Reading the poetic signs of our reality as a desire to live “in common”
“I talked a lot about writing. I do not know what it is.”, Marguerite Duras, 1987
I am sitting down at the kitchen table, facing the white page of a word document on my laptop and looking through the window at small round patches of moss on a corrugated rooftop. The white page on my computer seems to be a good place to start exploring the positions of simultaneously seeing and giving something to see, fusing temporal moments. The little bits of moss remind me of little islands, little communities. I have been interested in issues relating to different forms of past and contemporary political resistance that result in the creation of autonomous communities that raise a simple question: how to live together?
What do I want to show? Where do I place the form and subject of my work in relation to specific moments from the past and the History of Art? As a starting point, a few years ago, I looked for answers in the Greek tragedy Antigone and ended up reading Bertolt Brecht’s version. I had a strong interest in this text and its representation of Antigone, as it echoed my own experimentation between forms of enunciation and representation of reality. This led me to make my film Antigone Millennium (2012), which combines fictional and documentary approaches. It was shot in New York at the end of 2011 in a context of social upheaval – as the Occupy Wall Street movement challenged financial capitalism – which seemed to evoke the ancient story of Antigone’s revolt. Comparable to the principle of an autonomous space, the Occupy movement was formed around a will to occupy and resist. In the same way Antigone’s call for a political will that does not depend on pure social power remains relevant and current. Antigone brings out the desire for a new and communal space; likewise the 1871 Paris Commune has revived the meaning of the medieval communes. This desire for a self-governing and shared space seems to reappear throughout History.
Thus I wondered whether the word “commune” retains its meaning still today. I followed a few threads in making my latest film Silent Routes (2016). In France, the establishment of the first medieval communes marked the end of feudalism. At the end of the eleventh century, the economy was growing and this encouraged peasants and people to directly exercise the functions of a government. Meanwhile, the beguines movement and their autonomous communities were born. Beguines were lay nuns, who established themselves in community. Trying not to replicate the pattern of dogmatic Christianity, these women wished not to be cloistered. They expressed a spiritual desire for emancipation and for individual freedom. Their mysticism was a tool that allowed them to reach a certain level of social control over their own bodies and to create a space for thought. The independent character of the beguine communities facing the clerical and patriarchal society of the time can perhaps be seen as a precursor of feminist movements, becast socially and economically (from theiuse for the first time women could exir dowry or paid work). Is the experience of the beguine movement a sign of resistance to the narration of History and a willingness to take part in its writing? Without trying to look for an answer, Silent Routes raise the question of how to live together, through a dialogue between two eras; the Middle Ages where the market system begins, and the 21st century where this system prevails. Silent Routes, which borrows from the film essay form and the fragmented narrative, consists of a series of four fictional portraits inspired by medieval legends and historical figures. Through a contemporary mise-en-scene, these characters evoke in their own way their desire for human community, their willingness for a biopolitical fabric built in opposition to existing power relations. Silent Routes invokes the soul of places and their inhabitants so that Hi(stories) and personal realities meet to build narrative situations taking place in the Real.
The notion of “commune” resonates both as a geographical and conceptual space, physical and intangible, real and fictional. It asks the questions, how can we find ways to survive beyond systems that attempt to control and regulate life? In Britain the ‘commons’, is one of the only models of alternative ownership, and perhaps another way of looking at our current situation. It refers to a space shared by a community. And in this sense, the commons is both a geographical location, scattered across the map and the consolidation of resistance against the privatization of resources and livelihoods. It is a space of political imagination. Does the present time have a similarity with the beguine movement’s momentum eight centuries ago? Does the way to create a human communal space depend on what we have ‘in common’? ‘Commune’ and ‘in common’ raises questions on finding ways to build and maintain social relationships. Can a political act, like the beguines’ action for example, exceed its own words and move beyond its origins to become an autonomous poetic expression? According to Gilles Deleuze, the act of the creation of an artwork is an act of resistance. In his 1989 conference at FEMIS he stated, “To have an idea in cinema. … An artwork has nothing to do with communication. An artwork does not contain any information. However, there is a fundamental affinity between an artwork and the act of resistance. It has something to do with the information and communication as an act of resistance”. He believed that the language through which a political, artistic act is expressed will enable the artwork to resist. Perhaps it might even fit into the History of a territory.
I see parallels and connections between the desire to stand with others, the act of resistance that connects art to politics and its potential to project itself beyond the present. Autonomous spaces arise as poetic signs of resistance rooted in reality. These signs reappear at various times in History reflecting a desire to compose other worlds here-and-now that resist time (a Greek myth, a pagan rite, a medieval pact, a British tradition).