Madame B | Chapter
Multiple-screen video installation, 2014
Multi-lingual with English subtitles
2. Emma's Education
Next to the somewhat confining opposed screens we present the various forms of education in two juxtaposed screens, thus facilitating a more open (literally) viewing situation where the narrative-ideological question of “nature versus nurture” can be contemplated. These images can be characterised as “thought-images”. In all likelihood, visitors will stand together watching these screens. It is even possible that they engage in a discussion with one another. We see the girl at home, but no parent is in sight; father is at work, mother is deceased. She reads and writes, watches television, and cuts out fancy clothes from magazines. We see her at school and in tutorials, under the influence of impressive mature women, who put their best benevolent effort into turning her into a proper, marketable young woman.
The perennial question of nature versus nurture – whether people are born the way they turn out or become what they are under the influence of the outside world – is no longer clear-cut. At home, Emma is culturally and intellectually active; yet, her activities are heavily indebted to the world that feeds them.
Cutting out clothes from fashion magazine indicates that already before leaving the farm, the lures of the world have her in their grip. Conversely, the tutors who teach her see her talent and attempt to nurture it; they don’t simply train her in girlhood. But the line between the two remains a fine one. Art classes bring in contested subjects when gender is concerned; and Emma’s beautiful singing voice will not lead to a musical career but to domestic use, ultimately leading to more boredom.
Visually, we juxtapose shots of the girl alone to shots of her in interaction with others. Instead of staging oppressive teachers, we merge such socially contestable events as a hygiene inspection with acts of confirmation of the girl’s worth. The idea is that most teachers are, hopefully, well-meaning people who are sincerely attempting to help their charges. It is precisely because they do that the socially shaping effect of teaching becomes so ambiguous: both wholesome and oppressive, between shaping and moulding.