"Women and men are nowadays treated both as an exploitable resources that one can select, evaluate, and eliminate, as well as a commodity that can be discarded or replaced."
I met Stéphane few years ago thanks to our common friends Adel Abidin. He and Anu share a depth artistic commitment. One part of their work try to make the spectator ask about its identity, its freedom of thoughts and actions in this modern world.
Dear Anu & Stéphane, please start by telling us who you are, where you’re both from, the stories and choices that made you become who you are today.
Anu: well, I think I said once before that being a socially engaged filmmaker is a natural consequence if you have a social worker mother and electro technician father. But actually it’s been quite a long road involving many countries, languages, addresses, telephone numbers and luggage filled with on-location kit for film production… I think I took and insisted on this path firstly because I felt can’t do anything else, secondly I am a very curious and restless person, and thirdly I felt there was a chapter to be added to the tradition of neorealist filmmaking from today’s female perspective. But the official answer is that I am Finnish-born filmmaker and artist based in Berlin. I have participated in many international exhibitions including CCA Glasgow in 2013; Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Helsinki in 2012; CAC Vilnius Lithuania in 2010; Ludwig Forum fur Internationale Kunst Aachen in 2008 and Frankfurter Kunstverein in 2007 both in Germany; Liverpool Biennial in 2006; Manifesta 5 in San Sebástian 2004. I have also participated film festivals such as Kassel, Rotterdam and Hamburg film festivals.
Stéphane: As for me, I am a filmmaker and visual artist born in the French Basque Country (Biarritz). After studying at the Jan van Eyck Maastricht, I wrote and directed my first short film in 2006: LA FLEUR NOIRE, nominee at the Altadis Prize and screened at Cinema MK2 Bibliothèque Paris. Since, my films have been exhibited in museums and art centers such as MuMOk Vienna, Bonnefanten Museum Maastricht,Leipzig Kunstverein or Bonner Kunstverein in Germany. I now live in Berlin. I have travelled a lot for my work and I usually work on the spot in order to have a different relationship with the world. Sometimes I can speak the language of the people, sometimes I can’t, which puts me on a razor edge and allows me to work. I love this idea of working on the spot, therefore to dig in the society. I hate being a tourist. I am used to say I work with an "impossible material", that is, a Human material, which asks the question of an aesthetic responsibility: unknown persons, met in every corner of the world with which I decide to share my artist's imagination.
Stéph, I have progressively discovered throughout the years your artistic world. Can you describe what your obsessions are, your aims as an artist?
Stéphane: Today we are surrounded by notions of identity that have been established by force and that are so dear to our societies of control and destruction – to the point that some people want to make us believe that they are the only principles of pleasure. We are tamed, and it’s hard to resist. We are force-fed on false desires. This is what obsesses me. What can the role of art be in such an environment and how can it deal with these authoritarianisms? My obsession of authority comes from the question of controlling bodies and languages: self control, social control, education that shape us into “designed” objects, fit to every kind of desire produced by our society. I am interested in what lies behind this control, which reveals people when it comes out. People become beautiful, singular. It is singularity that helps to curb the authoritarian will to make us all one. I initiated in 2005 a series of videos and live performances that reflect on this issue by working with people I would meet through ads and placing the camera in front of them and creating a constrained set up. I would work with them until I’d reach that part of themselves they don’t know. I would make them say ambiguous lines, rather provocative, until they’d say or do something which “is not them”. It is their resistance in front of the set up and their address in the Other through the emptiness of the lens, which could open a breach. They do not play any more their role, they are. I name this practice “ a practice of abandonment”. For example, I made Le Vague au Corps with composer and singer Louis-Ronan Choisy. In that video, Louis improvises sung melodies on sentences randomly extracted from Virginia Woolf’s “The waves” It is a 9 min plan sequence shot. All sentences happen to talk about the fear of falling apart, and Louis still cannot to that day watch the video, as he told me recently.
Anu, I got to know you better a bit later, but like Stéphane you already have an amazing artistic career, as we just read above. How would you define your universe, your art-making process ? Is Art for you a way to communicate something specific ? Anu: I have worked for 10 years now, so there has been various interests: city centre as manifestation of today’s society, participatory filmmaking practices, center versus marginal, the cinematographic depiction of a space through a given protagonist’s experience… to mention a few! I think my task is not that of communication but rather that of description: I show a place, a person, an emotional state from a certain point of view, or even multiple point of views. I start with an observation: something I have seen myself, or felt or questioned usually triggers a project. I for example made a ‘shopping center trilogy’ in 3 different European capitals: Helsinki, Tallinn and Paris. A Monument for the Invisible (2003) shows a blind woman trespassing huge building site and newly built Nokia-era in Helsinki. Friendship (2007) presents how 2 groups of Estonian- and Russian-speaking teenagers find common ground in Tallinn’s Soviet-era public monuments and a new shopping centre. La ruine du regard (2010) is a film with suburbians crossing each others in the labyrinthine building complex of Les Halles in Paris. The films are both architectural multiscreen installations for museums and galleries as well as films screened in festivals and on TV.
