Academic journal article Text Matters

Framing Madame B: Quotation and Indistinction in Mieke Bal and Michelle Williams Gamaker's Video Installation

Academic journal article Text Matters

Framing Madame B: Quotation and Indistinction in Mieke Bal and Michelle Williams Gamaker's Video Installation

Article excerpt

In a Polish Location

An innovative interpretation of Flaubert's classic Madame Bovary emerges from the work of two visual artists, Mieke Bal, a scholar and art critic, and Michelle Williams Gamaker, directors of the video installation Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism. The artists decided to premiere their work in the Museum of Modern Art (Muzeum Sztuki) in the city of Lódz (from 6 December 2013 to 9 February 2014) in Poland. This choice of "framing," to invoke a concept thoroughly discussed in Loving Yusuf (Bal 218), attracts the viewer's attention to the capitalist exploitation of emotion, which became particularly aggressive in a place that after forty-four years went from the communist regime to uncritical consumerism whose mechanisms we see exposed in Bal and Williams Gamaker's take on Flaubert's novel.

Significantly, the video installation was placed in the rooms of the building that had been built as a residence for a nineteenth-century cotton tycoon, successfully pursuing his career at a time when Poland had lost independence, and Lódz belonged to the territory taken over by Russia. The residence brings to mind the original capitalist boom in the city that grew due to cotton and textile industry, creating leisure for its nouveaux riches, flaunting boredom as their status symbol. The location of the exhibition emphasizes the things that Madame B makes so apparent, that is, the seductions of capitalism, especially its unfulfilled and yet continually recycled promise that consumerism will offer permanent excitement.

The opening of the exhibition was accompanied by a seminar devoted to the project. Held in the former ballroom, it was framed by the architectural message of ample space, encouraging the participants to expand Emma- like in tune with its implicit promise. Several weeks later, the screening of the film Madame B took place in Manufaktura, the trendiest shopping centre in Lódz. The illusions created by these respective places in the past and the present played into the meaning of the video installation during its stay in Lódz. Like "travelling concepts" from Mieke Bal's book (Travelling Concepts 13-14), Madame B hit the road, and she did that in Lódz. In their booklet brochure on the exhibition, the artists describe it as "immersive" and "site-responsive" (Bal and Williams Gamaker, Madame B: Explorations 3). The next setting for the exhibition was going to be the country house playing the role of Rodolphe's place in the installation and the film (Bal and Williams Gamaker, From Novel to Exhibition).

Particip atory Exhibition vis-à-vis Laboratory Theatre

The word "immersive," as defined by the directors, "refers to an artistic form, in which form, meaning, technique, and ambiance collaborate to solicit the participatory presence of the spectator" (Bal and Williams Gamaker, Madame B: Explorations 3). The concept converges with and seems indebted to the idea of laboratory theatre envisaged by Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, who made use of the ritual significance of the theatre to demand the "total participation" of spectators and placed them in the role of "active" collaborators (Barba 154-55). If Madame Bovary is rendered in a different medium through an act of intersemiotic translation, so is Grotowski's theatrical project which gets translated into the site of the exhibition, where the spectators wander or sit in front of nineteen screens positioned in various ways, and forming eight video installations. As in Grotowski's project, there is no centre or stage, or, to translate it into the reality of the movie theatre, there is no screen that would dominate the audience grouped in predictable rows in front of the film's inexorably linear development. Let into the site of the exhibition, the spectator finds herself or himself surrounded by the audiovisual phenomena that beg for attention cascading from many screens at once in the visual and sonic stream of consciousness, whose initial amorphousness can only be sorted out with participatory attentiveness. …

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