Anna Ådahl



A Conversation 
Federico Nicolao and Anna Ådahl
Anna Ådahl’s In Dependence at first left me slightly disconcerted. In the film, two persons are confronted with each other in a closed room, sometimes with a sort of distance, sometimes in direct contact. Their fears, their expectations, above all their silence, their mere existence, seem to be the objects of Ådahl’s investigation, which troubles me but whose content escapes me. While there is for me, the spectator, no clearly legible relation of cause and effect between their gestures or states of mind, still I find myself gradually more and more interested in the camera work, whose sharp attention is directed towards the actions of the two mysterious figures, played by David Mjönes and a stunning and intense Elin Klinga.
            As prescribed by the art of cinema, facing this film we look up at the screen from where we are sitting, and we watch: we watch time pass. Its arrival and departure seem to remain the subject – for me still mysterious – of the film. Hinting at a narrative (the atmosphere brings several classics of domestic cinema to mind), the structure that the filmmaker has chosen almost does not allow for an interpretation to raise itself above the sequence of events. Evoking the modern cinema of idleness, a woman and a man, in circumstances that at once address us and escape us, are confronted with a remarkable experience of presence. The mystery, however, is multiple: the observer is suddenly rythmically torn away from the context by images other than those filmed in the interior, which remains the principal set for the film: mass scenes and images of crowds appear, which belong sometimes to the register of the documentary (shots from a Beatles’ concert), and sometimes to fiction (extracts from King Kong, and from films by King Vidor, Busby Berkeley, and Cronenberg, among others). Their connection to the rest at first seems rather elusive. After a while we arbitrarily, almost magically begin to discern how the actors of the film, by their small movements and gestures, in their own way create a relation to the mass scenes, and launch an investigation into what remains of the intimate when the individual mixes with the crowd that is presented by the artist in different forms in the extracts.
            For almost imperceptible reasons, Anna Ådahl proceeds by continually sliding from anonymity to presence and vice versa.
            The sensibility with which the artist scrutinizes the faces of her protagonists inside the apartment, is interspersed with radical changes that confront the viewer with what I believe is an intentional form of uncertainty. This is the reason I felt an urge to pose a number of questions to the director.
When did you begin to think about your film?
That would be in 2006, during a month I spent in Finland on a research grant. At this time I already worked with the notion of the crowd, but it was there that I began to feel attracted specifically to the relationship between the individual and the mass, that this relationship began to appear differently to me. From there I had the idea of a work concerned with the double play between wanting to belong to a group or a set, and wanting to differentiate oneself; between emphasizing and preserving the individual, and momentarily dissolving it in something else. It was a question of natural, normal instincts, common to everyone and absolutely ordinary in our experience of society. Without evoking the extremes it is sufficient to think of the oscillation between conformism and singularity within most of us. And at the same time, the individualism of contemporary thinking, which is tangible and within which many of us feel at ease, and from which my own identity stems, fascinated me, and at a certain moment this polarity seemed to me an excellent point of departure for a project that aimed to establish a certain tension.
In principle, then, there is a theme, which was capital for 20th century art and in particular for literature: the subject’s oscillation between, on the one hand, its autodefinition and on the other hand its network of relations to its times and to society (which may also define it otherwise). Are there any authors which have influenced your project? Are there artists or writers which have been more important than others for your research?
Of course I have been influenced by a great number of authors, however, what immediately felt necessary was to face the sensation that one could not treat communities as vast and difficult to define as countries, nations, or social groups, without first straightening out this notion of autonomy within a network, which characterizes the individual in our times. I speak of nations or countries, but the discourse is also valid for any social group of a certain importance. I wished, then, to allow a certain number of echoes of theories which have been fundamental for the project to emerge in my research. From the outset, from the point where I made my choice and decided that the title of my film would be In Dependence, I wished to play with the ambiguous relationships between dependence, independence, and what the English designate with the expression ”in dependence”, which is yet another thing.
