Entre-Temps: The Artist as a Narrator review by Joseph Johnson
Working in partnership with Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Shanghai’s Minsheng Art Museum is currently housing a large-scale exhibition dedicated to contemporary French video art. ‘Entre-Temps: The Artist as a Narrator’ covers a decade of video installations and features a selection of work from some of the country’s finest video artists. Utilising the entire gallery space, visitors are taken on a video tour, which sees pieces interacting with one another in large open spaces, or tucked away in private rooms.
It is the interaction between pieces through careful curating that makes this exhibition so successful. Subtle works like Melik Ohanian’s ‘Nightsnow’ (2001) are complemented by their surroundings; giving them more resonance than if they were isolated. In this case, the complementary work is Christian Boltanski’s ‘Entre-temps 2’ (2003): a rear-projected slideshow featuring gloomy self-portraits of the artist spanning from childhood to present-day. Here Boltanski’s consistently mournful gaze seems to silently witness the slow abstraction of the dimly-lit Icelandic street in a snowstorm portrayed in ‘Nightsnow.’ Other examples of this include a high-up projection of an owl peering over Paris in Ariel Michel’s video, or the absorbing ‘Sabatina’ (1997) by Ange Leccia, whose unknown Ophelia dominates a huge wall, staring down at us from a confusing underwater scene. It is not quite clear if the girl is drowning or playing some sort of game - her braces and white dress add to the overall innocence and mystery of the piece.
One of the most touching works is Kader Attia’s intimate portrayal of Algerian transvestites living and working in a Parisian suburb. This video slideshow warrants a more secluded space, with 156 slides exploring French multiculturalism in its raw, but disturbingly beautiful form.
The obvious highlight of the show is also housed in its own chamber. ‘Zidane: A 21st-century Portrait’ (2006) sees seventeen cameras trained on the wonderfully-gifted Zinedine Zidane, as he plays in a full-length football match for Real Madrid. The longest, and possibly the most engrossing film in the exhibition is also the one that really explores the theme of narration in a most accessible manner. When watching a game of football, the spectator retains the freedom to take in all of the action, or is shown the majority of what is happening by the TV cameras capturing the spectacle from numerous angles. That familiar scene is presented to us in ‘Zidane,’ but rather than a live editor cutting scenes together to give us the very best of the action, we rely almost entirely on one man: Zinedine Zidane. In this sense, Zidane acts as our ‘guide dog,’ presenting us with emotions ranging from joy and elation to frustration, disappointment and disgust. As an audience, we are all too au-fait with seeing the whole game of football and sharing the excitement of the twenty-two men on the pitch, but this film transcends our acquaintance with the game and elevates one man to a higher place. Whether it is merely paying homage to a gifted sport star, or possibly making a wider comment on the way footballers are given emperor-like status by their fans, the film certainly raises a number of questions.
There are several levels to this exhibition, and some pieces are more successful than others, but overall it is a credit to both the curators and the artists themselves. The transformation of a large space like Minsheng could be a difficult endeavour, but Entre-Temps manages to both isolate and amalgamate the different narrators in the wide range of videos on display.