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Her Voice. A conversation with Manon de Boer
2020


Julia Wielgus: Your new work For C.A. (Her Voice) (2020), which is an homage to Chantal Akerman, consists of two circles made from two pieces of 16mm film, 1.5 seconds in length and spliced into a loop, each of them with one filmed word: “her” and “voice”. It’s the second time after the work Suspension (2018) that you use filmed words and present film as sculpture rather than traditionally projecting it. Maybe this is where we could start. How would you describe these works: as sculpture, object or film?

Manon de Boer: It’s sculpture because I use 16mm film as material. What I like a lot about 16mm film is that it has the indication of time, you have 24 images per second when you project it. So they are film and sculpture for me; time and space.

JW: How has the idea for this new type of work within your practice developed?

MdB: I was thinking of making a work with 16mm film as materialised time for a while. When I was speaking with Andrea about our exhibition [“Andrea Büttner, Manon de Boer,” Jan Mot, Brussels, 07/12/18–19/01/19], we talked amongst other things about obsolete media, like 16mm film and woodcut that we work with, and that we both have a lot of faith in them as material. From this conversation came the idea of Suspension. I was trying it out; I wrote “faith” with ink on paper, I filmed this word and then cut the developed film in pieces of 1, 2 and 3 seconds which I then looped so that they formed circles. The idea of faith is also important to me in relation to film and theatre and the suspension of disbelief.

Later Pascale Cassagnau asked me for a contribution to a book about Chantal Akerman. First I was thinking of writing a text. I admire Chantal Akerman for how she uses time in her films, she really takes time to show gestures, movement, space. But in a way what is even more important to me is her voice, especially the voice-over in News from Home (1977). It was one of the first films by Akerman that I saw when I was 17–18 years old. At the time I went a lot to the Filmhuis in The Hague. They had a big retrospective of Chantal Akerman’s work and it really impressed me.

In that period I also started looking at films from the 60s and 70s: Godard, Jean Rouch… Many of these films have a male voice-over that is very imposing, like they are going to teach you something. It’s only much later that I became conscious of this. In News from Home, Chantal Akerman is just reading letters of her mother out loud and the voice occupies another space in relation to the image. I thought that if I make an homage to Chantal Akerman it’s about her voice. I was playing with it and came up with these two circles that together form an infinity sign, Chantal Akerman’s voice forever.

JW: Even if these recent works seem very different from your films, they remain looped film, there is the aspect of repetition and time/duration, voice and space, (female) portrait that have been recurrent in your work. How do you place them within your oeuvre?

MdB: For C.A. (Her Voice) relates especially to the idea of portrait. Similar to The Untroubled Mind (2013-2016), for which I filmed constructions of my son without him being visible. In both cases I wanted to represent a person by making an image with something else, so I was looking at the potential of that other material.

JW: In For C.A. (Her Voice) you picture the voice.

MdB: Yes, for me the voice is a physical part of the body and space and to make an image with 16mm film in language but also in time is a way of giving it a space, of materialising it.

JW: In the exhibition at the gallery [“Manon de Boer – Chantal Akerman”, Spring 2020], For C.A. (Her Voice) is presented along with A Family in Brussels (1998), a monologue by Akerman recorded at the Dia in New York in 2001. How did you select this very work of hers?

MdB: When I was making For C.A. (Her Voice) I had a conversation with Jan (Mot) about this new work, about Chantal Akerman and her voice. It was he who came up with A Family in Brussels and I liked that idea. In this work Akerman is much older than in News from Home and her voice is very different but still very beautiful. You can feel a lot of lived life in it. I also very much like her accent when she speaks English. In this work she is talking mostly from the point of view of her mother who was part of the diaspora. I don’t know if her mother had an accent in French but it’s this displacement of the voice, the vulnerability of the voice speaking another language that greatly interested me. And there is also so much love and beauty in the whole story.

JW: What you say makes me think of this quote by Chantal Akerman: “Il n'y a rien à dire disait ma mère et c'est sur ce rien que je travaille” (“My mother would say that there is nothing to say and it’s on this nothing that I work”).

MdB: Indeed, it’s so much what her films are about!

JW: In how far do you see For C.A. (Her Voice) as a work about female voice in a broader sense?

MdB: As I mentioned with regard to the films from the 60s I saw when I was young, there was a lack of female voice-overs in classic cinema because the all-knowing narrator was mostly a male voice. Female voice was connected to the body of the actress. In The Acoustic Mirror (1988)[1] that I read a few years ago, Kaja Silverman talks a lot about how female filmmakers started using the female voice-over. She places it as a feminist, political gesture. I am not sure if people back then, like Marguerite Duras or Chantal Akerman saw it that way. I think it was just natural for them to use their voice and the voice of their actresses as voice-over. That’s in any case how I experienced it first. It was later when reading and comparing with older films, where the aspect of all-knowing is very present in the male voice-over, that this political dimension appeared to me. Looking at those films by female filmmakers felt liberating and gave me unconsciously the freedom to use (female) voice-over just as a voice telling a story.

 



[1] A pdf of Kaja Silverman’s book by is available via the website of monoskop: https://monoskop.org/images/b/b4/Silverman_Kaja_The_Acoustic_Mirror_The_Female_Voice_in_Psychoanalysis_and_Cinema_1988.pdf(accessed May 6th, 2020)