Landscapes of Madness
21 October 2011 - 29 January 2012
Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, Turku, Finland
Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker
Curated by Mia Hannula
This is an exhibition of multiple video installations through which the idea of “madness” is given a variety of interpretations. It is an experiment in audio-visual story-telling. The time-based medium of film has been spatialised. Distinct from cinema, in the exhibition, you the visitor (the “second-person”) are free to make the stories through your own itinerary and pace, engaging the stories, portraits, and scenes on view. As a combination of exhibition and installation, Landscapes of Madness attempts to alter predominant categories within the art world. Meaning is not offered simply to be consumed, but is created by and within each of you.
Landscapes of madness constitute a voyage of discovery that can take any length of time, from several minutes up to several hours depending on your interest. But we hope all visits will be immersive experiences, leading up to engaged and engaging encounters. The exhibition offers experiences both familiar and unfamiliar. In a combination of shock, pleasure, strangeness and beauty, you make a journey through what is usually called “madness”.
Our staged “madness” comes in various forms, which are deeply affecting, hilariously funny, and unexpected sources of wisdom. They have in common the social nature of madness. Both violence and its perverse assaults on individuals and societies generate madness as a defence mechanism. Also, the equally violent refusal of the general public to engage with mad people on an equal footing, contributes to the continuation of madness as social isolation. Sensitive to the complexity of this known but ultimately unknowable state of being, our madness shows several faces: theatrical folly, the resurfacing of trauma inflicted by war and the deep wounds of abuse.
Like madness, landscapes are also social constructs. They have a history. It is in landscapes that wars have been fought, people have been hungry, and destruction has been wrought. We not only present landscapes in the videos; we also create landscapes in the galleries. Far from being compulsory, the loose itinerary is open to returns, circular movements, and individualised pace. You will wander through the spaces and keep encountering new forms of madness—some tragic, some humorous; some play-acted and some “really mad”. This raises the question that you are implicitly requested to ponder: are these people, and the people I encounter mad, do they play the fool, or am I too rigid to allow them to be sane; and what does the answer to that question say about me?
Middle Ages Meet Today
On a tilted and oblique monitor in a corner at the bottom of the stairs on the way to Aboa Vetus, images from the medieval market with crafts and puppet spectacle alternate with other medieval spectacles significant in our project. A series of images from the Courtyard scene, where the medieval Fools come to disturb the quiet in the hospital, and fragments from a Parisian Flea Market in Vanves, where Fools mingle with ordinary customers, suggest that the medieval “spirit” with its boisterous disorderliness is an inspiring presence in today’s over-organised society. Noisy, busy, and colourful: the images stimulate a festive mood. Connecting the Aboa Vetus to Ars Nova parts of the museum, they also connect Turku, the place of exhibition, with Paris, the city of the psychoanalyst Françoise, and Amsterdam, where the two artists live.
Single-channel video with sound (07:38:09)
At the entrance to the exhibition, 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)
The penetration of older times and their folly is presented here with more insistence and detail. Images of Basel Carnival alternate with those of the Courtyard scene, as noise rivals with music. In Basel, a Carnival that is continuous with the late-medieval tradition of Sotties and other partying and enacting theatrical events, 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. This prefigures the metaphor of psychoanalysis and music that runs through the exhibition. Without being narrative, this work invites visitors to begin constructing their own stories.
Single-channel video projection (11.32.22)
Madness Comes in Three Halves
A nameless Man, either artist or madman or both, reads a poem to two children. The poem is itself a masterpiece of ambiguity between sanity and madness, playing with logic whilst situating the sanity inside the madness. But most relevant is the interplay between the man and the children. The two youngsters look at each other as if wondering if the Man is perhaps mad. But they get caught in his ambiguity and begin to imitate him as if rivalling his challenge to reason, and in the end earnestly wonder about the meaning of his words. This short, intimate piece is presented with headphones for personal participation in the game, the art, and the exploration of the fine line between madness and artistry.
Single-channel video (3:29:07)
On a large screen, images with red as their predominant colour give shape to the anger of the deceased patient Ariste. This young man died of an overdose, but no one knows if this was an accident or a suicide. In the video he expresses his anger with the failure of analysis to help him, to save him, to make his life worth living. From within a red room filled with light flashes and sounds of bombs, where dreamy Fools walk in circles, he faces the public with a mesmerising angry look. These images alternate with a short scene wherein a group of Fools gossip about the psychoanalyst who so miserably failed Ariste. In both sequences, anger is not so much expressed as intimated, made contagious, and visually suggested – by the red light in the bomb room, and the confined space inside a tank. The presence of war as (spatial) setting and (historical) background forcefully evoke the bond between madness and violence. Through the light, the red that intimates complicity seeps into the gallery like a festering wound, touching the spectators that cross the space.
Single-channel video projection (03:57:10)
Whereas on the large screen the spectre of Ariste appears as in dreams, on this smaller image we see Ariste as remembered by the people around him: his analyst, the other patients, whether still hospitalised or already in the halfway house in Finland or elsewhere. The memories are not dramatic. Everyone proffers their own interpretation of who he was. His fantasy – or was it reality after all? – that his ancestors were deported to a concentration camp in the first World War remains a stubborn kernel of questioning. It indicates both the transgenerational maddening quality of violence, and the tenacious question of truth. Visitors are invited to reflect, with them, on both the madness of violence and the hyper-rationality of truth-seeking can generate madness.
