Madness as Insight
5-31 January, 2012
In the Turku city library, a satellite exhibition as a gloss to Landscapes of Madness is held during january 2012, the final month of the exhibition in the museum Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova. A monitor shows a video that combines Landscapes with Sissi Outside, from the inside out, through the window. Inside, furthermore, Sissi’s Treatment is projected on a larger led screen, while in a low triangular shape, three monitors will display elements that explain the project, with an emphasis on Seili - the island near Turku where a good part of the footage was shot. Somewhat separate from this, The Msking Of, the somewhat hilarious account of how the film was made, with actors errors included, will counterbalance the seriousness with amusement. This small exhibition provides the more intellectual background to the project. The lobby of the library is a busy place and normally, 4000 visit the lobby each day.
Landscapes, alternating with Sissi Outside, is a very visual work, without dialogue. This is why its display from the inside out for the casual passers-by of Turku makes so much sense. Both the landscapes with their scars from historical violence, and the images of Sissi performing seemingly meaningless acts on the island of Seili with its history of confinement, lends themselves for a double act of looking. The images are eerily beautiful, often - as in this image - merging into one another, and can be watched for their beauty only. However, elements such as barbed wire, dry earth, and Sissi’s haunting face, body poses that invoke hanging, jumping, or lying dead, bring in a second layer of meaning. But when the landscape images merge Seili and Spain, the confining world that is Sissi’s opens up. Thus, the historical legacy of the land itself inflects the seeming meaninglessness of the young woman’s acts. A question, then, lingers: is she mad, or is she the victim, or bearer, of the scars of history? The explication of the conception of madness to which the satellite exhibition is devoted begins here: precisely, in these images without dialogue. seemingly without content.
Framing the Film offers insight into the reasons why we made the film and the exhibition pieces, the concepts and ideas it shapes and stages, and the different issues that came up during the process. The photo shows a number of the characters who enact the different forms of madness. Each of these characters have a history that has driven them to madness. But in the present, they seek to regain sociality. Thanks to the analyst, they manage to at least acquire a bit of the social bonds that the violence of their history, or that of their ancestors, had broken. For, that is what madness emerges from: the breakage, the wreckage of social connections, ruined by violence. In the photo, we see, also, two children, dressed as medieval fools. Are they just fools, or also at risk of madness? the juxtaposition asks. The presence of children in our project is motivated by this ambiguity - the fear and the hope that these youngsters may escape the fate of the adults, if only we manage to treat them with social responsibility. And if the nurse - here, the musical nurse, devoted to calming the mad with audio harmony - figures in this portrait gallery, it may well be due to another form of madness.
Striking the Right Chord pursues this question further. Music is brought into analogy with the question of madness. As the Musical Nurse clearly believes, the chaotic noise the mad produce must be countered by the harmony of music. This is an analogy only, not a reality nor a theoretical position. But the issue underlying this fictional speculation - that of structure as a way out of chaos - may well be the road towards a helpful treatment of the psychotic patients. Françoise, the primary analyst and main character of the film, believes that “striking the right chord” makes it possible for the conversation to resonate - another musical term - with the patient’s madness. Through such an extreme, but not an intellectual, form of identification, the patient can b made to no longer feel alone. In this video, Françoise addresses bees - using the analogy of the dance of the working bees - and speaks with an old man who restores musical instruments. This allusion to the cultural history of music, and indirectly to the value of keeping those traditions alive, brings a sense of history - as shown in Landscapes - together with a sense of sociality, of bringing harmony as giving structure.
Whatever Happened to Sissi? is a conversation between the two actresses who just finished playing the scenes. Marjo Vuorela, with her great knowledge of psychosis, and Marja Skaffari, who, as a professional actress, put herself in the skin of the delusional young woman, unwind after the shoot talking about Sissi’s case. Marja seeks to understand what can cause such madness, and how Sissi could have been “cured”. The two women, still half-inside the characters they just played, wonder and ponder, and the intelligent questions and expert answers help the audience to get a grip on what violence does, and how we can deal with the consequences. Marja’s hand indicates her curiosity; Marjo’s intensely listening face expresses what matters most in such confrontations.
