Emmanuelle Antille, Swiss video artist

Emmanuelle Antille, one of Switzerland’s best known contemporary artists, here and abroad, fills the charming Pully Museum near Lausanne with her visions of the rawness of life at the borderline of beauty, where she turns intercourse into art. Her exhibition is the talk of the town and runs until May 16, 2010.

Geometry of Ecstasy is the 15-minute film on a double screen that crowns the latest exhibition by Emmanuelle Antille, the 38-year-old video artist better known for her enigmatic story-telling than as an ‘agent provocateur’.

In a stark but golden daylight a man and a woman perform the most intimate of acts as a camera sweeps gently over their bodies, framing their moving limbs as if seeking the best composition for a still.

The room in which the video is projected is cordoned off from the rest of the exhibition and forbidden to under-18 year-olds.

Emmanuelle Antille, Geometry of Ecstasy,video still, 2010 © Emmanuelle Antille

There was some fear that the city authorities of Pully would crack down and forbid the projection in the family-house environment of their local museum but they didn’t.

“I am extremely grateful that everyone has played the game,” says Antille, “because censorship in my view is a restriction of everyone’s liberty.”

The reason Emmanuelle Antille’s artistic prerogative has been respected is probably due to the gentleness of the video in question, that comes in stark contrast to a lot of her other work. It is like watching leaves sway in the wind.

“I’ve actually been criticized for the lack of violence and tension in the film,” she points out.

“But I just wanted to respect what was happening between this real-life couple, the accomplishment of a desire that actually excludes us,” Antille explains.

“I’ve given the subject of pornography a lot of thought and have come to the conclusion that what defines it is when we are looking to satisfy our own fantasies and desire. The enactments are specifically for an audience, which is not the case in my film.”

She is the first to admit that Geometry of Ecstasy is strangely unarousing.

Emmanuelle Antille, Peephole Kinetoscope, video still, 2008 © Emmanuelle Antille

Another part of the explanation, according to Antille, is that the young woman in the video is not trapped in a role of submission and seduction. “Women in my works are never stooges,” Antille says firmly.

All the other works in the exhibition are with women. Over the years, the captivating scenes that are the hallmark of her artistic trajectory have almost invariably portrayed women, often from her own family or simply herself.

“My mother is my best actress,” she says. “She has the amazing capacity to make us forget that the camera is there.”

Because Antille’s works are intensely stylized and tightly written, she needs performers who have a natural intuition and who can bridge the divide between reality and fiction.

In Even if We Fall she uses her two parents. They sit with her on their own bed and cut off swathes of her hair, which the father then tenderly pins to the head of his aging wife, whose beauty as a young woman, one cannot help think, must have been as striking as that of her daughter.

Emmanuelle Antille, Strings of Affection, video still, 2009 © Emmanuelle Antille

Strings of Affection is equally symbolic. Her mother weaves a web of string between the inside and outside of a house of fading grandeur, which we can perceive as a metaphor of her own life.

“Although my work has a highly physical component, there is always the possibility to add one’s own layers of meaning,” Emmanuelle Antille states.

“I like to take very simple acts, gestures or objects and develop them into something new to raise a different kind of emotion,” she explains. “Although my plans are very structured, there is always space for the unexpected. I love the accidental.”

The most interesting and creative part of the process, Emmanuelle Antille underlines, is the editing.

“It’s all a question of rhythm,” she emphasizes. “Sometimes I restructure the work time and time again.” Geometry of Ecstasy, she points out, took two days to film. Hours of rushes were reduced to only 15 minutes.

Emmanuelle Antille, Editing Room / Editing Territories, video still, 2008 © Emmanuelle Antille

In all her titles, such as The Broken Ties, Even if We Fall, Editing Room/Editing Territories, Until nothing can reach us (also in the exhibition) Antille demonstrates an uncanny relationship to English. “I simply cannot use French,” she explains. “Ever since I did my post-grad in Holland, English comes so naturally.”

The exhibition is called Restrain and Release, a title that captures the theme that runs through the show. “It’s all about catching and then letting go of desire,” she indicates.

Visit Emmanuelle Antille’s website: www.emmanuelleantille.com

More information: Musée de Pully

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, trained as a journalist, became an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London before moving to Switzerland, where she now covers the art beat and presides several associations.

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