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Chantal Akerman’s NOW

Posted by keith1942 on December 17, 2015



This was a series of installations displayed at Ambika P3, an exhibition space at the University of Westminster. It is sited nearly opposite Baker Street Tube Station. The site is a cavernous subterranean space worthy of one of cinema’s noir sequences. It is all concrete, with piping, metal stairs and fairly dark with green exit signs glowing through the gloom. It suited this exhibition of video installations: the only drawback was that the large, high spaces had an echoing quality and one had to listen carefully where there was dialogue as part of the sound design. Chantal Akerman was a major filmmaker and artist, sadly she died earlier this year. The exhibition was organised by A Nos Amours along with a series of screenings of her films at the ICA. I unfortunately was not able to make any of the screenings and I hope that in time at least some prints will appear in Yorkshire. There were seven installations spread across a number of alcoves and one change in level. The majority offered images and sound in fairly constant movement. I went round in sequence but then wandered round from installation to installation experiencing the changing images and sound-scapes. I found this a good way to enjoy the exhibition. And it increased my sense of its complexity. In the Mirror (1971), This was a scene from a black and white 16mm Akerman film with a young woman examining her body and commenting on its aspects. This exemplifies Akerman’s frequent focus on women’s representations and their sense of autonomy. A Voice in the Desert (2002), This was a videos sequence edited from an Akerman documentary. In the film she studied both sides of the border between the USA and Mexico. The sequences were screened at the actual border, with different views depending on which side one stood. The installation mirrored this by alternating film from either side. One could hear Akerman reading on the accompanying sound Maniac Summer (2009). This installation covered three walls, in both colour and black and white images. The video was filmed from her Paris apartment, some with the camera just left running, some pointedly recording. The accompanying sound was similar, and at times one could hear Akerman’s life proceeding in her flat. The Exhibition notes commented, “Akerman was looking for, and finding traces, shadows, remnants – “ Some of the imagery of families was in warm colours whilst other was shadowy nights or stark black and whit images.

Paris colour


Maniac Shadows (2013). This consisted or a letterbox triptych of images along a wall with an alcove showing a smaller video and a wall of photographs. The larger image was a record of New York, both everyday minutia by a New York apartment, and more public records from television including President Obama. The smaller screen and photographs related to Akerman’s own mother. The latter was accompanied by readings by Akerman herself. There were some parallels to the proceeding installation but a greater sense of subjectivities.

'New York'

‘New York’

Tombes de sur Shanghai (2007). This video film was part of a larger project, The State of the World, which included other artists. Akerman filmed with a locked off camera as night fell over Shanghai. There ware long shots of the city, but interspersed were shots of people as day moved into night. There were two decorative lanterns below the screen. I was uncertain if these were part of the work or not. They were and re-appeared in NOW. D’est: au bord de la fiction (1995). These were excerpts from another Akerman film set in Eastern European countries when still part of the Soviet alliance. The sequences were unstructured and repetitive. The two common scenes were people waiting and people walking, mainly in wet or freezing conditions. There was a sense of grim and relentless life. The use of monitors gave it a televisual effect, providing less impact than the larger installations. NOW (2015) was the centrepiece of the exhibition, the only installation with its own specially constructed room. There were five screens and a multi-channel sound track. It used film of desert regions, stark, rocky, and empty of people. The recurring sequences were mainly fast tracks, apparently shot from a car. The accompanying sounds of gunfire, sirens, animals and tonal noise added the sense of threatening and threatened landscapes. We were clearly in the conflict zones of the Middle East,

“Where ignorant armies clash by night …”

This was a powerful and suggestive installation. It was Akerman’s final gallery work and a fitting end piece.



I was really impressed with the exhibition and glad that I managed to get down and experience it before it closed, early December. The setting and the setting-out did good service to the works. A number of the installations were edited for the exhibition by Claire Atherton who would seem to have done an excellent job on this. It would be nice if some, if not all, could be seen in the North.        

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