Images Blog 2009 - #5
In this year of 2009, the Images' Festival's spotlighted artist was Acadian-Quebecois filmmaker Louise Bourque (now based in Boston). Bourque was an astute choice for this edition of the Images Festival, with its focus on print and what artists do with or to prints. Bourque's programme testified to the potential wonders of manipulating original prints - painting on them, re-filming them, re-sizing them (even digitalizing them).
Although she delights in deliriously layered abstractionism, there are recurring image-motifs throughout Bourque's body of work. Specifically, houses feature prominently - not interiors but primarily exteriors. The filmmaker is outside and not necessarily wishing to go back inside. Bourque is not particularly interested in these houses' architectures - she is interested in them as monuments and/or memories. They are here one frame and gone the next, or they are not quite completely buried underneath paint and print-treatments and collages of other source images. The catalogue essay - Impossible Trips Back Home (by Michael Sickinski) - posits in some detail the filmmaker's parallel attraction and rejection of conventional concepts of "home". An audience member asked Bourque about "Rosebud", but that's just too literal. While Bourque does play with memory and therefore emotion in a manner that many abstractionist filmmakers stringently avoid, her division of exteriors and interiors parallels a public/private axiom.
The Images' Spotlight programme of Bourque's films spanned from 1991 to right now in 2009. The earliest work (Just Words, 1991) utilized sound and image from Samuel Beckett's solo play Not I - a mouth highlighted at the expense of a face (let alone the rest of the body) intones language-text. The mouth is established and then Bourque introduces stock of a young woman in what appears to be a small-town context - she is slowly moving away from houses and perhaps small businesses. After this film, language disappears from the programme - with one significant exception.
Imprint (1997) set a tone for the evening's programme and for the artist's body of work. At the top of the film, a little girl is running toward a porch on the right side of the frame, and there is a coterie of her contemporaries (classmates? playmates?) on the left. Bourque loops this passage and then subjects the stock to multiple treatments - whiting it out, printing its negative, alternating positive/negative and more. The original home movie aesthetic begs questions as to whose point-of-view - the father's? The camera circles around the house and doesn't go in. Imprint plays with an insistent rhythm, provided by its sounds as well as its editing. Initially I thought it was a convenient creaking of the film's apparatus that Bourque had cannily decided to deploy - in a time-honoured tradition. But it is the sound of a record player, its needle continuing to make its revolutions after the music has ceased to play. And about three quarters into the film, this hypnotic scratching is usurped by the great Enrico Caruso singing "A Dream". And what a dream it is! Bourque has by now added painting to her collage or mise-en-scene - one thinks of Stan Brakhage but "scratchier and more weather-beaten" (according to Sickinski's essay, and I heartily concur.).
Imprint was succeeded by shorter works : Self-Portrait Post Mortem - 2002) Jours en Fleurs -2003 , Fissures -1999 , The Bleeding Heart -2005, Going Back Home -2000, and a little prayer (H-E-L-P) -2009. All were exquisitely multi-layered and silent, with the exception of The Bleeding Heart. In this film, a recurring bad dream was prominent. With Bourque's films, it is as if language is something to be overcome or even banished. Language was dominant in the house and now she is outside of the house, but she persists in returning to that site. Going Back Home was a brief and repeated action - the subject returns and returns.
I am pleased that Images 2009's Canadian Spotlight artist is a woman not all that well known who is working against many grains, including those of many of her abstractionist experimental contemporaries. Bourque's screening was like watching paint chase its own tail and become more and more circular and delirious. Her palette is so different from cool collected conceptualism - it is wildly expressionist and all the more powerful because of it.