This interview with Mathieu Copeland appeared on the The Exhibitionist’s blog:
Curated by Mathieu Copeland, The Exhibition of a Film premiered at the Auditorium Fondation Arditi as part of the Biennale of Moving Images at the Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva, on September 19, 2014.
Agnieszka Gratza (AG): To most people, the term “exhibition” implies a gathering of disparate objects in a given environment. You’ve made exhibitions of memories, movements, words, voids, and now film. What connects these paradoxical collections?
Mathieu Copeland (MC): They share the desire to escape the materiality of the work of art. I was also trying to question what an exhibition can be and push its conventional boundaries. What would it be like to have an exhibition made only of movement, or only of words? I’ve always believed in the idea that the materiality of the artwork is of the same nature as that of the exhibition. The location of the artwork and the location of the exhibition merge.
AG: But if, for example, you present something as immaterial as words within four walls, which are quite material, how are they of the same nature?
MC: When my co-curators and I were working on Voids: A Retrospective (2009), the retrospective of empty exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, that’s what it was: only the construct of the museum, and the experience of different voids that make up the history of immateriality, from Yves Klein to Robert Barry and Roman Ondák. With Voids, one could wonder if the materiality of the container was the content of the exhibition. Actually, space is often irrelevant. You can do A Spoken Word Exhibition on the street and it’s still A Spoken Word Exhibition.
AG: The premiere of The Exhibition of a Film took place in quite an unusual theater, architecturally speaking. Will the experience of the exhibition vary from one cinema or viewing space to another?
MC: The experience would be different, but the film would still be the film. The Fondation Arditi is a cinema from the 1950s with beautiful architectural fixtures. Screened in a different space, one would experience the work differently. But it is the same for any film. What is cinema? It’s a screen, a projected image, and a polyphony of sound. Polyphony was the way into this project. In The Exhibition of a Film, in addition to polyphonic sound, you have a layering of textures, voices, images, and sensuality.
AG: Your titles are often propositions that contain the whole program of an exhibition. Could you comment on this one?
MC: The Exhibition of a Film is not a sexy title, but it says exactly what it is. It’s about exhibiting a film and filming an exhibition. There’s also a play on words. In French, exposer le film means “to exhibit” as well as “to expose,” which is what you do when you shoot film with an analog camera. The Exhibition of a Film literalizes this double meaning.
AG: You developed the film with Tim Etchells, who took on the role of “dramaturge.” What exactly was Etchells’s role?
MC: It’s a non-narrative film, so he did not write a film scenario or script, but rather helped to orchestrate all the layers between the sound and the projected image. One such moment is when you hear that piece by Lee Ranaldo with the words of Myriam Lefkowitz while looking at images by Laurent Schmid.
AG: You asked Susan Stenger to create the soundtrack without letting her see the images. The day of the premiere she saw them for the first time, an experimental arrangement in which chance plays an important role. On the other hand, the film keeps to the conventions of a feature film, being exactly 100 minutes long.
MC: I took the construct of the ideal feature-length film because it gave me less to choose from. That’s also why I insisted on making a film for cinemas, as opposed to screening it in a gallery. All the same constraints are there but, instead of being the constraints of a film, they are the constraints of an exhibition. It’s a simple displacement.
AG: For all the sophistication of the sound, the image is still bound to the screen. You’re not laying bare the mechanics of projection in the way some experimental filmmakers are.
MC: I’m less interested in what it is to project an image for an audience than in the duality of the work of art: an image onto which we project light—say, a painting, sculpture, or photograph—and the image constructed by light, a film. Maria Eichhorn asked me to film the filming of the first three scenes of the film, in a mise en abyme of sorts. Franck Leibovici decided to use only the beginnings and the ends of the film reels.
AG: You speak of “alternating and confronting abstract elements and/or filmed scenes.” One striking image is the tiny bubbles against the black backdrop, a recurring image that I couldn’t quite identify.
MC: It looks like a monster with myriad eyes, when in fact it’s just bubbles from a coffeemaker. Each is an individual piece realized by Philippe Decrauzat, inspired by a scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), where Godard filmed the inlay of a coffee cup. These recurring images impart a rhythm to the film. The film opens and ends with a piece by Charles de Meaux, with the color registration code, and it is punctuated by a series of constructed actions filmed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, that appear in three different parts of the film. Tim and I hired actors and invited artists, choreographers, poets, and writers to give us instructions directing their movements. A paratext at the end of the film lays out exactly what is happening when—but what we wanted was a unified dramaturgy.
AG: There’s a trend of exhibiting objects as props alongside film or video projections. What do you make of that?
MC: I think these are just leftovers, and that the actual object is the film—not the para-object, nor the para-text. This fetishism is everywhere, on the part of artists as much as spectators. That’s why the film has all these objects that fall and get broken, like that big head made of wax.