MEETING WITH CHARLOTTE VITAIOLI
AND JOACHIM MONVOISIN
TUESDAY 28th MARCH 2017 AT 2 PM.
TOURCOING, ÉCOLE SUPÉRIEURE D’ART DU NORD – PAS DE CALAIS (DUNKERQUE/TOURCOING)
36 BIS RUE DES URSULINES – 59200 TOURCOING
A meeting with the two artists Charlotte Vitaïoli and Joachim Monvoisin who may work together, in particular to make the film Le chant des corbeaux/The Crow’s Song, and who also work separately with possible passages between each other and shared references.
Le chant des corbeaux, 2016, 23 mn
Le chant des corbeaux is a black and white auto-fiction, a Road Movie that looks like a Thriller. The plot is set in a snowy place and hinges on the search for three suitcases which appear throughout the film. The choice of filming in snow is akin to lunar territory, and calls to mind desert expanses which echo the codes of the Western. This décor emphasizes the fantastic dimension and favours the novelistic plot of the narrative. If the desert is a place of every manner of suffering in the traditional Western, it is also the refuge of men on the run, and all those who reject civilization. This dimension betrays the need to disappear, to take refuge from the system. Le chant des corbeaux broaches the notion of a way out, and the need for wide open spaces peculiar to the Road Movie.
In the film, costumes take on a narrative status which replaces the dialogue. The structure of the clothes is studied based on the different themes which we find throughout the story. Oppression, the threat of death, and freedom all interact in the protagonists and are embodied by sartorial codes with many different sources, mixing genres and cultures. This mixture of genres is also expressed by the sets and the props, takes the narrative into an undefined space-time context, and flirts with the fantastic.
The film ends the way it began. It must be seen like a slice of life. We are always on the road, and the same characters pursue each other or perhaps accompany one another. The film’s beginning and end become confused, the roads all look alike and lead nowhere. Rather than a line, we must consider the story like an endless loop where we will be forever finding the same questions. As in Monte Hellman’s film Two-Lane Blacktop which ends with the film going up in flames, it is not the story which ends but the camera which stops filming. There was a before and an after, the film is just a sequence in a story. CV and JM
Charlotte Vitaioli and Joachim Monvoisin have worked together, it goes without saying, to make the film Le chant des corbeaux, 2016, but not always. They both have a praxis which is akin to the other, we might say covets the other, overlapping and sometimes merging. So they focus on the conjunction “and” rather than the logogram “&”, which would restrict them to a shared praxis. But this is not the case and makes it possible, from one project to the next, undertaken together, to grasp the role of each one of them.
Mo Gourmelon: During our first meeting you gave me the invitation to your exhibition Dessiner les tropiques/Drawing the Tropics, following on from a creative residency at the Flers Cultural Centre in Normandy. Opposite your introduction, you raised your eyebrows about Joachim Monvoisin “&” Charlotte Vitaioli, and not the conjunction “and”, which you would have preferred. Can you tell us something about the subtlety here? How did you meet? How did your first collaboration happen?
Joachim Monvoisin and Charlotte Vitaioli: Our collaboration came about through similar research undertaken around the notion of narration, which we each develop in our respective activities. Our artistic fields share in common the fact that they borrow from film, from popular imagery, from art history, and from the human sciences. There is a panel of references which is peculiar to us, invariably drawing from the collective memory, prompting us to go back and forth between a Pop imagery and a vernacular language.
Our initial collaboration was the production of an auto-fiction—fictionalized autobiography--made in the form of an edition of drawings, in which we had fun depicting ourselves in phantasmagorical worlds. Titled Les Vacances de L’amour/The Holidays of Love, that work develops like a chronological frieze where we evolve in great complicity from childhood to adulthood. Five years later, we conceived Le chant des corbeaux, so as to make a sequel to the auto-fiction work which we had embarked upon with Les Vacances de L’amour.
The decision to make a film and broach the subject of auto-fiction with film techniques, making it possible to confuse the issue of possibilities, by interplays of special effects, lights and cuts. Beyond those two projects which brought us together around the auto-fiction issue, we are each involved in separate research. What’s more, we sometimes apply for creative residencies together, united by affinities that are as artistic as they are personal.
Lastly, the conjunction of our two names by the “and” underlies a specific collaboration between two artists. While the ampersand creates an artistic entity represented by two people.
MG: Does this mean that Les Vacances de L’amour is a textbook production? Can we say that you have intentionally decided to play with the notion of couple? The couple being that entity that is complicitous and whose modi operandi sometimes elude external people. It creates this uniqueness which, for you, is a passage for inventing roles, and telling stories? I’ll take advantage of things here to point out that you both studied at the EESAB in Quimper. How were those five years of training?
JM: Les Vacances de L’amour is partly a textbook production. I say partly, because Charlotte was in her 5th year at Fine Arts, while I’d finished my studies and was no longer living in Quimper. Yes, the notion of couple is central in this work. In that period we weren’t living in the same city, and that definitely increased the imaginary factor of the project, in which we invented a parallel life for us.
Those five years at Fine Arts were as important on the creative level as on the human. Because it is small, the Quimper School is a convivial place where people spend a lot of time. The city isn’t especially a student city. There’s nothing else to do except live, and go to the school, which becomes a real place of exchange.
