End, 2008, video for performance, Kris Verdonck (concept), Stefan Quix (soundscape), Luc Shaltin (lightscape). First performed Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels, Kaaitheatre, May 9-13, 2008. Photo copyright Academie Anderlecht - C atherine Antoine.
ANOUK: But with this performance [End] in 2008... maybe it's an age thing. Since 2002 I've let go of the whole linear approach, that there's a beginning and an end, so now I make images that don't necessarily have to have clicks and stages, plot points and turning points and all this almost classical narrative language that's inside my head. I let go of all that. It's much more an experience. So with the clouds it's a flow that can have the presence of another human being. Allowing this guy to pull the images, to choose the rhythm of the cooling. It doesn't work if you have a linear approach to images.
DAVID: So if it's not narrative what provides the structure for pieces now? The space? Duration?
Echo, 2008, b/w surround sound loop. Anton Aeki (music) and Tom Kluyskens (animator).
ANOUK: I constantly go back to Echo - it's one of the last things - I was very happy with it - it's a flow, like a bubble, an environment. You can step into it and step out of it. It's so much about architecture, you step into a building and you step out of the building, that's the idea. It's not like you sit down in a cinema, the light goes out, the projection starts and you watch it from beginning to end, that's not what I feel is very rewarding for me now as an artist. As a viewer and spectator, yes, but not as an artist.
It starts in my work with the revolving door in Echo: you flow into another space and then the light is different The sound, too, is so choreographed. We made sacks of sound, a mix of focal speakers and broader speakers, a work of months, choreographing space. So you just flow in and you flow out...
Echo, installation views at Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle (Apr 20- Jun 6 2008). Photo copyright Kristien Daem.
DAVID: Flow sounds very... experiential. Your images also evoke measurement, surveying, and a more mathematical sense of space...
ANOUK: Isn't that what architecture is about? I work and talk with architects. You create a space for people to move in but of course it's measured spaces. That's architecture. I don't think you can have anything more controlled than putting up a building and almost forcing people to go up and down the stairs. A choreography for people to move into - that's what I do - I'm more architect now than a video artist.
Building, 2003, b/w sterero, 12'. Anton Aeki (music) and Joris Cool (animation).
DAVID: But Bernard Tschumi, whose work has a lot of resemblances to your own, also has as a key assumption that there can be no simple predictive relationship between the space and the activities that take place in it.
ANOUK: Of course it depends. I worked with architects Robbrecht & Daem on the renovation of the Filmmuseum in Brussels, finding a new way to present their collection of classical film in the digital age. We discussed and drew the plans together. A new experience. (Laughs) Quite controlling I have to say.
In Echo, except for bench, revolving door, and screen, it's not that I impose so much in that space. It's much more putting up walls with the sound, one sound space into another. Sound is never - even if you have the most focal speaker - you can never close it in, one sound fades into another one. A good lesson for me!
DAVID: In the films how are - were - you working with sound? At what point did you combine sound and image?
Petit Palais, 2002, b/w stereo 15'. Anton Aeki (music) and Joris Cool (animation).
ANOUK: Here too there has been a big evolution. In the beginning I was much more interested in synchronicity, particular in Sonar or Petit Palais. Both are tracks by Ryoji Ikeda, a Japanese electronic minimalist artist. Both were pieces where I had the sound first and then made the image. I don't think I will do that anymore. There's a tendency that you have the soundtrack and you hang the images on it like you would hang clothes on a clothes rack. It's kind of like translating sound into the image, possibly.
I don't feel that that is very interesting any more for me. In the beginning I was very interested in that because I come from music. I wanted to connect both worlds, image and sound, and also dancing, making it connect through synchronicity.
Sonar, 2001, b/w stereo 2'. Ryoji Ikeda (music). (MIDDLE:) In Les Hivernales, Montreal , Dec 6-22 2002. (BELOW:) In Looking Glass, a window gallery in the centre of Brussels, Feb 13-Mar 27 2002.
As I got more confident, maybe, within image and within music, I was able to let go of synchronicity and much more play with frictions, with how if you have a sound-layer and an image-layer then with these two layers you can... Something you can't tell in the image-layer you can tell in the sound-layer. I see layers as much more independent, and I have no sense that because the image does this the sound has to do this too.
DAVID: So now you develop sound and image separately...
ANOUK: Now it's going like bricks. Now it's .. I work a lot with one sound artist, Anton Aeki. Of course if you work so long together you can experiment much more. You don't need to explain so much anymore what you want to do.
DAVID: So you discuss, work separately, come together...
ANOUK: Exactly. Its really a dialogue. A strong dialogue. I start with this whole description of the environment I want to make. He starts to propose sounds, I start to propose sounds, and so it just clicks, clicks, clicks. Then I give him the image...
DAVID: In the discussion last night people talked about anti-cinema. Is the development of your work based on the refusal of certain conventions and practices of cinema?
