Xavier Dolan, Heartbeats, 2011, stills from a color film, 95 minutes. Left: Marie (Monia Chokri). Right: Nicolas (Niels Schneider).
Xavier Dolan is a celebrated twenty-one-year-old filmmaker from Montreal. His first work J’ai tué ma mére (How I Killed My Mother) won three awards at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. His latest piece, Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats), opens at IFC Center in New York on February 25. Here, Dolan talks about obsession, love, and the impact of French modernism on his work.
IF IT’S NOT OBSESSIVE, IT IS PROBABLY NOT LOVE. Passion and obsession are very similar. It’s just that we don’t have reciprocal feelings most of the time and so we tend to view obsession as one way. But when it’s reciprocal, it becomes passion. For me, to be obsessed with someone is to be in love and to be in love is to be obsessed. I don’t consider obsession a pejorative word or wrong.
I found more of my inspiration for Heartbeats in literature and visual art rather than other films. Marie and Francis, the two main characters, are passionate about the impossibility of what they fell for. They’re into the image, or the concept of love more than love itself. What is exciting for them is the idea of being loved by such a beautiful person. In the party scene where they’re dancing, they see this guy and Francis thinks of Cocteau drawings and Marie sees excerpts of Michelangelo’s David, for me this is a scene where I am trying to explain that they’re experiencing projection. They don’t know this guy: he’s rather uninteresting and he has questionable charisma. In essence, he’s pretty empty, but the characters don’t see this. They’re excited by the fact that he is out of reach; that he’s an impossible quest. What’s exciting to Marie and Francis in unrequited love is not that it’s love, it’s the fact that it’s unrequited; that they love the idea of being treated like shit. It’s modern and subtle sadism.
It’s like Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, when the Narrator says “I’ve wasted years of my life, I’ve wanted to die, had my greatest heartbreak for a girl that didn’t love me. For a girl that I actually didn’t love, didn’t want to love, and who wasn’t even my type.” He always had whatever he wanted and it’s the fact that she wanted him so badly when he didn’t, and when he actually tried to love to her, he was indifferent. That dead love and obsession made him fall for her and to me that is very interesting because it seems to be the rule.
This film is not revolutionary in its subject matter. My mission in life is not to become a revolutionary film director or even a great director. My ambition in life is to be a great storyteller. So in this film I am exploring how I have always been a victim of love.
There is this scene in the film where Marie is walking on the street and she’s got this dress on, a 1940s dress with a little buckle in the back and she’s walking in slow motion and she’s got a very nice ass. In the reflection of a storefront window she passes you can see a Metro truck driving by, which annoyed me when it happened. Metro in Quebec is a chain of grocery stores and this reflection seemed like a catastrophe because it’s just so unromantic and it has nothing to do with the gracefulness and the elegance of the shot. At the same time, I love it. It’s so complimentary; a happy coincidence. I am actually lucky. It reminds me of how much these characters are living in an alternate reality when they’re walking down the streets completely in love.
Through March 3, the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow is presenting an exhibition devoted to the work of filmmaker Harun Farocki. The show includes workshops, seminars, screenings, discussions, and three of Farocki’s two-channel video installations, I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts, 2000, Comparison via a Third, 2007, and Immersion, 2009, as well as a selection of thirteen other works spanning his career. Here, the artist discusses Immersion and In Comparison, 2009, his most recent film and a companion piece to Comparison via a Third, employing overlapping themes and footage.
BOTH IMMERSION AND IN COMPARISON use repetition in their formal structures. As early as my first film, Inextinguishable Fire, 1969, I worked with repetition and variations, probably influenced by reading books, including Brecht and Beckett, and listening to classical music. Because I love to work with few elements, I have to combine them in various ways. A language with a large vocabulary, like English, can make do with a simple grammar, but a language with fewer words has to find more ways to combine them. Even from watching narrative films, one can learn how important repetition and variation are: Most locations appear at least twice. This occurs for economic reasons, but it also structures the film, and makes you compare scene A with A¹.