            It was probably Elias Canetti who sparked my desire for reflection. I have always been attracted by his analyses of the individual’s behaviour within the crowd. Let us immediately take an example which could perhaps clarify partly what interests me: if someone touches you in a crowd it does not at first scare you in the least; if someone does the same thing in a personal situation or in a small group, something like fear grows on you, connected to other sentiments. When a stranger enters your private space you react, but if the same stranger does the same thing in a crowd situation, your reaction is completely different.
At several occasions the film lingers on scenes of encounters where the touch is registered by the camera and the spectator is slightly troubled, but without knowing why exactly…
Film is an ideal means for creating this type of situations. Which is the dynamics of the crowd? What is the sentiment of an individual who forms part of a crowd and how does she distance herself from it? These are some subjects that Canneti has approached in his books, and which are at the origin of my research, for which I have chosen the moving image as a medium.
            At which moment can we speak of a crowd? The inconsistency of the crowd also fascinates me. To understand at which moment it appears and how it dissolves – in the city, the world, a country, or today even in a certain sense on the net (even though this belongs to another discussion). Is it possible to stage the relationship between the individual and the crowd? This is the question which fascinated me and from which my film was conceived. Can that which belongs to the order of ”theory” find a form of representation? The impossibility of this challenge fascinates me.
            I have also throughout attempted to discretely refer to certain political behaviours, but without ”talking politics”, instead approaching the problem from upstreams, via its dynamics and the visual mediation of the community.
How would you describe your film to someone who hasn’t seen it?
I wouldn’t. I prefer to let the spectator watch it. But let’s say that, even though this isn’t and does not have to be directly explicit, for me the film is rather clearly divided up into three acts: in the first the individual is situated in a relation to the crowd and the protagonist, Elin Klinga, is therefore shot alone; in the second act, the individual is incorporated into the crowd, becomes part of it, empties her own body for the benefit of the mass, and David Mjönes joins Elin Klinga; in the third act, the two are on the screen together, the individual redefines herself as an individual in relation to the other and the crowd.
            Tacitly, then, I have given Elin Klinga the role of the individual and David Mjönes that of the other and then the crowd.
            During the shooting this demanded a great work with the actors, in order to define their positions in relation to the themes I wanted to approach through their acting and their presence. The professional actor (and both Elin and David are) works every day in a constant confrontation with crowds. For me, this had a certain importance.
A strange tension – which is not new in your work – traverses the domestic space: your way of filming the few objects that remain in the room and around the figures, one could say, takes great care to emphasize something unusual and ”estranging” – and this often returns in your filmic relationship to the closed space. This time, how did you choose the setting?
I attempted to place the film in the most neutral setting possible. I only chose very functional objects (for example in the kitchen), and the most reduced, neutral furniture. Neutral and anonymous, but at the same time, I’d say, capable of another type of presence.
            In order to approach the theme of the relationship between the individual and the crowd with two actors in a film without dialogs and shot in a domestic, private space, it was necessary to isolate ourselves from the spectators, and to proceed to the narrative and the fiction starting from a non-definition of the place.
            What I find very fascinating in the choice not to give any clues or keys to the spectator is that this can also sometimes trigger a true desire for interpretation. I could cite the example of a viewer who left me dumbfounded when she approached me after a screening in Sweden to discuss the role I according to her attributed to the artist in the art world – a subject which was not, at least not consciously, discussed in my film. I find it amusing and very interesting that everone finds their own paths through the film. For me this indicates a certain degree of success: the film is sufficiently abstract to permit this to happen.
There is a great work with the space in your film: it is not only a question of emphasizing how it is organized, but also of directing the attention towards the way in which you choose to film it. Are you specifically concerned with the choice of the set and the preparation of the place where you’re shooting?