Portal, 2002, b/w stereo 14'. Anton Aeki (music) and Joris Cool (animation). Installation views. (TOP:) Cultuurcentrum Strombeek, Grimbergen, Feb 14-Mar 9, 2003. (BELOW:) Prix Jeune Peinture Belge, Jun 25-Sep 7 2003, BOZAR, Brussels.
ANOUK: I don't see it as refusal. Have you read Breaking the Narrative, the book of interviews by Doug Aitken? [ Noel Daniel, ed. Broken Screen: 26 Conversations with Doug Aitken: Expanding the Image/ Breaking the Narrative, 2006] I think the cinematic experience is much more than only sitting in a film house and having a classic film approach. I don't think cinema is dead. I feel much more comfortable with a cinematic experience that is very broad and that implies architecture.
In the filmmuseum work, for instance, I proposed a series of flat screens. Then there is a Muybridge like scene going on so to see it, you have to walk from one end of the screen to another. Plus, on the image - there are touch screens with abstract black forms you can move to see the image behind them.
That's a cinematic experience, and it combines screen cinema with an interactive experience so it's just so much broader. But it's nothing to do with refusal. It's not a negative thing. The possibilities are there to create a cinematic experience that is may be much more illusive when it is not kept only on the screen. Why would you? You have surround sound, so why wouldn't you have a surround cinematic experience in general. It's just grown.
Kernwasser Wunderland, 2004. b/w stereo 14'. Eavesdropper (music) and Joris Cool (animation). Installation at FEEL (May 20-Aug 15, 2004) at Z33, Hasselt.
DAVID: I guess the idea of anti cinema is also engaging ideas about spectacle, celebrity, a visual experience that is oppressive so there's a critical move to create new notions of image, new situations for the spectator-
ANOUK: That's also what became clear yesterday [at the Tate Modern screening] - the four of us: we ask another question to the audience, much more asking them to engage.
In classical cinema you have this film of Queen Christina with Greta Garbo. At the end of the film you have this long - such a long! - zoom in on the face of Greta Garbo, maybe three minutes, which is so long in the classical cinema at that time. She stands on the bow of the ship and looks straight ahead, nothing, a blankness- and so the camera just moves into the face and as an audience you can project so many things.
It's the end shot of the film so what you've seen, what you've lived with this character - she doesn't reveal anything. Her face is so blank but you just go in on her face and you just project emotions that you think - it's so amazing. To be given that time to do that and to be given that trust. This gesture of a director not explaining every emotion that goes on in this woman's emotions or mind but leaving it like this - that's wonderful. Kind of like... a blank.
That's why I like the end image of Building so much... the blackness is not an end... it's just another space.. you just go into another space...
DAVID: On your website you describe 20x20 as a work that involved finding "A strong poetic image as a metaphor." Does that explain your process more broadly? Metaphor for what?
ANOUK: An inner world. It's a lot about emotions, knots and frictions. Portal is a translation of that inner world. Or in Conductor: I made that during a time when I was extremely angry, so I had really strong emotions and somehow couldn't ventilate it in the real world. I'm an artist so there is a reason why you choose to communicate with images and sounds. That reason might be a little less there now but, anyway...
Conductor, 2004, b/w stereo 2'22". Installation view at Limelight Filmhuis, Kortrijk, for Audioframes (Oct 3- 27 2004).
I tried to translate that anger into that piece. The clouds become darker and darker and there's this lightning and this release at the end. At the same time there is this little light - it's a presence that's there. It's a breathing a calming presence so even though the whole world around that breathing element is going crazy, the tiny element is really there.
A lot of the pieces you could really make a psychological analysis of it if you wanted. You could make a description of it as a painting of an emotion absolutely. That's how I work. Its not so much how the result is formal sometimes but the starting point is very personal, very emotional, very psychological.
Before drawing I make descriptions - a lot of words before making images. I write a lot before I start - random thoughts all around this one feeling I can't put my finger on. It's very vague, a sensation, and then I try to grasp it by writing around it, basically the whole editing starts with writing. I start deleting things: that's not it, that's not it. I keep this cloud of words, short sentences, it's never really a linear text. It's always more poetic.
Then I start drawing from those words also trying to grasp the sensation in images and in sounds. Slowly and slowly I get to the core of what that sensation is and then give a title to the work. There is that scene in Alice in Wonderland where she goes into the forest and then she loses her words for things and her own name and it's by living different kinds of stories and meeting all these creatures in the forest that she slowly finds again that, okay, this is the word for this and this is my name.
Typospace, webpage, 2005.
DAVID: I was thinking about writing about your films and how they were resistant to description. I didn't feel I could describe them because they didn't lend themselves to a simple fit of word and object. So either my attempt would become incredibly, ridiculously complicated or I would have to have some other, indirect approach to language. So it's curious that writing should be such a part of your own process.
