The great Don Quijote Shoot in Murcia

After a great week in Gdansk, Poland, of which you can see the report on the exhibition page Story-Telling in Bits & Pieces, I continued to do just that: collectively telling stories in bits & pieces, of which Miguel de Cervantes was the unequalled master. Without adequate funding I thought I’d never be able to make the dream come true of making a Don Quijote adequate for our time without the usual ridiculing of the old man. But thanks to innumerable volunteers, all friends of friends, we are now already half-way and have a museum exhibition in Sweden vouched for. Hence, this week:

Return to Murcia, where we had such a fantastic adventure in early May around the exhibition opening of Contaminaciones: leer, imaginar, visualizar / Contaminations: reading, imagining, imaging. and shooting the first scene of Don Quijote: Sad Countenances. This time we are going to shoot 5 scenes, around the issue of the difficulty of communication. This part of the project has been selected to fit the profile of the Faculty of Humanities, which sponsored this shooting week. I selected these particular scenes for the reason that it will be installed it in September when we celebrate the 25th anniversary of ASCA. On September 25 the installation will be opened. The next day, colleague and friend Margriet Schavemaker will give her inaugural lecture as professor, and the day after, an ASCA Summit will be held, followed by the inaugural lecture of Esther Peeren, current scientific director of ASCA. All this to contextualize the shoot in Murcia. Photo by Viviana Moin, who plays Sancho Panza.

Meanwhile, I went to Gdansk, in Poland, for a huge event, on which I have reported in the section on exhibitions, Story-Telling in Bits & Pieces. The Summer promises to be hot in more senses than one. I aim to briefly report on every day of the shoot, if I have the energy…

The camera operator Jesús Segura is a hero. He devotes his week, his energy, his talent as a great artist, to making DQ happen. Muchísimas gracias, Jesús! Thanks to photographer Mar Saéz I can symbolically show you his self-effacing labor:

Here you see the directing crew, in a photo by José Martín Izquierdo. On the right, Miguel and his friend Isabel Durante, someone I just met in May and who took upon herself to organize the entire week, including recruiting extras:

Thursday morning: I did not have that energy, but here is a short in-between report. The Murcia shoot, now already half-way, is going very well indeed. The complicated scene 10, on the young man Cardenio who has become mad when his best friend married Cardenio’s fiancée, was shot in a mountainous forest. The landscape participates as a character. The actor, Theor Román, did a brilliant madness number.

And my friend Miguel is the best fake priest I ever saw. Today he is going to marry Cardenio’s financé to his rival.

Yesterday June 26 we filmed a scene in a theatre. Don Quijote tries to speak to the public but he cannot manage it without bursting into sobs. Here you see the close collaboration between actor and director.
But one of the best decision has been to assign the role of Sancho Pança to Mathieu’s friend Viviana Moin, an Argentine performance artist. They make a great duo, as this photo by artist Mar Saéz clearly shows.

For me, he project is to connect cultural heritage, that is, Cervantes and his traumatizing experience of five years of slavery, his novel consisting of bits&pieces, with today’s world in shambles. No ridiculing of an old man and a working-class servant, as all DQ films without exception do; no artificial unity where none is appropriate; no linearity with its evolutionist arrogance.
And to think intensively about what we can do with art and thought for today’s world, which is as much in shambles as it was in Cervantes’s time. And laughter can nourish this, on the condition that it is not at the expense of, but with others, in the joy of learning. Mar Saez has captured this nuance with subtlety.

Friday morning, from 9 to 1, under 40 degrees. The final day, with the complex scene of Marcela, which I have retitled “Woman as Anti-Suicide Bomb”. A group of five mornings are crying over the dead body of their friend Grisóstomo, who killed himself after being rejected by the beautiful shepherdess Marcela. The five students did a great job crying, howling, and then accusing Marcela, who wanders by, of having killed him.

After pronouncing her firm “no es no”, Don Quijote comes racing in to defend her. After threatening the men with the sword (the camera-genic one that was given to me in Helsinki!) Marcela pushes him away and says it again, this time to the camera (meaning: to all viewers): no es no. Dr Irene Vilaescusa, one of the PhDs from ASCA I like to boast about, played a beautiful Cervantine feminist heroine.

The blue raincoat which served to make a bit of shadow won’t be visible in the video. These two photos were made again by artist Mar Saez.

Helsinki: Honor, History, Happiness

Last week, May 22-24, I had an experience unequalled by anything before. At moments, it felt like carnival, at others, like historical costume drama. But more profoundly, it felt like a (re-)encounter with commitments and values. During the boat ride, like tourism, and during the final Ball, I was just amazed that so many people had invested so much time and energy in organizing an awesome event: historic dances, for which they had rehearsed months and months. I had a dance with the Dean:

What happened? I was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Helsinki. It turned out I had been nominated by professor Kirsi Saarikangas, historian of modern architecture, by chance I bumped into her last September in Torino, when she said to expect a letter from her university. I have had such honors before - in Bergen, Norway, in 1996, and in Luzern, in 2016. The award events are always both moving and fun. But what made this event so impressive was the serious engagement with a historical tradition. Look here for an impression, with Kirsi:

