Opening Towards the Other, Saint Petersburg

Yesterday, October 10th, the exhibition Towards the Other has opened and the interest was overwhelming. In addition to the Consul General of the Netherlands and a lot of television and press, the crowd was a lovely mix of colleagues and young people, probably lots of students. In a first room, black lecterns looking like small houses with 10 screens on the roofs display the films I have called “Migratory Stories”; in the middle room, a work by the collective Chto Delat, and in the third room a large “living room” installation of Nothing is Missing. The first room looks like a public space, from where visitors can peep into the houses to see the lives of the people; the last room, in contrast, has the domestic ambience characteristic of this installation.
For a Russian spoken, but visually informative account: link
Towards the Other


Friday September 30th I will give a combined keynote lecture and film screening, in the framework of a conference organised at the Goethe University by the ANKK, organised by Jochen Sander, chief curator at the Städel Museum. The lecture is entitled Seeing History: In Praise of Anachronism, Folly, and Creative Research. I make a case for anachronism and a tool to understand things not “as they realy were” but as how things from the past make sense to us today. At the same time, I make the case for film making as a form of research, and seek to persuade the audience that film can do something documentation cannot (even if also vice versa) The lecture is an element in an ongoing dialogue with Jochen, who is a professor at the Goethe Universiteit and curator at the Städel.
Jochen curated an exquisite exhibition of medium-size paintings from the Dutch and Flemish collection of the Städel, at the outrageously contemporary Guggenheim Bilbao museum, and he instigated the idea that the museum commissioned me to make a video essay as a gloss. With my long-term colleague and collaborator Michelle Williams Gamaker, we made a three-screen video installation. Irreverently, we flipped the exhibition’s primary masterpiece, Vermeer’s geographer, around, so that he could look up and listen to Sissi, a clinically diagnosed “schizophrenic” victim of parental abuse who has things to say about time.The installation presented together, in dialogue, the paintings from the seventeenth century and elements from the film I will see Friday evening, which is in turn based on a “theoretical fiction” by French psychoanalyst Françoise Davoine. We made the installation by editing the old paintings, allegedly still images, together with the contemporary moving images, both among the three screens and in the temporal sequence, and thus put movement into the paintings to engage a dialogue about time.

After the lecture and discussion, we will watch the film A Long History of Madness and see anachronism at work there. I am very excited about this opportunity to make the academic and artistic activities I have been involved in for the past few years, hang together.

Trip to China

Beijing, Forum on Dutch-Chinese Cultural Relations
At the end of August I made my first trip to China. A meeting of Chinese and Dutch academics in the cultural disciplines had been convened to discuss the possibilities of collaboration. The meeting was meant to explore the specificity of intercultural relations in the era of globalisation. Preceding the two-days meeting of intense and dense academic work were three days of visits to the great monuments of this dazzling city. From the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City – so well known from Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor – to the contemporary art scene, we ran around at high speed to benefit as much as possible from this short trip.
Three days after returning my head is still full of the impressions. Our Chinese hosts were incredibly friendly and open-minded. The food was amazing. The places we visited were stunning. The lectures were unequal, but mostly worth hearing. The primary cultural difference seemed to be academic. Our delegates were ASCA-trained, which meant that their talks had that balance I am so fond of in theorising, analysing, and going back-and-forth between general and particular, as well as literal and metaphorical levels of meaning – in fact, quite a good demonstration of what the meeting was supposed to achieve.
A truly intercultural moment occurred when I showed, after my lecture on the project Nothing is missing, one of the videos of the project (Elena). A vehement debate followed; some of the Chinese participants were upset, and many, including some of the Dutch, felt uneasy. One participant found the filming of a mother’s grief unethical. Our colleague Maaike Bleeker hit the nail on the head when she said the unease we felt was not due to an unethical filming but to the fact that the film showed something we’d rather not see nor know about. Later, it became clear that what upset some of the Chinese participants, was not to see the mother’s emotion (the issue of voyeurism) but that her son exposed her to the viewer in this vulnerability. The focus on the interviewing son, rather than the emotionally expressive mother, seemed to us to point to a cultural difference.

View of the Forbidden City, Beijing
The Dutch delegation and two of the Chinese organisers

DVD box set of “A Long History of Madness” available now

The wait is over: after weeks of hard work we’ve made something special. The A Long History of Madness double-DVD set is ready!

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A new website and new shows…

The new Mieke Bal website is here! I decided it was time for a change. The new site, beautifully designed by it’s a lab, has a stylish new look, but also and more importantly, much more information…

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