Self-portrait with Metronome


Hyvinkää, Hyvinkään taidemuseo

Video installation for 4 video-projectors.
4 video editings, approx. 20’.

Three montages of shots from The Birds showing Melanie driving through the countryside are presented in succession on a screen located in a different area of the exhibition. Two Schjerfbeck self-portraits, which are the inspiration for the shots, appear alternately on either side of the screen in relatively quick flashes. They are shown for exactly the same length of time and impose a rhythmic structure on the installation. After each montage the filmic and pictorial images disappear for a few seconds from the projection surface, giving way to other shots from The Birds showing a canary flying near to a clock, but projected onto a screen located higher up in another corner of the room.

The dynamic alternation between the pictorial images recalls the swinging motion of a ticking metronome. It guides the viewing of the central sequences and imposes on them not only a specific rhythm of perception, which varies according to the duration for which the paintings are projected, but also a specific reading which changes depending on the order in which the self-portraits are presented. As the three film montages are only minor variants of each other, the changes of rhythm and order that occur give the installation an experimental nature which the visitor may allow himself to be drawn into.

The two self-portraits displayed in the installation have been painted more than twenty years apart. They establish, at its core, a kind of temporal vacillation which tugs Melanie towards two different moments in her character’s development. The ticking of the metronome creates a kind of temporal to-ing and fro-ing which is reflected in the meandering of the road she is driving down in the shots projected. Twisting and turning, the bends in the road replicate the trajectory of the visitor’s gaze and recreate the meanderings of a Time continuum, the exposed images of which upset its markers. In its distended form, Time folds in certain places. It unfurls itself to be better equipped to carry Melanie back on the swing in the other direction.

By appearing at the end of the projection, the shots of the canary in full flight cause another sort of rupture in the time continuum by introducing a new kind of escaping, similar to that of the open cage in Suspended Time and the box in Pandora that triggered the projection. In the shots showing the canary, the effect is accentuated by two hands trying desperately to catch the bird, and by the canary’s obstruction of the clock hands when it flies between the clock and the camera.

Through the to-ing and fro-ing movement that it establishes between filmic and pictorial images Self-Portrait with Metronome underlines certain ambiguities of the shots exposed in the main montages of the installation. Could it be that the Helene Schjerfbeck self-portraits, transposed to the screen, become mere filmic portraits? Do they not, by definition, lose their status to the extent that they free themselves from the features of the artist who conceived them in the first place? In his book on Jean Renoir’s film La Chienne (The Bitch), Jean-Louis Leutrat highlights one of the astute linguistic terms established by the final shots of the film. “In La Chienne,” he writes, “Legrand does not sign his paintings, so the signature ‘Clara Wood’ is used instead. Once the self-portrait of Legrand has been signed with the name ‘Clara Wood’ it

ceases to be a self-portrait. For it to become so again a play on words is necessary and the painting must be placed into an automobile.” Self-Portrait with Metronome takes up the same principle. The automobile (auto=self) that Melanie travels in enables her to overcome the loss that the process of transposition assumes. The changing of direction marked by the regular ticking of the metronome separates the self-portrait into a portrait of auto [self], and vice versa. This permits the restoration of their entire dimension to the works of Helene Schjerfbeck.

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Copyright © 2016 Laurent Fiévet