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I just returned from the opening of filmmaker Chantal Akerman’s new installation, To Walk Next to One’s Shoelaces in an Empty Fridge, at the Marian Goodman Gallery on 57th St. in New York. It’s a really beautiful work, and anyone interested in the Belgian filmmaker or autobiographical media art in general should make an effort to check it out.

The installation takes place in two rooms. In the first, text fragments from an autobiographical writing Akerman published last year are projected on a scrim which scrolls inward within the space like a gossamer Richard Serra sculpture. In the second, a two-panelled short film by Akerman is projected on a wall through another scrim onto a which a second projection of highlighted images is thrown.

On a formal level, the piece explores concepts like repetition and transparency, but, at its heart, this is tremendously moving and unexpectedly funny piece in which Akerman uses her artmaking tools to journey back through her family history to trace the desires and ambitions of three generations of women. The film features Akerman and her mother discussing the contents of a diary that Akerman found in their house one day — the diary of Akerman’s grandmother.

“I am a woman!” the diary begins. “Therefore I can’t express all my feelings, my sorrows and my thoughts… dear diary, onto your sheets I will write them. And you will be my only confidante.”

The grandmother’s diary spurs the two women to discuss World War 2 — her mother’s time in the camps and her feeling that she never regained her life afterwards — and the mother’s support of Akerman’s early career as an artist. At one point, Akerman remembers her father watching her first film, Blow Up My Town, saying that that was the moment that he finally thought there might be some future for his daughter in her profession. She also says that the film was the only time she was ever successfully able to mix comedy and tragedy, something she’s been trying to do since.

It was also great to see Akerman at the exhibit. My partner Robin O’Hara had been in touch with her recently on my behalf when, through a friend, a Very Famous Filmmaker asked me to track down a video copy of her classic film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles for him to see. That’s a film referenced by Gus Van Sant in his new Last Days. In the upcoming Filmmaker, Van Sant recounts how his d.p. Harris Savides announced one day on the set how he “cracked the visual code” of the film which has influenced many but is quite hard to screen these days. So, given that, don’t miss the chance to see something new of Akerman’s work if you are in New York. Akerman’s installation runs at the gallery (24 West 57th Street) through August 26.

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