Le milieu est bleu is a film that was part of an exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Installations, sculptures, performances and films formed an open narration, between authenticity and artifice, the natural world and human activities, fiction and reality. This film is part of an evolving project inspired from theatre and contains notions of ritual and the possibility to explore the relationships between individuals and groups. With the use of fabrics, spaces are created that are conceiving other worlds, blurring seperations between the inside and the outside.
“Le milieu est bleu. Ce titre interroge. Seuls, me semble-t-il, quelques mots chantés dans la deuxième vidéo fournissent une vague indication : « Tourne autour du pot Aussi longtemps que possible. Personne ne peint le milieu Ni en rouge ni en bleu ». De quel milieu s’agit-il ? Milieu ambiant, social : l’ensembles des objets et des circonstances qui influent sur un vivant ? Ou bien le centre, à mi-distance ? Ce milieu n’est pas peint, il est bleu. Outremer ou ciel. Maritime, céleste. Dans l’iconographie occidentale, un simple rideau évoque souvent le ciel, à l’instar du rideau du Temple que la mort du Christ en Croix déchire. Et le parcours proposé par l’artiste s’achève sur des toiles bleues où des images sous-marines animées d’herbes et d’algues sont projetées. Cette omniprésence de la malléabilité du textile, des cordes et des rubans, suggère un décloisonnement. Elle s’oppose aux identités murées, aux esprits bornés comme aux définitions dogmatiques, à la pureté de la race comme aux sociétés étanches. La souplesse des contours m’invite à une pensée fluide comme l’eau vivifiante, disponible aux songes évanescents, au souffle de l’Esprit.”
Ulla von Brandenburg: We’ve planned the camera movements in the theatre and shown them to the actors. Then there’s the story: a microcivilisation living in this theatre in Bussang, cut off from the outside world and with its own economy, the things it makes. Until the day when a ritual is interrupted and the doors of the backdrop open. And there’s the forest. The film also questions our immediate situation: do we want to change it? Are there other life possibilities? If so, how to go about it? At the end of the film the members of the group carry objects away in a procession through the forest and disappear – until they reappear in the Palais de Tokyo, where they’re going to live and occupy the space for a time. Here we find elements of my earlier films, such as Chorspiel (2010), in which a family is living in a forest, unaware of the existence of an outside world until the arrival of a drifter upsets everything; and Die Strasse (2013) with its stage street of white house fronts where a newcomer discovers the customs of a village. Not really grasping what he’s seeing, he tries to help the villagers, but fails each time: the problems are the community’s, not his.
Laure Fernandez: This figure arriving from the outside – a frequent feature of your work – isn’t seen as a threat. Rather as a window onto an otherworld or a duplicate of the spectator, discovering a community whose codes are unknown.
Exactly. Once again it’s a matter of the points of view one adopts so as to see the world differently.
Yoann Gourmel: Your films often include distancing effects as a way of exposing illusion. The group you’re filming is also a mise en abîme of your work process.
The group is us as well. For practical reasons I’ve never played in my films, but this time I’d like the people who are helping out with the project to appear. I’d like the film to hold up a mirror, raise the issue of what the story is; because the film’s a fiction, but not solely that.
Laure Fernandez: For you this fiction interconnects everything, and not just the film?
This fiction continues in the exhibition, which in a way is the second chapter, except that the visitor discovers it first. There are several things related to these time frames that we haven’t talked about yet, starting with the shruti box, a musical instrument with a colonial history: it’s an Indian adaptation of the harmoniums of the English colonists. You can hear shruti boxes in the film, but I’d like them to be visible in the exhibition space, playing automatically – especially when the actors aren’t there – to introduce different temporalities until we actually come to the film. Secondly, the actors are going to have doubles – stuffed puppets representing them – when they’re not physically present. This idea comes from a book by Monika Ankele on psychiatry around 1900. Ankele describes women in asylums making life-size doubles of themselves or of men. Another woman mentioned in the book is Marie Lieb, a patient in charge of the laundry at the psychiatric hospital in Heidelberg. She stole sheets, tore them into strips and used them to make shapes and words. I want the exhibition space to be transformed in time on the same basis. We’re going to put together a catalogue of signs –symbols, letters – to spread on the floor, and every Saturday the strips (or ribbons) will grow like mushrooms. As in the Baroque the ribbon is a miniature of the curtain; and it’s a recurring feature of my films and installations.
Ulla von Brandenburg in conversation with Laure Fernandez and Yoann Gourmel2
Installation by Marie Lieb, 1894
Still from Le mileu est bleu (Ulla von Brandenburg, 2020)