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How Chantal Akerman's suicide alters her final artwork


At The Guardian, Adrian Searle visits a recently opened exhibition of Chantal Akerman’s work, including the final piece she finished before her death. The exhibition is all the more haunting in the wake of the artist’s untimely passing:

There is no sign of human presence in Akerman’s final gallery work, first shown at the current Venice Biennale. It occupies a big black box. The sound thunders out. You can hear it everywhere. Multiple suspended screens step back into the darkness; on each one a different desert rushes past, seen from a moving vehicle. Horizons rush across the screens, grey deserts sweep away and nearer bluffs of red rock and crumbling stone walls rush from left to right, sometimes faster, sometimes slowing to a halt. Visually relentless, Akerman’s Now is also a furious aural cacophony, filled with the sound of skylarks, gunfire, ululations, calls and cries, the whinny of frightened horses, the sound of helicopter blades, thuds, engine noise and armoury. We hear all this but the deserts are empty. They could be anywhere: the Negev, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, places between places, regions whose names we hear constantly on news reports, places with no names at all. Everything rushes, slows and rushes again.

For now, Akerman’s suicide changes how I look at her art. The fact is as grim as the concrete that frames the 16mm black-and-white projection of the young woman’s body back at the entrance. Akerman’s work is full of life, in all its extraordinary ordinariness, its sorrows and complications, its lengthening hours, its difficulties and terrors. Akerman said she felt that the kind of films that sweep you up and make you forget yourself were robbing you of your time and of life itself. She wants you to feel every passing second. Watch or don’t watch, stay or leave. She makes me feel the world pulse through me, with all its urgency and all its stalled moments.

Image: A visitor stands before Chantal Akerman’s video artwork Now. Via The Guardian.