Melted M-Helenes


Paris, Institut finlandais

Video installation for one video-projector and a bowl of M&M’s.
1 video editing, 17’37’’.

A variation of the M-Helene exhibit shown during the winter season from 2003-2004 at the Hyvinkää Fine Arts Museum, Melted M-Helenes effects a series of confrontations between seven self-portraits by Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck and scenes from Hitchcock’s The Birds which could have been inspired by them.

Unlike the version exhibited in Hyvinkää whose montages implement multiple alternation effects between Hitchcock’s film and Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits, Melted M-Helenes combines the registers of image and film through the intervention of repeated fade outs, making the process of incarnation the film effects on the works of the Finnish artist all the more stirring (and obvious).
In this new version, Laurent Fiévet has chosen to bring the images together into a single montage (previously they were spread across seven screens), thus taking the logic of fusion within the piece to its conclusion and, little by little, inviting each of its component parts to metamorphose, before entangling together within a figurative scene infused with sound. The editing is projected onto the wall alongside some M&M’s sweets which directly link in with the name of the arrangement itself. On their surfaces you can see the letter M, which articulates the phonetic resonance between Helene and Melanie (M-Helene), the character from Hitchcock’s The Birds who embodies each of the seven self-portraits.

Mixed together in a bowl, in line with the false pretense of randomness of the flashes of the self-portraits appearing within the montage film, the sweets’ colours echo certain tones used in the Schjerfbeck displayed compositions, such as the dark brown background contrasting against the figure in Self-portrait in a dark dress (1937), or the green used in Self-portrait ‘an old woman painter” (1945). They also repeat some of the motifs and effects that feature in the artist’s compositions: blue and green for the eyes of Self-portrait (1912), the red of the mark in Self-portrait with red spot from 1944, yellow for the splash of colour provided by the broach in Self-portrait in a dark dress, and light brown for the wide eyes of Self-portrait with black mouth (1939).

The sweets also offer an allusion to the artist’s palette, thus conjuring up a more general sense of the artist’s other self-portraits, such as those Schjerfbeck completed over the final two years of her life, or indeed the 1937 Self-portrait with Palette with its two touches of colour in blue and yellow causing the face in the painting to appear in almost subliminal fashion during the evocation of Self-portrait in a dark dress at the wheel of the car driven by Melanie towards Bodega Bay or, more clearly, beside her, in the form of Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy), in the montage’s extracts drawing from the film’s final sequence

Making reference to the artist’s use of little coloured marks on her models’ faces, employing light colours for bright moods and dark tones to convey blacker thoughts, they also highlight the diversity of moods visible throughout the series of portraits and the palette of emotions from which life can be painted.

Like the sweets’ composition, the idea of coating an object in colour is also treated and thus also the way in which Hitchcock’s film envelops some of the artist’s self-portraits with colour: the pale fur worn by Melanie when Self-portrait with red spot is evoked, spreading the tone which is to serve as backdrop to the painting’s composition around the character, the green and blue of the landscape, which shifts the palette of Self-portrait with black mouth (1939) towards more vivid shades, the yellow of the fire that almost literally sets alight the facial portrait from 1944, and the green of a suit and the brown of a coat framing the artist’s final self-portrait.

In the same logic applied to Schjerfbeck’s work, the sweets also highlight Hitchcock’s signature pairings of certain motifs: the round yellow and green shapes of the hats worn by the two figures in the scene associated with 1912’s Self-portrait, the little red marks scattered across the landscape driven across by Melanie in the scene associated with Self-portrait in a dark dress, the brown and red circles forming the intertwined cords in the scene linked to Self-portrait with red spot etc.

Thus it is something belonging to the work of the author and film-maker that visitors are invited to let melt in their mouths, in line with the process of repeated fade outs, employed in the montage. The pleasure of tasting the sweet offers a metaphor for that felt by the spectator on viewing the film projection – the chocolate coating mirroring the narrative and figurative layers around the heart which make up Schjerfbeck’s work.

But it also triggers a process of dissolution and closing in around the peanut heart, echoing the logic governing the entire montage used in the piece, playing out the work’s gradual closing in around the film’s material, responding to the evolution over time of the brushwork forming the figures within the self-portraits (becoming increasingly radical in terms of form and presenting an increasingly sparse, skeletal image of the model) and of the path experienced by Melanie’s character in The Birds.

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Copyright © 2016 Laurent Fiévet