18 June, 2008

Chantal Akerman: A Heroine of the Avant-Garde

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Tuesday, June 17-----Chantal Akerman is a heroine of avant-garde cinema. Her most fmaous film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) devotes more than three hours to observing a woman's domestic routines before climaxing with an act of shocking violence. Since 1995, Akerman has been experimenting with video installation and exhibiting her work in museums and galleries, rather than arthouse theaters. This week, an exhibition entitled "Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time And Space" has opened at the List Visual Arts Center at the Massachussets Institute of Technology in Boston.

The exhibition is the first museum show devoted to the Belgian-born director and presents five projects, two films and three multichannel video installations, dating from her most recent work from 1995 to the present. The rogram was organized by the List Center, the Balffer Gallery at the University of Houston, the Miami Art Museum and the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis.

Akerman's work demands alot of concentration and attention from her viewers. WFilled with long, mostly silent scenes and minimalist storytelling, her cinema is one that comments on the elasticity of time....sometimes seeming very long indeed and sometimes remarkably swift and speeded up. She also takes on controversila themes, like racism in the American South (South, 1999), illegal immigration (From The Other Side, 2002), and terrorism in the Middle East (Down There, 2006).

In From The East: Bordering On Fiction (1995), she records a journey across Eastern Europe, with its many lingering nighttime views of people walking on sidewalks, waiting for buses to arrive and other normal activities. The somber light and the anticipation of something about to happen gives the piece an eerie atmosphere, haunted by the heavy legacy of World War II and the Holocaust.

The most recent piece in the show is called Women of Antwerp In November, a noirish meditation about women, smoking and the movies. Shown on several large screens, the piece features professional actresses shown smoking, waiting, looking forward. The 20 minute piece is a short one for this artist's oeuvre, but communicates everything it needs to about sorrow, joy and anticipation of either the best or the worst. It presents a tableau of soulfulness, melancholy and the essential aloneness of its subjects. It sums up her great themes and allows for a striking visual poetry. The exhibition, which will travel to museums and art centers throughout the United States over the next few months, continues through July 6 in Boston.

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