Henry VI in Paris, C-MAP meeting at MoMA, back to Paris

These two weeks were again, confusingly busy, and wonderfully rewarding. So busy that I didn’t get around to posting it beforehand or during; so rewarding that I must do so, even retrospectively. First, I set out to Paris to see Henry VI - a triple Shakespeare play, in French. I was eager to see it, even if it took an expedition to a suburb of Paris, and the patience to sit through 8 hours of theater, because the title role was played by Thomas Germaine, the male lead actor of our project . Here you see Thomas as Charles B. asleep next to his restless, unsatisfied wife Emma (Marja Skaffari). The small photo can be clicked through to the relevant film page. If you click on the page about the installations created within this project, you will see more of him. Madame B. Installation pieces And on the second photo, you see him as a patient, facing his analyst, in our exhibition Landscapes of Madness in the museum Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova in Turku, Finland.

As Henry VI Thomas was the incarnation of a sensitive, lonely soul within a spider web of empty power, surrounded by court intrigues oddly reminiscent of contemporary power environments (Berlusconi’s Italy, Sarkozy’s France come to mind).

An incipient madness is already visible in the young king, in these photos by Nicolas Joubard. Thomas is the best in expressing both sanity and madness; to make you doubt about those categories. In the second photo, one sees the paranoid look of Henry but also the ghostly figure, representative of the plotting surroundings at the court who may have contributed to the madness.

Similarly, the third photo images the loneliness, another contributing feature. The connection between this play and our film on madness seems inevitable. The density of the social fabric where conventions and intrigues constitute the elements of power and its emptiness, suffocates the young king.

The Shakespeare plays were written when the author was 30 years old; the mise-en-scène I had the great happiness to see, was done by Thomas Jolly, also 30 years old. It is hard to imagine how such a young director was able to pull this off: three plays, reputedly unstageable. The performance was full of creative moments, where comedy and tragedy merged. It was visible from the vibrant energy of the play that this director was able to come up with a gesammkunstwerk in the literal (not the historical) sense of the word: collective creativity, born from the sense that the contributions of all were respected. I saw the first cycle, and when they play the entire 16 hours somewhere next year, I vouch that I will make the trip, however long and complex it may be, to see it. Pure genius. I think this is the best theater I have seen in my life.

In New York, I participated in the annual seminar of C-MAP: Contemporary Modern Art Perspectives. This is organized by the museum’s Internationalization Program, directed by Jay Levinson. This was the 4th seminar, and each year I enjoy it more. Realizing that comprehensiveness is neither possible nor in fact desirable, MoMA has decided to focus their efforts to make the museum more “global” on developing around three areas they happen to have in their collections: Performance, in Japan, Fluxus, in Eastern Europe, and Abstraction/Conceptualism, in Latin America. This year, a special C-MAP website was launched. Here you see a part of the opening page.

The site is meant to be a platform for discussion. It invites not so much comments as participation: true discussion. The site was designed by Berlin-based artist Caleb Waldorf. He aims to modify the philosophical underpinnings of that vexed term “user”, and the extreme indivdualism that underlies the “social networks” that, in fact, drill people to believe they are connected while they are alone, and to believe they are autonomous while their action radius is severely pre-scripted. This is a goal that aligns itself well with C-MAP’s stated intent to internationalize MoMA on the basis of exchange, not expansion.

As I was there, I explored the museum from top to bottom and from left to right. To metnion just one great exhibition: Inventing Abstraction, curated by Leah Dickerman, although focused primarily on painting, was basically a multi-media installation, including film, music, and architecture.

I was struck by the relatively large number of women artists included, and the assertions on some of the captions about them. The exhibition foregrounds the international nature of the abstraction movement right from the beginning. It also emphasizes the influence literature, especially poetry, had on the first abstract painters.
Unfortunately, after one and a half sunny day, it started to pour again and the world reverted to gray… no fun walking around. Instead, I saw many friends, attended a “Photography Forum”, and visited a collector’s house full of great art.

Then, back to Paris, I had the opportunity to visit the huge exhibition Dynamo in the Grand Palais, on light and movement in art, from Duchamp to today. I was especially interested because Ann Veronica Janssens has four pieces in the show. This work, here in an earlier version, is one of them. People were queuing to get into her literally sensational mist room, where you see strictly nothing; only color.

