A L I E N T O

Laida Lertxundi, Beatrice Gibson

Barcelona
Nov 17 - Dec 18, 2020

Curated by Anna Manubens.

Autoficción (2020), one of Laida Lertxundi’s most recent films, accompanies Beatrice Gibson’s film I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead (2018), that opened the series of exhibitions A L I E N T O in September.

Despite the differences in their languages ​​and references, both Beatrice Gibson and Laida Lertxundi have a way of making cinema that places collective agency  at its centre. Not so much, or not only, as a topic but as a process. Collectiveness is at work in the work. Both have used their productions to explore the possibility – or the failure – of shared responsibility. In Lertxundi’s case, this has been one of her most constant and unique features. In her shootings, functions aren’t assigned technically or hierarchically. “They are all non-professionals, they are friends, fellow artists, my students… Beyond the topics that a film can deal with, for me it is essential to create a production method that dismantles the language of fictional cinema. I mean, I undo the difference between the crew and the actors. All the people we see on screen also record sound, help to film or carry equipment, write for the film or do the credits. The question is how to achieve that texture in which intimacy arises from the dismantling of the roles and structures of a production. In my films, the people on screen are also the team. ” (L.L.)

It could be said that Lertxundi makes films as if writing a diary, as a sustained habit of transcribing – or reviewing her surroundings involving what they are made of or made with, whether these are physical presences or sonic, visual, literary or conceptual references.

On the other hand, if the film I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead feels like a bad omen at the dawn of the Trump era, Autofiction is in full swing of suffering its consequences. In a manner that is more poetic than documentary, Lertxundi for instance evokes the neglect of bodies in the face of the dismantling of Obama Care. In fact, the film’s working title was for a time Daytime Noir, a cinephile image for the lack of health care access as a crime perpetrated at plain sight that is now, sadly back in the news. The audio, an exquisite soundtrack made from birdsong captures in New Zealand, accompanies images which are completely unrelated, compounding the sense of eerie normalcy.

In particular, Autoficción deals with womens’ bodies and with their governance. The sequences of bodies dragged along the ground could be interpreted along those lines if it weren’t because opting for a single interpretation in Lertxundi’s cinema would constrain the images’ multiple poetics. Those same bodies on the ground also seem to enjoy letting themselves be or also stand up in the annual parade of “Martin Luther King Day”. The intentionality of the images is rather what the artist formulates, quoting Maya Deren from memory: “I am happy that on one of those rare occasions when truth can only be told with poetry, you might remember an image – or perhaps only the aura of my films. ”

The state’s carelessness with regards to the body was one of the reasons why Lertxundi, who had spent her entire artistic career in the United States, left the country to return to her place of birth, Bilbao. Autofiction was the last film she shot in California. Lertxundi reappear in A L I E N T O in March to show how she resumed her practice following the change of landscape and in the midst of a pandemic. The separation of both moments aims to insist on the sense of discontinuity caused by the lockdown.

Lastly, both Autoficción and Gibson’s film share the explicit reference to motherhood confronted with the harshness of the current context. Autoficción employs frontal ways to talk about issues such as pregnancy, abortion or desired loneliness in a film that, although referencing so-called cinematographic structuralism – essentially male – are addressed through a feminist prism, without shame or interruptions. Speaking without being interrupted, without being cut, was one of the premises of “consciousness rising” sessions as they took place in the US during the Second Wave of feminism. Their dynamic is was reproduced by the artist during the filming process and it is a good summary of how Lertxundi’s cinema speaks to us.

 

I Hope I’m Loud when I’m Dead (2018) opens with the voice of Beatrice Gibson describing a panic attack on the London underground. Grainy and anxious images of global events:  Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, the climate crisis, the Grenfell tower fire, riots and refugees, flash and flicker on screen, interspersed with personal images drawn from the artist’s by contrast  priviledged and comfortable family life. Amidst this daily, relentless and all too familiar spiral of chaos, Gibson’s voice describes the visceral, heightened and porous state of alert that accompanies anxiety: “I can still feel my body except it’s like
 the skin has gone. It’s all nerve. Edgeless. Pulsating. There’s intense breathlessness.”[1]

I Hope I’m Loud when I’m Dead deals with the tension or porosity between the harshness of global newsfeed and the precarious feeling of protection to be found in intimacy. The film explores the intersection of panic in the face of a future anticipated by current events and the demand for a liveable and sustainable future. A demand that, in Gibson’s case, is amplified by the pressing long-term exigency of motherhood. Standing at this intersection between the global and the domestic, I Hope I’m Loud when I’m Dead is like a spell; an invocation of the voices that make it possible to not surrender to cynicism or despair and to keep afloat the possibility of political response. The poetry of CAConrad and Eileen Myles, (both of whom appear in the film), fragments of poems by Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Notley, alongside the cinema of Claire Denis and the music by Pauline Oliveiro: become the chorus that sustains the artist in this ambivalent place between love and rage. “Grief, war, destruction, fear, It’s almost all okay because these voices exist.”[2]