Single-Channel video (05:32:10)
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)
Psychoanalysis on Trial
On two facing walls, a court consisting of Fools and “Mad” Geniuses attack Françoise. In the name of the culture of gesture, they indict psychoanalysis for repressing gesture in favour of the word. Françoise protests that she cannot be identified with psychoanalysis – the deeper reason for this denial being that she has her own qualms and doubts about her profession. The great confusion that runs through this work is that between justice and helping the patients. Failing in the latter – is that a matter of guilt? The question remains unresolved, during this pastiche of a late-medieval “sottie”. This political theatre took the form of a mock court case. The piece with its facing screens also has a theatrical form. Seats are positioned between the two screens. As a consequence, visitors will have to turn around to follow either side of the case, and since the sound bounces back and forth whereas the subtitles appear on both sides, a certain restlessness of the body translates the hesitations of the mind.
Two-channel video projection (08:45:24)
Striking the Right Chord
As a footnote to the public event of the Trial, on a monitor we see Françoise doubting herself about the effect of what she does. First, with an ease that suggests a profound connection to nature, she talks to a bee, whom she addresses as knowledgeable about sociality, collaboration and hard work. She succinctly explains why psychoanalysis is not an individualistic practice, if only the analyst manages to establish a fraternal bond with the patient. Then, when she sits dejected on a sidewalk against a wall filled with graffiti, the Man with Pipe invites her to his workshop. In the shop, many historical memories surface, both in their conversation and in the décor itself. The man restores old harpsichords, and as he explains to Françoise his profession, they develop together the comparison between analysis and music: what matters is to be in tune with the patient, not to apply a theory.
Single channel video (04:13:07)
The War Goes On
In search of her own past and its relation to the madness-generating violence, Françoise visits an old friend of her father, a fellow resistance fighter. First, when she begins to work as a psychoanalyst, she tells him about her mother’s experiences in prison while pregnant with her. Later, she visits him again, now an old man, who disabuses her of illusions of heroism she tends to project on him. The triangular relationship between Françoise, her patients, and Don Luis gains a personal note through her memories – half resurfacing in the conversations, half-repressed. This triangle is set against the backdrop of a landscape the everyday use of which invokes moments of the violent past of the Civil War. Before our eyes, it morphs, at times, from nurturing surrounding into a landscape of madness.
Single channel video (12:54:00)
In the reconstructed historical cell of the former psychiatric hospital on Seili, a small monitor takes the place, on the chest of drawers, of the framed photograph, the sole connection the patient kept to her previous life in freedom. On the video we see a patient 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. The reconstruction, including a straight jacket, 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
Famous psychoanalysts tend to have stories of an early patient they failed and who gave them a slap on the knuckles. Freud had Dora; Françoise had Sissi. This patient, her first, discontent with the treatment, fired her analyst. In Finland, she tries again, with another analyst. Is this treatment more promising? The suspense is in the question; no answer is provided. Punctuated by changes of cloths – some of which are also displayed in the galleries – Sissi’s flamboyance enacts her fantasy of regal life. The sessions of Sissi’s treatment are short moments of interaction. Sissi’s outrageous behaviour faces the calm, deeply sympathetic voice and face of her new analyst. Mini-dramas of mostly less than a minute’s duration, these sessions slowly reveal the trauma that has confined the young woman to life in a hospital. When her mother appears, a half-hidden, slowly emerging, sad story of abuse and neglect receives the intergenerational quality that adds layers of history in this exhibition. The cyclical form of the video loop evokes the perpetual internment of women whose only transgression was to be subjected to abuse.
Single-channel video projection (20:25:14)
As a coda to Sissi’s story, a smaller 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)
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 suddenly 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)
In a sculptural ensemble of three videos, displayed on cubes on free-standing pedestals, the tradition of “talking heads” is turned, so to speak, on its head. Talk, here, is a cry for help. These patients talk about their problems – if they can talk, that is. One of them has been disempowered to the point of not being able to speak; another suffers from Asperger Syndrome – he can only recite at frantic speed, not communicate. Others cannot distinguish their nightmares from reality. Françoise walks around in the hospital room, or receives them in her office. Standing in the middle between these videos, the visitor is addressed as a witness. Due to the unequal length of each piece, the combination of the people encountered continuously changes.
Three-channel video sculpture (05:27:22; 04:18:17; 06:09:18)
The Space In-Between
A near-but-not-quite immersive experience of witnessing the dynamic and effect-laden process of an analysis. In the last part of the gallery, with two-screen back-projection, a domestic rug indicates the space of the psychoanalyst’s office where the “treatment” takes place. On both edges of the rug an arm chair is available for visitors to sit in and peek into the “office”. The chairs may be moved. This gives the visitor the freedom, but also the near-compelling need, to take a position. Memories of both analyst and patient circulate and sometimes seem to invade the present of the analytic event. As in Psychoanalysis on Trial, one can listen and look with either party, or shift from one position to the other. But this time we are in the privacy of the consultation room and witness the individual interaction between analyst and patient, This most dramatic installation stages a situation where indifference is an untenable position, and the identification with the patient is inevitable.
Two-channel video projection (10:31:01)
Here are some installation views of the exhibition.
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.