Her work is the interlocutor in my forthcoming book Endless Andness: the Politics of Abstraction According to Ann Veronica Janssens (Bloomsbury 2013). This is the principal reason I went back to Paris, to see the show and speak with her about how to launch the book in her country, Belgium. It is hard to stay informed about the work of an artist who practically has an exhibition opening every week. But I try hard to continue following artists on whose work I have published.

Finally, on my last day here, I visited my favorite art gallery in Paris, Marian Goodman, 79 rue du Temple. As always, the exhibition I saw there, of enigmatic works by Sabine Moritz, makes me deplore everything I inevitably miss seeing in the gallery. See for yourself!


Madame B. shoot in Paris

For weeks, we were simply too busy with this Paris shoot to report on it. This shoot took place from the 3d to the 11th of January. It was the second and last big shoot for the project. So, we had to make sure everything was covered. With twenty people in a large city where housing, food and transport tend to become daunting and permissions are hard to get, this was an unbelievably intense organisation. We are deeply grateful to all, in the first place to Margreet Vermeulen for her calm and efficient work to make this possible. In Paris, we were lucky to find Danie Galliot, wo deployed an amount of patience we cannot muster to locate brilliant sites and obtain the necessary permissions. Here is a selection of our Cast & Crew, some already in on the Åland shoot (see the posts of 8 and 27 August 2012) and some new for Paris. These are some of the new actors. From top to bottom, left to right: Deyna Mehdi, the “viscount“‘s daughter, staged as a prefiguration of Emma’s preference for a boy child, “because men at least are free”; the update of the viscount, now a travelling salesman, played by Tarek Mehdi; Malene Nielsen, our assistant on Åland, here plays the waitress at that reception. On the second row, Françoise Davoine, inspirator and lead role in our previous project, now plays an art teacher; Jacqueline Duval, who put us in touch with Françoise and thus got our previous project rolling, now plays the expert on the television program where Charles falls through as inadequate (the equivalent of the botched operation in the novel); and Elan Gamaker, who plays the host of that show, and has made himself otherwise indispensable over the years.
Other new actors include Berta Roth, a deportment teacher; Pierre Larsovksi, on who more below; and Michiel Engel, who incarnated a condensation of the three financial evil geniuses who lure Emma to her ruin: Binet, the tax collector; Guillaumin, the notary, en especially Lheureux, the salesman. Among the new crew, we had a fabulous first AD & clapper loader in Marta Dopieralski, a Polish PhD student living in Cologne, and a lovely additional assistant in art student Clarinde Wesselink from Amsterdam.

Some high moments in terms of sites. We placed the seduction of Emma by Léon, in the novel set in the cathedral of Rouen, in the beautiful Musée de la Chasse et de la nature, suggesting that seduction is (like) a hunt. Also, we found some fabulous sets for Emma’s seduction by capitalism. One was a lovely appetizer store, Oliviers & Co; another one the designer clothing store L’Eclaireur, both in the Marais. Salesman Pierre Larsovski played exactly the kind of seductive, emotionally reassuring salesman we saw as the contemporary version of the men in the novel who entice Emma to over-spend. The shop itself is a surreal artwork, a setting that fits our conception of anachronism. Other scenes include the updated version of the Ball at the Vaubyessard Castle, now a reception of PharmaFrance, the fictional association of the pharmaceutical industry which for us alludes to the previous project A Long History of Madness (see the official website). We also found a beautiful setting in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont where, years after he cowardly fled from the affair, Emma in her despair goes to ask Rodolphe for money. The pavilion on top of a hill could very well be the garden of the nobleman’s estate. Finally, of course, the city streets ere a film set in themselves, with their traffic, mirroring surfaces and confusing corners. Homais, whom we cast as truly dangerous, follows Emma like a stalker, and suddenly accosts her. Emma, who was looking in the mirroring surface of the shop window to assess her looks - she is on her way to a date with Léon - suddenly sees her enemy appear behind her. The graffito on the window, “shouf”, happens to be the Arabic word for “Look!” One of the coincidences on which our projects continue to thrive…

To find out more about this project, please follow what we post on Madame B. the video installation and on Madame B. the film.


and another busy week… Indian Art in Copenhagen

The next, second week of the Köln residency turned out just as busy. First a long discussion with the group of fellows of my inaugural lecture of last week. I got lots of questions about history: background facts and “how did annoyance get expressed in 17th century faces? It is still difficult, apparently, to imagine that one can look at art and analyze it in and from the present. Then, Thursday morning I flew to Copenhagen. That evening I had a wonderful meeting with faculty and students of visual studies, art history, and related fields, organized by Ulrik Ekman, whom I had met in September in Amsterdam. Instead of giving yet another lecture, they had devices a new format. Five people presented a case from their own work, in which they had encountered questions emerging from my work. The result was a very lively, animated evening, followed by a reception.

