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Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris
Chantal Akerman, From the Other Side, 2002
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Chantal Akerman

Moving Through Time and Space

MIT List Visual Arts Center

May 2 to July 6

The first installation in Chantal Akerman’s new exhibition in the List Visual Arts Center presents an imposing blockade of television screens: placed in triptychs throughout the room, one has to weave and sidestep between the televisions to get through.

The screens depict the dissolution of the Soviet bloc through cascades of image and sound, a somber tour of Eastern European cityscapes and street corners, fragmented from Akerman’s 1995 film D’est: Au bord de la fiction (From the East: Bordering on Fiction). Moving between the screens, it’s difficult to avoid repeatedly coming face-to-face with the images, as the continuous drone of the street scenes follows you into every corner. 

“Moving through Time and Space” is great at creating scenes like this: sparse, dark rooms that allow the abstract bits of film to transform the space, moving it to a different time, and investing us with a different emotion. But what the exhibition really does best is what its title suggests: moving through the rooms takes us to different temporal scenes, but ones that link together, playing with history and memory. 

The five projects in the exhibition tackle diverse themes, that still effortlessly relate, from a meditation on race, nature, and history in the American south (Sud, 1999) to a depiction of illegal immigration on the Mexico-Arizona border (From the Other Side, 2002).

From the East: Bordering on Fiction and From the Other Side have similar arrangements of television screens but create two entirely distinct spaces. From the East, with aged, relic-like television sets showing grainy depictions of Eastern Europe, feels abstract, aged, and slightly unreal. From the Other Side, feels insistently current, manifesting our contemporary concerns about immigration on modern flat-screens, accompanied by the sounds of helicopters and radio transmissions.

Sud is particularly powerful in its examination of a horrific, racially-motivated act of violence. The project only presents one large screen — and also the most concrete narration in the exhibition — but watching an interview that quietly recounts an act so brutal and yet so recent, poses one of the most overpowering scenes in the exhibition. Unlike many of the other projects, the claustrophobic tension in Sud doesn’t come from being literally surrounded by sounds and images, but from a quiet fixation that renders us incapable of focusing on anything else. Throughout Sud the cadence of shouts and helicopters spills in from the installations in other rooms, amplifying a kind of haunting formal unity in the exhibition. 

Les Femmes d’Anvers en Novembre is the newest film presented. Contrasting with the nameless city masses of From the EastLes Femmes is a sensual and personal examination of smoking. The images often get suggestively close to women depicted smoking (and it is all women) and presents them as distinct, isolated individuals. 

“Moving Through Time and Space” will be running at the List Center through July 6.