Tag Archives: Joanna Hogg

Chantal Akerman

This review of “Chantal Akerman: NOW” at Ambika P3 appeared in Mousse magazine:

Long in the planning, and sensitively curated by Ambika P3’s Michael Mazière jointly with the filmmaker duo A Nos Amours (Joanna Hogg and Adam Roberts), this survey of Chantal Akerman’s video installation work was intended to show the continuity of her practice as a filmmaker and an artist. “NOW” follows on from, and in a sense completes, the retrospective of Akerman’s entire filmic output orchestrated by A Nos Amours at the ICA London. Dedicated to the memory of the late artist, who passed away on 5 October, the retrospective came to a close (following two years of monthly screenings) a week before the show’s opening. Casting a shadow over both events, Akerman’s unexpected death, aged sixty-five, gave an added poignancy to the seven works brought together at Ambika P3, even as it made the show’s title sound bitterly ironic.

Akerman, who shot her first film, Saute ma ville (1968), when she was just eighteen, only turned to making work for gallery viewing in 1995, after she was invited to do a show at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Many of her video installations reuse film footage originally shot as feature films or shorts with cinema audiences in mind. In the Mirror (1971/2007), which confronts visitors immediately as they enter the mezzanine overlooking the main gallery space at Ambika P3, is a case in point. A young woman wearing nothing but underwear inspects herself closely in a full-length mirror, finding fault with this, that, and the other. It could be a self-portrait, but this is in fact the actress Claire Wauthion, who would go on to portray Akerman’s lover in Je tu il elle (1976). The black-and-white 16mm film transferred to video is a fourteen-minute sequence lifted from Akerman’s second feature film, L’Enfant aimé – ou je joue à être une femme mariée (1971), which the filmmaker herself deemed a failure but would return to, years later.

Two other video projections displayed in a succession of dark rooms downstairs repurpose footage from travelogue films, a mode to which Akerman would return again and again in her later works. A Voice in the Desert (2002) and D’est: au bord de la fiction (1995) illustrate the varied uses to which Akerman would put existing filmic materials in her installations. Originally shown at “Documenta 11”, the former work is a filmed projection on a screen suspended against a desert backdrop of the final minutes of Akerman’s film De l’autre côté (2002), dealing with clandestine migration along the U.S.-Mexico border, accompanied by the barely audible sound of Akerman’s voice reading extracts from the film in Spanish and English. The latter displays scenes from D’est (1993)—shot while traveling across Eastern Europe shortly before the fall of Communism—on twenty-four monitors, presented in eight blocks of three in a precise arrangement by Akerman’s longtime editor, Claire Atherton. In contrast to this surfeit of bleak wordless images, a final monitor presented on its own shows grainy, indistinct footage of a highway by night as the filmmaker recites, in Hebrew followed by English, the biblical interdiction on graven images from Exodus.

Presented next to each other, Maniac Summer (2009) and Maniac Shadows (2013) gesture in their titles to the manic episodes Akerman was increasingly prone to from her mid-thirties onward. (She openly discusses her bipolar condition with the curator Nicole Brenez in the so-called “Pajama Interview”.) [1] Both show contrasting indoor and outdoor scenes and make striking use of after-images, inspired in part by the traces of radiation left behind in the Hiroshima blasts. In Maniac Summer, the footage shot in and from the vantage of Akerman’s Parisian apartment is drained of color, multiplied, and progressively abstracted, as the projected images travel across three walls clockwise, disappearing then reappearing moments later in an altered guise. A faint shadow on a contiguous wall duplicates one of three moving images composing a triptych in Maniac Shadows, presented as a wall of photographs in a second gallery space alongside a projected image of Akerman reading a text about her mother at The Kitchen in New York.

Described by the filmmaker as her “orphan film”, Tombée de nuit sur Shanghai (2007), made for the omnibus project ”The State of the World” with contributions from Pedro Costa, Wang Bing, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, was subsequently part of Akerman’s solo show titled “Maniac Summer” (2009) at Marian Goodman Gallery. Random, gaudy advertisements animating the LED screens on two prominent skyscrapers form a moving image within what is mostly a static long take of Shanghai’s harbor at nightfall. The large-scale projection is flanked by two diminutive mass-produced glowing aquarium light-boxes, whose fish at one point echo the images projected on the towers.

