Madame B: When Love Fails Us

31 January - 28 February 2014
Museum Bärengasse, Zürich, Switzerland
Michelle Williams Gamaker & Mieke Bal

This small “satellite exhibition” consisted of six works on monitors, and one projection. The idea was to present to the population of the university’s cultural studies program, and especially the large group of students in the MA program of curatorial studies directed by Dorothee Richter, an example of how to curate, or more modestly, put together a group of videos so that they become a meaningful ensemble. Given the young and academic audience we selected from the Madame B Project works related to the theme of love, its illusions, and the dangers of falling blindly for its lures and allures. For us this was also a nice counterpoint to the exhibition in Tallinn, which we had focused on the capitalism and consumerism.

The works selected and combined were “Education”, where the young woman (here anonymous) is learning, resisting, and enthusiastically throwing herself into the arts. The idea is to reflect on the impact of learning on the future of the young woman who is, like we are all, susceptible to influences that can lead her in any direction, including fatal ones. In the second work, the same woman, now married, is at home, and bored to death. We called this film “Boredom”. We found the juxtaposition of these two films, one holding promise, the other of stagnation, conducive to reflection on active deployment of talents versus passivity. On contrast, a third work, “Short-Lived Excitement” presents the counterpoint to the woman’s later attempts to embark on what she considers long-term excitement; here in the form of a love affair. The earlier work demonstrates beforehand that the reality is that excitement is by definition of short duration. This film is also using quotations from Maya Deren’s experimental films to make the point that even before the excitement starts it is already doomed.