These voices form a kind of chosen survival family, an intentional community that the artist shares with the audience in general but with her daughter in particular. “I wanted to put all these voices in one frame for you, so that one day, if needed, you could use them to unwrite whoever it is you’re told you’re supposed to be.”[3] Rather than a survival kit, these companionships function as her poetic survival kin.[4]

Faced with an increasingly turbulent biological, social, political and economic landscape, alongside an irreversibly warming planet, I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead takes on renewed relevance.  Gibson’s film posits poetry, kinship and the power of collective rhythm as a form of therapeutic appeasement and political action. Indeed in the the last scene in the film, a re-working of the unforgettable ending of Claire Denis’ Beau Travail, in which Denis Lavant dances alone in an empty club; Gibson dances ecstatically with her son allowing us the deep priviledge of an intake of breath: of a few minutes immersed in the pure pleasure of letting go, of abandoning oneself to rythmn and movement.

[1] Beatrice Gibson I Hope I’m Loud When I’m dead (2018).

[2] Beatrice Gibson I Hope I’m Loud When I’m dead (2018).

[3] Beatrice Gibson I Hope I’m Loud When I’m dead (2018).

[4] In her book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Duke University Press, 2016), Donna Haraway argues that the only viable strategy to deal with our endangered life on earth is to “make kin”.

 

About A L I E N T O [5]

There are exhibitions that sweat, leak or condense what happens around them. They stem from the opposite of what Ursula K. Le Guin would describe as “working the way a cow grazes”[6]; without any yearn or urge. A L I E N T O is a series that opens with Beatrice Gibson’s voice saying: “I can still feel my body except it’s like the skin has gone. It’s all nerve. Edgeless. Pulsating. There’s intense breathlessness.” It is fairly accurate and sensory image of an adrenaline rush, a hormone that sharpens the senses and tightens the muscles in order to make a reaction possible in extremis.

The development of this exhibitions series overlapped with the global state of emergency and its opening coincides with a month of September that should feel like a return but which, far from looking familiar, is made of pure uncertainty and improvisation. Habit has emptied itself from its recognisable features. Something glitches in this disquieting and slowed down normal. The programme is grounded in the discontinuity; in the break that opened with the state of alert and in the adrenaline that ran through the physical, social and political body/ies. A L I E N T O dwelled and now hosts the urgency to devise a plan for a viable future, in extremis.

The exhibitions are made of strategies for coping, modes to move forward, words to hold on to; forms of imagination and action that help the way out from shock and allow us to catch our breath so as to start thinking about what is to be done. It feels like opening space between the letters of a word. Like lowering the rhythm and surrounding oneself with images, voices and presences that enable an exercise of imagination towards the future. The intention is to wrestle with problems rather than proclaiming solutions. Solutions have a universal vocation that makes them grandiloquent and even oppressive. By contrast, this series is inevitably situated when presenting what is seen as encouraging or inspiring and finds in these adjectives[7] a middle point between innocent trust in the future and a cynical giving up.

The four exhibitions that compose the cycle share first of all the need to think about support structures. There is in them an impulse to summon voices and companions –literal, material or metaphoric– to move on.

Another transversal element in the series is poetry. In the current context of semiocapitalism, in which the accumulation of value and adhesion depend on signs, words and storytelling, poetic writing and thought (applied to language, image or sculpture) emerge as capable of stretching imagination through worlds that speak otherwise or images that think other ways. Poetry is also a space for the analysis and exorcism of the semiotic and somatic load embedded in words, images or materials. The responsibility of handling words is part of the conversations that surround the exhibitions and in this sense it worth noting that there are racial implications associated with breathing that cannot be ignored, and which cannot be diluted in the possibility of thinking about a generalized shortness of breath. I don’t mention this to do something on it –coopting the voices of others–; nor in spite of it – saying it as a means to ignore it de facto -; but with it. That is observing and remaining in the discomfort of the whiteness of my voice and in the awareness of its anchorage in a language in which the connotations of “aliento” are not the same as in its not-so-accurate translation into the English word “breath”.

Finally, A L I E N T O looks at the claim for a viable future from the eyes of the mothering subject. The need of horizon that an incipient live demands makes the urgency to devise futures all the more pressing. The series is also an attempt to take on the creative and intellectual blush related to maternity, which does not enjoy artistic or discursive sex-appeal, which seems a cluster that can only interest those involved in it and which seems almost like what Bourdieu would call a “fault of taste” according to the distinguished cultural patriarchy.

