Hyvinkää, Hyvinkään taidemuseo

Video installation for 7 TV sets.
7 video editings, 9’02’’.

M-Helene is designed as a gallery of filmic and pictorial portraits. The installation has a conventional layout and brings together a large number of images displayed at the centre of the exhibition in three different versions, using the same self-portraits of Helene Schjerfbeck and the same extracts from The Birds, but confronted in a series of montages. The images are spread out over seven screens set in a circular structure which displays each of the three versions one after the other.

The first two versions of M-Helene show two registers of images on each of the seven screens in the room. Presented as if they were paintings hanging from a wall, seven self-portraits of Helene Schjerfbeck initially provide a visualisation of the artist’s journey. Little by little, Hitchcock’s film supplants the images. The film appears through effects of substitution that cause the pictorial image to disappear and the Hitchcock shots to take precedence. In the first version, the film supersedes the self-portrait images via momentary clips that become longer as time goes on, and in the second version clips of identical duration are imposed with ever increasing frequency on the montages. Whereas the first version establishes a system of classic alternation, the second version uses a fade in-fade out technique.

In the third version of the installation the self-portraits are no longer even presented within the montages. The reference to Helene Schjerfbeck is handled more implicitly, calling on the memories that visitors have of her work. The Birds is shown on each of the screens in the circular area, but in the form of single frames that are regularly animated in tiny jolts. As though frozen, the film reverts back to its pictorial origins.

While referring to Schjerfbeck, the installation is also a phonetic reminder of the name ‘Melanie’, similar in sound to the first name of the Finnish artist. It exposes the process of exchange that the device creates between the painter, as she appears in the self-portraits, and the protagonist of The Birds, who introduces the series of filmic extracts in the montages. M-Helene also exhibits a tension between the two registers of images and the erosions of personality that they generate – a friction which enables the visitor to draw near to what Hitchcock was seeking to do in terms of transposing the self-portraits, and thereby to embrace a more analytical approach to his work.

The initial ‘M’ of the title is not simply a reference to the first letter of the film protagonist’s name – it also refers to the ‘M’ of the film-maker’s Movement and the movement which animates the installation through its effects of alternation. The substitution of the pictorial image with the filmic image triggers a process whereby the Schjerfbeck self-portraits are incarnated and animated. This process displaces the perceptions that a visitor may hold, both of Schjerfbeck’s and Hitchcock’s work. The installation highlights the tensions that animate each one of the painter’s compositions with a liberating effect reminiscent of music.

Via the seven screens, the device also restructures The Birds in a way that allows the visitor to grasp the structuring effect introduced by the self-portraits. By making the sequences respond to each other reciprocally – and more specifically so in the first version of M-Helene, which utilises extracts of longer duration – the installation acquires a polyphonic dimension which makes it possible to evaluate the level of influence of Schjerfbeck’s art on the film by harmonising various effects of resonance. ‘M’, therefore, is also for ‘Music’.

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Copyright © 2016 Laurent Fiévet