SILENT CINEMA – STAATSGALERIE STUTTGART
Mireille Kassar: The Children of Uzaï, Antinarcissus 4.8. – 30.08.2015 VIDEO-BOX
Stuttgart is located in the south of Germany, a long way the sea.
700 km from the North Sea, 700 km from the Adriatic Sea, 900 km from the Atlantic Ocean and approximately 3500 km from the Uzaï Beach in the south of Beirut (Lebanon).
How can I lead the participants of the women’s art colloquy to the film The Children of Uzaï, Antinarcissus by Mireille Kassar? It was filmed on the Beach of Uzaï in 2013 and presented at the VIDEOBOX of the State Gallery in Stuttgart (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart) in August 2015.
It was very hot in Stuttgart in those August days. Exceptionally hot for our latitude. I enjoyed watching the cinematic images of the teenage boys playing alongside and in the sea. They plunged again and again into the waves moving back and forth. The sea! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be living by the sea? But the sea is far away.
Are there any paintings of the sea in our museum, the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart? I looked around in search for them and found two paintings from the 19th’century and two from the 20th’s. In her explanatory notes “about filmmaking” on the website of the film antinarcissus.com, the artist Mireille Kassar writes that she could envisage showing her film even as part of an installation. And so I decided to present her film in relation to the following four paintings during the art colloquy.
PAINTINGS OF THE SEA
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Seacoast and Sailboat in the Face of an Approaching Thunderstorm, about 1869
Courbet was among the first artists to revolutionize the Parisian painting scene in the middle of the 19th century. Realism was his brainchild: away from the great historical themes towards the observation of the living environment, even of common people. He frequently observed the sea. The painting is divided into two horizontal stripes: the sea and the sky. The sea takes up less than half of the painting. Upon taking a closer look, you can see the dry sand at the bottom of the painting, then, slightly darker, the sand moistened by the waves. Up to the horizon line follow parallel to the painting the slightly ruffled waves beating against the beach and retreating with slight white crests, and then, in the distance, the agitated and moving surface of the water. A small sailing boat with a billowing sail. Mighty, menacing mountains of clouds drift from the left to the right, up to the sky. A thunderstorm is approaching. There is no light, no sun. Courbet scraped the paint with a palette knife directly onto the canvas in order to create a pasty surface.
Claude Monet (1840-1926), The Sea near Fécamp, 1881
The painting by Claude Monet is hanging on the same wall, in the same museum space. Painted only 12 years later and yet so different. Despite the overcast sky, the painting is full of light. The waves are beating against the rocks, breaking and overlapping recklessly, crests are dancing on the water. Vertically, the painting is rhythmed by the rocks. They are dissolved in numerous bright colour lines and have become immaterial, filled with light, but sprayed by the fume and washed-over by the steadily back and forth moving waves. I can almost hear the rumbling noise of the breaking waves and feel the water splashing on my hot skin heated by the August sun.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Nude Walking into the Sea (Striding into the Sea), 1912
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner chose a larger format, but fewer colours. Violet, green, ochre – a strange high-contrasted and dissonant colour tone. He divided the painting into two triangles (sea – beach and a stripe of sky). On the left: a man and a woman walk stiff-legged into the water towards the bending waves. Are they holding hands? The man looks ahead and leads, the woman looks cautiously down at her steps. Both are nude. There is a third person in the painting: on the sandy beach, another woman is lying on her stomach, head in hands. Above them: sand dunes and a dark violet sky. Sketchily thrown paint, hectic lines. A composition as tense as was Kirchner’s life back then, split between two women, in Berlin shortly before WWI.
Emil Nolde, (1880-1938), Calm Sea, 1936
The painting Calm Sea by Emil Nolde is very dark and was painted in 1936. A night sky full of clouds. A yellow reflect of the moonlight on the green sea. Some of the women say the painting creates a calm atmosphere. I find it threatening. Perhaps because I know that it was painted by the North Sea in Nazi Germany. Only a year later, Nolde was among the artists who were affected by the campaign “Degenerate Art.”
You can find these paintings and further information in the online catalogue of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart:
Mireille Kassar: The Children of Uzaï, Antinarcissus, 2013
HD-Video, colour, without sound, 16′
I’m now interested in the women’s reaction to the film The children of Uzaï, Antinarcissus. 16 minutes of silence. Silent cinema. Moving pictures of the back and forth moving sea, of the light breaking into the water and into the waves. Horizontal stripes, crest waves, sea-spray, structures of light in the water and in the sand. Children playing together and with the water. They are courageous and vulnerable. They help each other, look after each other, they are full of power and not narcissistic. They are not searching for their reflection in which they could immerse and lose themselves. They want to feel themselves, take a risk and search for life in the waves.
