Review: Akerman's work deserves the time it takes to view
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 27, 2009 - "Moving Through Time and Space," the mini-retrospective of Chantal Akerman's works on view at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, perfectly captures the range of interests that have emerged in the 40-year career of this Belgian-born, Paris-based filmmaker.
The exhibition opens with Akerman's newest commission, a double projection titled "Women of Antwerp in November" (2007), which is ostensibly about women and cigarettes but -- as is often the case with Akerman's films -- is actually a meditation on human habits and identity.
The most elaborate work in this exhibition is "From the Other Side" (2002), a multi-part film installation on illegal Mexican immigrants and two border towns in Arizona. Acting as a kind of cultural bookend to that work is "From the East: Bordering on Fiction" (1995), which focuses on life in Eastern Europe during the dismantling of the Soviet Union.
"South" (1999) is a painful portrait of the racist murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, while "Down There" (2006), filmed in Tel Aviv, is a more personal reflection on the filmmaker's life and Jewish identity.
"Moving Through Time and Space" is one of the most important exhibits to have been shown in St. Louis. It ought to be required viewing for anyone interested in contemporary politics, art or filmmaking. But it's no walk in the park; allow yourself plenty of time for viewing and reflection if you decide to come.
A few things to keep in mind:
If Akerman's films seem difficult, it's because they participate in their own deconstruction, refusing to offer up the easy, seamless truths that so many films trade in.
If Akerman's films seem long, it's because they unfold in real time, rather than the conveniently condensed chronologies of conventional film. Considering her subject matter, it's only right she approaches her work with the utmost seriousness, self-reflection, and humanism, and takes her time doing it.
Also on view at the Contemporary is "Speech Acts," a selection of interactive pieces by London-based artist Carey Young. These are brilliant, funny, and sometimes-uncomfortable works focusing on that weird, technocratic space we might refer to as the phonosphere.
Do yourself a favor and pick up the phones. You won't be sorry.
Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.