Sissi’s Treatment brings us back to Sissi, the primary patient of the project. Her traumatogenic experience of sexual abuse and parental neglect make her the prime victim of the social shortcomings that generate madness. Society condones violence, either through the wars waged at the instigation of leaders, or, as here, by blinding itself to what happens inside family homes, where children ought to be safe. Her psychoanalytic treatment is the most extensive analytic treatment in the project. Thanks to the superb acting of Finnish actress Marja Skaffari (here, watching her own image) and the inside knowledge of psychoanalyst Marjo Vuorela, the tensions, but also the identifications between Sissi and her analyst demonstrate clearly what problems face the treatment of madness, as well as the hopes of its possibility that emerge when the analyst dares join the patient. Sissi changes outfits to mark the way her delusion of being the Empress of Austria-Hungary is her self-protection; the preservation of her human dignity when violence tries to rob her of it.
Here are the three people without whom this would not have been possible. Gunnar Högnäs, of the Turku Library, committed a lot of thinking and working time to make this installation posible. The library was able to borrow very impressive material from the documentation centre at Seili, the island where we shot some of the very powerful images of our project.
The large vitrine in the foyer of the library houses documents, including the 1620 founding document signed by King Gustaf II Adolf, old maps of the island, and items of clothing and tools of treatment that make you shiver. Gunnar was assisted in this endeavor by his colleague Taina Ratia, who unfortunately could not be present. For the museum, this was the first foray out of its own site, and Pamela Andersson, who has been the coordinator from heaven in the large and difficult project at the museum, was again crucial in communicating, transferring files, and making the workshop schedule.
Mia Hannula, curator of Landscapes of madness, was again indispensable in the intellectual-artistic organisation. Mia’s commitment to theorizing the cultural effect of the display of images of horror - the subject of her own research - always helps keep us on track in the pursuit of artistic projects that touch upon such delicate issues. The presence of trauma in, or underneath, the images compels us to rethink ways of exhibiting.
Participants of the curatorial program De Appel, an international group of smart, creative, and eager young curators, were the central constituency of the workshop. In this photo and the photos in the next link you see them deeply engaged in the project. This gallery shows images of the library exhibits.
Workshop on Curating: from Film to Exhibition
On January 5th, 2012, we held a workshop on the relation between film and exhibition at the City Library of Turku, by way of opening the satellite exhibition there, organised by Gunnar Högnäs. The workshop was organised on behalf of the Curatorial Program De Appel in Amsterdam, and was also open to curators and scholars of Turku and Helsinki universities. To my delight, my colleague Marga van Mechelen of the Art History Department of the University of Amsterdam, as well as my assistant Margreet Vermeulen, had also made the journey to participate.
Preceding the workshop, a screening of A Long History of Madness, the evening of the 4th, served as an opening of the satellite exhibition, and some time was left to also view the pieces there.
The morning of the 5th, Pamela Andersson, coordinator of the exhibition at the museum, gave an introduction. Her simple-sounding but profound remark that the exhibition allowed visitors to “choose a secene, enter it, and spend the time they want inside it” gave the crucial idea of the relationship between the two works. After her introduction, the participants went off to experience this insight first-hand. There were two hours reserved for an extensive visit to the exhibition. After this, a brief meeting allowed participants to blow off steam with their first responses.
Then, in the afternoon, at the Studio Space of the Library, the workshop became a discussion session. First, three brief presentations started this off. I gave an introduction, explaining how I see the “spatialising” of film. Mia Hannula gave her view of the relation between documentary and fiction in the face of traumatic events such as the violence underlying the emergence of madness according to our project, and Anna-Helena Klumpen analyzed the sound effects in a particular scene, offering insights that are important in view of the sound leaking that is part of the exhibition.
The discussion went on for almost two hours beyond the allotted time. Since this was such a golden opportunity to discuss curating in light of art-making in different ways, we were all reluctant to break it off. It was a long but very rewarding day.