You are now both working together since 2010. How did that happened? How do you manage to keep your own world and collaborate?
Anu & Stéphane: Since 2011, we are committed to make a film trilogy that tells about human superfluity and the consequences of globalization on our destinies. We both met in 2009 but it is only in 2011 that we decided to work fully together. But we don’t “collaborate”. Collaboration means negotiating your own identity and approach with that of another person and try to keep them both present and equal somehow. Working together means putting in brackets our respective specific field of interests as professional artists (as well as our names or signatures) and embarking on a totally new journey. Making films together is rather a natural development as we always searched for possibilities to share a vision. It happened that in 2010, we were in the Paris metro and encountered a homeless young woman in a desperate situation begging for help. After helping her in the way we could and caring, we realized we had been looking at her and her condition the same way, which is rare. We had the same point of view. Cinema is only about point of views: therefore we felt we could make powerful work together.
Can you tell us more about your last film ?
Anu & Stéphane: As just said, we are in the making of a film trilogy entitled “The trilogy of superfluous people”. All films of the trilogy take place in the present day amidst various places, relations and economic standards in North and West Europe. The first film of the trilogy is STAANDE! DEBOUT! STANDING!, a film that follows what happened to a group of Belgian factory workers 15 years after the closure of the Renault plant in Vilvoorde, which not even a massive strike was able to prevent. What does it means to become superfluous, to loose one's place in society and have one's life dramatically shaped by global economy? The film premiered internationally at the Glasgow Film Festival in 2013 and was screened at the Galeries in Brussels and at Lens Politica Film Festival in Helsinki. Other projections include the CCA Glasgow, ICI Berlin, IMEC Film Archive in Caen, multiplex O Ciné Maubeuge.
The human value is often at the core of artists’ preoccupations. What are your own concerns when observing our contemporary world?
Anu & Stéphane: We have started this trilogy of films because some things happening in our countries, in Europe today, embarrass us and we feel that we should make films about things that worry us. Obviously, the "values" of capitalism and the slogans that come along with it- competitivity, individual responsibility, good governance, fear of the other with the manufacture an enemy from within, have become our daily routine. The aim is for a minority to grab as much wealth as possible. Therefore, the system stigmatizes all the people who it considers superfluous: too many migrants, too many Roma, too many Muslims, too many veiled women, too many unemployed, too many sick, too many poor, too much homeless people, too many without papers ... The result is irrevocable: women and men are nowadays treated both as an exploitable resources that one can select, evaluate, and eliminate, as well as a commodity that can be discarded or replaced. The form of management supported by the liberal capitalist system is reminiscent of how humans were treated as slaves or under colonization.
Can you tell us what's next for you professionnally in the upcoming months?
Anu & Stéphane: At the moment, the second opus to be shot in Berlin is in its preproduction phase. “Denn Bleiben ist nirgends” (For there is nowhere we can remain) tells the story of a young Roma boy in an illegal situation in Berlin trying to find a room of his own. The third opus “Anteeksipyyntö” (Apology), currently in development, will show what we do with our troublesome collective memories from the past by telling the story of a Finnish war veteran who suffers from Alzheimer. Dumped by his wife, he will remember a forgotten past from WWII against the Russians. Besides, I (NfR : Stéphane) am preparing a solo show at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Rijeka in Croatia for 2014, based on performance. Anu has a show opening 11.12.13 at Le Grand Café Centre d’art Contemporain Saint Nazaire, France.
Artist’s lives are a sort of perpetual vagrancy. Anu, being from Finland you have travelled relentlessly; you Stéphane have lived in the U.K for couples of years. Why have you decided to settle in Berlin?
Stéphane: Berlin was a choice I made for love: Anu had established there before we met. Also, it clearly was an economic decision, as life is much cheaper for an artist in Berlin than in Paris or London, for that matter. Above all, we both don’t like very much the idea of being fixed somewhere; we prefer to embark on new adventures! Berlin seemed to be the perfect place to allow this mode of living. Anu: I initially moved to Berlin because, coming from Finland, I just needed to get a bigger picture of a city, a society, of an ‘art world’. Berlin was a city, which I knew to host many of my friends from all around the world. The closest real metropolis from Helsinki is St. Petersburg, and I am not going to explain here why I went further.
