Manon de Boer at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Manon de Boer: Between Perception and Sensation
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
January 21 – May 1, 2011
The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis presents the first major exhibition in the U.S. of the work of acclaimed Dutch, Brussels-based artist Manon de Boer.
Manon de Boer (b. 1966, Kodaikanal, India) has crafted a unique and influential cinematic language that for over a decade has been defined by narratives of time, memory, and the relationship between sound and image. Central to her work is a keen focus on the temporal dimensions of portraiture, as she depicts friends, writers, dancers, composers, and musicians on film to capture the nature of memory and the passage of time. Alongside a documentarian strain that threads through her work, De Boer has also reconceived the structures of sound and musical composition to explore how they transform cinematic perception. For De Boer’s first solo exhibition in an American museum, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis presents four key works that address the artist’s attention to musical structures on film. Exploring notions of performance—and the ways that sound can give a film its form—this exhibition spotlights De Boer’s expansive and grounding experimentations with sound, image, and the conditions of cinema.
For her filmic portrait, Presto, Perfect Sound (2006), De Boer invited Brussels-based violinist George Van Dam to play the fourth movement (Presto) of Béla Bartók’s notoriously difficult Sonata for Solo Violin Sz117. De Boer shot six takes of the full performance using 35mm stock, out of which she cut and then reconstructed the optimal sound composites to produce a “perfect performance.” Reversing the conventional image-sound hierarchy, De Boer then synchronized the image to sound. What we hear is an expertly executed sonata whose visual glitches betray the constructed nature of near
perfection, restoring our attention to the tensions of Van Dam’s playing. Two Times 4’33” (2007) features the Brussels-based pianist Jean-Luc Fafchamps as he plays John Cage’s famed composition twice in front of his audience. Meandering slowly across the pianist and crowd, and out into the world beyond the studio, De Boer’s camera fixes its gaze on the palpability of silence: on film and in the body, as it reverberates through the audience and extends to us off screen. Attica (2008) was the result of collaboration with several musicians, for which de Boer staged a performance of Frederic Rzewski’s compositions Attica and Coming Together (both 1972). Rzewski’s music, a response to the infamous prison riots in New York the year before, assumes a circular structure of euphoric crescendo and resolution—and De Boer absorbs the composition’s mirrored nature within the spatial dynamics of her black and white film. Finally, for De Boer’s newest film, Dissonant (2010), the Rosas-dancer Cynthia Loemij responds to Eugène Ysaÿe’s Three Sonatas for Violin Solo, by dancing in silence after the music has stopped. The intimate soundtrack of Loemij’s footsteps continues when the screen goes black, and as De Boer changes the roll of film, the viewer trades vision for the pure experience of
In an ambitious installation conceived especially for the Contemporary’s galleries, the four works are orchestrated side-by-side. Through distinct ruptures of image and sound, each portrait amplifies an intricate play between image and sound, around performer and audience, and the complex and collaborative dimension of De Boer’s practice. Taking over one-half of the museum’s exhibition space, this exhibition asks us to revisit the process of looking and listening, through the artist’s singular interrogation of the filmic medium.