Thoughts on Curation: Contemporary Love Personal and Political, A curation by Marge Monko

Image credit Marge Monko

At November’s TalkSeePhotography we viewed a screening curated by Estonian artist Marge Monko. The works included were, The Reading Circle’ (2010) by Jaana Kokko, Golshifteh Farahani Will Not Appear In This Film (2014), by Hamza Halloubi and Pegasus Dance (2007) by Fernando Sanchez Castillo. The screening was followed by a conversation between Marge Monko, moderator Stina Wirfelt, and the audience.  This text it my response to the curatorial strategy and how the event stirred issues around the political and cultural.

The first screening was the Reading Circle (2010) – a film about 4 women exploring what it is to be political and a woman through the work of Hannah Arendt. The participants, who are of different ages, speak alternatively;  as if to themselves, to each other, or to the camera/viewer. Non-linear or fragmented editing enunciates a slow process. One woman signs her speech. In contrast to the other women, who may stop to think while talking, her comments – delivered either as subtitles or a voice-over – appear rapid and confident. The shifts between tentative and rapid moments foregrounds the reading circle’s process-led character which emphasises the difficulty of the subject matter. It’s claustrophobic, frustrating and infuriating! Then, just when you think you’ve reached your limit, the camera sweeps out, across the splendidly beautiful solid waters of a midwinter Helsinki, and settles on a group of older women lowering their bodies into the frozen sea.

The following film, Golshifteh Farahani Will Not Appear In This Film (2014), by Morocco/Belgium based Hamza Halloubiis about projections on an Iranian actresses’ identity and specific circumstances. Golshifteh Farahani,  whose destiny drives the narrative, is a mega successful actress from Iran who is exiled from her home country after posing nude for a production. A web of contradictory moral, gendered, occidental and oriental narratives can be found in the wake of  Farahani’s (who does not appear in the film herself) international career. The appropriations are cleverly pulled together and exposed in interviews with an iranian author Nahal Tajadod. The clips with Tajadod initially offers the viewer the relief of an outsider position which soon is complicated by scenes with an empty opera stage waiting for a performer who never appears. Shot from the audience perspective, this edit obliterates the viewer’s critical safety by firmly castsing us as a passive audience complicit in the narratives that are woven around the actress’s person.

If the two  first film’s subject matter and engagement are made demanding by directoral tempo, lingering question marks and unstable viewer positions, the last by Fernando Sanchez Castillo’s Pegasus Dance (2007) provides comic relief.

Pegasus Dance is choreographed for riot trucks fitted with water cannons.  It’s a smartly simple humorous film which takes place in a fenced wasteland on the Belgian coastline accompanied by the music of Stravinsky and Strauss. In the beginning, a truck solemnly enters the into view and begins  a romantic solo waltz. With water streaming first along its sides and then, as courage grows, out towards the skyline, bouncing on the ground the dancing vehicle is quickly joined by another. In a birdlike mating ritual the two begin a jolly courtship, dancing around and showering each other with water. The 2 clumsy vehicles, the choreography and the music against the backdrop of the flat coastline’s wide sky creates the perfect setting for for a romantic comedy. Towards the end of the piece, Sanchez Castillo merrily intertwines this romantic cabaret with the drama caused by the arrival of an intruder on the scene who threatens the budding love.  

The contrast between the first films and the third is a crafty choice by Monko. Her strategy of leading the audience through a complex set of problems –– time and again analysed and demonstrated, yet still so difficult to articulate –– towards an encounter with a burlesque finale which, on first sight appears like a amusing but innocent ballet works uncannily well. Like a bull led by the ring in his nose we obediently grasp at the respite that the humour of Sanchez Castillo’s works provides after the painstakingly drawn out narratives of the two prior films. As the giggles subside and the post screening discussions progress, the contrast starts to take another shape.  In this new view, the riot truck’s graceful water plumes transform into shamelessly violent ejactualtions on a porn set. The flat empty Belgian military and rescue/police service training field that flanks the action stands in for an exceedingly barbaric and cruel colonial empire transformed to the modern day regime that remains significant only because of this violent history.

The films operate well in their own right but Monko’s curation emphasises the fact that the articulation of identity politics is difficult because they still are in stark contestation with a very powerful cultural construction which is so prevalent that it is as second nature to us. Thus, even as we immediately recognise that the trucks in the film are the same as those used to crush dissident under the jets of water canons, this second nature allows the cultural codes on display to appear not as grotesque, but funny.  From this position it is not a big step to in one’s mind’s eye begin seeing activists as naive little figures scurrying along in a futile war against that which cannot be changed. In the wake of this the juxtaposition of the films reminds me that of the condition that makes it easy for right wing taking root, spreading and pushing politics as a whole more and more towards increasingly right-wing reactionary impulses is also a responsibility that befalls those of us who have not yet  been able to make the opposite a first nature.

Nina Bacos Feb 2019