- Bordering on Fiction: Chantal Akerman’s D’Est
Chantal Akerman’s career as a filmmaker spans more than twenty-five years. Her cinematic oeuvre has explored and problematized theoretical questions of the visual and aural languages of cinema and their implications for cinematic representation, placing her alongside such Franco-European directors as Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Marguerite Duras, and Agnes Varda. Akerman’s filmography to date includes some thirty-two films, ranging from shorts to feature length productions, from documentary to narrative fiction; she has shot in color and black and white, from video to 16mm to 35mm. Throughout her career, Akerman has been consistently concerned with exploring, exposing, and stretching the limits of cinematic genres with a unique style of difference and deferral within repetition.
Akerman’s cinema is born of a certain perceived loss of the real, born of a critical look at the very elements that make up the cinematic medium itself. The cinema, drawn from the beginning toward the celebration of movement, has tended increasingly to exploit such developments in cinematic technology as make possible a “seamless” cinema, inducing ever more persuasively “realistic” effects through the pursuit of technological perfection in visual and sound reproduction. This drive toward seamlessness — a drive both aesthetic and commercial — led Jean-Luc Godard and other New Wave directors to react against the technical perfection, the slick “realism” of Hollywood, by, for example, abandoning directional microphones and carefully mixed sound tracks in favor of a single omni-directional microphone, and by employing a style of editing which would allow the editor’s work to show. As Godard’s work evolved, his style became a reflection on the cinematic process, filmed by an increasingly self-conscious apparatus that sought to expose, rather than conceal, the site of production. Though Akerman’s work is very different from Godard’s, she shares with him a concern for filming the movement of the apparatus as it constructs meanings, a movement that goes in both directions at once: forward toward the finished product and backward toward the conditions that made the vision of that product possible.
“Bordering on Fiction: Chantal Akerman’s D’Est,” now enjoying a ten-week run at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis before it moves to the Jeu de Paume in Paris, is in many ways a conceptual continuation of her earlier work in films such as Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), Les rendez-vous d’Anna (1978), News from Home (1976) and Histoires d’Amerique (1988). The installation also represents a branching out for Akerman, in which she re-poses questions about the cinematic process and the construction of filmic documents through a different physical and ideational space. “Bordering on Fiction,” Akerman’s first museum installation, is a work which raises questions about the film itself as an artistic construction and the act of viewing such a construction.
Funded in part by the Bohen Foundation and Etant Donnes, The French-American Endowment for Contemporary Art, and conceived by Akerman, Kathy Halbreich (then Beal Curator of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and currently the director of the Walker Art Center), Susan Dowling (producer for WGBH Television), Michael Tarantino (an independent curator and critic), and later joined by Bruce Jenkins (film and video curator for the Walker Art Center) and Catherine David (then curator at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris), “Bordering on Fiction” represents a multinational collaboration on the coming together of the European community, and “the concomitant rise of nationalism and anti-Semitism.”1 The installation itself consists of three integrated “movements” corresponding to the three galleries in which the exhibit is contained. Upon entering the first gallery, visitors are confronted with a darkened room where the finished version of D’Est, a 107-minute long feature-film shot in Germany, Poland, and Russia in three trips during 1992 and 1993, runs continuously. A second room holds 24 video monitors arranged into eight triptychs, all simultaneously playing different looping fragments of the...