Madame B | Chapter
Multiple-screen video installation, 2014
Multi-lingual with English subtitles
1. Everyday Life
We have staged the look of the man (Charles) that awakens the interest of the woman (Emma) and vice versa on two opposing screens. The seven-minute piece consists of two parts of 3.30 minutes. One presents a routine without events, the other initiates a change. The distance between the screens will be calculated to make it impossible to see both sides at the same time. Moreover, in order to hamper looking from a distance, the screens will be so close as to make the viewing experience slightly uncomfortable.
As a result, viewers are compelled to do several things at once. At any one time they must choose which screen to look at, and thus they will move their bodies, and realize they miss things. That feeling of missing out, in turn, produces an eagerness to see it all, and a tendency to flitter from one screen to the other. This bodily awareness, in turn, makes viewers acutely sensitive to the tendency, provoked by the work, to morally judge even subconsciously the kind of looks exchanged. Between voyeurism and flirtation, the tendency to judge, however, flounders on the realisation that these two looks together produce narrative; in this case, the emerging love story.
On one screen we see Charles taking his morning coffee and preparing for his daily tour to visit the sick. His facial epxressions suggest boredom, dutiful routine behaviour, and a lack of a fulfilling everyday life. During those first minutes, on the opposite screen, Emma tends to the farm animals. After a little while, her facial expression changes ever so subtly, and her actions become more futile. Two opposed images, then, that both express stagnation; states that, while announcing the need for things to happen, foreground visuality.
At the moment when Charles looks up and out of the window again, Emma walks through the meadows towards the house of the doctor. We don’t see her but we see what she sees, and the movement of the hand-held camera makes the visitors feel her walking.
She ends up looking furtively at the house with flirtatious interest, at the phantom-like apparition of a man at the upper floor window where he watches her in a somewhat voyeuristic manner. He sees more of the young woman than he can logically (physically) see; the imagination kicks in. Two looks that are socially ambiguous begin to have consequences when they cross. Since the two screens are disposed face-to-face so that visitors cannot, physically, see them at the same time, they will be inclined to follow the incipient action, thus exercising some form of activity.
This activity – which the visitors can notice in their own body but also in that of others – makes them aware of the dynamic and bodily nature of looking. The activity thus stimulated comprises an awareness of the nature of the two looks as different and perhaps complementary, and possibly a partial identification with either one; or with the difficulty of choosing. The essence is the slow awakening of the performative look: a look that acts. Everything emerges from that look. This “explains”, in visual-immersive form, the social functioning of looking itself. That the performative efficacy of an image depends on the look one casts on the other means that the ontology of the visual is fundamentally dialogic.
Where a touch of voyeurism and a touch of flirting meet, change can happen. The two kinds of looks are socially active, and subject to judgment as well. But the combination of performativity and immersion makes such judgments uncomfortable and instead stimulates reflection on the social importance of looking – its decisive dialogic performativity.