Nineteen artists (mainly video artists) come to bring their plastic and intellectual contribution to this initial issue: to raise the curtain on the intimate sphere, and to speak, in aesthetic and reflexive dimensions, of what makes the family. Meals. Similarities. Neuroses. Souvenirs. With Louma Salamé, we open the family album and comment.
Why was it so important to talk about this topic? It is a very intimate subject. And one might think that artists have something else to do than talk about their smala.
We gathered at the Villa – which is a house! –, artists who work on the theme of the family. We also present an artist who is building his family home within our walls [Paul Gérard, NdlR]. The artists play or stage their loved ones, their children, parents. And while video is unpopular – because it cannibalizes time, because you have to sit down, listen, it’s not like the immediacy of painting – it becomes a marvelous medium for telling stories.
In this exhibition, there is also the idea of the small story in the big one. This is the case with the work of Sandra Heremans, whose father, Roger, ordained priest, is sent as a missionary to Rwanda and falls in love with a Muslim woman. The artist notably uses family photos to evoke his family history through great history.
Paul Gerard. His grandfather hid his homosexuality, The artist stages the family secret.
The material to tell the family, what is it?
The vast majority of the artists in this exhibition grew up in the 80s, the era of the democratization of the camcorder and therefore, of “the memory factory”. I remember I had an uncle a little geek who had a camcorder…
Some artists have toyed with the idea of composing with existing memory. I am thinking of Zineb Sedira, who is, for me, one of the defining pieces of this exhibition. [On y voit, dans un triptyque vidéo, une grand-mère, une mère et une fille. Mais la grand-mère et la fille ne parlent plus de langue commune, conséquence de l’exil, NdlR]. We understand the importance of intergenerational transmission and this intangible heritage, which is the language, which can be lost. This granddaughter, who looks so much like her grandmother, is unable to speak to her. We see that migration leads to the loss or gain of new territories.
In these videos on the family, intimate and at the same time completely universal stories… And none are alike.
In video art, the intentions are multiple. Some pieces are films, others are documentaries or filmed performances. And the artists don’t all say the same things There are the “memory keepers” (Zineb Sedira, Sophie Whettnall); there are also “archaeologists” (Sandra Heremans; Valérie Mréjen…). And then “the scouts”, like Ariane Loze, or Kika Nicolela [cette dernière mime une mère qui fait un gâteau mais qui en devient maboule. Charge mentale, C.Q.F.D, NdlR]. The latter set themselves the task of discovering the gray areas, the taboos, the things left unsaid. Everything that is walled up in the family home.
Sometimes you need to have a historical background to better understand a work, but this is not a matter of knowledge of art history. It is much more involving for the visitor. Who looks at something in the museum that resembles what, perhaps, he saw in his family…
Visitors will discover artists who offer performances, filmed. I’m thinking of Bruce Nauman who decides that sculpture is also putting bodies in situation. Some write scripts, follow protocols, as is the case for Amélie Berrodier who films a family meal, with people and gestures, but… in silence! Their vision makes it possible to revisit the rites and rituals, these obligatory gatherings that we all have, but which will, here, be played out in another way.
I would add that if the video does not have an immediacy character, it has a real power of formal eloquence. I am thinking of the works of Sophie Whettnall, Bruce Nauman, Hans… What is playing out in front of us can only affect us. Inevitably.
This is the first time that we see, in such a frontal way, in the museum, our family, our neurosis, our mental load,…
In the field of literature or cinema, we observe a predominance of this theme. From Woody Allen to Feast, via Fritz Zorn, the autobiographical story in the family sphere is often cited. This is how we sought to bring together visual artists – from this famous generation that grew up with the democratized camcorder – to observe this unveiling of memory.
“These artists set themselves the task of discovering the gray areas, the taboos, the unspoken. Everything that is walled up in the family home”.
Do artists have a psychological approach to their work? Is it their subconscious talking? Or on the contrary, do they have the desire to rewrite history?
It is in Sophie Whettnall’s video that we hear her mother tell us: “Over time, we tell each other things.” A brilliant phrase and therefore, that’s it, “the memory factory”. The artist took two years to make this five-minute piece, which is to say that it is meticulous work! We feel that their subjects work on them and animate them… It is also a way for them to feed themselves, to heal themselves. In the case of Paul Gérard, by pulling the string of this family secret which was a taboo, he tightens his family ties around his practice. It is a possibility of rapprochement for artists who put their family within their corpus.
— > “Family Matters”, until May 28, at the Villa Empain, in Brussels. Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Info: https://www.villaempain.com/expo/family-matters/