The Long Journey: Maternal Trauma, Tears and Kisses in a Work by Chantal Akerman
Griselda Pollock is Professor of Social and Critical Histories of Art, Director of Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory and History at the University of Leeds where she is also directing a four-year research project on Concentrationary Memories. Author and editor of many books on feminist theory, visual arts, and cultural analysis, her most recent works are Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum (Routledge, 2007) and Digital and Other Virtualities: Renegotiating the Image, co-edited with Antony Bryant (I.B. Tauris, 2010). With a current research focus on trauma, psychoanalysis and aesthetics, she is preparing a monograph on Charlotte Salomon and is currently completing a book entitled After-Image/After-Affect: Trauma and Aesthetic Inscription in the Virtual Feminist Museum. She has written extensively on contemporary women artists, museums and has curated several exhibitions including Resonance.Overlay. Interweave: Bracha Ettinger in the Freudian Space of Memory and Migration (2009) on which she has just completed a book. She is also co-editing a volume on Ettinger with Catherine de Zegher entitled Bracha Ettinger; Art as Com-pass(ion). A forthcoming collection, Concentrationary Cinema (Berghan, 2011), co-edited with Max Silverman, focuses on the politics of post-concentrationary representation.
Chantal Akerman is now one of the most highly regarded filmmakers in Europe with a long career reaching back into the 1970s when she was first hailed as part of a new feminist cinema. As independent cinema lost ground and its own locations, Akerman was invited to create installations for her films and thus to traverse the boundaries between cinema and new media art forms. While still making commercial cinema, Akerman elaborates its themes in other forms. One such installation, WALKING NEXT TO ONE'S SHOELACES INSIDE AN EMPTY FRIDGE (2004), created an occasion for her to film together with her own mother, the haunting presence of many of her films and much of the feminist analysis of Akermanian cinema. This time, Akerman led her mother back to her own mother through an object, the only remnant of a young woman murdered in Auschwitz. This paper is an analysis of what happened during this filming which leads to a retrospective reading of Akerman's films from 1968 in terms of traumatic inscriptions of the shared transgenerationally transmitted but unspoken trauma that finds its moment of formulation in this 'event' that was filmed and then made into an installation. Drawing on Ettingerian matrixial revisions to trauma theory and to psychoanalytical aesthetics, notably through the concept of fascinance as a durational non-visual gazing through which the feminine subject seeks knowledge of a feminine other, I argue that we can, in the light of this 'event' of the 2004 work, reconfigure Akerman's work in terms of a journey towards the traumatic kernel that, encrypted, leads to repetition, but formulated through the durational artwork facilitates passage of its remnants.