ANOUK: It's something that comes out in the letter writing that we [the member of Auguste Orts] have done. I was writing to Sven [Augustijnen, whose film Johan (2001), a study of a man with aphasia, was also screened at Tate Modern] about language and how I felt. I told him that for me language is really a poor means of communicating. I am much more interested in reading between the lines. I was hoping I gave him enough space between my lines so he would know what I mean but in a different way, not through words only.
I felt so strongly about Johan, just because he focussed so much on hesitation, on the blank spaces between words. Usually on TV, documentary, a radio show, silence is a taboo - never let that blank space speak. It can reveal so much. There's a friend of mine who has a radio show. Each day she has a one hour conversation with an artist. She was saying one of her favorite shows was with a poet. She asked him a question and he was hesitating so there was five minutes of radio silence. It reveals so much that is not language, not words, that's, well... it's an attention. You just cut it out in cinema or radio shows. You cut it, move on. It's all words.
DAVID: The film about Johan was remarkable because he was so present, there was so much going on, and yet his spoken vocabulary was so small. It's an image for what we have been talking about.
ANOUK: I feel his struggle in my head. It's kind of recognizable in some weird sense. In a letter to Sven I wrote that music is much more direct ways of communicating.
DAVID: Why? Because it's less specific or vaguer or indirect in some way?
ANOUK: It's less direct. It's a sensation. It touches the soul much more directly. I didn't know you could feel the soul until I went to a really good classical music concert. That touches an area that isn't touched in any other way. Music, much more than anything else, has such a subtle way of entering. A composer has an idea in his head, but the way he makes it enter inside you, it's such... that's a work space for me.
DAVID: So you are resistant to using language in films? But you whisper in Me+ and there is the subtitled head in Whoosh?
ANOUK: I did it. I stopped. In Portal there were like subtitles. There was the idea of a secret garden and I wanted to have this vastness - but connected to this one person so it would be their inner world. The language was necessary to have this vastness. I put it at the right of the image so you don't have to watch it. Someone pointed out that it was really a pity I put that presence in the image because this person wanted to be completely free and go into the landscape and not be - not have this landscape be attached to one person. That's why I tried to let language go.
Portal (2002) b/w stereo 14'. Anton Aeki (music) and Joris Cool (animation).
DAVID: So what relationship did you want?
ANOUK: I didn't want to make the landscape... it was like a guide. It is really a trip in Portal - constantly moving, very slowly. A guided tour through a mental landscape, an inner landscape. This presence of language is the guide - if you look left you will see blah blah blah. These words came from a blinking cursor. It was always there. The cursor was always blinking, like the light in Conductor. Almost like a breathing. On off on off. There is a presence and sometimes words comes out of it.
Installation views of Portal: (TOP:) projected on the windows of the tacktower in Kortrijk for Secret Gardens (Aug 23 - Sep 2 2002). (BELOW:) Sitting bench with phrase in front of tacktower.
I like the macro-micro idea that you have a cosmos and you have this one little person. This dialogue. (Laughs) That's not a dialogue it's friction! It's friction and dialogue at the same time. It relates to your job as an artist - to go away from your own hermetic little world and open it up so it becomes interesting to other people as well and maybe also universal.... attempts. Trying.
DAVID: Universal? You mean...
ANOUK: (Laughs) Dangerous territory! Very dangerous territory! I have read Jung. This idea of collective memory, archetypes. I'm aware of that. I don't know if that's - I'm just saying these terms that are really very charged and very loaded. (Looks at watch) I need to go.
Motion for Newton, video, 2008. Tom Kluyskens (animation). Osram Seven Screens, Munich, Apr 24 - Nov 9 2008.
DAVID: We should finish. So where are you right now? No single screen projections. It's all space, environment, architecture and movement?
ANOUK: It's also public space. I get asked a lot to do pieces for public space, which is a weird question for someone so into virtual reality. But I get asked a lot and I really like to work in terms of public space...
DAVID: Using these ideas of calm and retreat and healing?
ANOUK: Absolutely. One piece will be an installation in psychiatric hospital that is also a museum, in Ghent. It's an amazing space already, a mixture of museum goers and mental patients, a former abbey. You go through this big wooden door into another world. I've been asked to make an installation, to turn it into a more open space, for both gallery visitors and patients. Also something else for a really big square - bigger than St. Marco in Venice. They know I'm not going to impose. I leave it empty. I don't know what I'll do. But it's an interesting question.
DAVID: And a project you haven't been able to realize but would like to?
ANOUK: So many. There's one I'm trying to realize: they asked me to have an idea for a water tower. I wanted to change the facade of the watertower so it becomes a mirror. If light falls on it it's a beacon and it's a reflection of its surroundings. That's an idea I'd love to see it. It would be very expensive though. But that's something I'd really like to do.
Correspondence: Auguste Orts is at LUX 28, 28 Shacklewell Lane, Dalston, London, until Nov 1 (Wed-Fri 12-5, Sat 12-6).