The Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector wrote at dawn, searching for “whatever is lurking behind thought”. Behind thought. Certainly then – also behind words?
Notes From Underground presents works by Lisa Tan, an American artist now living in Stockholm. The exhibition is presented in the lower galleries at Kunsthall Trondheim and contains a series of three films, each with a female writer at the centre, and two installation works, Moving a Mountain (2008) and National Geographic (2009), which precedes the films. Together they form a line of thinking and express the artist’s interest in liminality, in-between-ness.
In a text about her film Waves, Lisa Tan tells us about how she is: ”loosening my grip”. She also describes her film as having ”no real origin, merely intersections, shadows” and talks about her desire for unrestricted movement – to follow a rhythm rather than a plot. In this, she echoes Virginia Woolf’s intentions for the novel The Waves, a continuously moving body of text, which on the pages of the book seems to have come to a temporary rest, while still offering the possibility of other constellations of words and images.
Something similar can be said about Lisa Tan’s films Sunsets (2012), Notes From Underground (2013) and Waves (2014). However distinctly edited, they contain a floating element, something unstable and open. Guided by currents and undercurrents, they are constantly eluding you – subjects, histories and memories rise to the surface only to sink away again. Voices appear and are lost.
The first film in the series is built around a TV interview with Clarice Lispector. We hear Lispector’s voice from 1977 together with that of a friend of the artist’s, doing a translation over Skype, both searching for the right words, hesitating, uncertain. The language drifts. Maybe here, through the gap in and between languages, in this state of formlessness, we can briefly perceive what Lispector calls the “it” of the language. Lispector’s words reach us mediated, transformed over time and space. The artist is documenting the process of translation, this gap. Images of Lispector’s face on the computer screen, filmed at dawn and sunset hours, while the conversation with the translator is floating back and forth over the Atlantic. In the twilight, connections and correspondences mix with references to distance, loss and alienation.
While many subjects are touched upon in the films – violence, displacement, societal issues –the question that stays with you is maybe in the end that of artistic practice. What is this – to write, to make art? What kind of language could art speak? Lispector talks about the cruelty of man and declares that the artwork doesn’t alter anything. The films are in a way evolving in search of a possible practice. They stretch out over and beyond the globe, only to return to the artist´s working place – the desk, the computer screens, the everyday.
In this quest, Lisa Tan choses to follow three female writers, Susan Sontag, Clarice Lispector and Virginia Woolf – Sontag’s refusal to reduce art to what could be explained, Lispector’s words about “the it” or “the is of the thing” or “whatever is lurking behind thought”. And Woolf’s concern “with something else” – something else than literature, that is.
Thanks to Galleri Riis, Oslo and the Swedish Arts Grants Committee.