One must, if at all possible, see the film without knowing – but yes, the decision where to place the camera, how and in what type of space, these issues are for me important in the search to obtain the neutrality, this undefinable atmosphere that I hope I have been able to establish in my film. The two persons evolve in a space that is impossible to situate geographically, from which I have tried to subtract all determination. A private but not personal space, for example. This aspect was central for me from the outset, and it has often been so in my films and videos. When I was 19 years old I saw Merce Cunningham at the Opera Garnier in Paris, and for me this sparked a consciousness of the importance of the space around the acting body. A space is always a container for actions and ideas, and in In Dependence my aim is precisely to film this propagation of actions and ideas in the space.
How did you choose the archival images which punctuate the film?
My aim was to establish as many perspectives as possible concerning this idea of the crowd. The insertion of these sequences must therefore be understood plastically. For my it’s like a collage (a technique that I like a lot and practice) where the scenes chosen from other films, which stage the crowd, and the ways in which the two persons act in the scenes that I’ve shot myself, are mixed. For me, the cuts are decisive and the chosen sequences have a specific relationship to the scenes with the actors, a relationship that the spectator must find. It is therefore not – above all not – a question of creating a logic of illustration, but on the contrary of establishing a dialog. To begin with, we shot 35 scenes with the actors and then I had to work carefully with the montage to understand which crowd scenes could create the tension and the communication I was looking for with the images I shot with my two actors. Let me add that a man and a woman (where the man plays the other and the crowd) seemed to me to be the smallest common denominator of the crowd, and therefore of what was then multiplied in the archival images.
            For several months I could not force myself to mount the film, and when I began it was the technique of collage that gave me the force to continue. I set off in a number of directions in order to be able to understand the kind of precision that this work merited. It was this logic of composition that guided me. What I was searching for was an equilibrium between different dynamics.
Do you separate the documentary images from the (predominantly) fictive images to which you have recourse?
No, not really, not in this context. I searched images which could echo what I asked my actors to interpret, and subtly evoke their actions. For example, I used Busby Berkeley in order to evoke the problem of the body, the crowd, and the mass ornament, without having to speak of North Korea or the Nazi regime, or of the control of the masses. As one might imagine, this old military choreography interested me greatly for what it led to on Broadway and in Hollywood. Just as King Kong interested me – a key moment in the encounter between a crowd and a singularity!
It should be added that your first artistic projects were already connected to themes that recall those with which you are working today. The dependence of the body to society or to its surroundings is one of the motifs with which you have been occupied since the beginning. I’m thinking of works such as The Dance from 1998, or of more recent videos, such as Gabriella, Semà, and Breathing. And also, to be honest, of an astonishing crucifixion from the very beginning of your career, which you are reluctant to show since you see it as a youthful work. As far as I remember, the crucified body of a young woman there corresponded to the familial context of social expectations and projections. To observe the language of the body in relation to the psychological or physical space that surrounds it – this seems to be one of your most fruitful obsessions.
To value how the body expresses something, the expression of the body, to me seems to demand that we find another way of looking at it, other than the language commonly employed in media. This is the reason for the resistance with which my works have often been met, since their codes are not immediately comprehensible for spectators and critics. I don’t know if anyone noted this, but for example the sound of the body has always been something important for me… All of my earliest projects, from when I went to art school, dealt with the body, approached not from the angle of its eroticism or its sexuality, nor of the desire it could provoke, but from another angle which is very hard to define…
It seems that in In Dependence, there is a focus upon Elin Klinga’s and David Mjönes’s acting. Is the idea that one should turn towards them and concentrate upon the structural conflict which is set into play by their bodies in the space?
Difficult to say… I could spend hours trying to define which type of body it is, but it would always be something else… perhaps the poetic body, without stupidities. What I wanted to film was a language of their bodies that would immediately pass beyond spoken language.
In cinema there is often a fantasy of something that is so precisely dictated in the actor that there is no need for words. To describe this, could you specify further?
I’m interested in emotional or psychological states that can transmit the presence of someone. It’s not so much about the question of the gestures or the actions of bodies, as it is about their equilibrium and their communication – and it is precisely in this register that things occur, surprising things regarding the disconcerting relations between the individual and the crowd.
June 2009