In her current exhibition at Carlos/Ishikawa, Marie Angeletti shows her new video Saturnine, a collaboration with Julien Laugier, printed screenshots and a small drawing, along with another commission meaning from the Kunsthalle Vienna. The 30-minute video is shown on a wall mounted 55-inch HD screen, leaving the rest of the space semi dark and empty. The floor is painted in deep red.
Angeletti was commissioned by Les Nouveaux Commanditaires (same as the show’s title) to make a work in an agricultural school in the French countryside town Moulins. She decided to organize a party for the students, a DIY youth event in the countryside.
The first half of the video introduces the school setting, the gymnasium where the event will take place and decorated trees. Students prepare for the event, wearing their own masks, posing for Angeletti’s ever present camera as in a photo or fashion shoot. A logo is superposed on the images like an insect surrounding flickering light. Angeletti designed this neon sign in collaboration with Laugier, a ‘mix between butterflies wings, Capricorn heads and three half moons, a symbol which was inside the small castle part of the school’, according to the artist.
The second half shows students walking towards the gymnasium. Small groups of students: youth hanging out inside the gymnasium. Some dance, some sit. Ever fascinating Adam Christensen gives a performance. Angeletti stayed in Moulins, a 20’000 souls city in the Allier department in the middle of France, for over a month to prepare for this one night happening, closely working with the students, organizing film screenings, talking to them. Especially the moments, where Angeletti photographs or films a single student in costume reflect a sense of relationship that developed during the time of her stay.
The event Angeletti and Laugier created and filmed behaves like an ever-shifting real life set, similar to Synecdoche New York. In the 2008 Charlie Kaufman movie, life itself takes centre stage, whereas in Moulins, reality was adjusted for the artist’s lens. Angeletti comments, ‘being there for a month and half was central to the project’. In a way, we follow Angeletti gathering visual material for documenting the event, thus making the video and accomplishing the commission itself. This gives the visual material an underlying, driving sense of purpose.
The video has no linear narrative. It vaguely suggests a beginning, a march to the event and then event itself, but as the video is looped, it creates a circular stream of images where festivities at the gymnasium end and begin, dreamy as L’Année derniére à Marienbad.
The last minutes feature some red lines of text, merging with the end credits. The textual notes hint to a wider thought context. It succeeds in opening the video to new territories, possible extensions. In an email, the artist explains, ‘the red texts and credits in the film have a really important role – as if a ‘distanciation’, as in post-structuralism, where the supplement becomes the centre, where the credits obscure the image, making us pay attention to the frame, to context, the participants in the video who are responsible for making it -‘. Yet do the participants amount to more than accidental extras to be filmed?
In earlier projects, Angeletti was invited for a funded residency at the Pebeo color factory in both France and China. She took pictures of the machinery, the workers, the management and their quirky hobbies. In the end the artist exhibited the photographs in the factory itself on large prints. A book was published, mixing corporate and private imagery Angeletti gathered. At Pebeo, the artist was commissioned to make work in accordance with the funding body. In another project, the artist photographed the London based Cranford Collection. Angeletti spent time on location in order to get a feel for the place, the artworks in the collection, the people commissioning her.
What all these projects have in common is a sense of mutual rapport. The outset is a funded and friendly exchange between commissioner and artist. For these particular types of private or corporate artist commissions, Marie Angeletti was the desired candidate. The sponsors in question wanted to know whom to bet their money on. Freedom with a footnote. The artist entered the contract, both parties knowing that she would not fundamentally question the place, but rather join into the vibe the place is already tuned in. The contract’s logic reflects parts of the artist’s life sustenance choice. The idea of contract as a mutual agreement is key to understand Angeletti’s resulting pictures. The exhibition’s press release, written by Angeletti states: ‘Agreeing to do artist commissions came from everyday problems, like not having enough money, and finding ways to have the work circulate. It got really messy in this situation, the artist fees started to get mixed with production money.’ And further down, about a Kunsthalle Vienna project, Angeletti writes ‘It was a paid job, I said yes without knowing much about it’, and ‘I will make work as a bystander, sure I have been instrumentalised, but I’m also getting paid, so that’s ok.’ Titling the show the same way as the funding body’s name, Angeletti deliberately addresses the artist – sponsor relationship. But how does this relation translate to someone outside the contract? Slippages between desire and survivalism, as a line in the video reads. Crimp wrote on Louise Lawler that she worked in ‘complicity with already existing formats’. ‘As carriers of information they function as journalism’, Lawler notes on the pictures in her catalogue. Angeletti and Lawler share a certain affinity the way their images are produced in complicity with a host. The images themselves are blank, infected carriers, yet also beautiful, composed, seductive.
