“Hugonnier travelled to the Panjsher Valley to make a film investigating the historical agency of its landscape. Long described as an earthly paradise, the valley had been broached by neither Soviet nor Taliban forces. Irrigated by streams running from the impenetrable surrounding mountains, it had remained a natural, self-sustaining Utopia, protected from political upheavals. Hugonnier intended to take a camera to a look-out point and film a 360º pan of the valley.
The project began with the acknowledgement that landscape is never innocent, but, as Hugonnier learnt, nor is the means of representing it. Locals informed her that the route to the viewpoint was blocked by a landslide. Remaining in the valley, she began to question her ambition: to make the panoramic shot as planned would have been to exercise a form of control through surveillance. It would have been to rupture the very resistance she wanted to describe.
Giving up, Hugonnier and crew returned to the capital, where the new utopia of Western capitalism was taking shape. [...]”
“I see landscape as a form of cultural mediation, as a social contrast, and I try to understand how they have shaped and informed history, and vice versa. Since the 19th century tools like cinema and photography – which were new modes of analysis and perception that echoed the expansionist mission of the time – have established a particular ideological and perceptual point of view. I have often chosen far away places to have a conversation about different forms of observation. Ariana (2002) which was shot in Afghanistan, questions the military gaze; The Last Tour (2004) which is the second film of the trilogy, shot in the Swiss Alps, questions the tourist gaze; Travelling Amazonia (2006) shot in Brazil is what has made a gaze possible (i.e. the rationalisation of space through map making); Territory I, II, III (2004) which was shot in Palestine and Israel was about the way architecture could become a military optical device; The Cristal Palace (2009) was about the gaze of a viewer in a Museum, and finally my last film Apicula Enigma (2013) is about the naturalistic gaze. These topics define a quest to understand how things are observed, question systems of representation and challenge their conventions. And most of the time these films loop back and become a way to question the observer, her or his point of view as a westerner. It is within this framework that the quest is to define subjectivity, a new one.”
“In Ariana, which Hugonnier describes as an essay about distances, space and scale, the panoramic view of a landscape becomes an object of desire. The film follows the artist and her crew in their attempts to reach television hill, a high vantage point from which to capture a panorama of the historic Panjsher Valley in Afghanistan. The discovery that only Afghani government officials have access to this vista transforms the intangible view of a landscape into a politically charged subject. As Hugonnier writes, ‘We wanted to get to the best viewpoint, to see in a glance how this landscape made the history of the valley possible.’ Although they ultimately succeed in reaching this perspective, Hugonnier declines to film from this location, transforming her film into a discussion of the panorama as a means of control and even propaganda.”
“The Last Tour is set in an imagined future world, in which tourist sites have been closed off or rendered inaccessible. A textual narration invites the viewer on a fictive expedition of the Matterhorn, including on-the-ground perspective as well as aerial views both of and within a hot-air balloon. By juxtaposing images of Disneylands Matterhorn roller coaster on images of the actual mountain, Hugonnier explores the ways in which tourism determines our experience of the landscape and reality, making each of us an explorer on a ready-made expedition.”
The White Review: In your trilogy of films, Ariana, Travelling Amazonia and The Last Tour, each work investigates a different types of gaze, but they also think about failure – the failure to represent.
Marine Hugonnier: I have never been to film school, and because of that, the films I make are fragile things, they escape categories as they are the result of the way I walk through a landscape and the questions that come about as I do so. I hardly ever have their complete layout in mind before I make them – the films are always the result of an experience.
The Last Tour imagines a world where access to nature has been restricted, with certain sites closed to the public – like the Matterhorn. A tourist gets to see the mountain for the last time before it’s shut off.
The Last Tour is a completely different kind of film – it’s a science fiction short-movie. I’d read a book about the future of tourism. The last chapter of the book was set at the end of the age of spectacle, a time during which main tourist attractions would come to a complete closure. This had nothing to do with ecology; it was described as a fantasy. One of the main ideas of this book was to say: as there is nothing else to be ‘discovered’ on the surface of the earth, we are more likely to see things for the last time than the first one. I wanted to investigate the possibility of making a film without image. The viewer of the film embarks on a ‘last tour’, a hot air balloon ride around the Matterhorn. We rented a big air balloon and while we were filming, we got caught by really strong winds. We had to land in an extreme way. We were completely knocked out, and we had to be rescued by helicopters. So there’s also an element of failure in this film too, but in all three films, the failure wasn’t planned.
The space is shut down, like a crumpled map… In all three films there is a tension between restricted sight and extended sight – so the camera’s ability to show more than the eye can see, but then also the failure to represent, or the shutting down of space.