The same twin light-boxes feature beside the five screens suspended within the large black box built to house the centerpiece, NOW (2015), which dominates the show both visually and aurally since its piercing soundtrack bleeds through the walls. Akerman’s most recent work on view was commissioned for the 56th Venice Biennale. Tucked away at the back of the room, the kitschy fish tanks strike an incongruous note in the work’s otherwise spare presentation at Ambika P3, which does away with the artificial flowers strewn on the floor in the Arsenale installation. And yet they offer some respite from the dun desert landscapes hurtling past at breakneck speed on the five screens, seemingly divorced from the din of explosions, gunshots, sirens, calls to prayer, human shrieks, and panicked birdsong, all denoting alarm.


Locarno Film Festival

This report from the 66th Locarno Film Festival was posted on the frieze d/e blog:

Piazza Grande, Locarno (all images courtesy: Festival del film Locarno © 2013. All rights reserved.)
Tornado warnings added a certain frisson to proceedings on the opening night of the 66th Locarno Film Festival, held in the Swiss lakeside city’s sumptuous Piazza Grande. Lightning punctuated the speeches and gave way to rough winds during the open-air screening of Baltasar Kormákur’s 2 Guns (2013), but it was the rain that eventually had us all running for shelter. Every August, the city’s main square is fitted with a giant screen and enough black and yellow chairs – in keeping with the festival’s leopard theme – to seat an audience of 8,000. But these have mostly a decorative function since the majority of the films vying for prizes in the two main festival sections – the International Competition and the Filmmakers of the Present, dedicated to first and second films by emerging directors – are shown safely indoors.


Historia de la meva mort (The Story of My Death, 2013)
The International Competition jury, chaired by the Filipino director Lav Diaz, awarded the top prize – the Golden Leopard – to Albert Serra’s baroque costume drama Historia de la meva mort (The Story of My Death, 2013). The film is loosely based on the final exploits from Casanova’s memoir Histoire de ma vie (The Story of My Life, 1822). In Serra’s version, Casanova journeys from Switzerland to the southern Carpathians where he meets Dracula and eventually his doom. The Catalan writer-director often uses literary and biblical figures to comic effect – from the Magi in his 2008 El Cant dels ocells (Birdsong) to Don Quixote in (Quixotic) Honor de cavalleria (Honour of the Knights, 2006) – in his idiosyncratic filmic adaptations, most of which were recently shown in a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou. The comedy of Historia de la meva mort is of the dark variety, more unsettling than genuinely funny and of a piece with the candle-lit and generally murky shots that suggest more than they reveal keeping one guessing at the nature of the sexual proclivities and mores they depict.
Serra, whose production methods are anything but orthodox, makes his aversion to working with trained actors well known; he prefers to film with what he calls ‘innocent actors’, including people from his home town, Banyoles in Catalonia, but also Canadian film critic and Locarno programmer Mark Peranson, or Barcelona-based poet and art curator Vincenç Altaió, who portrays an aged Casanova with brio.


Exhibition, 2013

Joanna Hogg’s well-received third feature Exhibition (2013), which was among the 20 films that premiered in the International Competition at Locarno, likewise casts two first-time actors in lead roles: singer and songwriter Viv Albertine, formerly of the girl punk band The Slits, as the neurotic and sexually repressed performance artist D, and Liam Gillick as her husband H, a successful architect and designer.

The plot hinges on the middle-aged, childless couple’s decision to sell a house that has been their home for over 20 years. Not just any house. Exhibition is set in a house that the late modernist architect James Melvin, to whom the film is dedicated, designed for himself in South Kensington. Too stylish to suit the needs of an ordinary family, the minimally furnished house with its clean lines, reflective windows and, at its heart, a spiral staircase that looks superb on film, is a gilded cage of sorts. The sense of entrapment is conveyed through a wealth of details, from close-ups of Venetian blinds to the striped tops that D, who hardly ever leaves the house and appears to meld with it, consistently wears.