MG: How did the plot of Le Chant des corbeaux come into being? And, based on it, how did you construct your two characters? One feels that the whole dramatic plot is based on their incarnations, through glances and interpretations of signs punctuating the space and stressing their movement.
CV JM: The project to make a Road Movie grew on us through the acquisition of a Gnome et Rhône motorbike, a 1950s collector’s item. We put it in our studio; many times Joachim tried to repair it and tinker with it, and we spent a lot of timing looking at it. In reality, it’s never really worked and we’ve only managed to profit from it through our imagination. It’s from it that we wanted to make a Road Movie where we could bring all our fantasies to the fore.
So the project involved imagining a work whose point of departure would be that motorbike looking for movement. The bike seemed to us to embody a form of autonomy, the possibility of moving, of leaving, without any restrictions—freedom. To begin with we didn’t really know what tale we wanted to tell.
For almost a year, we explored and dissected Road Movies accompanied by the writings of Jean-Baptiste Thoret. We also re-discovered the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s. Films which touched us in their critical approach to the world, tinged with poetry and absurdity. In particular we were influenced by Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence, where the disabled hero evolves in a frosty, deathly atmosphere, with mountains of marble like tombstones.
After several months of screenings, the script for Le Chant des corbeaux came to us quite naturally, while we were on holiday. Our characters were created from archetypes, each one reflecting a form of melancholy.
At the beginning of the film, the woman with the suitcase is wearing a suit that restricts her body and its movements. Her sombre silhouette, and the stiffness of the fabric and the pointed shapes all introduce the idea of bondage. In those clothes, she incarnates the femme fatale, caught in a situation which she can’t control. The threat is symbolized by the Simca Bagheera, which restricts her and steers her as if she were the instrument of its designs.
From the moment when she seems to break with the car, her clothes change their look. She wears a black cape which calls to mind the subject of the innocent girl on the run, peculiar to Gothic novels. The black cape also incarnates the anthropomorphic image of death, as if announcing a tragic fate. This idea was inspired by the William Blake character in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, where he sees the portrait of death displayed on his face.
Incidentally, the close-fitting costume she wears under the cape is inspired by the super-heroine’s outfit, here borrowed from the comic strip world. The re-use of that clothing expresses the idea of freedom and emancipation in the face of menace.
The male character finds himself halfway between a cowboy and a dandy. He wears cowboy boots, a heavy winter suit and plaid trousers. (A wink at Martin Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York).
We wanted to imagine a person on the run, a bit disillusioned, and leading an isolated life in a extreme territory, who seems to be self-sufficient in his relation to the world. A solitary traveller, his only possession is his motorbike, heightening the idea of autonomy and freedom (Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper.)
MG: The creation of the costumes with their pronounced angles, and the props, suitcases, just as angular, probably tallying with the choice of the Matra Simca for its emphatic lines, but also the motorbike’s sculptural dimension, all this makes these objects entities which acquire autonomy and can be shown as they are. Did you have artists’ films in mind, or just films, period?
CV JM: A lot of works have influenced us, sometimes for tiny details… For example Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black was like the trigger for creating the female costumes. The enigmatic objects in Dürer’s engraving Melancholia, and the monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey all inspired the design of the suitcases.
The fact that you never know what’s in them, while they are the driving force behind the narrative, is an idea coming from Jim Jarmush’s The Limit of Control. The saloon set at the film’s beginning was vaguely imagined based on the black box in Twin Peaks.
The motorbike was conceived as a unique object (dear to the customized world of bikers), whose line may refer to different periods. Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider and Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop bolstered our desire to create a principal vehicle entirely customized in an artisanal way.
The choice of the Simca Bagheera was partly due to chance but tallied very well with the type of vehicle we were after: a futuristic car from a bygone era, thus heightening the absence of time-related landmarks. It just so happens that the three vehicles in the film are plastic (polyester resin), something relatively rare for old cars. In addition to bringing them together from the viewpoint of the medium, it also lends them a character that’s more artisanal than industrial.
MG: You tell us that the film was constructed gradually, with the key being the costumes, parts and well-defined forms. The film seems to be constructed like a loop ready to be played over and over again, as if there were no ending. With your images in mind and your structured shapes, did you make adjustments during the filming, simply comparing your plans with the landscapes crossed: snow-covered mountains, then a long beach…?
CV JM: The film has no beginning or end, and it’s just a sequence in a story unfolding off-screen.
The characters stay on the road, as if that was their fate. In the final image of the film, a white car bursts onto the screen just before the black of the credits, implying an eternal clash between the threat and the characters. It’s a kind of brutal ending that you find in series designed to make you want to see more (cliffhangers). Here there’s not necessarily any sequel, the story goes on without us.
Obviously there were a few adjustments made during the shooting. We filmed outside, in winter, in the snow, which were the worst shooting conditions you can have. But surprisingly, there was very little change in relation to our storyboard which was quite detailed. Nevertheless, we did have to juggle with the snowy moments and the moments with no snow, so as not to have any false connections in the editing. Some scenes were also shortened when conditions were too extreme to go on shooting (in particular, certain motorbike scenes shot without helmets on the icy road, and when the video equipment literally froze up…