For In Comparison, I wanted to make a film about concomitance, and about contemporary production on a range of different technical levels. So I looked for an object that had not changed too much in the past few thousand years. This could have been a shoe or a knife, but a brick becomes part of a building and therefore part of our environment. So the brick appears as something of a poetic object. I follow its mode of creation and use in Africa, India, and Europe. The issue of labor and production is something I’ve often pursued. In recent years I’ve made a number of films about the immaterial work we find in our own postindustrial countries. My work is also quite immaterial.
The concept for Immersion began when my collaborator, Matthias Rajmann, sent me a newspaper clipping about the introduction of a computer program called “Virtual Iraq” in the US. When using the system, veterans and traumatized soldiers watch a simulation of the scene that traumatized them, and then verbally repeat what happened. Because I knew from my research for earlier works that soldiers use similar computer animations for training, I thought this would be a striking similarity/opposition: The same kinds of images are used both to prepare for the war and to deal with its aftermath. However, the animations for therapeutic purposes are made a bit more cheaply, so no people or things in them cast a shadow. But does imagination need shadows?
Immersion is presented on two screens. Since 1995, when I was first asked to produce something for an art space, I have often worked with double projections. Here the situation is quite simple: We see a person on one side, and what he or she sees on the system’s head-mounted display appears on the other channel. This can also be done with two images on a single screen in a theater, and I have in fact shown Immersion in cinemas and at festivals. One could say that art spaces have appropriated cinema—but the reverse also happens.
Following her recent exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the influential American artist Mary Kelly is mounting the largest and most comprehensive gathering of her work to date, at Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery. The exhibition opens on February 19 and a daylong symposium at the gallery will be held on March 26. A catalogue with essays, interviews, and selections from Kelly’s notebooks will accompany the exhibition.
THERE IS A WAY OF UNDERSTANDING MY WORK in relation to film, especially when you see so many of my projects together. Although I moved away from film in the early 1970s, I took many of the medium’s aesthetic strategies about real time and duration into the installation context. A work like The Ballad of Kastriot Rexhepi requires a 360-degree pan, and that is quite satisfying for me because the viewer gets pulled in and has to walk around it. Those phenomenological aspects are also very important in my later pieces. I used to call this “narrativizing space,” but now I wonder whether that’s the right term to use. I’ve been thinking about this since “The Dialogic Imagination,” a workshop we had in Stockholm last October, and perhaps the title of that workshop offers a better way of thinking about this process. I’m more interested in the way a construction of dialogic space is created in the later works through fairly anecdotal writings, which you can see in much of my art.
The Moderna exhibition was thematic, not like a retrospective or a survey, but concentrated on four works in a way that interested me. When we discussed the show at the Whitworth, I knew that I wanted to include as much complete work as I could, rather than just bits and pieces. I wanted the viewer to get a sense of the major projects over my career, and to have an idea of the questions I have been addressing over time. That’s why we decided to call it “Mary Kelly Projects, 1973–2010,” and it does include nearly all of Post-Partum Document, which hasn’t been seen in the UK for over thirty years, and several of my more recent works, such as Vox Manet and Circa 1968, which explore political activism. It also has the Multi-Story House from Love Songs, works that draw upon women’s experiences. Additionally on view is Habitus, my latest work, an installation based on the Anderson bomb shelter that was mass-produced for domestic use during World War II. I hope that viewers gain an understanding of what I’ve called the “discursive site,” a support for the work that’s much broader than a specific medium, but something more like a location, or a community, or an oppositional discourse. For me, this discursive site began with the women’s movement in Britain at the end of the ’60s and the kinds of questions that emerged at that time around sexual difference and identity. Those questions carried on after Post-Partum Document, from the mother-child relationship to questions about masculinity, and those then evolved into the questions about war and ethics that underpin my later work.
What really excites me most is what’s going on in the present moment. Even in work where I’m returning to 1968 as an image, it’s not really about the past but more about how the past is appearing in the present. Quite a while ago, when I had a show at the New Museum in 1990, I began to ask if in fact this moment of feminism and psychoanalysis was really over, or if it had any meaning for people now. At the time I realized it just keeps reinventing itself in many different ways, and I think that comes out in some of the pieces. Around the same time, I began to think about generations, not anthropologically, but through the major historical events that have affected people and have cast a really wide net around them. The generations between 1965 and 1985 were very much impacted by what happened in 1968. And that made me think about the period of World War II, and wonder why the generation brought up during the cold war was so cut off from our parents. We were not curious because we thought we were going to change the world––we weren’t going to make that same mistake again!
