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A CONVERSATION WITH LOUISE BOURQUE

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MM: In looking at your films, I was thinking of the concept of “in-between” and how that particular space-time is rarely represented in film. For instance, your film “Fissures”, where throughout the film you are literally in–between the frames. I was linking that to memory and it is perhaps akin to the “frames” in-between shots from a family photo album.

LB: When you think of a fissure it connotes this idea of the in-between. It suggests the idea of the gap, as what you are missing. But it’s also space that’s opened up, a place to explore, perhaps even something inviting. And this can bring up the idea that what we’re missing can also be something that is rich as well. So you can think of it like a positive and negative space —there is a bit of a pun intended when I say that (it’s literally what is going on in the image, a photographic shift between a positive and a negative through solarization). In the case of that film (Fissures), the gap, the memory, is represented very specifically by the home movie images coming and going and the film material itself has the markings of fissures on it, actual fissures in the film’s emulsion created by my hand manipulations in the printing and developing of the film image. So it’s “missing” emulsion, it’s “missing” information; the absence is literally inscribed on the material. But it’s not necessarily an absence only, it’s the suggestion of a presence in the absence, or it is what takes the place of the “missing” images of the home movies, for instance the violent rhythm of the color and the texture and what they suggest.

MM: Since you mentioned the material aspect of your films, can you talk just a bit on the technical aspect of your films and how they come to look so scratched, scorched, etc.?

LB: I’ve explored a lot of different ways of messing with the film image that could give me not just interesting results but results that I felt had meaning to them in the context of a specific film I was working on. In the case of Fissures for instance, the fact that lost memory or — not just lost memory actually— it has to do with loss in general and in this case, of longing and loss of a parental figure, or loss of ideals of home, —all those types of things that have to do with nostalgia, or what could have been or what was. So it’s not just what the image is, but how it’s treated. In Fissures it becomes very symbolic of this opening up of this other space, like it’s another dimension, you know?

MM: I was thinking of how the manipulation, and the general chemical treatment to the stock film, operates like a veil, concealing the home films and the imagery, not just in Fissures but in all of the films I watched, and how it creates a specific spatial relationship. You mentioned the symbolic aspects, but it’s also very formal. It’s almost like, from the viewer’s position, if one were to walk through that space, they would have to start with the decay and manipulation and move through to a clearer image but… that clearer image isn’t necessarily trust-worthy, or you might say reliable.

LB: I like that. That’s a good interpretation of it. I think you put your finger on it. Well as much as possible because in a way, I guess it is about trying to put your finger on something and it’s very slippery. But I do think you put your finger on the idea that it is slippery. This idea of trying to get to something and it’s something that you’re not always clear about. And it’s all so complex. You might have many feelings attached with a memory. And I think that it’s also not just in the realm of the memory but also in the realm of the present and how we feel about past experiences. It’s really complex. But also in the moment, like in the now of the viewing, I try to bring that to the experience of the viewing so that it’s there, too, this slippery-ness, and perhaps how we negotiate those things interiorly.

It has to do with our mortality as well. It’s these things that are lost, things that are ephemeral, things that we try to hold on to that are just slipping by, and also the things that we let go of that we might be attached to, the things we are attached to that we let go of. And because there’s just this kind of movement as we try to navigate this whole human experience, I guess (chuckles). I laugh a little when I say this because it’s so big, but it’s little too because it’s so common. The things we struggle with and that we have a hard time to even begin to put in words. And in some ways that’s why I make films. I used to write poetry but I felt frustrated with my inability to capture some of those issues I’m trying to explore in my films. I couldn’t do it, at least in any way that was satisfying to me. And when I discovered film, I felt there was this possibility to give some kind of voice to those things that are so hard to put into words, and that have to do with experiencing different things through our senses.

I think for me there are three things that probably come out the most on that sensory level in trying to give shape to these things: the visual, the auditory, and the tactile. I usually try to use sound that has a very low frequency. Sounds you don’t just hear but feel physically. And then the other tactile aspect of course, is more like a representation of the tactile. With the idea of texture and the idea of the things that might evoke the tactile, the delicate, almost disappeared thing when you feel the world through this, or it’s sharp edge for instance, so then those kinds of textures.

