Chantal Akerman: Moving through Time and Space
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This exploration/homage arrives in the form of a lecture/conversation, breaking some conventions, not unlike the object/subject of the event, Chantal Akerman, filmmaker and video artist. Two Akerman experts discuss her work in the kick-off event to an exhibition at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center.
First, Giuliana Bruno offers history and perspective on Akerman’s oeuvre, starting with her pathbreaking 1975 film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which “changed the way we looked at film, and opened up ideas for feminist thinking, theory and filmmaking.” Bruno discusses Akerman’s unique way of breaking down barriers between documentary and fiction film, and more recently between film and museum installations. Akerman fascinates, says Bruno, for her “movement of space and time,” particularly long duration shots “showing the unfolding of everyday life, and especially flowing temporality, and women’s time.” Akerman uses faces like landscapes in a painting, and takes grand journeys through history, including personal history. Bruno is particularly captivated by the way Akerman “veils something,” using the camera to reveal psychic, inner life. In what Bruno describes as “intimate distance,” Akerman uses long, tracking shots from afar, maintaining “a kind of reserve…we need to get very close.”
In her conversation with Terrie Sultan, Akerman says she doesn’t see herself as an artist – “I’m working,” she says simply. Her journey from filmmaking to museum installations happened “by accident,” the convergence of friends, money and a few suggestions. She embraces this kind of serendipity, which fuels the process of discovery she most loves in whatever she’s working on. “I hate when it’s predictable,” she says. “If in a movie or installation you don’t discover something, it’s not worthwhile doing it.”
Akerman discusses her documentary journey into the lives of illegal migrants crossing into the U.S., and her 78-minute film about a short stay in a Tel Aviv apartment that is comprised of just a few shots of long duration and voice-over. She also describes the process of creating some of the installations that appear in the current museum tour.
Her father, who enjoyed her critically acclaimed work while he was alive, asked repeatedly when she would enter the commercial film world. While Akerman admits “one part of me wants to make a big commercial film and have money,” she finds the entire fiction film process cumbersome. Writing “is annoying when you have to make a fiction film –sometimes it is destroying the film or experience of the film…and everyone putting money in it has to read the script…” She prefers projects that permit many interpretations, rather than the “one chosen by producer, writer, director…who don’t want anything to escape from their unconscious. That’s why it’s so boring.”
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