My Room Le Grand Canal
Notes on a Work In Progress
In 1998, I had the privilege of seeing a work in progress by French artist Anne-Sophie Brabant, prepared as part of her residency as Media Arts student at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Australia. One version of this work eventually became the film My Room Le Grand Canal, co-made with Pierre Gerbaux, and partly financed by the Australia Council. Even in its unfinished state, it impressed me as a sophisticated and accomplished work in the realm of experimental, audiovisual aesthetics.
I saw a video which was a fragment of a larger installation project involving two rooms. Brabant’s working notes were made available to me as I watched the work. The video showed two performers (Brabant & Gerbaux) engaged in various dance-like movements and gestures – about ten minutes of material looped to repeat indefinitely. “The film recounts the birth of a story”, writes Brabant. “An organic, sexual story. A man and a woman in an empty house. Their relationship is strange; we don’t know whether they love one another, are searching for one another, or destroying each other. Little by little they disappear, submerged by their own desire. Submerged by Venice and its canals”.
Many sensations and thoughts swirled in and around me as I took in these images. We enter into a figural drama of identity: Self and Other, and the ever-permeable border between them. We study the nature and composition of movement – both the movements of bodies and the movement of the filmic grain and texture. We test the legibility and limits of this sensorium created together by the dancers, the camera and the film (turned video) strip, swimming in its associative fields.
The images I viewed were extensively treated. The temporal progression of the frames, their colouring and pictorial distortion – all this gave the impression of something not only fluid and mysterious but also archaic, “images pulled up from under the ground” as Elias Merhige said of his film Begotten (1989). In the manner of Stan Brakhage or Gregory Markopoulos, Dziga Vertov or Sergei Eisenstein, there is much play on raccords of various kinds between the images – creating deliberate confusion of body shape and gender identification, as well as ambiguities of facial and physical expression.
Whenever the human body is slowed down, accelerated or in some way deformed or de-figured, a paradoxical openness and richness of expression results: we are suddenly between pain and pleasure, exaltation and exhaustion. We no longer wish to put a brake on this spinning-top of affective signification. All the while, an abstract, non-sync soundscape accompaniment enhanced the mystery of these displacements and glissements.
This strip of images and sounds is also the setting for another drama to be built and orchestrated by the artist – and by the spectator, too. According to Brabant, the placing of a monitor in one room, and the access to it from a second room, would serve to both “de-mix” the sound and “de-edit” the video. Lured into that room, we alter the dynamic composition of the video from the moment we open the door. This would be, in all, a discontinuous space of encounter and future memory – for the piece has no clear beginning or ending, and comes into being only from when, and for however long, one stays with it in that room.
As one departs, its literal echoes, and its lingering sensations, remain with the viewer in order to become part of another tale, some other intersection of bodies, images, surfaces and sounds.
Note: four clips from My Room Le Grand Canal are viewable on Anne-Sophie Brabant’s Vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/user22595764
© Adrian Martin August 1998