The reason I went to Copenhagen was that the Arken Museum of contemporary art had mounted an exhibition of Indian art. Called Indian Art Now, it is a beautiful show that avoids the traps of condescendance, exoticizing, and the kind of “experience India in an hour” market. It was a brilliant selection and the works are brilliantly displayed. For the occasion, the museum had organized a one-day conference, which I had accepted to speak in.

The curators/organizers Dorthe Juul Rugaard, Camma Juel Jepsen and Stine Høholt did a fantastic job, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was the first exhibition of Indian art I saw that, I think, could just as well be held in India itself. One of my favorite works is Bharti Kerr’s The Hot Winds that Blow From the West from 2011. Stacked radiators that had been purchased in the US, shipped to India where they had been sitting in a warehouse for years, now stacked into a beautiful sculpture. Both autonomous artwork and gaining from knowledge of the back story, this work makes a perfect case for “intercultural curating”.

I also had the great pleasure of meeting up with Gayatri Sinha, whom I had met some ten years ago in Montreal. She appears in our film Lost in Space. I had so much to talk about with her that I forgot to take a picture of her. Hence this little webgrab.


two busy weeks: Cologne and Lille

After the opening in London for the installation and opening of the exhibition at the Freud Museum (see Saying It), and a trip to Paris with grueling computer problems, I have been busy with the beginning of the Research Year at the Centre of Excellence Morphomata in Cologne. This institute devotes research to the emergence of forms, and the question how new forms enter the cultural field. For more information, see the Morphomata website. The year’s theme is “Figurations fo Death”.
The first day of the new year, on October 9th, I had the honor of presenting the festive inaugural lecture. I spoke about the way artists from the baroque period, such as Rubens, Rembrandt and Caravaggio has struggled with the different dilemmas of representing death, from the Anatomical Lessons to the Descent from the Cross and Pieta images. Issues such as the ethical dilemma of voyeurism, learning versus exploitation of the dead, and the representation of a body as dead (primarily through body weight) seem to have preoccupied the artists. From there I moved to the modern times, using the death of Emma in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, comparing the text to the recently shot and provisionally edited film clip from Michelle and my new project Madame B.

Three days later, Friday the 12th, I gave a gallery tour in the recently reopened Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
I had chosen the genre of the portrait and the media history in which this genre had been worked: to put it briefly, from early photography and its rivalry with painting, to what I call “painting after photography”, centering on the exquisite gallery devoted to Marlene Dumas’ portraits, to Rineke Dijkstra’s “photography afte painting after photography after painting”, so to speak, ending with Fiona Tan’s video installation of identical twins.

Commuting to Cologne, I went back there for the further presentations of the members of the Morphomata group, meanwhile working hard on a lecture in “Intercultural Curating” I am to give next week in the Arken Museum next to Copenhagen.
Then, Friday October 19th, in the lovely city of Lille in the North of France, the cinema Le Métropole projected our film A Long History of Madness, with its new French title, Histoires de Fous. Françoise Davoine and her husband Jean-Max Gaudillière participated as well in the debate that followed. The quality of the projection and yhe sound was superb; the organisation by Christine Loisel perfect; and the cinema filled up with 120 people. In her own practice, Christine uses dance as one of the means to work with psychotic patients. Here, she meets the paintings of Françoise Bailleul.

There is clearly an encounter of forms, beyond which another, more profoundly artistic encounter can take place.
Lille is a city with a Flemish history.

Its medieval churches and city center contrasts with the 21st century ambition of the city. This contrast is conspicuous in the two railway stations, the old Gare the Flandres with its quaint, 19th century look and the grand contemporary allure of the nearby Gare Lille Europe, an impressive building by Rem Koolhaas.

