Last year, as part of Saison Video 2017, Liv Schulman, who was born in Argentina, screened a film titled General Assembly, which was made in 2016, as part of a post-graduate project in Lyon. A group of people occupy their deserted helium balloon factory, for want of other occupations on the horizon. They are professional and amateur actors, and enact what remains if the factory’s activities cease. Their arrangement in a circle, like at any General Assembly, the exchanges of words which turn out to be interchangeable, a content of the testimony, and their appearances all lend a wacky dimension to the disembodiment underway. In 2016 again, invited to the 5th “Incorporated!” edition of the Ateliers de Rennes Contemporary Art Biennale, Liv Schulman proposed Season 3 of her web series Control. Borrowing from the police series genre and creating a detective character (man or woman) based on occasions and situations, the artist introduces almost farcical postures, although they are well controlled and considered. The texts by the artist are very written and do not call on improvisation. They mix knowledge of diverse origins and go hand in hand with the strangeness of the gestures. Each detective strolls around interchangeable environments, uttering a monologue. Control is an ironical statement about the absence of control experienced on a daily basis.
CONTROL, Season 3
A six episodes series, 2016
Control s03e01, « The Cave Syndrome », 2016, 8 mn
Control s03e02, « The Shamanic Resistance », 2016, 7 mn 59
Control s03e03, « The Taxi Resistance », 2016, 9 mn 52
Control s03e04, « The New Arabic Cinema », 2016, 7 mn 54
Control s03e05, « The Powera Resistance », 2016, 8 mn 32
Control s03e06, « The Relational Resistance », 2016, 7 mn 15
A very relaxed form of fiction
Mo Gourmelon: As part of Saison Video 2017, you proposed the film General Assembly, made in 2016, at the same time as Paul Heintz’s film “Noncontractuel”, 2015. Your approach to the environment of work or rather of the loss of work, is very specific and unusual. Control, a long-term quest, takes the form of a series. Six episodes were thus produced and presented for the Rennes Biennale, Incorporated!, in 2016. How did you have this desire to compose a narrative organized in episodes? What possibilities does the series genre offer you?
Liv Schulman: Control is a piece which I started to make seven years ago. It came about from the need to give form to a series of texts that I was writing, in the manner of monologues, which I wanted to see in a continuous form. I often wrote that kind of text, which was not necessarily to do with theory, and which in any event represented a very relaxed form of fiction. That fiction was basically made up of a mixture and the need to organize the paranoid chaos which surrounds us. I once woke up in the middle of the night and said to myself that I would make a series which would be called Control, resulting, it just so happens, from the impossibility of wielding any form of control whatsoever, in the climate of universal absurdity. The idea of making television filled me with hope. It struck me as being a subtle, known form, and easily transportable and transposable.
I presented the third season in Rennes. In fact there are already two earlier seasons: the first which I filmed between 2011 and 2012, and the second which I filmed between 2013 and 2015. I am developing a series which is in a way in slow motion. It does not necessarily comply with the production times of television! As far as this work dynamic is concerned, this type of format and genre enables me to accept all narrative forms and turns. In this way they are adapted to a basic instruction: a detective who touches things and outlines, a monologue put to work by this detective, a dialectic which self-destructs and is reborn. I am satisfied by the series genre, with its endless possibilities and its interminable mechanism. The possibility of making more episodes is extended. The series happens in continuity. It is a machine which creates and destroys meaning. Which means that there will be good and bad episodes, and so better episodes. And that puts me at ease.
MG: Your decisions corroborate the extent to which the series, in particular the TV series, is related to theatre rather than to film. Most of the episodes were filmed in Rennes: how do you go about your casting? And how do you direct actors who have lines which are not so easy to perform?
LS: It’s true that the series and the aesthetics of the sitcom, in particular, result from a limited budget: three or four sets, filmed in a studio, with several cameras and above all shot with an audience, from which comes that famous canned laughter of the 1990s. This type of context proposes a basic working grid in which are installed certain repetitions and variations which, in my view, end up by creating the series. At this particular time, not only Control but almost everything that I have been doing for a while is more akin to theatre than to film. This stems from several sources and in particular from the fact that my main interest lies in writing, in words, and also in the articulation of language. A system is introduced into a defined décor which serves as a stevedore for conceptual and acting mechanisms. I do the casting thinking about the person who will play the detective. I try to find a character whose physique is unconventional and interesting. Sometimes I put an ad in the paper and sometimes I ask someone I like a lot to play the detective. This detective becomes like a catalyst. I don’t necessarily try to make the text understood, nor do I try to work on the character’s psychology. On the other hand, I do work on the physical aspect of the acting: the mysterious tone, the at times nasal voice, the tendency to touch the outlines of things, the absurd sensuality, and the attraction to objects. I tend to think that an actor does not necessarily know what is happening to the image from inside, and so he has to hand himself over to a form of instrumentalization. If they don’t remember their lines, it’s not the end of the world, and we then work with cue cards. If it’s possible, people learn their lines by heart. If not, I hope that people trust me, as far as the meaning is concerned, in particular.
MG: You seem to have a soft spot for peripheral places and places pending re-development, places that are interchangeable from city to city. A thoroughly standardized administration and library are no less distinct, and round off the sets. Actors and actresses take on the role of detective, wearing the requisite raincoat. The characters whom they are, inside or outside, they stumble on the ground, end up on all fours, feeding their discourse which sometimes ends in “except nobody knows” insistently touching objects and materials. Their acting is very physical even if the words, overflowing with references, seem to be in a state of discrepancy in relation to the positions taken. Did you have examples in mind, for directing the actors?
LS: Yes, it’s true that I have a soft spot for those places which seem interchangeable from one city to another, peripheral places which seem “generic” and which in fact aren’t. It’s also true that the person of the detective adopts this interchangeable character, perhaps because, in my mind, at the moment of imagining a detective I imagined a platonic form, which is to say an idea of a detective. This is how the idea of the trench coat came to me, thinking about the minimal conditions for constructing a character. I said to myself that it was enough to put on a trench coat and talk in a slightly mysterious way to become a detective, with the basic references that we have in the history of film and literature. I thought of Colombo, Sherlock Holmes, and also Hercule Poirot, a private detective who solves cases, sitting in his armchair, galvanizing the power of his thought. Hercule Poirot was a key character in my imagination, just when I conceived Control, because he signifies the fact that thinking is imaginary, but also consistent. It is conveyed through touch and the insistence of certain forms. This makes the acting in fact very physical and slightly absurd. But life is ridiculous, in general, there is no rule which stipulates that speech must be separate from the body.
MG: In the episode: “The Taxi Resistance”, a puppet appears incarnating the role of the taxi driver. In the episode “The Povera Resistance”, a large stone which has a sculptural dimension is placed in a building site. Why did you decide to add elements to the décors already there?
LS: They are transitional objects which I regard as characters. It is important for the detective to be able to address people other than the spectator, and develop a sad dynamic, with travelling companions who cannot talk back to him. The puppet which I call El Muerto (the dead man) and the large stone are recurrent elements in the imagination of Control. I see them like Tarot cards: a silent but “super-meaningful” object which decides about the sign of the episode and which puts the detective in an interactive situation.