Manon de Boer: Think about Wood, Think about Metal

6 April–5 June 2011

In the second exhibition of the year, Index presents film works by Manon de Boer (Belgium). Think about Wood, Think about Metal (2011), which is the main piece in the exhibition, is a portrait of the American percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky. The exhibition also presents one of Manon de Boer’s earlier works, Laurien (1996-2007). In two film programmes, running alternately on Wednesday evenings throughout the exhibition period, an additional three of Boer’s films will be screened.

Think about Wood, Think about Metal (2011), Manon de Boer’s most recent film, is perhaps above all a work about concentration and attentive listening as a foundation for the creative process. The opening scene of the film shows a vibrating metal bowl; a sequence that waits out the time it takes for the sounds and vibrations to die away. The title of the film is a quotation from John Cage, whose influence and ideas Robyn Schulkowsky returns to in the film.

Manon de Boer’s films are reminiscent of the French filmmaker Chantal Akerman, whose works are based on trust in the image. In Think about Wood, Think about Metal, Robyn Schulkowsky talks of the importance to have trust in sound, of giving it time and space and allowing the silences to propel the work forward. In Manon de Boer, these two aspects are combined. Think about Wood, Think about Metal is a film about sound and silence, which, however, does not place secondary the image. The film becomes a space that carries the sound, that creates time and place, through the artist’s conscientious work with the film’s different elements. In the film, Robyn Schulkowsky says that she can perceive the possible sounds of an object by looking at it. The concentrated gaze as the sound’s incitement.

A central place in the film is occupied by Robyn Schulkowsky’s Umbrian studio. The camera scans the room, with its surfaces, instruments, light reflections, in a panning that is reminiscent of the movement in several of Manon de Boer’s films, including Two Times 4’33’’, shot during a performance of John Cage’s silent piece, 4’33’’. The camera’s extended movement across the room accentuates time as a basic condition both for the music and for the film as a medium. In a movement that may be read as a comment on Cage’s suggestion to leave something unfinished in the work, “to open a window”, the camera leaves the room and seems to rest on the unstructured landscape outside.

The films included in the exhibition and in the accompanying film programme comprise a series of five portraits of women. This is not an aspect of the works stressed by Manon de Boer, but it is nevertheless a fact and a statement. It is up to the viewer to determine the gender political significance of the artist’s choices, which is a strategy that may be regarded as a result of the trust in the image that characterises de Boer’s art. In the earliest work in the exhibition, Laurien, which was initiated in 1996 and completed in 2007, a woman sits immobile in front of the camera on three different occasions in her life. The film, which is silent, places complete trust in the camera’s present gaze. This presence is the pivot of all de Boer’s films, even though the focus in Think about Wood, Think about Metal is not that of a direct depiction of the film’s protagonist, whose face is only fleetingly visible in a second-long shot.

Think about Wood, Think about Metal is the third film in what Manon de Boer regards as a series. The preceding two works in the series, Sylvia Kristel – Paris and Resonating Surfaces, will be screened in the film programme during the exhibition period. In Sylvia Kristel – Paris (2003), the actress Sylvia Kristel tells her story, in two takes separated by a year. Resonating Surfaces (2005) is a portrait of the psychoanalyst Suely Rolnik. These three films constitute a transition from issues of filmic narration and the impossibility of the narrative, in Sylvia Kristel – Paris, via the power of the voice and its connection to identity and body, in Resonating Surfaces, to the sound in itself and the silence as its prerequisite, in Think about Wood, Think about Metal. As a supplement we will also screen the film Dissonant (2010) featuring the dancer Cynthia Loemij, which is thematically related to the other films.

Manon de Boer was born in 1966 in Kodaicanal, India. She lives and works in Brussels.

Thanks to Jan Mot, Brussels, and the Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam.