Marlene Dumas lectures in the Stedelijk Museum

Yesterday, Sunday November 9th, I participated in an event called Close-Up in the Stedelijk Museum. The occasion was the exhibition The Image as Burden of works by Marlene Dumas, one of my very favorite artists. I had never really studied her work. Hence, this program was an opportunity to look a bit more closely at some of the works. My take on it was the tension between portraiture, single and group, and between the very idea of the portrait when the artists never paints from life but instead, takes her models from the visual culture around her.This is part of a 100-image installation called Models that I consider programmatic. I called on Spinoza (yes, the 17th century guy) to explain Dumas’s radical politics in her work. There were two lectures, one by Dominic van den Boogerd titled Faces of Death, and my own, Faces of Life.

Start New Project: Reasonable Doubt

Our project Madame B is barely finished; we are still working on the DVD production, and distribution is still up in the air, after the fantastic première at the Stedelijk Museum. But due to circumstances too complicated to explain, I had no choice but to start my new project. ReasonableDoubt will be a double portrait of French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) and Queen Kristina of Sweden (1626-1689). Soon I will post a fuller presentation of this project. Last week we had a big shoot in the Netherlands, covering almost half of the project. Thanks to brilliant participants and generous helpers, advisors and hosts, we got the near-impossible done.
There was a preliminary to this shoot. In May I took advantage of the opening of the exhibition Madame B (Åland) to film Kristina as a child, played by Astrid Törneroos who had played Berthe in Madame B. Here you see her playing with soldiers, a game she was quite fond of once she was a queen.
To match this short, I filmed Descartes and his sister Jeanne in France at the end of August. Five year old Ambroise Lefèbvre played the philosopher-to-be, and his sister Olympe did a wonderful Jeanne, the sister who was René’s childhood companion. She is teaching him the use of the sense, here smell.
The big shoot was exciting and, as shoots tend to be, stressful. The results are still sleeping on hard dries, but what I have seen so far is wonderful. Thomas Germaine plays Descartes. Here he meets Isaac Beeckman, a Dutch mathematician who became a close friend. A bit later they fell out. Here they meet for the first time, when Descartes is serving in the army of Prince Maurice. Ilja Nieuwland plays Beeckman. Because Descartes’ conception of the subject is often and rightly said to be at the root of psychoanalysis, and because I portray him as a rather tormented personality, I decided that, instead of make him explain that conception, it was more dramatically interesting to make him an analytical patient. That way I could combine his view of subjectivity with his autobiographical musings in Discourse on Method, especially section 6.So, here you have our great man trying to explain himself to an analyst, played by Henk Hillenaar.
This is just a glimpse, no more than a snapshot of a project that, smaller and simpler than Madame B, is still very complex. The root of its complexity is the choice for an unusual genre, a double portrait. The two people who met only at the end of Descartes’ life were somehow quite similar in personality, in both cases doubtlessly occasioned by childhood traumas. I’ll keep you posted.