MM: You were mentioning sound. I’m interested in the sound or the voiceover, particularly in L’éclat du mal/The Bleeding Heart of It, where, at the beginning of the film, it’s like a narration and the voiceover is speaking directly to the viewer. As the film progresses, she (the female voice) changes, and she begins to become muffled and her voice echoes. She’s almost in the house, perhaps metaphorically at least, and, in that sense it changes the position of the viewer. The viewers are then distanced away from the images, certainly their position in relation to the girl narrating.

LB: I like this idea that it sounds like she’s inside the house. In the description of my film for Going Back Home, I refer to the notion of the dwelling as self, this idea of the house, the home as a metaphor for the self. So when you say that it feels like the voice is “inside the house“ to me it’s a great metaphor for “inside the self“. It’s like there’s a turning inward and perhaps that’s where there is real shelter. At one point, the voice seems to start talking to itself and more and more trying to convince itself: “I’m okay; I’ll be okay... “. Recently I came across this line from Beckett saying, “I can’t go on. I go on”. I love that line. In some ways I think the voice in that film is saying that. “It’s dark in the tunnel and I’m heading towards the light, the daylight. It’s dark in the tunnel and I’m heading towards the light”. It almost becomes a mantra like, “I can get through this”. But then I think that it is perhaps at that the point in the film where there might be a shift for the viewer in terms of possible identification with this disembodied voice. Hopefully it’s inviting an engagement so that the viewers might bring their own subjectivity to the experience.

The voiceover is recounting actual dreams of mine taken from an audio dream journal I kept between 1990 and 1992. The narration starts off sort of calm; I think the first line in the voiceover, “In my dream…”, is basically announcing, “I’m going to tell you something. I’m going to tell you my dream.” But soon after, the deconstruction starts happening, the fragmentation…Things start falling apart, like “all of the houses are falling apart”, as it later said in the film’s narration. Things are falling apart and I think that’s what happens to the narrative. It’s a piecing together of fragmentation, because the narration is literally a piecing together of excerpts from different dreams. The key, what is important to each part, is sort of like the story and it becomes what is essential. What is the essential part of this one dream? What is the strong image of that one? And piecing it together while maintaining some kind of tension or contradiction from the association of sometimes conflicting emotions attached to key moments from these dreams.

MM: In talking about the essence, it’s interesting how the bits and pieces she gives in the dreams are very familiar dreams. For instance, she talks about carrying herself as a little girl or running towards the light…

LB: They’re like archetypes in a way…in any case it’s trying to get to some kind of archetypal references.

And with the dreams, I think that ties in there, as well. Even the image of the house, I have so many home movies, but this is the third time that I used these particular images of the house in which I grew up. I have a lot of personal history with that house. Five generations of my family lived there at different times so it’s very loaded personally in terms of family history. But it’s more than that. That particular image of that house as opposed to other footage I might have of it, presents it more like an archetype of the family home with the church steeple in the background and especially with the people in front. It’s in Imprint, it’s in Fissures, and it’s in L’éclat du mal/The Bleeding Heart of it… It’s a haunting image!

MM: So “The Bleeding Heart of It” would be the house. And in that sense, it’s interesting how formal the house is. It really holds the structure of the film.

LB: Yes, exactly. That’s a big part of “The Bleeding Heart of It”. It’s the It. It is the House and all it stands for, the House and the Family; it is the family dynamic within the house. It is the concept of the Home in our culture and what it is supposed to be, what it is and what it isn’t. So you’re right, that is the it. Actually you’re one of the few persons to bring up the It. It has this loaded history going back generations — the Patriarchal Family, all the generations of the It at home, and it’s the bleeding heart of It, because there’s a lot of bloodshed (in metaphorical ways, and also in literal ways) — the house is like a wound.

MM: Wound? Or Womb?