When I looked over all the work I also realized how important voice is to me; it’s almost a found object in my practice. Although I’ve never published my notebooks before, it seemed important to include some pages from them in the catalogue. Over the years, I’ve kept conversational notes, drawings, and more theoretical notes. These are all mixed up and interconnected, but they become the material that I try to work on. So there’s always the combination of the everyday experience and an attempt to grasp the big picture at the same time, but in the notebooks you can see how organic it all really is.
Navid Nuur is an artist based in the Netherlands whose intricate process-based works question the permanence of the art object and connections between idea and form. Here, he discusses his solo exhibition “Post Parallelism,” which is on view at Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Switzerland, until April 17.
MOST OF MY WORKS cannot be classified as installation, photography, or sculpture. I grew tired of people trying to categorize them, so I decided to come up with a new, perhaps more creative name. I use the term “interimodule” because they are temporary modulelike works that feed off each other when they are together. For instance, the light emitted by one work might be absorbed by another.
The title of this exhibition, “Post Parallelism,” picks up on a theme that I explored in a previous interimodule. In that work, I stood in front of a bookshop hanging my head and carrying a sandwich board that read AT THIS BOOKSHOP I HAVE BEEN STEALING CONCEPTS FOR MY OWN ART. I AM A THIEF NOT AN ARTIST. I wanted the sandwich board to evoke the ways in which artists borrow ideas from other artists and disciplines. They establish connections or parallels between these borrowings and create artworks from them. Today such parallelism has become a mindset: Artists mix different temporalities, making parallels without caring. They have so much information at their disposal that they are able to make connections between phenomena or concepts that might seem very far apart. As a result, we no longer have just parallels, as we did before, but post-parallels. In the exhibition at Sankt Gallen, for instance, a single concept or material is split into multiple components: The fluorescent light system on the ceiling is partly functional––it lets you see where you are going––but it also comprises a number of tubes that have been removed from their fixtures in order to form a composition of light-emitting bodies that is experienced as an artwork. In this case, post-parallelism refers to the oblique, tangential relationship between objects or works that originate from the same material or concept.
Light is only one of the materials I use in the show. Another is vitamin D, which is produced when your skin comes into contact with ultraviolet light from the sun. There is a white monochrome painting made from crushed vitamin D used as a pigment. The pigment makes the invisible visible and connects the exhibition space to the world outside. The large window in the gallery looks onto the outside, while the neon on the ceiling gives light so you can see the vitamin D painting inside. Here, too, there are what I call “counter-works,” or elements emanating from the same concept.
Many of my pieces begin with an object or idea that intrigues or irritates me. Where You End and I Begin, for example, is a piece about the last full stop in the exhibition handout, the punctuation mark that follows the words “when you end and I begin.” In the work, the period has been enlarged and displayed alongside the handout, which was not written by me but is about my art. The dot, an object derived from information about my work, holds the key to my artistic practice, while the text explaining my practice has been turned back into art.
Looking is not enough for me; I also like to taste, touch, and smell. Vitamin D can be taken through the mouth, so you could imagine licking the vitamin painting. There is also the work Forest with No View, a pine crate that diffuses pine oil so that you can smell the tree when you walk through the crate. Whereas some artists draw on archival references to navigate our increasingly multidimensional world, I work from the body out.
Elizabeth LeCompte is a founding member of the Wooster Group, an experimental theater company based in New York. She has directed all of the pieces that the company has performed since its creation. The collective is currently in residence at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, and its latest work, Vieux Carré, runs February 2–March 13. Here, LeCompte talks about Tennessee Williams, the idea of the “tortured writer,” and Ryan Trecartin’s influence on the piece.
I WAS STRUCK BY THE PLACES Tennessee Williams goes in his writing. There’s a sense in his work, especially in Vieux Carré, that he’s trying to figure out something deeply personal; that he’s criticizing himself at the same time that he is writing.
