Image + Text: Monica de la Torre and Abigail Child Collaborate
Mónica de la Torre: To and No Fro is based on Luis Buñuel’s melodrama A Woman Without Love (1952), which is deemed his worst film, but is a wonderfully highbrow telenovela of sorts based on Guy de Maupassant’s novella Pierre et Jean. Its claustrophobic set designs are by the Mexican-Hungarian painter Gunther Gerzso, and the film’s critique of Mexican society’s mores is characteristically dark and absurd — Buñuelian, that is. I took the film’s plot lines and clipped them to heighten the suspense elements of an otherwise predictable morality tale, and to make the readers complicit in the story’s unfolding. I also gave Rosario, the protagonist, an alter-ego: the ghost of a liberated woman.
Abigail Child: As a child in suburbia, my introduction to a conjunction of text and film came in the form of “foreign films” and their subtitles in the local art theatre of East Orange, New Jersey. One was entertained by the welter of disjunctions: the not understanding, the oft unparallel languages and mistranslations that one could see/hear when the audience knew even a bit of the subtitled language. This kind of viewing led to activity on the part of the audience: we were inside and outside the movie at the same time, in the fiction and in the theater. This early experience of porous synesthesia, or more avidly, uncertainty, or negative capability, or slippage and unevenness, are part of what I most enjoy in art.
As a writer and filmmaker, I conceived a series of collaborations to bring these two art practices together. I was interested in how sound could be outside the frame, how text could bend the visual. How text could make noise.
The first exploration was with Mónica de la Torre who recommended the Buñuel feature A Woman Without Love, a rather static melodrama with extremely moody interiors. Mónica gave me several pages of text from which I drew the title To and No Fro (2005). I cut the film for its female protagonist, concentrating on noir elements (shadows, family secrets, repetitions, dreams, hauntings, doublings, and wish fulfillment) as well as constructed choruses from sound (Spanish) and visual subtitles (English and Spanish), yellow-colored to contrast the black-and-white original 35mm film. To upset, open up, mangle the claustrophobia of the melodrama, I rotate the film image, split it, double it, and incorporate two exterior shots from another Buñuel movie from the same year: Mexican Bus Ride, which acts as a window to another (movie) world, an escape from the domestic drama in which audience and protagonist are trapped. At close, I focus on the female household servants, moving backgrounds to center stage. They duplicate, mirror, and multiply. They are the scenery to the central drama. They become the center of the story, its hub, its inversion.
Other works in this series include Mirror World (2006, with Gary Sullivan), Ligatures (2009, with Nada Gordon), and forthcoming Salome (2014, with Adeena Karasick). Usually, I invite a poet to recommend a film or films (in the case of Sullivan, we spent an evening looking at Bollywood features and he left me with a dozen or so more to watch; in the case of Karasick, she invited me after seeing recent work). The poets are asked for writing: Sullivan handed me three sheets of mistranslated subtitles from other Bollywood movies, Gordon, fourteen half pages of dense drafts that became Scented Rushes (2010, Roof), and Karasick, twelve pages in double printed columns, then eight more handwritten. From Gary’s list, I selected a third of the sentences, from each page of Nada’s, one or two words, or a phrase, and similarly, individual words and phrases edited from Adeena’s text. These words are placed inside the image. Images exist then in counter(point) to words and the editing moves forward, searching for a place in which everything falls together and apart at the same moment. In all cases, filmmaker and poet meet at least once or twice during the editing to comment and suggest.
When all five films from this series are completed, they are conceived for installation to be screened on five simultaneous projectors: a BABEL for eye and ear.
Mónica de la Torre is the author of five poetry books, among them Four and Public Domain. A native of Mexico City, she writes in Spanish and English and has translated numerous Latin American poets. She frequently collaborates with artists and writers. Taller de Taquimecanografía, published in Mexico City, is the result of one such collaboration. Her work is represented in the anthologies Against Expression and I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women. She is BOMB Magazine’s senior editor and lives in Brooklyn.
Abigail Child is an award-winning writer and artist who has been at the forefront of experimental film and poetry since the 1980s, having completed more than thirty film and video works and installations, and over seven books. An acknowledged innovator in montage, Child’s films address the interplay between sound and image in the context of reshaping narrative tropes, leading many contemporary and future media concerns. Her recent art includes multiscreen installations and an experimental feature, UNBOUND: Scenes from the Life of Mary Shelley, shot in Italy. Her newest book of collected poems, Mouth to Mouth, is forthcoming from Eoagh Press, 2014.