LB: A womb and a wound. It’s a complicated thing.

MM: There was a part towards the end of the film where the house actually starts to bow, and I was impressed that it still stood. It was/is such a buoyant, rubber structure, and metaphorically the house seems to bend but never break.

LB: Yes… but in Imprint there is a total obliteration of it. This film is about, in so many ways, my intervention, what I am doing to this film image of the house, what has imprinted me and how I’m in turn putting my mark on it through hand manipulations and chemical decay processes. In the last segment, where the decay has almost totally obliterated any trace of the house and all is left is abstracted colored emulsion there is still one frame left with a window from the house on it. If you look for it, you can see it, the one frame in a flash. The house is almost obliterated, but still there. And I chose to end with that segment because that is so strong. It’s heart wrenching in a way… makes you feel kind of sorry for the house: “Oh please don’t forget about me! Don’t abandon me!” …I never put it in that way before, but it’s a little bit like that. This idea that you can’t completely get away from it, you know?

MM: I wanted to ask about titles. They seem to operate both formally and conceptually and their placement in the films seems particularly important.

LB: The titles are integral. In Going Back Home it’s important that it’s read at the beginning because it sets an expectation. How they work formally and conceptually affect how the films might get read. Going Back Home sets the tone especially with the music that accompanies the film: Very sweet and innocent, however what follows is chaos and destruction. On the other hand… there is beauty. The idea of longing is very strong: one can’t go back home, but you keep on trying. The film is very sad to me. With the sweet or naïve music, you can’t help but think of lost innocence. The note that is off key on the toy piano gives it away. . There is something in that little note… Also the images are beautifully rich with colors of gold, like something precious, full of light & warmth and in contradiction with what is going on in the images — found footage of homes being ravaged by disasters.

MM: I’m also curious about the title of one of the films in the Biennial: Jours en fleurs, where the film is saturated in menstrual blood. We were talking earlier that the title is very difficult to translate.

LB: It is important that the title is in my original language because it alludes to the expression “être dans ses fleurs” which in the area where I grew up in (New-Brunswick, Canada) refers girls having their period.

The expression translates loosely as “being in your flowers”. It has a certain loveliness to it but also a certain violence, the idea that you can’t say you have your period, because of the taboo. There is violence in omission, something we can’t talk about and which denies women’s experience. It is such a big taboo to represent it. Just look at the ads for tampons where blue liquid is used to simulate blood.

But I really wanted to keep the poetry of the expression in the title and its reference. The film captures both the beauty of nature and its destructive force. It’s probably my most abstract film, but there are still recognizable images. You can still see traces of images of trees in springtime bloom even after the images’ transformation resulting from their incubation in the menstrual blood. I think of the film as a collaboration with nature.

It’s really essential to how I approached this, putting the background details in the program notes like that. But if someone doesn’t have access to the back-story (i.e. the title and how the film was made), they can still get the references to nature and its various aspects: the materials and textures and colors of nature. It is dark and light; you have the tweet birds, but you also have the stressing quality, a rumbling sound underneath, and strange things emerging from the trees. The title refers to growth; the cataclysm speaks to the cycle of life.

MM: The manipulation of the film itself creates a pulse, the pulse of nature…

LB: It also sounds like a pulse, same as in The Bleeding Heart of It: this idea of heartbeat. I want to translate that blood flow, that flow of life in my films. I remember when my partner Joe saw Imprint- he said it looks like someone bled all over the film! Blood is a complicated issue — life and death. But mostly life.

MM: Blood is mostly life until you see it.

LB: Exactly…but then again there’s always blood at birth.


Links:
Whitney Biennial

"Whitney Biennial 2006: Day For Night", is on view from March 2, 2006 - May 28, 2006 at the Whitney Musuem of American Art.

Louise Bourque's films were screened on Saturday, March 18th and will again on Sunday, April 23rd at 2:00 pm.

All images are courtesy of the artist. 

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Micah J. Malone has been with Big RED & Shiny since the beginning, and is an executive editor.

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