For artists Zoé Chantre (originally from the Massif Central region) and Alexandra Pianelli (from Paris), only two years after graduating from the École Supérieur des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg, the question of who art is destined for is at the heart of their collaborative and individual film, book and mixed-medium explorations. They have extended their dialogue with themselves to include each other, and then enlarged this further to consider on a global scale the question of, as Chantre asks, “Who are our families in the world, in art, etc.?” Who is this art destined for? The rural farmer, a fellow artist, a doctor?
It is precisely for this reason that neither Chantre nor Pianelli want to be part of an institution. Rather than seek out gallery shows, curator representation or grants, they prefer to project their films in spaces such as festivals, during private showings, even at stands or booths where they throw a sheet up against a wall and the projection becomes part of something akin to a performance-projection-conference. This avoidance of the gallery is in part due to the fact that, as Pianelli declares, “I don’t recognize myself in the white cube”, though she admits she likes the idea of getting to a point where she could appropriate an entire space, a place she would be able to convert into a universe that was entirely hers, absolutely her. This literal anti-establishment position also comes from their interest in going out into the world, encountering others, experiencing life in unfamiliar milieus. “Not living off of the artmaking allows us to be in the real, connected to something concrete. It allows for inspiration.” Says Pianelli. Both enjoy taking on various positions, putting the art, the artmaking, the artist, and the spectator into a series of roles that are sometimes real life (ie: a job as concierge or newspaper kiosk worker, or a casual encounter).
They are like artist-sociologists or artist-anthropologists, wanting to understand, experience, learn from the other—yet without being voyeurs, an issue which troubled them during their first portrait project together at Strasbourg. As a solution, they now seek to create some sort of exchange, to give something back or establish a pretext for their presence, such as projecting a film. For Chantre, “It is the notion of Russian dolls”, a performance or artmaking within a performance or artmaking within a documentation of a documentary being made. Such as their most recent project, Projections Privées, where they went into a rural community and projected and documented projections of films, resulting in turn in a video, from which stills were taken and converted and written about in their book, just published in December 2008 with Rives Dangereuses (and the help of Ludwine Prolonge, http://www.esad-stg.net/-projections-privees- ). After all, as Pianelli said “The process of creating is as important as the work itself.” And process, in their case, is all about discovery, exploration, their “camera-pen” diving into the unknown not only on a human level, but also as a curious medium of choice.
For when the two met in Strasbourg, Chantre was studying illustration and drawing and Pianelli painting (after completing an applied arts degree). Yet they began immediately working together in an area neither was an expert in: video. The school provided them with some of the basic background and workshops to get started, but, as Chantre says, more than anything, it “taught us to look”. In their case, to begin looking at the self and others. But this also means, as Chantre explained, “we are not professionals. Ours are not grand productions. We don’t pre-plan [our films] or compose the music for them. We are in the moment, and make errors, and those errors even become part of the work. We show our defects and process.” After all, these works are emerging slowly, over years, such as Chantre’s independent project “Extraits de corps” which explores her life and interactions over almost a decade with doctors while she was in and out of hospitals with a spinal defect then a brain tumor. “Extraits de corps” began as a book, became a short film, and is currently in a 28minute version being expanded to feature-film length. As they explain, our “work is progressive”(Pianelli) is “still in progression” (Chantre).
The slight difference is not immediately apparent. What we hear in their words are curious echoes of each other. Reversals at times, but of the same image. The inversions are blurred, just as when they talk of their overall process, or influences. Chantre lists works which range from filmmakers and artists such as Agnes Varda, Hans Bellmer, Frida Kahlo, Egon Shiele, Jonas Mekas and Sophie Calle to writers, (Bernard Noël or Henri Michaux for example), and even neurologists such as Oliver Sacks. Though Pianelli shares many of these references, she mentions more videographers who work in mixed mediums, including Boris Lehman, Douglas Gordon, Valerie Mréjen, Martin Parr, and Nan Goldin, or social science authors such as Pierre Bourdieu. Where we see toys and childhood images in Chantre’s work, even her current painting project for children, Pianelli is more interested in investigating remnants of Rock culture (the Doors and the Velvet Underground) as well as old walls which reveal, like people, their many layers.
Chantre’s personal work focuses on herself and her body, whereas Pianelli’s own films look outward, at the other. “The ‘I’ is almost painful for me,” she explains, but also admits that she is always present in her way of looking, “I realized that speaking about others, it’s also a way of speaking of myself.” Chantre says there is also constant exchange for her, “Even in a film when I am speaking of myself, I am speaking of others. My [self-] questionings could be anyone’s. In short, “While Zoé’s work is autobiographical,” Pianelli says, “Mine is a sort of auto-portrait.”
Among their collaborative film-to-book works available to the public are Confidences de Boutons (http://www.esad-stg.net/-confidences-de-boutons-) co-published by the Ecole Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg & Candide, and Projections Privées mentioned above. There is also Correspondances, a epistolary video project (http://www.esad-stg.net/-correspondance-) in process since 2006. Chantre’s own film, “Extraits de Corps”, has been projected in many venues, but she hopes it will be shown in hospitals to doctors, to help make them aware of the way young people who are ill or injured like she suffer doubly when doctor’s treat their body as just an object. The destination of this work has little to do with the common gallery crowd pleasers, but has a social purpose. However, it seems apparent to me that one day—perhaps soon—we may see a curator snap Pianelli and Chantre up. I can already see in my mind a show with projections, enlarged stills, books, materials they collected along the way to making their books, but also drawings, paintings and even some of the fabulous objects and machines made as part of these mixed-medium, docu-portraits (such as the machine to fill a bowl with pills that appears in “extraits de corps”). Theirs is not a singular story, but a dialogue—and we all love to eavesdrop.
To contact the artists/arrange projections:
See the Strasbourg ESAD Art en reseau site for more images, cvs, bios and to keep an eye on forthcoming work: http://www.esad-stg.net/
Jennifer K Dick is an author (of Fluorescence, Retina,
& Enclosures) and teacher (currently at EHESS and Ecole
Polytechnique). She co-organizes the bilingual IVY reading series with
Michelle Noteboom in Paris which began in a gallery thanks to curator
Susie Hollands. Jennifer is now completing her PhD at Paris III on
visual uses of the page in poetry: text and image in works by Anne
marie Albiach, Myung Mi Kim and Susan Howe.
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