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Reflections on The Loop
Les Ateliers des Capucins in Brest, until April 7

06 March 2024


I was stumped. For the first time in a decade of writing music criticism, I’d been given an assignment to cover a concert for a European festival book.

Though it should have been straightforward, my instructions were anything but. I was supposed to write about the visual experience of the show as much as the music.

“Think of it as a 1960s Be-In,” the curator told me. “Laptop VJs, Cold War image projections, and trance techno, with the DJ playing on the floor while the crowd gets colonized by the sight and sound.”

“How am I supposed to do this?” I asked. The show was in Austria, and I was in San Francisco.

“Just watch the video,” she said, handing me a VHS tape. “You’ll never think of Einstein’s theory of special relativity the same way again.”

I’d studied the scientist in school, and understood the concept. It was one of those ideas that even if you failed physics, you got the gist from its events like this.

Repurposed for a concert, the idea was to facilitate a shared experience of space and time, something rapidly disappearing in the post-Cold War world of nationalism.

That was also 2004, a time when youth culture was getting taken over by gaming, and record collections were being replaced by iPods.

The demand for a review of an immersive experience, like the Austrian trance show I’d be hired to write about it, made sense. High tech the experience of culture.

This epitomised the transition. Though it was supposed to be a music piece, the article was about an immersive experience of which it was only a part.

I hadn’t thought about this assignment for two decades until reading the description of The Loop installation at Les Ateliers des Capucins, in Brest.

The show’s program explains how “In The Loop, the presence of experiencers activates one of the multiple universes that could derive from Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity.“

That’s not to reduce The Loop to anything as simple as the concert I’d been assigned to write about two decades before. If you know the artists involved, The Loop is another universe entirely.

It’s more about Einstein's persistence as an intellectually relevant figure that captured me. If you go with that in mind, I am sure the show will communicate something similar, too.

The experience facilitated by The Loop speaks for itself.

Experiencers enter it, activate a Spatiotemporal Tale, and undertake an audiovisual journey in which their bodies and movements generate visual lines, triggering voices and dialogue.

A transcription of these voices recounts a cause-and-effect explanation of time, describing what makes it move forward and what doesn’t. It’s Einstein in a nutshell.

If you’re looking for allegories, it’s all about history and human agency, about how change happens and drives progress. The same Einstein that inspired the post-Cold War DJ event.

The sensual nature of The Loop and what it takes to move time forward - the program uses hand motion as an example - is especially poignant.

This is important not only in describing what makes the mechanics of the installation work but also in describing the effort required to keep time—and history—moving.

To wit, when the experiences stop moving, and the timelines inside The Loop fall to the ground.

This isn’t the final word on The Loop, by any stretch of the imagination. Think of it as the newspaper version, typical of a culture section.

The Loop is an opening of Le sas and Cervval in partnership with the Ateliers des Capucins, a production of La métonymie with the support of the Université Paris-Saclay, the Diagonale Paris-Saclay and Artcast4D.

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