In the past as present, artist commissions play a vital role in sustaining careers. Angeletti adjusts life to contexts, situations, opportunities. It does raise the issue of subject matter. Saturnine features an event, youth and the school/education environment, but it might have been something else. The commission came from an outside, then subject matter slowly realized as a 2016 way of saying that everything is political if cash was on the table. This is very different approach to a research based artist who investigates a particular subject over a long period of time. Yet every art project, however researched, is exposed to influence and change. Perhaps subject matter is overrated. Angeletti tunes into the particularities of her commission at hand. Is this a non-event? Are we looking through images at time spent in Moulins, the artist’s paid holiday, the dwindling production money? May this video really be without a cause? There is a certain bleakness, too, about stepping into the gallery’s recently redesigned, cube like interior, as if arriving at a party where everyone already left. Louise Lawler: ‘I’m trying to say somehow that the rest of the world counts, even tough I know it doesn’t seem like that at all, because most of my work appears to be about the art world.’ How does the fact that Angeletti spent over a month with students, developing human bonds, play into the artist’s professional stance towards the commission?
Looking more closely at the footage itself, there is a march and the agriculture school backdrop. Both have a political dimension. The goal of this particular march is to reach the gymnasium, where the main event takes place. There is a brief moment not without significance where the crowd of students enters a sheep barn. Details of sheep follow. Recently, living in a democracy can feel like walking through a barn. Getting a good look at the sheep, our future selves. Saturnine features a civic, chic gathering in a gothic tradition. But real horror may be present too, in the form an endlessly delayed promises. A funerary march for the student’s foreclosed future. Later on Future has been explored by cheats only appears on screen. And contre l’expectation, le social (against expectation, the social). These bits connecting to a larger Zeitgeist are well placed. Saturnine captures a 2016 vacuity of assembly. To what degree are these students affected by major economic or political events, impacting their studies and professional trajectories? The town Moulins is part of Allier, a poor department in the middle of France. Agricultural education is in decline. Refuges from Calais will be transferred to Allier, there is the upcoming French presidential election, youth unemployment is a reality. The masks have a function of rendering the individuals unrecognizable. We face a stream of faceless young people. Youth, in its ideal iteration as a term may imply a potential future. Here we see the walking dead. What is 016 youth, knowing you are considered just another puppet to be manipulated by a demagogue currently being installed in a Western democracy? Daydreaming of the future can be associated with dementia. Tentatively, eyes gaze through the holes of a mask, the individual behind halted from becoming fully individuated. The social, against expectations, does come with a sense of purpose.
Youth looking at the camera/us. Are we looking at a future generation? Yet everything is, basically, still intact. The agricultural school still exists, adapting to a changing economical situation. This is not a Le temps du Loups scenario, the Michael Haneke film portraying a post apocalyptic world set in the French countryside near Paris. Nor does it propose a White Ribbon style sleepwalking into nationalist fascism. Again, the general mood is more like of a vegetative state under the capitalist dome. Everyone’s smartphone sits charged in the pocket. The creeping dread may come from a lack of perspective or opportunity. From the way of growing into an establish consumer society that accepts anger and calls for change only in the form of anonymous comments in an online thread. Sidelined by crudely formulated slogans by populist politicians someone/we voted for.
It brings the artist into the centre, as the artist can be associated with reflecting or thinking about the present or future. Angeletti and Laugier organized a lively event. They embarked on this one and a half month residency/commission and it seems they succeeded in opening some portals for possibilities while portraying a certain real or perceived contemporary sadness connected to youth. Saturnine can be seen in a lineage of recent art videos raising questions around youth and an educational complex, for example Tobias Madison’s ‘remake’ of Shoji Terayama’s short Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1971), staging a rebellion by armed children against adults, or Jon Rafman’s Sticky Drama with fighting kids in DIY costumes in a video game like environment. Pierre Huyghe’s The Host and the Cloud features more adult themes, or the theme of young adults in a limbo, but there is also the idea of creating a series of events with willing participants. Huyghe is also part of Anne Sanders who helped producing Angeletti’s video. The artists mentioned collaborated with young people to stage or propose low key events, ideas surrounding hierarchies. The videos raise questions of what it means to grow into existing institutional structures, whether they be real of abstract. It also begs the question of the participant’s agency in a situation where, despite an aura of collective collaboration and improvisation, the artist, in dialogue with the funding partners, remains the puppet master. In the second half of Saturnine, there is a scene where Angeletti films a young woman wearing a colorful costume. The moment feels quite personal, as if the artist saw something other in the woman, herself perhaps. When it comes to youth, we project. We might get it all wrong. Some of the marching folks look into the camera. There is indifference, mild smiles, curiosity. A young crowd marching on.
In the recent TV series The Girlfriend Experience written by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, the main character Christine Reade decides to become a high end escort. Compared to the awful work environment as law firm intern, being an escort puts Reade in control of her actions. She perfectly fulfills the desires of her clients. Her familial relationships suffer, but then she was always selfish, as her sister and mom note. A lingering question throughout the series is if she chose the right framework for her obsessions. How can Reade find fulfillment in a line of work that pays well, yet potentially fosters self-destruction? To counter doubts, Reade opts for more control, leaving her madam to manage herself. She turns, progressively, to online platforms, masturbating to clients in front of her screen, attaining a level of absolute control paired with perfect detachment. The series, besides justly accusing male chauvinism in corporate culture, asks the important question of how a confident yet self-absorbed person can find meaningful work in self-employment without becoming a slave of one’s obsessions.