The character of the Writer, for me, is the artist at his most desperate. I relate very much to that. Tennessee is writing about the idea of the writer—himself, maybe. Then again, he was dealing with self-deception too, so who knows? The character is some kind of writer from 1938, but it’s also Williams as he was in 1977, when he finished the play. It may not be as nostalgic as that implies; people talk about Vieux Carré as a “memory play,” but I don’t think it is, really. I think it’s a play about being an artist. At the time, I am sure Tennessee was coming up against all the newer playwrights who were more monosyllabic compared with him, and he must have been aware his style was going out of fashion. He was so trapped in his own history and what people expected of him. In Vieux Carré, it seems he’s monitoring himself in a different way than he did in his earlier work.
We worked with the Writer as someone being seen penning dialogue, and we focused on what that would be like, how it comes out, and how he’s editing himself. It’s almost as if I am trying to find out where Williams felt safe and where he felt at sea and when he felt at sea.
To develop a style for the dialogue, we watched a lot of Paul Morrissey, who Williams was kind of enamored with at the time. Then I happened to catch the “Younger Than Jesus” show at the New Museum where Ryan Trecartin had several rooms. His work referred me to a whole new style and way of looking at the world of the play, so we just watched a lot of his videos and we worked on incorporating that performance style into certain parts of the piece, and visually as well. What was so nice about coming to Ryan is the kind of liberation from sexual roles he exhibits; it’s so inspiring. For instance, in our production Kate Valk’s playing two roles, Scott Shepherd’s playing two roles, and they mutate into each other and it’s not a problem. There’s a certain kind of freedom that Tennessee didn’t have in the naturalist theater of his time.
I want to say that Tennessee would have bloomed in a post–gay liberation age, but I am not sure. He couldn’t let go of the past for a lot of reasons, and one of them was that he wanted to make a perfect play and yet, at the same time, he saw that wasn’t what was happening anymore. If he made the perfect play he hated himself, and if he didn’t he hated the people who hated him. And that writer in Vieux Carré is caught there: in a place where he has so many ideas of how to make a good work but finally what soars above it all is those beautiful arias, and the language that just holds everything together.
The artist and songwriter Rachel Mason has performed at the Kunsthalle Zurich, the Park Avenue Armory, and Art in General, among other venues. Here she talks about The Songs of the Ambassadors, an ongoing work involving miniature porcelain busts of political figures, self-portraits, and her music. The project is currently featured in the exhibition “LifeStories” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, which closes on March 27.
THE SONGS OF THE AMBASSADORS began in the winter of 2004, when I saw a TV news report about the death toll in Iraq. I waited to see more, but the newscast ended abruptly. Suddenly a huge throng of people were cheering at the two warring teams facing off on an arena floor––a football game. I switched channels to try to hear more about the war but the game was on every one. I wondered: How many were dead? Three thousand? I couldn’t remember. I tried to recall when the war started. What was I doing to prevent it? I went to some protests, but this was just one war. What about the others? How many wars happened in my lifetime?
Then I began to really think a lot about President Bush. What must be going through his mind? What was his world like? How was he deciding what he was deciding? What could I do about anything? And later, I started to fantasize that I could play with all of these world leaders like dolls. If they were small enough for me to hold in my hands, maybe I could have a better sense of who they were and what had happened during my lifetime. I love collectible sets, like the plates of all the presidents. If I had a special edition set, I would have porcelain busts of the leaders of countries at war and I would play the part of an ambassador to each conflict. I would wear their costumes so that I could sit with them and be an ambassador.
Rachel Mason, Sanjay I Can Fly Now, 2008. From her album The Ambassadors II.
From 2005 to 2009, I sculpted my life in wars. I chose conflicts big and small for each year of my life, and I began writing and recording songs to go along with them. The first album was a collaborative effort with fourteen friends whose lyrics I set to music. The artist Michael Queenland wrote a two-part song about the president of Burkina Faso. Jennifer Herrema of the band RTX wrote about Guy Phillipe, the rebel leader of Haiti who tried to depose Aristide. The writer Emory Holmes II, whose poem about Mobutu Sese Seko is on the first album, once remarked, “In fiction you can express more reality than in nonfiction.” His words really prophesied what would happen with this project.