Between the two stations, all you need to do is cross the bridge - a bridge between eras.


Exhibition at the London Freud museum

With pleasure and pride, Michelle Williams Gamaker and I announce the exhibition Saying It that opens at the Freud Museum in London on Thursday September 20th at 6.30 pm. This is a collaboration with American artist Renate Ferro who presents installations on some of Freud’s key concepts. Our works are all concentrating on Sissi, the allegedly “schizophrenic” patient. Short, looped videos are dispersed throughout the museum, among Freud’s furniture, like footnotes from the present reality of psychosis addressed to the inventor of the talking cure. The videos show such a treatment in the act.
If you are going to be in London the 20th, please join us. You can meet the actresses of the videos, Marja Skaffari, who plays Sissi, Marjo Vuorela, Sissi’s analyst, and Anniki Järvinen who plays Sissi’s mother, as well as the author of the book that underlies our project, Françoise Davoine, and several authors of catalogue essays. And of course, we will be there, as will curator Joanne Morra.

On Saturday, September 22, the Freud museum holds a conference around the contemporary art exhibitions they have been hosting over the years. Michelle and I will participate with a dual talk showing slides of the Mère Folle Project, and discussing the idea of intervening in a theoretical and domestic space.


Åland shoot: after-effects

We did it! In ten days, we worked for 15 hours a day, staging, set-dressing, dressing, making-up, and shooting like maniacs. We were a group of some 20 people, and it was not always easy to keep them all together, but they were all fantastic. Here is an image of one of the briefing meetings, in a bar where we had just shot a scene.

For the first time, Michelle and I did not have to do everything ourselves. We had a fantastic cinematographer, Christopher Wessels, here on the right, from South Africa, and ditto sound artist, Sara Pinheiro, from Portugal, on the left. Here you see them at work, consulting with Michelle, who is dressed up to be a wedding guest - we needed to fill the lovely old church with some of our own people to make the crowd look like one.

I’d love to post lots of pictures of our actors, but let me limit myself to the three stars, Marja Skaffari, Thomas Germaine, and Mathieu Montanier. Marja played a wonderful, complex Emma, who you see here when she is about to be seduced by the cynical nobleman Rodolphe. Rather than sad, she looks deeply troubled and worried, and rightly so.

Rodolphe, only interested in a fling, worries beforehand how to get rid of her afterwards. Emma will be devastated.

Emma’s mysterious illness after being dumped by Rodolphe is a great concern of her loving but dull husband Charles.
The boyish Léon, ten years younger, will only offer temporary relief.

In short, we kept especially Thomas Germaine, who played all three men, extremely busy.

The nasty pharmacist Homais was given greater complexity than even Flaubert has allowed him by actor Mathieu Montanier, here a suspicious witness to Emma and Charles’ wedding.
We continue shooting in Paris in the first week of January.


Åland Shoot for Madame B.

From August 9th to 19th, we are going to really begin our new film project. Madame B. is now ready to swing. For the updated version of Flaubert’s prophetic, protofeminist novel, we are going to Åland, where we also held the exhibition Islands of Madness. Mervi Appel, then curator of the exhibition, is now the producer of the shoot. For now I post the same photograph, but soon we will have new ones.
Thanks to Mervi we have secured some incredibly gorgeous sites, such as the Posthouse, where we set the affair between Emma and Rodolphe. And Charles and Emma’s wedding, for which we have ordered a real three-tiered wedding cake to eat with the villagers who come as extras, will be set in this beautiful church.

The shoot is complex, with over 20 people involved. The two lead actors are Marja Skaffari playing Emma,

and Thomas Germaine as the men in her life.
Mathieu Montanier plays Homais, the nasty pharmacist whom we have turned into a criminal.

We so loved working with them that we asked them to come on board for the new project. Again, these are photos from the Mère Folle project, but soon we will post new photos, and you will see how these versatile actors morph into very different characters.
To our delight, Helinä Hukkataival is also returning, this time in the double role of the severe and angry mother-in-law who scolds Emma for her expensive shopping habits,
and as a servant in the church.
Marjo Vuorela, who is one of our two consultants - the other one is Françoise Davoine - will accompany us on the shoot, and so will Olli Heinola. With a total of 11 actors and a crew of 9, we will be a merry lot in Mariehamn.