Artists working with commissions deal with similar problems as the fictional character Christine Reade in The Girlfriend Experience. The artist gets paid to propose a work or event in dialogue with the funding body. It is not a sexual contract, but intimate the way the commission affects the artist’s life. He or she is paid to provide some kind of genuinely engaging, personal service. The sponsor’s mission statement reads: ‘In these situations, the citizen becomes an equal to the artist and acquires the authority to publicly express a need to create as well as to assess what is produced in the name of art. (…) In order to give rise to an art of democracy, each player needs to take on their own responsibilities, and bring a communal, rather than just private, meaning to their individual commitment as well as to the artwork.’
‘When I’m working, I take a lot of pictures. It’s a way of working that’s fairly flatfooted in that I have a sense that something is worthwhile documenting, but the pictures that work are those that are affecting in some other way.’ In terms of image composition, selection and editing, there are moments of beauty in Saturnine, the result of years of Angeletti taking pictures. How to take pictures and at the same time navigate one’s work within the larger commission and societal context? How to balance the demands of a funding body with one’s personal life, which in return may depend on the commission money? Questions of the artist’s position in working directly with youth, the degrees of the artist’s implications in and the ambiguities of fulfilling the demands of a commission are addressed in Marie Angeletti’s exhibition.
 Prominence Given, Authority Taken, An interview with Louise Lawler by Douglas Crimp, in: Louis Lawler, An Arrangement of Pictures, New York: Assouline, 2000.
 Louise Lawler , Prominence Given, Authority Taken.
The Visit is a poetic, allusive reflection on encountering an actual intelligent lifeform. Madsen’s documentary asks the question how a realistic alien arrival scenario would impact and upset terrestrial governments and militaries. Real life scientists working at NASA, the United Nations or the Seti institute respond in a manner as if the arrival has actually taken place. In The Visit’s fictional, potentially real situation, the silent, passive presence of the never shown aliens leads to an increasing nervosity among state and military personnel.
Here a couple of transcripts, with the scientists adressing the alien/the viewer directly:
My particular interest is searching for a second Genesis of life. The question I want to know is ‘has life started separately, independendly, somewhere else’. Hence my interest in what you might represent. My question would be ‘does the life that you represent, constitute a separate, independent origin than the life that I represent. Are we distant cousins, or are we completely separate, independent life forms. It’s possible, that here on eath, there is a second Genesis we have not yet discovered. All life that we discovered is related, is part of what I call ‘the first Genesis’. But there may be life that we have not discovered and we haven’t discovered it because our methods of detecting life are specific to life as we know it (f.ex. DNA testing). We may be blind to this second Genesis present right here. This is why some persons have named it ‘the shadow biosphere’. Maybe right here in our gardens, maybe even on our skin are living organisms that are so different from us biochemically that we wouldn’t even recognize them with our life detection instruments. (…) I mentioned that on earth we only have one example of life, one shared biochemistry. My intuition is, the explanation for that is competition at the Genesis level, if you will. And, we ate the competition. We ate them out of house and home. The reason we see only one type of life on earth is an ecosphere can only house one organism, one lifeform and we have outcompeted all the others, they’re gone, they’ve been rendered extinct. (…) Well that opens up the scary prospect that if your lifeform represents a different biochemistry and is accidentally released on earth, or if we accidentally contaminate your spacecraft, that without any malicious intention, the lifeforms will compete. And for that reason I advocate a barrier to any interaction biologically between you and us, until we resolved those questions; so the assumptive precautionary principle is separation. Nothing personal (smiles). Christopher McKay, Astrobiologist, NASA Ames Research Centre
‘500 years ago, people from Europe, one of the continents on earth, discovered a totally new world. They asked themselves ‘who are these people’ and, more precisely, ‘are they human?’ (…) ‘do they possess a soul?’ (…) And they tried to find proof of religious attitudes, they tried to find if these people have empathy…’ (…) So a deciscion of our will. I can decide to be human with you, and if I decide to be human with you, you receive from me a certain human identity. Jacques Arnould, Theologian, Ethics Advisor to the French Space Agency, CNES
In our history, whenever a more advanced civilisation have met with the lesss advanced, in almost all cases, the less advanced civilisation has suffered. Dr. Sheryl Bishop, Social Psychologist, Professor, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
Our fear is that, perhaps another civilisation will come to earth and do what we have done to one another. My hope is that, in the same way your technology is advanced, your morality is also more advanced than ours. Doug Vakoch, Director of Interstellar Message Composition, SETI Institute
Slowly, The Visit introduces profound, ambiguous sentiments towards a potential extraterrestrial Other. Because of the alien’s silence we humans need to fill the gaps, because of our tendency of wanting to bring the unknown into the known.
On another note, judging from the trailer it feels as if Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Arrival is a mix between Ted Chiang’s Story of your Life and The Visit. Filming of Arrival began in mid June 2015, The Visit had its premiere at the Sundance Festival in mid february 2015. Hard to say if Denis saw the movie at Sundance or before or whether the production was already too advanced to incorporate some of The Visit’s visual approach. Anyhow, it’s fascinating how elements of the two overlap.
Here is a follow-up with more stills. Season 2 brings more beautiful visuals, more relationship silliness, more epic fight scenes.