecisive Moments

David Claerbout, The Algiers' Sections of a Happy Moment, 2008, single-channel video projection, 1920 × 1600, black and white, stereo audio, 37min, still. All images courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, London, Zürich and New York
Erika Balsom considers the imaginary moment created by David Claerbout’s digital manipulations of photographs, finding in the artist’s return to pictorialism a deep-seated desire to represent time past. On an improvised football pitch atop a roof in Algiers, a smiling man holds his arm aloft to offer a seagull a piece of food. The gull hovers above him, its wings pushed forward. Their gazes seem to meet. A look of wonder has spread across the man’s face. Neighbourhood boys hang around behind the encounter. One looks away; another tries to pull himself up to sit on the ledge; and two more cast their eyes towards the sky. Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote that everything in the world has its decisive moment, and for this bird and this man, this might be it. The photograph has captured a fleeting instant the human eye could never apprehend with such precision, and has inscribed it as an enduring representation.