Mudam's online screenings: absorbing, powerful, impersonal
For many of us, staying in has become the new going out. So, armed with a bowl of chips and a cheeky glass of wine, I prepare myself for a ‘home gallery’ session with the Mudam’s You’ll Find Your Peace with Me.
It is a series of six short videos from Luxembourg's contemporary art museum's (Mudam) collection chosen to compliment its in-house exhibition 'Enfin seules. Photographs from the Archive of Modern Conflict'.
The online screenings aim to address anxieties about humans’ vulnerabilities within nature.
The viewer becomes the third wheel
With expectations set, I settle down to watch the first video, Kitsune. Lasting nearly an hour, this is longer than your usual arthouse offering. If you are fluent in Japanese…relax because this video will be a walk in the park to watch. But if you don’t speak a word, you will need to be fully dialled in to read the subtitles that flit across the screen.
The black and white scenery subtly changes throughout as the natural landscape that forms the backdrop to a conversation between two men lost in fog disappears and reappears beneath the mist on the screen.
After a shaky, slow start, the narrative succeeds in drawing me in, playing on the oral history of storytelling with a particular focus on childhood fairytales, fables and myths. The piece explores the impact of such stories and the emotions they evoke and how they have an uncanny ability to stay with us over time.
Although many familiar fairytales have been Disneyfied and diluted for today’s audience, at their heart is a gruesome, twisted plot. So, the viewer to Kitsune becomes the third wheel in this narrative, the voyeuristic eavesdropper in the fog who ultimately can’t leave until they too discover the story's end.
'This video had me hooked'
As absorbing as the first video is, it was the second screening, entitled The Black Room, that had me hooked. So lean in and listen close. It takes an interview with Robert Desnos, a real-life French surrealist poet and concentration camp victim, and overlays the narrative against a backdrop of murals depicting imaginary scenes from nature as featured in the Roman Villa Agrippa.
The exchange between Desnos and his interviewer is all the more powerful because it recounts actual versions of events and experiments he participated in during the years before the Second World War.
The interview documents some questionable practices and pseudoscience; its effects on the participants and its contribution to disbanding the surrealist group. The work is very much a product of its time, but the overarching narrative feels increasingly relevant today.
'Impersonal, lack of depth'
Then I took an intermission. Unfortunately, when I returned for the remaining screenings things took a turn for the worse and not in the dark, menacing way I had been expecting.
The next offering from the programme, Wissower Klinken, failed to hold my focus. It’s a tragic tale about a dedicated tour guide and nature enthusiast who, ironically, is crushed to death by falling rocks at his favourite cliff side haunt. The piece concludes with an all-male voice choir singing the programme’s title, You’ll Find Your Peace with Me, as a requiem. As disquieting as the tale was, I found it largely impersonal and, if not for the beautiful renditioning of the song, cold.
The following videos, Forte! And Gibellina Vecchia, focus on serious topics such as the evacuation of a mountain fortress and a visit to the remains of a city destroyed in an earthquake. But for me, there is a lack of depth and real human interaction with both the viewer and the environment. The scenery would make any filmographer swoon, but in my opinion, the constant flitting from one image to the next makes for a disjointed and remote offering.
As a source of light relief the next video, As Pedras Rolantes - The Rolling Stones, cracked a smile from me. Featuring tiny rocks that move across a desert landscape, apparently unaided by human hands. Their gymnastics amused me, even though that may not have been the goal of the filmmaker.
It is amazing to think that all of these screenings although made B.C. (Before Corona) are as relevant today as beforehand.
The questions each piece addresses are ultimately centred around larger, ongoing power struggles. These are pertinent questions that need to be asked in a world that, more and more of us feel, is spiralling out of control.
The Mudam bills the “exhibition’s presentation of a natural world devoid of human presence...in which the landscape has been mediated by humans attempting to grapple with fears of alienation, insignificance and powerlessness”.
Rather than reading the screening programme as a series of familiar dichotomies; pitting town against country, humans against nature, the strong against the weak and so on, it is time to acknowledge that these dichotomies rarely hold up to our scrutiny. Humans are a part of nature and not separate from it and our strengths can also be our weaknesses. These separate entities and divisive structures we have created, ultimately occupy the same spaces.
Having undergone my first home gallery experience, I wonder if there is a future for this form of entertainment? I think so, but maybe in a more social context. Perhaps start with a simple chat room where we can share our virtual chips and opinions - if only on an occasional basis.