Madame B | Chapter
Multiple-screen video installation, 2014
Multi-lingual with English subtitles
5. Trying to Love
Another piece of two juxtaposed screens stages the tension between event and routine in two attempts to break the latter in ways we all know, once through romance and once through ambition. The men in Emma’s life – her husband and her two lovers – are too alike to help break her disappointment and boredom. The mediocrity so frequently assigned to Charles also characterizes the other two men, in spite of the fact that she expects from them the excitement that is lacking at home. This common element is but one aspect of the link between them. They also lack communicative skills, they are difficult to talk to, and don’t listen. On the other hand, the problem also lies with Emma herself, whose education into being a good-enough woman has stunted her capacity to act. She projects her ambition on her husband and lovers, while never benefitting from her talents and education. When the beginning of boredom is already glimmering through the seduction by Rodolphe she seeks an alternative in ambition and, pushed by Homais, pushes Charles to reach beyond his capacities. Indeed, Emma’s drama is her passivity and impotence. She lacks dialogic performativity.
How to render a resemblance among three men if they are all, a priori, on a mission to save Emma from boredom by promising a break with routine? The rescue attempts fail precisely because the men are too alike. We have staged this by means of two casting decisions. First, the three men are played by the same actor, Thomas Germaine; then, Emma and her men don’t speak the same language. The former decision was motivated by the obvious but unexpressed fact that the young woman is not in love with anyone in particular but with Love – its lures, its illusions, its push to become passive and dependent. The latter decision does justice to the undeniable fact that Emma and her men don’t understand each other.
In this scene, the visitor is confronted with two of these men at the same time. Both do their best: Rodolphe tries to seduce her, whereas Charles takes a shot at fame in an attempt to satisfy her (and not his) ambition. Here, an open presentation of the two alternatives – the loving, reliable, but ultimately boring Charles whose mediocrity exasperates his wife, versus the cynical, opportunistic, but initially exciting Rodolphe – is confusing because we see the same man twice – or do we?
This is again, as in the installation Everyday Life, a confrontation with the difficulty of feeling compelled to judge while being immersed in an experience of what we then feel judgmental about. We have seen and heard Rodolphe’s cynical attitude. But visually, at the same time, he stages his attraction, dressing it up as love and commitment. Sometimes he looks gorgeous, sometimes a bit devilish. He is paranoid about the oppression fo social control. Charles is being staged, made to fulfill the ambition he does not feel and cannot muster. He is brought in to appear on television as an expert, and utterly fails. True, he is incapable of being an equal to the woman expert with whom he shares these minutes of public glory - or ridicule. For the visitor, a dilemma comparable to Emma’s unfolds. When he returns home, lamenting his failure and apologizing to Emma, she aggressively rejects him, and he bursts into sobs. Is he ridiculous, weak and a failure, also, as a man, or is he a victim of manipulation? The installation piece challenges our contemporary wish to avoid being judgmental about adultery, ambition, and failure precisely by showing the tenacity of our condemnatory urges.