The artist Mirelle Kassar (born in Zahlé, Bekaa, Lebanon in 1963) is the observer of the scene on the Beach of Uzaï. Occasionally a vertical black bar crosses the film frame. It’s the pillar behind which she hides herself in order to observe the playing children without disturbing them. Every once in a while, she lets go of the children, rotates the camera, lets the water flow from the bottom up, captures the waves and lets them stay still in the picture, lets the sun dance and night come.
The artist organizes her picture from the sea in the manner of Courbet, Monet, Kirchner or Nolde who also created their paintings parting from the sea. She observed the scene on the spur of the moment, but devoted a lot of time to the adapting and cutting of the film. Mireille Kassar, so I learned, is actually a painter. I’m very happy to have met her at the Staatsgalerie of Stuttgart. She had never been to our museum before and never seen the originals of the exposed paintings.
Nonetheless I find a lot of the paintings about the sea in Mireille Kassar’s film: the rhythm of the waves of Gustave Courbet, the sea-spray and the light of Claude Monet, the colours and the tension of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and the surprising darkness of Emil Nolde.
TEXTS ABOUT THE SEA
While approaching the topic “sea“, I also came across texts about the sea. The following text was written by Albert Camus (1913-1960). In December 1959, a few days before his accidental death, he wrote in his journal:
„La mer, divinité.
Sur la terre primitive les pluies tombèrent pendant des siècles de manière ininterrompue.
C’est dans la mer que la vie est née et pendant tout le temps immémorial qui a mené la vie de la première cellule à l’être marin organisé, le continent, sans vie animale ni végétale n’a été qu’un pays de pierre empli seulement du bruit de la pluie et du vent au milieu d’un silence énorme, parcouru d’aucun mouvement sinon l’ombre rapide des grands nuages et la course des eaux sur les bassins océaniens. … La terre ferme, pour finir n’est qu’une très mince plaque sur la mer. Un jour l’océan régnera. Il y a des vagues qui nous arrivent du Cap Horn après un voyage de dix mille kilomètres. …
Albert Camus, Carnets III, mars 1951 – décembre 1959, Cahier no IX, p.257
The sea is play, the sea is hope.
The sea is beginning and end, life and death.
“Do you know the stories of Mr. Palomar?” – I was asked by Ms. G.
“No”, I answered. “In this case, I’ll send them to you”, she answered.
“Mister Palomar” is Italo Calvino’s last work:
“Mr. Palomar on the beach: Reading a wave
The sea is barely wrinkled, and little waves strike the sandy shore. Mr. Palomar is standing on the shore, looking at a wave. Not that he is lost in contemplation of the waves. He is not lost, because he is quite aware of what he is doing: he wants to look at a wave and is looking at it. He is not contemplating, because for contemplation you need the right temperament, the right mood, and the right combination of exterior circumstances; and though Mr. Palomar has nothing against contemplation in principle, none of these three conditions applies to him. Finally, it is not „the waves“ that he means to look at, but just one individual wave: in his desire to avoid vague sensations, he establishes for his every action a limited and precise object. …
Is this perhaps the real result that Mr. Palomar is about to achieve? To make the waves run in the opposite direction, to overturn time, to perceive the true substance of the world beyond sensory and mental habits? No, he feels a slight dizziness, but it goes no further than that. … Only if he manages to bear all the aspects in mind at once can he begin the second phase of the operation: extending this knowledge to the entire universe. …“
Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar, Translated from the Italian by William Weaver, p. 3ff
Italo Calvino (1923-1985) describes his protagonist’s, Mr. Palomar, attempt to read a wave. „It would suffice not to lose patience, as he soon does. Mr. Palomar goes off along the beach, tense and nervous as when he came, and even more unsure about everything.“ Mr. Palomar keeps moving and will not acquire knowledge.
However, with her film, Mireille Kassar succeeded in winding time backwards so that I can recognize the motives and colours chosen by Courbet, Monet, Kirchner and Nolde. She also knows how to let time stand still so that I can plunge into the pictures of sea and life and feel like the children from Uzaï.
Thank you, Mireille.
Thank you for the encouragement to write this text.
The Film The Children of Uzaï, Antinarcissus by Mireille Kassar was presented at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in August 2015.
The series SILENT CINEMA will be continued. The Staatsgalerie Stuttgart presents every month films and videos by young or established international artists who work in the documentary, experimental, essayistic or narrative style and manage to get along without sound.
Phone: +49 711 470 40 250 and +49 711 470 40 228
Thank you my dear Christiane Haack, Paris for the translation into English.
You can find the text in german here/ Hier finden Sie den Text in deutscher Sprache: Mireille Kassar: The Children of Uzaï