Jane and Louise Wilson: Artist Talk at the AA

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February 27, 2009 - From the AA's website

Jane and Louise Wilson have worked together for the last 20 years. Their multi-part video installations are notable for their handling of the viewer’s relation to the spaces as the artists have experienced them – Stasi City (1997), Gamma (1999), Erehwon (2000) among many others. Their most recent work, Unfolding the Aryan Papers (2009) is currently at the British Film Institute’s Southbank Gallery. It is based on an unmade Kubrick film concerning a wartime story of a Jewish woman. The actress who was to have played the lead herself figures large in the Wilsons’ film which also includes Kubrick’s wardrobe stills and wartime newsreel images – a complex and stunning work.

Future events in the series are: Melik Ohanian, Friday 6 March; Matt Collishaw, Friday 13 March; TBA, Friday 20 March.

In this informal talk, the twins discussed Stasi City 1997; Dreamtime 2001; A Free and Anonymous Monument, 2003; "The New Brutalists" exhibition, 2006; and Unfolding the Aryan Papers, 2008 (?). I was struck by their habit of talking over the films as a presentation strategy. One can imagine this could be honed as a useful strategy for address...reminiscent of Walid Ra'ad's presentation on Atlas Group research.

Reflections on the Talk: When I'm in London but feeling lonely for Vancouver, I look for white-framed photographs on white walls and cold films with an abundance of gray sky--anything reminiscent of photoconceptualism, West Coast Canada's homestyle. I ache for "photographs of high intensity and complex content that probes, obliquely or directly, the social force of imagery." (Wikipedia): a big Wall painting, one of Arden's empty lots, Graham's inverted trees...Technically accomplished, slightly nostalgic and often with a glint of humor that takes itself too seriously to smile outright. They're good pictures.

It wasn't just the failed modernist architecture pictured in Jane and Louise Wilson's films that reminded me of the Vancouver School. It was the way they explored this space through the coupling and uncoupling of views, colours, rhythms, sound, speed and scale.

Consider Unfolding the Aryan Papers, produced in response to the Kubrick archives at LCC (see the Wilsons' artist statement below).

In paying close attention to (the representation of) detail, the Wilsons encourage us to think about the multivarious significance of careful observation, careful looking (to which I would add, careful listening--visual listening). This connects to Kubrick's filmic eye, Tania's preparations to leave, actress ter Steege's self-presentation...the Wilsons' (re)view of the archive: being sensitive both to what/how we see and how we're seen. There's a subtext of self-surveillance but without self-consciousness--perhaps because the work's curious enough to take itself seriously. It's a rare example of art that's both earnest and disarming. A provocative combination and useful source for the Parade Project...for thinking in/around/through various kinds of space, specifically failed (modernist) space. Also, there's the significance of twinning in their work...and the complex self-other dynamics this can involve.

Jane and Louise Wilson's Artist statement

Unfolding the Aryan Papers is as much about a film that never happened as it is a portrait of the chosen lead actress Johanna ter Steege. It begins with images of Johanna taken in 1993 by Stanley Kubrick - they are of the wardrobe shoot for the film Aryan Papers. Johanna was to play the lead role of Tania, a compelling character. Tania is central to the film: she is a Polish Jew trying to save herself and her family from the Nazis.

When we visited the Kubrick Archive, we were intrigued to look at the detailed research for a film that never made it into production. The amount of research is overwhelming and it seems to have overwhelmed Kubrick himself. The research left him very depressed and he abandoned the project.

The work takes its title from Kubrick's film and, intercut between stills of Johanna, are images from the archive of specific scenes Kubrick wanted to recreate and images from the Ealing Studios Archive of interiors, shot in 1939/40. The film moves into live action with footage of Johanna filmed now, fifteen years later, where she appears to come to life, recreating stills from the original wardrobe shoot.


Unfolding the Aryan Papers is as much about a film that never happened as it is a portrait of the chosen lead actress Johanna ter Steege.


Credits Directors Jane and Louise Wilson Producer Pinky Ghundale Director of Photography Alistair Cameron Editor Reg Wrench Actress Johanna ter Steege

Read Kevin Meyer's article on the twins

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