What are your feelings about Art today, and what do you think about the « Art Market» and its recent evolutions? Anu: Art world is today more and more dependent on the quarter-economies of the art market. I think it’s beyond topic to blame the market, which is only reflecting the general state of late capitalism. The countries and cities are failing us; they forget that there cannot be democracy without democratic culture; there must exist a space of manoeuvre outside commercial markets for all the fields of art. I have made most of the choices in my life to support the idea of art as something essential and I have chosen an everyday life as an artist. I find it often hard to combine the reality of my work, based on long-term engagement with people with often difficult backgrounds and fragile actuality, with the fleeting, floating, constantly changing realities of the art world. Stéphane: We truly are part of an extinct species: that of the independent artist. The art market does not interest us much and we always had a complicated relationship to it. It is made by a bunch of fools that are fooling themselves with money. The system excludes violently a lot in order to include a few who want to grab all the money. To resume: it has become the pure negation of art. That said, we are not interested in an all-denying underground position and are constantly in a search for a dialogue, also with the sometimes brilliant participants of the art world.
Please evoke to us one of your best and worst work souvenir(s). Stéphane: My best recent experience: showing STAANDE! in Cinema des Galeries in Brussels in presence of the real ex-workers from Renault Vilvoorde factory. They felt our film was true, in spite of its poetic realism, and they expressed their views to the audience. A strong and rewarding moment really. The worst: I worked on an (anti) portrait video entitled Buildings of pain in 2007, with an estate agent as my actor, in the city of Maastricht. The man wanted to be on a picture and we rehearsed for a year in my studio back then with a given text. When he saw the result he felt embarrassed. I later exhibited the video in a large projection in the museum of Bonn and he then threatened to sue me. He actually tried. The problem was that his gay orientation was too much revealed during our process and he could not take it. He had not yet come to terms with it. So I decided to withdraw the video from my catalogue of works and never showed it again to respect his inner feeling. Yet, I regret very much we took that path because the video was great and full of humour! Anu: My best recent experience is shared with Stéphane and described above. I guess all my best experiences are a bit like that one: when someone I worked with, who lives within the reality I tried to describe, has felt the film we made was true or gave him a new insight, I then feel we are standing on a bridge, reaching towards each other. Most of the time I am only too aware of the insurmountable difference of being one or another. My worst experiences are linked to the bourgeois power structures of the international art world, which I have not always been able to even see, coming from the country of Santa Claus… In Finland, you don’t have to be a part of the elite to get a chance to try and reach someplace.
Who are the persons/artists/personalities you most admire ? Anu: I found something called ‘Romano-archives’ in Youtube, which shows colour film newsreels from WWII and after, and those newsreels clearly influenced the Italian neorealist style, and me as a consequence. More personally, artist and friend Liisa Roberts, who was my professor at the art academy, has an important impact on how to have an uncompromising and yet constructive attitude towards art and life. Also, music has always been a structural influence when making a film. Lately I’ve been listening to Vladislav Delay’s Kuopio and Ligeti to encourage myself. Stéphane: I strongly admire filmmaker Robert Bresson, but that is almost a “passage obligé” for any serious filmmaker. Bresson invented his own cinema, which is unlike any other. France snubbed him throughout his lifetime; it is a real shame. The Andy Warhol “Screentests” were very important as well. We happened to see them again last summer, one of Lou Reed and another with Denis Hopper: very moving. Also, I must mention visual artist Kader Attia: he is someone trying to touch something important within our culture: how do we relate to the Other?
What advice would you give to younger people who want to become artists like you? Anu: Don’t listen to anybody’s advices unless you really know why the person is advising you. Most of the time people talk about themselves and for themselves. Stéphane: Insist!
Who were you dreaming to be (become) like when you were both children ? Stéphane: I always wanted to be a writer. Figures such as Solzhenitsyn, Anais Nin or Samuel Beckett were making a strong impression on me at that time. Films came later, thanks to television.Anu: I wanted to be an actor and theatre director and actually directed ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the ripe age of 10 years with all-female crew of my schoolmates. I was the Sleeping Beauty, the Evil Stepmother and the director!
Is there a favorite quote you would like to share with us?
Stéphane & Anu: We only know the quote in French: “L’art n’a jamais été un moyen de changer le monde, mais toujours une tentative pour lui survivre.” It is by Bertolt Brecht. Isn’t it a great one?
More about Anu:
Official Website http://www.av-arkki.fi/taiteilijat/anu-pennanen/ http://economyexhibition.stills.org/artists/anu-pennanen/ http://creative.arte.tv/en/community/anu-pennanen-day-office-2006 http://liverpoolbiennial.co.uk/artists/p/131/anu-pennanen http://www.manifesta.org/manifesta5/eng/artistas/artistas/pennanen.htm
On their work as a duo:
http://pennanen-querrec.com http://www.lenspolitica.net/en/films/staande-debout http://economyexhibition.stills.org/artists/anu-pennanen-and-stephane-querrec/ http://ecrireiciaussi.canalblog.com/archives/2013/11/04/28320507.html http://failedcritics.com/2013/02/22/gff13-diary-of-a-failed-critic-220213/ http://pennanen-querrec.com/pdf/Staande_interview_Esther_Severi.pdf