Hans Ulrich Obrist with Chantal Akerman

HANS ULRICH OBRIST: The issues of reality and fiction certainly underpin the division between your fiction films and the ones you make for exhibitions. Then naturally there is also the spatial dimension of the installation, which likewise points to a very important difference. Since I saw your installation D'Est at the Galerie du Jeu de Paume in 1995, and after that with each show and each room, for "Voila" (Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2000) or for Documenta 11 (Kassel, 2002) or in the galleries, I have always been struck by your capacity to cut out an absolutely peculiar, unique space between the cinema movie and the art installation, as a form of tension. What sparked your desire to make these films and these installations on a parallel to your cinema works?
CHANTAL AKERMAN: You know, I did that the first time more because I had been asked to: it didn't come from me. It was Michael Tarantino who wanted me first of all to do something at the Beaubourg for the "Passage de l'image" exhibition (Musee National d'Art Modeme, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1990), but I didn't have time... Then he spoke about it with Kathy Halbreich, who was in Boston at the time and that's how I came to do the installation based on D'Est (1993). Otherwise, I wouldn't have thought of it. I didn't see myself as an artist. It's different now. For instance, for the last part of the room at Documenta (De I'autre côté, 2002), the idea of the installation came to me before making the film. That was the first time this had happened. You see previously the film was there first and the installation followed from it. Whereas now things are beginning to move - and there's nothing wrong in that - towards art, and without the film...

HANS ULRICH OBRIST: So this isn't a switch from one world to the other any more, but actually a coming and going…..
That is also what has been clear since D 'Est, at the Jeu de Paume: this desire to get the spectator physically involved in the installation space, which is why you had to arrange the screens not in a straight line. By which I mean that the video has often been reproached for inducing a contemplative and hence passive attitude in viewers, due to the frontal arrangement of the monitors. The idea of distributing what is to be seen in different directions is an effective solution to the problem, isn t it?
CHANTAL AKERMAN: Yes. The aim of this installation is to enable people to move around. Personally I think there ought to be chairs turning in the middle. Like the way that artist - whose name escapes me - did for his studio... -

CHANTAL AKERMAN: Bruce Nauman. People need to turn, to be able to catch a little bit of my mother's text, a little bit of mine and my sister's, and then to be able to get up and look at the object from above. It is necessary to see what happens then, to create it; I would like first of all to try it on a model. For me it is no longer a matter of working directly and immediately on a space, where you can only see the result when it can't be reversed any more; that's to say when the space becomes a constraint to be reckoned with in the composition. So you see, for Documenta, the idea was to project the end of the film De I'autre côté in the middle of the desert on a large screen placed between two mountains, one American, the other Mexican, and to film this context with the screen and send the images directly to Kassel via the Internet. But I was compelled to cut my ambitions for this project, due to problems of space and money. So the installation was not what I had wanted it to be. That is why now I want to start by working on the model. Which is not to say that the project for an installation cannot take on very different forms just the same, depending on the exhibitions and contexts in which it is shown.

HANS ULRICH OBRIST: Agnes Varda has often told me about her fascination with the new potential offered by digital cameras for making film, or with DVD.... How do you see that?
CHANTAL AKERMAN: I did have a small camera like that but it was stolen in Los Angeles. I had taken a lot of pictures with it for De I'autre côté all by myself. I still have drawers full of things I took on the highway, but the camera was stolen with forty minutes of images in it! If only they had at least left me the pictures.... But those cameras are extraordinary. You feel something, you take it. I don't know if you remember in De I'autre côté there is a shot in the night before meeting the group. It's a shot that I took myself, entirely by myself….

ULRICH OBRIST: Would you mind telling me about your unrealized projects? You know this is something I am very interested in and that in all my interviews I ask artists if they have had any Utopian projects, unrealized or unrealizable, and as what they consist of.
CHANTAL AKERMAN: Well, I did have a project seven years ago, infact it was when there was some hope of peace in Israel. I had fly been to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan to check out some locations and then I wrote a script for which, unfortunately, I did not fight hard enough. I don't know why, I suppose I must have been afraid. Thierry Garrel, my producer, wasn't at all carried away by it and I didn't put up a fight. Then, two years later, when we did Sud he told me: "I should really have let you make that film about the Middle East". If I were to resume that project today, it would instead be about the impossibility of filming the Middle East