What Culture Silences
November 30 - December 7, 2012
Ankara, Turkey, The Goethe Institute
All works in HD video, by Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker
The exhibition presents six video works that, each in a different way, address the repression of madness in a culture of streamlining, and the noises and echoes of madness that erupt when Folly resurfaces.
The videos each present a form in which the public merriment and political critique of medieval Folly has been repressed. Its leftovers emerge when “madness” strikes. In some works, Folly gets a second chance to appear in the contemporary framework of Carnival, or the isolated one of psychiatric hospitals. In others, Madness attempts to accede to visibility, and to be heard. One cannot really speak of it, but on the other hand, it - or rather, the people suffering from it - will not accept to be silenced.
In this silent video, images of landscapes merge into one another. They range from watery landscapes in Finland to the arid Spanish hills, alternating with night views of the Carnival of Basel and views of an empty hospital. The landscapes suggest madness in different ways: through the emptiness and loneliness, the burned aspect of the earth that evokes war, the darkness where spooks appear, and the hospital beds without patients, to a surface where the sun creates stars and day and night can no longer be distinguished. The purpose of this immersive work is to solicit a mood where everything is possible, and nothing yet happens, so that visitors can prepare themselves rather meditatively for the spectacles to come.
Single-channel video without sound (05:31:17)
Landscapes from Seili Island, Finland; Basel city, Switzerland; Bullas, Murcia, Spain; Auxois, France
Documentary images of Basel Carnival alternate with staged ones set in the Courtyard of a fictional psychiatric hospital, where noise rivals with music. In Basel, the old musical tradition that combines drums with high-pitched flutes is still alive. In the Courtyard, Fools wreak havoc, disturbing the fragile peace with their charivari, noise produced by beating with wooden sticks on pots hanging from the Fools’ belts. The hospital nurse attempts to calm down the situation by turning this tradition on its head, beating also with sticks on pots but now harmoniously.
Single-channel video projection (11.32.22)
Violin: Daan Binsbergen and Reinier Schouten: Robert Schumann (1840) Op. 49 “The Two Grenadiers” from Romanzen und Balladen II
With thanks to the French Consulate and the Maison Descartes in Amsterdam, the city of Paris and the city of Basel
Fools at war
In this short video without dialogue, we see a pair of Fools who recall Don Quixote and Sancho Pança – the one, tall, with a long lance, the other, smaller, with a toy horse. Without uttering a word, they are engaged in foolish acts. The tall one selects a lance, the other one a harness. Then they roam around among Word War II soldiers in an exhibit of wax mannequins. Finally, they act out their rivalry on top of a tank. The hilarious improvisation set against a blue sky with beautiful clouds, silently enacts the desire to conquer and possess space at the expense of others as a light acknowledgment of the foolishness of war.
Single-channel video, (4:26:05)
With Mathieu Montanier and Louis de Villers
With thanks to the Legermuseum, Delft, the Netherlands
On this short video we see a patient of the psychiatric hospital on Seili, a former leprosy colony, walk to her cell, take up the photograph, and look up, listening to bird song outside. The short video intimates the isolation, the hopelessness, of people confined to the hospital for life. In a small cell, a straight jacket on a narrow bed, and a rug make painfully concrete the smallness of life the (allegedly) mad were allowed. The confrontation with the concrete historical situation makes us wonder, though, how we continue to isolate the mentally ill in society today.
Single-channel video (01:48:21), furniture
With Mervi Appel as a patient
With thanks to the Själo Archipelago Institute, University of Turku
This video shows hopeful moments that predict future liberation. Sissi’s loneliness when she roams the grounds of the hospital are also moments of agency, where she is able to imagine small acts of freedom. But these acts, all meaningless and futureless, also breath futility; a sense of timeless stagnation. While outside of the hospital, Sissi is also out of time, far removed from a purposeful life in society. The ambiguity of the images compels recognition of one young woman’s plight when society condones her abandonment. The beauty of the woman and the landscape conspire to convey a sense of the absurdity of this situation. All acts are set in historically thick places, such as a wooden church, a solitary bell tower in the landscape, the edge of a forest, and a cemetery.
Single-channel video (06:20:07)
With Marja Skaffari as Sissi
With thanks to the Själo Archipelago Institute, University of Turku
Watching the news
This video shows two patients watching images of horror on television. We all know these images, for having seen them so often that they have lost their affect. In this respect, the video performs a gesture of media self-reflection. But watching them together with those labelled “ mad”, we realise the full impact of the horror, and the unacceptable consequences of the visual routine that disempowers us all. The images of horror we can only glimpse indirectly, sutured as they are to the mad who have either taken to imitate the images, or sunken into lasting depression. A young woman whose clownish make-up recalls La Strada’s Gelsomina and her naivety, alternates with a Palestinian unable to act in the face of the horror that continues to visit his homeland. And what, the video asks, do we do, in the face of such images and what they generate?
Single-channel video (07:02:12)
With Kristina Bill as Gelsomina and Ihab Saloul as Aziz
The exhibition of six works from the Mère folle project was installed in the foyer of the Ankara Goethe Institute, one of the two venues of the Festival on Wheels. This distinguished the exhibition from others related to the project.
First of all, many people would pass by on their way to the theatre, see screens and stop by, rather than come specifically to see the show. In view of this type of audience, the organisers-curators had made extensive wall texts, one general, and one for each work. I found it noticeable that many people actually took the time to read these texts, and then spend a rather long time with each work. This made the show less of a unity but attracted more in-depth viewings.
Second, the works had much more space, since the space was large. Again, this enhanced the autonomy of the works. For this reason, our choice had been for this occasion to balance the Folly works with the Madness works, rather than foregrounding the Madness works, as we had done in the more intimate and unified space in Dublin.
Then, because of the size of the space, the exhibition lent itself to long viewing, and the sofa installed in front of the one work that was shown on projection - Folly Resurfaces - invited people to use the work as a break between film screenings. This was a nice change from the more intense visits other set-ups had invited.
Ersan Ocak (left) and Ahmet Gurata (right), from the faculty of Communication, Design and Architecture of Bilkent University, had initiated and organised the exhibition., and suddenly found themselves curators. I had met Ersan before, and appreciated very much his intelligent vision of the integration of making and analysing that I am so keen on myself. Ahmet, who is chair of the department, clearly pursues similar goals. For the faculty in which they teach, this integration is extremely important. The strong presence of theory puts that department on the forefront of contemporary academia. Their cooperative spirit contrasts nicely with the sibling rivalry between the Fools on the screen behind them.
The installation photos give an impression of the ambiance of this exhibition, and the various ways it contrasts with the one in Dublin.
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.