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Discussion with Martin Le Chevallier

Phantom - lundi 17 juin 2013

 Discussion between Martin Le Chevallier and Olivier Marboeuf, as part of the artist-filmmaker’s residency at the Fabrique Phantom, on the occasion of Phantom Monday n°7, on the subject of the film Münster (in development, 2013)

Olivier Marboeuf: In the Phantom Mondays project, we’ve chosen to use the format of prolonged discussions, a thread that follows the development of the work in the form of written exchanges and also moments when the discussion becomes public. The objective here is to establish certain paths that we can eventually revisit from different perspectives as your Münster project evolves. So much for the introduction.
I think that one of the hypotheses of the reading of your work is signified in the commentary you make on the exhibition Solipsismes, which you produced for the Galerie Jousse Entreprise in 2011. Your video The Year 2008 was shown inside the gallery, while in the front windows you installed a range of theater seats that looked out onto the street.
You noted:«These two elements answer each other. One is a fiction that recounts the disorders of the world and the other postulates that the world is nothing but a fiction.»
I’m interested by the permanent tension in your writing; it’s the paradoxical situation that you propose, where the film is often the result of a deconstruction of what cinema usually creates—in particular, the systems for the capture and illusion of fiction. But at the same time, the film calls for a form of belief; it attempts an operation that critiques cinema, even as it continues to make cinema. And so, even when you embark on a reconstitution, as you do in Münster, we are never in the full accomplishment of this gesture, that remains minimally signified, as if the possibilities of the film were voluntarily curbed in favor of a metaphorical game that sends us back to literature, to a minimalist theater like that of Beckett or Brecht, the performance serving less as a representation than as food for thought.

Martin Le Chevallier: I don’t know what you mean by “the” cinema. There’s a frequent conception of narrative cinema that posits that fictions are based on plot, emotion, psychology, characters, etc. And it’s true that while I create fiction, I distance myself from all that. I initiate a form of distancing (which may be related to the solipsisms you speak of). I construct my films around conversation, discrepancies, humor, etc. My wish is that the audience be swept up in the movement of the film, by its dynamic, without necessarily having recourse to classic narrative solutions, which I would be incapable of manipulating.
In Münster, which deals with historical facts, I didn’t want to do a re-enactment. Both because re-enactments are impossible and always end up giving a false illusion, and because in the case of Münster, the historical truth is particularly difficult to establish. The documents that have come down to us are essentially those of the victorious (testimonies, interrogations of prisoners, etc.) and relatively antagonistic interpretations of events remain possible. And so I want to use forms of representation that manifest their false dimension.

Olivier Marboeuf: As a result, what we find in your cinema is a principle of the character sliding towards the figure, a way of renewing with a possible recounting of utopias, an elan that disappeared in French cinema, with the exception, perhaps, of Straub and Huillet. And maybe, also, a way of replaying the political elsewhere than in the codes of militant cinema.

Martin Le Chevallier: It’s true that I like characters to be figures. In Sogni d’Oro, Michele, le character of a director, played by Nanni Moretti, is accused by a critic of making intellectual cinema, that doesn’t address the housewife in Trevise, the peasant in Lucania, or the shepherd in the Abruzze. Later, these characters emerge in the film. It’s very funny. I used this in The Year 2008, where “the debt-charged American”, “the French consumer” and “the super social Chinese” cross paths (they all complain to each other about the world disorders they contributed to). In Münster, there will also be “the narrator”, “the ingenuous” or the “captive Anabaptist”. They are meant to be the actors of History (the invaders, a prisoner…), but the audience soon understands that they are merely catalysts that facilitate the unfolding of the historical tale.

Olivier Marboeuf: A large part of your production is traversed by the question of work. Cinema, like photography—both contemporaries of the industrial revolution and, in a way, arts that find their origin in the birth of the mechanical era—have greatly invested the representation of work from the perspective of the relation of the body to means of mechanical production. From this point of view, your works seem to signify another moment in history, that of the development of the service sector and a body-machine relation that becomes largely structured by and around language—with the generalization of the use of computers. I feel like saying that you commit to the question of language in contemporary work, language that, in a way, tests the body.

Martin Le Chevallier: I became interested in the language of business in Gageure 1.0, a CD-rom I made in 2000. And, in 2008, I tested my own condition as worker with L’Audit. For me, this process consisted of having myself audited by a consulting agency, in order to determine my chances of success as an artist and the strategies that needed to be implemented to achieve that success. The result was a sound piece (a photo with an off-screen voice) that intermingled the language of consulting with the language of contemporary art. The propensity of business logic to invade all spheres of our existence collides with the strategic preoccupations of artists, which generally remain unspoken.
What I’ve discovered is that films that deal with work and business, often do so with a certain Manicheism, or, at least, via a dichotomy of exploiters/exploited, managers/worker (I’m thinking of films like Human Resources or Violence of exchanges in temperate sites), that don’t take into account general consent, paradoxical implication, or the necessity of investing oneself in a business in the service of a finality that escapes you.
But in Münster, there won’t be a question of work, except tangentially, with the Anabaptists’ questioning of the idea of a life of labor and suffering that precedes Paradise—which could be entered, according to them, here and now.
As to the body…hmmm…I’m not sure I work much with the body…

Olivier Marboeuf: To continue along this idea of language, it seems to me that we could hastily classify your artistic practice in the tradition of anti-establishment conceptual art. But I have the impression that it has a deeper link with contemporary literature and, in the manner of Jean-Charles Massera, Eric Arlix, Jean-Pierre Ostende and others, of trying to create a poetics from objects divested of any romantic dimension, otherwise abandoned forms and situations.

Martin Le Chevallier: It’s true that language structures my projects. To the point of saturation, sometimes. I don’t know contemporary literature well (with the exception of Jean-Charles Massera, a friend and a support since the beginning of my activity as an artist), but modernity is like an inexhaustible tool-box, largely neglected by the cinema (which often seems to forget many territories revealed by the New Wave).

Olivier Marboeuf: Even though it shares common traits with your precedent works, in particular the play between characters-figures—Münster is a film project that makes a more direct reference to the question of representation—whether in painting or cinema. In a more adventurous manner, it asks the question of how to turn an idea into narrative, into a form. How was the road toward this ambitious work built?

Martin Le Chevallier: That’s what I’m going to tell you tonight!

Monday, June 17, 2013, Espace Khiasma, Les Lilas


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