What’s in a name? María Palacios Cruz on Contour 09
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What’s in a name? María Palacios Cruz on Contour 09
La Feé Electricité,  © Andreas Bunte

La Feé Electricité, image courtesy of Andreas Bunte and Galerie Ben Kaufmann, Berlin

Since 2003 the city of Mechelen in Belgium has hosted Contour,  a unique initiative combining historical sightseeing with contemporary art – and more specifically, audiovisual art. The principle is quite straightforward, and yet refreshingly pleasant: to make video art interact with historic places by presenting the work of artists working with moving image in unusual locations in the historical inner city of Mechelen, all within walking distance from one another.

The fourth Contour – entitled Hidden in Remembrance is the Silent Memory of Our Future – opened its doors on 15 August. Something so apparently trivial and insignificant as its barely noticeable change of name may actually be one of the most significant aspects of this new edition. For its first three editions, Contour was a ‘Biennial of Video Art’. But in 2009 it has become a ‘Biennial of the Moving Image’. It is certainly a more accurate description, for curator Katerina Gregos has included in the exhibition a number of audiovisual works which are not strictly video: there is a striking quantity of film, especially 16mm (T J Wilcox, David Maljkovic, Andreas Bunte, Matthew Buckingham, Ulla von Brandenburg) and 35mm work by Michaël Borremans and even a slide installation by Wendelien Van Oldenborgh (a medium that ironically underlines the stillness of the moving image).

It is true that although a ‘video art’ biennial, Contour was never really about video (although presented in this format, Cis Bierinckx included in the 2005 show the photographs of Katrien Vermeire and the film images of Chantal Akerman and Ana Poliak, among others ) – and yet it referred to video, as if video art had for a long time been synonymous with installation and artists’ moving image. In our post-medium era, films are shot on high definition video and then blown up to 35mm in order to be projected in film theatres, only to return to their video form for home DVD use. ‘Moving image’ therefore appears as a much more appropriate term/euphemism. It also seems to suit the lack of concern with medium specificity that the art world has often displayed when ‘exhibiting’ film works in the museum. A notorious example is that of Le Mouvement des Images at Centre Pompidou where visitors walked through a ‘digital’ corridor of film works, including Richard Serra’s Hand Catching Lead, Fernand Léger’s Le Ballet Mécanique and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Ein Lichtspiel schwarz-weiss-grau. ‘Moving image’ is the term of post-cinema and post-video practices, but yet, as Tanya Leighton points out in her introduction to the Art and the Moving Image Reader, there is something almost nostalgic about this term; it recalls the ‘motion pictures’ of Hollywood’s golden era.

There is a great deal of nostalgia at Contour as well. Of course, the exhibition theme (or rather common thread) is history and historiography, but there’s more than that. There’s something so almost romantically nostalgic about the way film is presented that it turns the works into quasi-archaeological curiosities, as if film itself was the object of history.

The choice of locations contributes to that feeling. They have all been very carefully chosen, so that sometimes the works can appear as incidental accessories. The space where Ulla von Brandenburg’s installation 8 is shown looks confusingly similar to the rooms of the castle where it was shot.

Commissioned by Contour, Matthew Buckingham’s latest installation looks into the life and work of 16th century Flemish painter Caterina van Hemessen, and offers a very interesting reflection on the metaphor of the film screen as a mirror, but the fact that the work is presented in the 16 century Pastoraal Centrum is clever but equally disturbing. One can’t help but wonder if Hemessen herself ever visited the room.

About the Author: María Palacios Cruz is a Brussels based curator – she’s a member of the Courtisane collective, and, with Stoffel Debuysere, she is curating this year’s Impakt Festival.

About Contour: Contour 09 is in Mechelen, Belgium, from 15th August–18th October 2009
Artists include: Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Herman Asselberghs, Yael Bartana, Ulla von Brandenburg, Michaël Borremans, Maryam Jafri, David Maljkovic, Nathaniel Mellors, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Julian Rosefeldt, Mira Sanders, T J Wilcox

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 | Tagged with ,


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