In March 2007, I wrote to Manuel Noriega and sent him a picture of the bust I had made of him, and he wrote me back from his prison cell telling me to read his book. While reading his book, my ear became infected and I wrote the song “Se infecto mi canal” (My Canal Is Infected). We exchanged another letter just before he was transferred to France.
I made a video in 2008 for My Chechen Wolves, a song in which Dzhokhar Dudayev, the fearless fighter of the small nation of Chechnya, challenges the Russian army. I used footage from YouTube, and when I put it back on that site it went viral in the Caucasus and I became involved in the cause. I attended a rally last December where I sang the song for a protest in Times Square against recent racial attacks on the people of the Caucasus.
A friend suggested I call Ramsey Clark, former attorney general and Saddam Hussein’s lawyer. He answered the phone and invited me to his house, where I showed him the busts. He knew each figure personally. He asked me if wanted to have a copy of his final defense. I did. The defense statement inspired a script I wrote and performed at the Emigrant Savings Bank on the Lower East Side with artists Shana Moulton, Tyler Coburn, and Frank Benson playing characters from Zabibah and the King, Hussein’s novel, and I played Hussein as he hung from the noose singing his last written words, a poem called “Unbind It.”
Rachel Mason, My Chechen Wolves, 2008
Sue de Beer’s latest installation The Ghost is being presented in association with Art Production Fund at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. The work features a two-channel video projection concerning an occult hypnotist who utilizes “material recollection” to attain lost time. The Ghost is on view February 3–6.
ORIGINALLY I WANTED TO MAKE A GIALLO––a very classic version, with ghosts in it. During the course of the narrative development I began to undergo a series of hypnosis, and I also started going to a sensory deprivation tank in Berlin. So I began to wonder about intersections between the physiological and the psychological, or about ways to take your conscious mind to a place that is unconscious but still visible––a place that produces images. It was then that I began to conceive of a character that was very much in a giallo––an occult hypnotist. After I completed the basic outline for the script, I asked Alissa Bennett to write a text for the hypnotist, where the hypnotist talks about ghosts and the way ghosts inhabit a room––leaving traces of its former occupancy, clues for present and future residents. I also asked her to write a text for a character who repeatedly visits the hypnotist, to experience a more vivid sort of “recollection.” Alissa named this “the material recollection.”
It was difficult to find a person that could play this hypnotist character. Jutta Koether, who plays the hypnotist, has a strong presence as a person. She is also a musician and I find her voice to be beautiful and rhythmic. For the two characters in the film that are musicians, which are Jutta and John Spencer; they both have voices you could get lost in, voices that carry a lot of feeling with them.
For this video, in particular, the editing was quite physical. How do you make a ghost without it being something that is absurd? It’s especially hard on a small budget and shooting over a long period of time. I shot from end of October to December 2008, for two months straight, and then I re-shot five months later and did a lot of experiments to try to understand how to make a ghost. I think that in the editing of this piece, the hypnotism seems to be located in the physicality of video. The way that light can affect your eyes and in turn how that light can affect you physically was exciting to me. The optical effect of persistence of vision, and the way that could make segments of the video overlay.
The first part of this shoot took place in Fall 2009, after the October downturn had been digested, so my budget was quite small when I began to work. One of the characters in the film, Claire, was originally supposed to disappear and she was supposed to do it in a way that was a lot more filmic. But it became clear to me that I didn’t actually have the footage that I needed to make that happen, so I asked Alissa again to write a text for this character where she could make herself disappear. Claire describes how she will make herself into the perfect ghost, which echoes a theme for Jutta’s character––the nature of a haunting. How absence can be more powerful than presence. Claire’s character is new for me, in that she’s extremely unsympathetic. I find her to be a bit malicious, in the way that she can see the damage she is about to do, and is looking forward to its effects. She is secretive. But all of these things could make her absolutely fascinating for the right person who would love to be seduced by her. Please, come ruin me again.