All these films are essays in which the lines between fiction and documentary are both questioned and blurred. They examine the cultural context of a particular place or subject and the politics of the imagery that I could be making. They want to investigate, question and deconstruct conventions representations. I see these films as tools for critical thinking. They are an attempt to define another kind of experience – an experience of images through the world rather than the world through images. What the work does almost on its own is to define a policy of the restriction of images, and at the same time, attempting to create a positive regime of them.
I’m interested in the idea of holes. In The Last Tour, the shut off space is called ‘a blank hole in the map’ – almost like the privatisation of space, where public access is denied. Holes are places shut off, where sight is restricted.
What I was thinking about is more like: if you create the idea of a closed-off space, then it starts to escape the realm of representation. So what is in there? What is in the emptiness? Ultimately, representation is a communicating tool. My idea, which is stated at the end of the film – and which is complete speculation – is that this blank space would help to rebuild the kingdom of the imagination. I’m not interested in holes – but rather with gaps, failure, where categories start to dissolve. When I see Gerhard Richter’s paintings, a very figurative one next to a very abstract one, I’ve always feel that it’s not the piece on the right or the piece on the left that’s interesting, but exactly what stands in the middle – the confrontation between the two.
Interview with Marine Hugonnier in The White Review2
“What exactly is encountered on this journey? Hugonnier exposes herself to the risk of traveling to an ‘exotic’ location and returning with trophy souvenirs of the other, and handles it with tact. Along the journey we meet a number of local people; we see them and hear their speech, but these two modes of relation are not synchronized. These are not subjects being interviewed for a documentary. Hugonnier also eschews Rouch's solution of allowing the local subjects a role in constructing the narrative of the film. In Traveling Amazonia there is no narrative other than the making of the dolly. In fact, most of the shots are rather static. In part, this has the effect of avoiding the diagetic identifications created by shot/counter-shot switches, and mobile, subjectified points of view. The latter is precisely the kind of shot for which the dolly is used, so the ending of Hugonnier’s film, while unexpected, is appropriate to its very understated critical stance.
The local people are filmed in broadly two ways, either involved in activities, such as a pilot cleaining his light airplane, or men in a workshop making the dolly; or standing still. We could take this as an opposition between their role as active subjects and as objects of the gaze. But it seems to me that what is going on is more subtle. There is an interplay between static and moving subject and the static or moving camera. This raises the question of the relation between the activity of the filmmaker, and the activities of her subjects. The construction of the dolly is a commission from an outsider to create the means for their own representation – a representation that will objectify them and their land. Should this be seen as the continuation of an imperialist project? Or are the Amazonians active subjects of representation, rather than passive objects? On the side of passivity, the immobile subject portrayed by the camera, these shots also evoke for the viewer the effect of a face-to-face encounter. While this aspect of the film could be conceived as a series of portraits, the encounters also throw into question some of the assumptions of portraiture as a mode of representation – in particular its ‘physiognomic’ presupposition that an individual’s inner character is expressed in external signs. If these moments in Hugonnier’s film have an affinity with the work of another Western artist, for me it would be with Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, the three-minute films in which subjects were asked to remain still in front of the camera. Perhaps as a result of the duration of the confrontation between subject and viewer, which takes place largely without expression, portrait representation is exceeded in the direction of an encounter with the face of the other, and the other as face. [...]”
« On a souvent souligné, à juste titre, les connivences, sinon les convergences, entre la machinerie du cinéma et celle des chemins de fer. Pour être plus indécises, celles entre le cinéma et la route n’existent pas moins. Marine Hugonnier, partant de l’utopie de possession, de maîtrise et d’exploitation du territoire brésilien dans ses profondeurs les plus inaccessibles durant la dictature militaire, s’est ainsi intéressée à cette gigantesque percée que devait être la Transamazonienne. Près de 6000 kilomètres en terrain hostile à travers l’Amazonie, dont elle esquisse les enjeux. Enjeux économiques en faisant réaliser une Dolly (à la fois outil du cinéma et sa métaphore) avec les matériaux-mêmes dont cette route devait favoriser l’exploitation : bois, caoutchouc et métal. Enjeux qui lient esthétique, politique et imaginaire en filmant cette machine articulant voir et pouvoir. »
- 1. Michael Newman, “‘…to tirelessly touch with my gaze the distance from me at which the other begins’: Marine Hugonnier’s Journeys,” www.virtually-anything.org, 2006.
- 2. Nicolas Feodoroff, FID Marseille website.