Lo que el fuego me trajo (What Fire Brought to Me, 2013)

Another modernist architect’s home, Lina Bo Bardi’s jungle-clad 1951 Casa de Vidro (Glass House) in Morumbi, São Paulo, features prominently in Adrián Villar Rojas’s short Lo que el fuego me trajo (What Fire Brought to Me, 2013). Commissioned by Hans Ulrich Obrist for an exhibition he curated in April 2013 (The Insides Are on the Outside, Casa de Vidro), this is the Argentine artist’s first foray into filmmaking. The most remarkable thing about this 43-minute-long silent film is the protracted closing credits that last a disproportionate 10 minutes. Consisting of spaced out letters, black on white that form elaborate designs on the screen, they wrap up the visual experience of the film in a witty and, to my knowledge, unprecedented way.

If modernist (glass) houses are justifiably favoured by filmmakers, few have hitherto explored the cinematic potential of cable cars. Manakamana (2013) is filmed entirely inside a cable car, carrying groups of two to three pilgrims (including some goats, on one occasion) to the eponymous Hindi temple. The film consists of eleven roughly 10-minute-long shots – the duration of a ride to or from the temple, corresponding to one reel of 16mm film. Each pair or group appears against a moving backdrop of densely wooded mountains and sky, neatly framed by the window of the cable car, which recalls a cinema screen. As an essay in portraiture, Manakamana brings to mind Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests (1964–66), whereas the luxuriant landscape filmed in successive long takes, coupled with the exquisite sound design, are akin to some of James Benning’s experimental films, from Ten Skies and Thirteen Lakes (both 2004) to Stemple Pass (2012).


Manakanama, 2013
Manakamana deservedly took the top prize in the Filmmakers of the Present section as well as receiving a special mention for a best first feature. Directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez from the Harvard-based Sensory Ethnography Lab, run by Lucien Castaing-Taylor who produced the film with Verena Paravel (the two made together the award-winning Leviathan), Manakamana is the latest film from the Lab to garner prizes at film festivals. The experimental approach to ethnographic cinema fostered at the Lab, which sees sense experience as one of its most important subjects, is also at work in A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (2013) by Ben Rivers and Ben Russell, whose films straddle the divide between documentary and fiction, portraiture and landscape filmmaking.
A first-time collaboration between the two artist-filmmakers, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness premiered at Locarno in the new ‘Signs of Life’ side programme, named after a 1968 film by Werner Herzog who was in attendance at the festival. The film is a triptych, its three discrete parts – shot on an Estonian island (COMMUNE), in northern Finland (SOLITUDE) and at a nightclub in Oslo (BLACK METAL) – connected by certain recurring motifs (face painting, fire, triangles) and a single character, portrayed by the Brooklyn-based musician Robert AA Lowe, who appears in all three sections. Of the three, the commune section comes across as the most didactic, perhaps because it is the only one that features dialogue. Prompted by the filmmakers, conversations between the different commune members about what it means to live together inevitably feel contrived.

Pays barbare, (Barbaric Land, 2013)

The latest film by the Milan-based duo Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, who have been collaborating since 1986, Pays barbare (Barbaric Land, 2013) is also driven by a strong political message, neatly summed up by the statement: ‘every period has its own fascism’. For the first 10 minutes of the film, blue-tinged footage documenting Mussolini’s downfall in 1945, marking the end of the Italo-Ethiopian war, is projected at decelerated speed and in complete silence to gripping effect. Culled from film archives, the hand-tinted moving images that follow in the remaining 55 minutes are powerful enough on their own, as an indictment of colonialism, without any of the literary quotes and statements occasionally read out in voice-over. That this kind of film should have its premiere in the main competition at Locarno, rather than being relegated to one of the sidebars, speaks loud and clear of the festival programmers’ willingness to take risks and their ongoing support for experimental filmmaking.