Magazine article Artforum International

Chantal Akerman

Magazine article Artforum International

Chantal Akerman

Article excerpt

Since the early '70s, filmmaker Chantal Akerman has experimented with a blurring of cinematic hierarchies and an undulant, hypnotic approach to plot. The most recent exhibition (her first in a commercial gallery) combined video quotations from four films, including her celebrated portrait of an uncannily self-contained housewife/prostitute, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), and the subdued, atmospheric epic of contemporary Eastern Europe, D'Est (1993). A novella-length text titled A Family in Brussels, 1998, read by Akerman, functioned as an ambient voice-over. The artist has used such collage technique before - notably in "Bordering on Fiction: Chantal Akerman's D'Est," seen in New York at the Jewish Museum in 1997. There, however, only one film was shown, projected as well as presented in video segments. The gallery installation is more focused in its impact on the viewer, and its subject matter more polyvalent.

Akerman's vision is intimate, rich in emotion and detail. Yet, almost nothing happens. In keeping with much of her previous work, "Selfportrait/Autobiography: a work in progress" is an ode to the lyrical properties of stasis, the secret voluptuousness of flattened affect. While the piece purports to tell a personal story, its true subject is not familial but aesthetic, almost epistemological: Akerman's focus is the ineffable totality of feeling generated where binary opposites - fiction and reality, voyeurism and opacity, progression and simultaneity - meet and hold each other in perfect tension.

Flickering and murmuring in the dark, the small screen has great votive potential, and Akerman used this quality to full effect. Here, six monitors on plinths were arranged in a graduated triangle - three then two then one - all facing the front of the gallery. Segments of D'Est played on the three monitors in the first row. Back-to-back with these monitors, three chairs faced the other direction, toward the middle two screens, on which segments of Jeanne Dielman played. The final screen - playing selections from two of the director's lesser-known films, Toute une nuit (1982), and Hotel Monterey (1972) - was framed by the middle two. Directly behind the chairs, a pair of speakers poured Akerman's voice-over into the viewer's ear. Thus, to sit in the chairs meant that fully a third of the images went by unseen; to avoid the chairs meant that the story at the heart of the piece could not be heard. …

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