The project is going to be very different from the Mère Folle Project. This time, we begin with installation pieces, which we will compose into a feature film only later. Imagine a gallery space more or less like this, but then with the new work in it:

The dialogue is reduced to a minimum, and almost all if it consists of quotations from Flaubert. Given that we set the work in the 2010s, this was a very interesting challenge. Another difference is that we aim to avoid the use of music, which was such an exuberant part of A Long History of Madness. This does not mean that sound is less important. Instead, we are hoping to achieve a sound track based on set sound that will tell its own story. For this we are very happy to have acquired the help of a sound recordist and editor, Sara Pinheiro (Portugal) who is a sound artist in her own right. We are also working with a professional cinematographer, Christopher Wessels, who will work with us as director of photography (DP).
More news soon!


Monterrey, 2d week

The monumental industrial Parque within the confines of which everything takes place, is impressively beautiful, cheerful, and full of life. Here you see the top of the gigantic Horno 3, the central monument. It is an old steel melting facility.

The exhibition is beautiful, and as soon as my computer deigns function again I will put photos in the Exhibition section. the workshop is heavy duty teaching but with a lovely group of people. The mix of artists and scholars, of literary and visual specialists, makes it very engaging.
In the weekend, my friend Paulina Aroch came from Mexico City. She and her friend Mario Gómez took me out of the compound into the real city! After a visit to the brilliant museum of contemporary art MARCO we went for an extensive succulent meal of cabrito / young goat. This detail of the ceiling of the museum shows a bit the kind of very special architecture this is.

Tomorrow, another friend from Mexico City is coming. Alberto Montoya Hernández is a psychoanalyst with the same commitment to help people suffering from transgenerational trauma as Francoise Davoine and Jean Max Gaudilliere, and Marjo Vuorela. Alberto plays the younger Don Luis in our film, and is the author of Paisajes de la locura, a book from which we took the title of the Turku exhibition. Here you see him in the installation piece The War Goes On.


Monterrey Encuentro


This is the view from my hotel room in the Parque de la Fundidora, on the terrain of an old metal-melting factory in Monterrey, in Northern Mexico.
I like the Spanish term “Encuentro” for conferences. It suggests a true exchange of thought and the excitement of getting to know new people and ideas. I arrived in Monterrey yesterday, after some 20 hours of travel, which I embarked upon the day after the PhD defenses of Jules Sturm and Noa Roei. After that, what’s a bit of turbulence in the air? In Mexico city, I had a brief encounter with my former PhD student Paulina Aroch Fugiellie, who generously came to the airport to help me transfer from one terminal to a far-removed other terminal. Here you see the people responsible for the Encuentro “Signo, tiempo y arte”, with Humberto Chavez Mayol speaking. Humberto recruited me for this long trip - I don’t know how he managed it, but here I am.

Actually, I do know how he managed it. He made sure that, in addition to the two-week “taller” (workshop) I will be giving starting Monday, a large exhibition of Michelle and my Mère Folle project is mounted in the Centro de las Artes. The show will be almost as large as the one in Turku, but in a very different kind of space. This will be very interesting for comparison, and will teach us more about exhibiting video work. The organisation of the exhibition is in the capable hands of Graciela Kahn Hopson. After exchanging e-mails for months, I met Graciela today, and she confirmed what I had known from the very first e-mail: she is good! And friendly, and generous, and creative, and effective, and savvy, and hospitable… We got along immediately. Here she is:

I will report more on my stay in Monterrey: on the workshop, the exhibition, and the screening of “A Long History of Madness”. All this in two weeks.


München, Symposium at the Haus der Kunst

The Haus der Kunst in München is an exhibition space where things happen. It is a building burdened by history. The symposium for which I was invited, june 9, 2012, is about heavy history: about images of conflict, primarily war. I have always found this subject a tricky one for artistic contemplation. It can be almost pornographic in its appeal to commiseration and sentimental, vicarious suffering. And it can be the most powerful way of addressing, precisely, such problems. I expect this one to be self-aware enough to scrutinize rather than reiterate the problematic of visually showing the suffering of others.
München is a lovely city. It has some of the best museums in Germany, and beautiful architecture, parks, and neighborhoods. I just wish there was some leftover time to visit, but alas…

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