The elaborate ceremony was first done in 1643, five years after Queen Kristina (the 12) founded the university. During the dinner after the conferment ceremony, I was asked to give a speech, in response to a speech to the honorary doctors by a “young doctor”, one of some 150, who had been “conferred” in the same ceremony, dr. Lammi. Here are some quotes from my speech.
“I am speaking in the name of the nine honorary doctors who have today received your ceremonial hat and sword and much more: three days of celebrations, according to a tradition that goes back to the age of my favorite painters; hence, evidence of French historian Fernand Braudel’s statement that ‘yesterday is today’. This photo that seems as if I am play-acting in a historical costume drama was made by Bona Fide Creatives:

And before all, an honor from an institution that thereby demonstrates that its staff care for the combination of the advance of knowledge and insight, culture, and education.Dr Lammi is a good instance of the integration of these domains, as a scholar specialized in education. She defined this field as a breeding ground of encounters. She could not have chosen a more adequate word. This implies a horizontal, dialogic, communicative social interaction, rather than a hierarchical, authoritative monologic by those who know addressed to the ignorant. Her view of education matches precisely my own, my conviction that learning is only possible on such a basis. But that goes both ways. My slogan in this context is: ‘if you don’t learn from your students, you are a bad teacher.’ This is the most important road to integration of social and academic, and also artistic performance and progress.”
(photo by Bona Fide Creatives)
On the history of my connection to Finland, which underlies the honor bestowed on me, I said this:
“My first invitation to Finland was academic, in August 1996, when I participated in the Nordic Research School Gender, Art and Modernity. At that occasion I met professor Kirsi Saarikangas, and a number of other “Nordic” art historians. Kirsi’s work on the aesthetic of social space fascinated me especially. It concerned art and living space; “architexture” as a special art form that aims to make the living space of actual people, more comfortable as well as, or because, more beautiful. But differently from many others who study the history of architecture, for her it was really, first and foremost, the “living space” that mattered, as the primary frame of artistic beauty. […] It didn’t take me long to associate this interest of Professor Saarikangas with the great Finnish tradition of architecture and design, of which Alvar Aälto is perhaps the most famous. But the interest of this group of Helsinki art historians extended, inflected, or specified, the combination of the aesthetic of space with gender. I dressed, perhaps provocatively, for the evening-before when “evening dress” was required. Photo also by Bona Fide Creatives:

Since in the older traditions, it was women who spent most of their time in the home, it made total sense, for cultural historians, to analyze the connections - obvious, but sometimes too obvious to study them in detail - between gender, space, and art. This combination lies at the heart of a new kind of social art history that exceeds the usual obsession with 19th century French painting. After that I have visited several times in Helsinki and the University of Helsinki, and although we were both too busy to stay in regular contact, I never quite lost touch with Kirsi. In 2008 I came as a guest of her research project “Representing and sensing gender, landscape and nature”. The title alone speaks volumes about her commitment to the integration mentioned above. The Academy of Fine Arts, the National Gallery Ateneum and the Finnish Women’s Studies Research School came together. She was director of the Christina Institute for Gender Studies, named after the founder of this university. Queen Christina became later one of the two main characters of my “theoretical fiction” film, Reasonable Doubt, on Christina and the philosopher René Descartes, a film of which Kirsi organized a screening last Wednesday.
Beyond academics alone, I have interacted with and learned from artists, such as Jussi Niva and others. Among my main connections to Finland is the internationally renowned artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila, to the brilliant work of whom I have devoted a book-length study, Thinking in Film. She is a pioneer in broaching socially relevant topics that became hot afterwards, such as immigration, refugees, nature, environmental issues and gender. The current exhibition at Kiasma focuses on all these. Ahtila counts among the intelligent and politically aware artists I have studied who have stimulated me in my own attempts to integrate artmaking and academic reflection.
And this brings me to my third engagement with this beautiful country. Immersing myself in its nature, culture, and the hospitality and friendliness of people, I have set films in Finland, mainly on Åland, in Turku and in Tampere. From 2007 to 2011 I worked with Finnish actress Marja Skaffari, performance artist Helinä Hukkataival, and curator Mervi Appel and many others, such as doctoral candidate Mia Hannula, for the making of a cinematic exploration into the possibility of helping psychotic patients without drugs and institutionalization, and again, from 2011 to 2013, with the same people, Madame B, both also exhibited as video installations on Åland and in Turku. I mention these events because they were the product of genuine encounters, in which luck, commitment, intelligence play together to make something happen.”

My loyal partner Ernst was with me all the time, and very helpful to deal with the stress of the elaborate dress codes, to which he himself also had to conform. He kept the fun alive even when I was tired or nervous.

Among many pleasurable and fun moments, such as the boat trip where we were welcomed with a delicious mimosa, most important to me was the re-encounter with Kirsi and her husband Tuomas, who took care of us every minute of the three days. They are now close personal friends as well as great intellectual interlocutors.

And meeting many wonderful people for the first time, such as, most exciting, Tuula Arkio, founder and long-time director of the fantastic museum of contemporary art Kiasma. I had an immediate bond with her over contemporary art and many more topics. She had come to see my film and was very enthusiastic about it; another great honor.
All in all, it was a unique, unforgettable event, to be immersed in a true intellectual community where friendship was as exciting as the academic, artistic and pedagogical sociality.
Here is a short video of the ceremony.