A L I E N T O reclaims what Maggie Nelson ponders as an inherent queer trait of pregnancy “insofar as it profoundly alters one’s “normal” state, and occasions a radical intimacy with—and radical alienation from—one’s body. How can an experience so profoundly strange and wild and transformative also symbolize or enact the ultimate conformity?”

The artworks that compose A L I E N T O relate to each other poetically rather than analytically and together function like a survival kin, in the Harawayean sense –urging to “make kin”. The artists were brought together as a chosen tribe to face dystopia.

Anna Manubens (Curator of the series)

[5] The Spanish word “aliento” translates into “breath” and more importantly here, it is also the root for the adjective “alentador” which translates into “encouraging” but literally means “that which gives breath/air”. Maybe a translation that would be more attuned to the Spanish original in that context would be “inspiring”. Half way between trustful naivety and cynical despair, this series of exhibitions finds in “alentador” the tone from which it speaks. Wrestling with problems rather than intending to solve them.

[6] Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Fisherwoman’s Daughter”; Moyra Davey (ed.), The Motherhood Reader (Seven Stories Press, Nueva York, 2001)

[7] “encouraging and “inspiring” are standing for the Spanish word “alentador” (See footnote 1)

 

LAIDA LERTXUNDI (1981) is an artist and filmmaker who lives and works between Los Angeles and the Basque Country. Combining conceptual rigor with sensual pleasure, her films establish parallels between the earth and the body as centers of pleasure and experience. Her work has been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, New York, Hammer Museum, LIAF Biennale Biennale de Lyon, Frieze Projects New York, and in museums and galleries such as MoMa in New York, Tate Modern London, Whitechapel Gallery London, Angela Mewes Berlin, Joan Los Angeles, Human Resources Los Angeles, MAK Schindler House ICA Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín Colombia, CCCB, PS1 MoMA, Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, Baltimore Museum of Art, Kunstverein, Hamburg and the Havana Biennial, among others.

She has had solo exhibitions at Matadero Madrid (2019), LUX London (2018), Tramway Glasgow (2018), FuturDome Milano (2019), fluent Santander (2017), Tabakalera San Sebastián (2017), DA2 Salamanca (2015), Azkuna Zentroa Bilbao, (2014), Vdrome London 2014 and Marta Cervera. Her films have been screened at numerous festivals such as Locarno, New York Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, London Film Festival, BFI, TIFF Toronto, Gijón, San Sebastián or Edinburgh among others. She has received the Jury Prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival (2011) and the Basque Cinema Grand Prize at ZineBi (2007).

His work is distributed by LUX in London and is part of the collection of the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. In 2020 she received the Gure Artea award for Basque art.

 

BEATRICE GIBSON (1978) is an artist and filmmaker based in London. Her films are improvised and experimental in nature, exploring the attraction between chaos and control during the production process. Drawing on cult figures from experimental music, literature, and poetry, from Cornelius Cardew and Robert Ashley to Kathy Acker and Gertrude Stein, Gibson’s films are citational and participatory. Populated by friends and influences from her immediate community, they often quote and incorporate co-creative and collaborative processes and ideas. Gibson is a two-time winner of the Rotterdam Film Festival’s The Tiger Award for Best Short Film, winner of the Art Basel Baloise Art Prize 2015 and Marian McMahon Akimbo Award for Autobiography, 2019. In 2013 she was nominated for the Max Mara Prize for Women Artists. She has been twice shortlisted for the Jarman Award in 2013 and 2019. Gibson has recently had solo exhibitions at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, (2018) Camden Arts Center, London, Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen and Mercer Union, Toronto (2019). Her films have been shown at film festivals around the world, including the New York Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the London Film Festival, the Oberhausen Film Festival, the Courtisane Film Festival , the international documentary film festival Punto De Vista among many others.

Her latest film premiered at La Quinzainne des réalisateurs at the Cannes Film Festival, 2019.

ANNA MANUBENS (1984) is an independent curator and producer with a preference for hybrid roles at the intersection between writing, research, programming, project development, institutional analysis, and exhibitions. She was Head of Public Programs at the CAPC musée d’art contemporain in Bordeaux until 2017 and previously combined her independent activity with teaching at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra with regular work at the artist-run organisation Auguste Orts (Brussels). Her recent exhibitions include Wendelien van Oldenborgh. tono legua boca (CA2M, Madrid, 2019), ), entre, hacia, hasta, para, por, según, sin (EACC, Castellón, 2019); Visceral Blue (La Capella; Barcelona, 2016); Hacer cuerpo con la máquina: Joachim Koester, (Blue Project Foundation, Barcelona, ​​2016); and Contornos de lo Audiovisual (with Soledad Guitiérrez, Tabakalera, San Sebastián, 2015).

DRAG