Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Pictures at an Exhibition by Chris Marker


The human cortex has difficulty in discriminating between and re-combining entirely distinct, autonomous stimuli. No doubt there are musical pieces which aim to mime, to accompany verbal and figurative themes. There is ‘program music’ for storms and calm, for festivities and lamentation. Mussorgsky sets to music ‘paintings at an exhibition.’ There is film music, often essential to the visual-dramatic script. But these are justly taken to be secondary, mongrel species. Where it is per se, where it is according to Schopenhauer more enduring than man, music is neither more nor less than itself. The ontological echo lies to hand: ‘I am what I am.’

George Steiner, The Poetry of Thought, 16

Hartmann’s sudden death on 4 August 1873 from an aneurysm shook Mussorgsky along with others in Russia’s art world. The loss of the artist, aged only 39, plunged the composer into deep despair. Stasov helped to organize a memorial exhibition of over 400 Hartmann works in the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg in February and March 1874. Mussorgsky lent to the exhibition the two pictures Hartmann had given him, and viewed the show in person. Later in June, two-thirds of the way through composing his song cycle, Sunless, Mussorgsky was inspired to compose Pictures at an Exhibition, quickly completing the score in three weeks (2–22 June 1874) – Wikipedia

Take a look at this trouvaille as well, which gives to Pictures at an Exhibition an interactivity that may have been Marker’s true intention for the project:


  • A new wave of Collages in the early 21th century ? In any case, sometimes funny, sometimes moving on the human tragedies, the scars of the history and the assumptions for the future.
    Serait-ce une nouvelle vague de l’art du collage au début de ce vingt-et-unième siècle ? En tous cas, parfois drôle, parfois émouvant sur les tragédies humaines, les brulures de l’histoire et les hypothèses du futur.

  • After “Sunless”, yes. Hé hé hé ! It’s well known that Myster Marker respects nothing : he hijacks not only paintings, he also hijacks the titles.
    Après “Sans Soleil”, oui. Hé hé hé ! C’est bien connu que Monsieur Marker ne respecte rien : il ne détourne pas seulement les tableaux, il détourne aussi les titres.

  • I have seen it again and again. Very good ideas. Never senseless. Sometimes, as a game to be solved. But what’s this magnificent music arousing a poignant effect ?

  • Marker hijacks nothing. He adds a sense of history and actuality to caltural icons (paintings) and “makes love” with his beloved music.

  • Interesting. Problem of translation? An hijack of pictures is necessarily pejorative? Perhaps “use of pictures” would be better.

  • If “respect” is to leave everything alone, sit quietly in your room and make no trouble, to never make cultural references or détournements, then perhaps he “respects nothing”. For me, Marker shows an infinite degree of respect to the subject matters – small or large – that he engages with, including the art in this virtual gallery promenade that he morphs, mutates, crafts into new art. Beyond respect, there is that inimitable sense of humor at work throughout, a kind of playfulness of the child-master.

  • Joyful. Moving. Magnificent. One of the most beautiful things that I saw these last years (the art became today so sad and sinister).

  • je me nomme Hélène,; je suis la nièce de Hélène Mangatsas.J’ai entendu parlé de Chris Marker toute ma vie.Les soeurs d’Hélène dont ma maman ne parlaient que de vous deux.Qui etes vous Chris Marker?

  • D’autres lecteurs ici ont posé la même question: Qui est Chris Marker? Nous non plus ne le savons pas. À mon avis existe-il pour la plupart dans son travail, un peu comme Montaigne. Nous, nous ne sommes pas CM, seulement des gens qui sont des fans loyaux de celui-ci. Pour trouver un peu de biographie, vous pouvez consulter cette page:
    Peut-être votre famille a fait la connaissance de CM n’importe quand dans le passé? ou bien simplement ont admiré ses travaux cinématographiques, comme nous?

Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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