Category Archives: Exhibitions

France Culture Podcasts – Conversations on Chris Marker

We have been following with appreciation the podcasts of France Culture on the occasion of the phenomenal Sept Vies d’un Cinéaste exhibition/retrospective, conversations that touch on Chris Marker’s life, friendships and wisdom in a way that the written word has a harder time achieving – the Costa-Gavras conversation is exemplary in this regard. There is an intimacy to the spoken voice that comes through vividly, and the questions posed by Albane Penaranda are always on target.

To state the obvious: all France Culture podcasts in the Chris Marker series are in French, and rapid spoken French at that. Repeat listenings are recommended. We thank France Culture for allowing the exporting of iframe audio player code, so these podcasts can be shared on the web. All quotations below are copyright © France Culture and taken from the articles that accompany the podcasts, at www.franceculture.fr under the rubrique Les Nuits de France Culture.

These valuable supplements to the current exhibition put us in proximity with the co-creators of the exhibition / retrospective, Christine van Assche and Raymond Bellour, with the young Marker himself – like Benjamin, making early forays into radio as yet another medium of expression – and with his close friend and fellow cineaste Costa-Gavras. The three van Assche & Bellour episodes demonstrate their deep familiarity with and lucid insight into Marker’s work, the awe they hold it in, as well as the enormity of the Marker archive at their/our disposal now at the Cinémathèque française.

Qui était Chris Marker

En décembre 2012, pour “Une vie, une œuvre”, Virginie Bloch-Lainé rassemblait les morceaux du puzzle Marker. Ecrits, photographies, films, vidéos, dessins et mondes virtuels l’univers de Chris Marker était raconté par Claude Lanzmann, Régis Debray, Raymond Bellour, parmi d’autres.

Arles 2011 Chris Marker exposition - Photo Gérard Julien, afp

“Jusqu’à la fin des temps”, un essai radiophonique de Chris Marker

L’écriture, plus que l’image, a occupé les premières années du parcours de Chris Marker. À la revue Esprit notamment, dans laquelle il publia de nombreux articles entre 1947 et 1955. Il y eut aussi la poésie, un roman, Le cœur net, en 49, et en 52 un essai sur Jean Giraudoux. Tout naturellement, le texte, l’écriture, menèrent Chris Marker à plusieurs reprises vers les studios de radio : Solitude, diffusée en 1943, à la radio nationale, une pièce radiophonique écrite sous le pseudonyme de Marc Dornier… L’Aube noire, en 1949, sur Paris-Inter, dans le cadre d’une émission de poésie… Toujours en 1949 et sur Paris-Inter, Cirque de notre vie dans la collection Les argonautes… Et aussi, La Peur à la radio : le fantastique, en 1950, une émission de science-fiction encore sur Paris-Inter, écrite par Chris Marker, Jean Basset et Pierre Schaeffer.

Jusqu’à la fin des temps, l’émission de la RDF est un essai dramatique d’un peu moins de vingt minutes que Chris Marker signa en 1949. Un récit empreint d’inquiétude, au temps d’un après-guerre irréel, dans lequel, comme dans un mauvais rêve, le monde menace de s’abîmer.

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“Chris Marker était quelqu’un qui, impulsivement, écrivait, on a l’impression qu’il écrivait plus vite qu’il ne pensait”

A l’occasion de l’exposition qui lui est consacrée à la Cinémathèque française, Albane Penaranda propose une “Nuit Chris Marker” avec des archives et des entretiens, pour commencer avec Raymond Bellour et Christine Van Assche. Entretien 1/3 avec les co-commissaires de l’exposition.

Nuit Chris Marker – Entretien avec Raymond Bellour et Christine Van Assche

A l’occasion de l’exposition qui lui est consacrée à La Cinémathèque française, Albane Penaranda propose une “Nuit Chris Marker” avec des archives et des entretiens. Deuxième partie de l’entretien avec Raymond Bellour et Christine Van Assche. Entretien 2/3 avec les co-commissaires de l’exposition.

Nuit Chris Marker – Dernier entretien avec Raymond Bellour et Christine Van Assche

A l’occasion de l’exposition qui lui est consacrée à La Cinémathèque française, Albane Penaranda propose une “Nuit Chris Marker” avec des archives et des entretiens. Troisième et dernière partie avec Raymond Bellour Christine Van Assche (co-commissaires de l’exposition).

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Costa-Gavras : “Sur un film Chris Marker ne voulait pas être le chef, il voulait être parmi les créateurs, cela c’est exemplaire”

Entretien avec le Président de La Cinémathèque Française, Costa-Gavras, qui était un des plus proches amis de Chris Marker. A l’occasion de l’exposition qui lui est consacrée et de la “Nuit Chris Marker”, il revient sur cette amitié et sur l’oeuvre de Marker.

Costa-Gavras, Ami de Chris Marker et Président de la Cinémathèque française

Christine van Assche & Raymond Bellour, les co-commissaires de l’exposition

Cinemathèque française Announces Chris Marker Exhibition + Retrospective

Les Sept Vies d'un Cineaste Chris Marker Exhibition Cinematheque francaise

Exciting news from the Cinémathèque française announcing dates for the much-anticipated Chris Marker exhibition has been posted on www.cinematheque.fr.

Here’s the intro and several citations for now. English translations have been added at the end of the post.

For background on the acquisition of Marker’s estate, see State of the Estate and State of the Estate II: The Glorious Shambles, as well as Fonds Chris Marker – 550 Grands Cartons chez Cinémathèque française here at chrismarker.org.

CHRIS MARKER LES 7 VIES D’UN CINÉASTE
EXPOSITION – RETROSPECTIVE DU 3 MAI AU 29 JUILLET 2018

L’exposition Chris Marker est un voyage. Un voyage dans l’espace et le temps, un voyage qui accompagne, de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale et la Résistance jusqu’à sa mort en 2012, le parcours exceptionnel d’un cinéaste et d’un homme hors du commun. Ce voyage est à la fois la chronique d’une existence longue et très remplie, et une libre circulation dans les différentes couches du temps aux côtés d’un explorateur inventif de possibles déplacements entre présent, passé et avenir, déplacements dont La Jetée a offert le modèle le plus connu. Cette exposition est en même temps un voyage dans l’espace, à la surface de la planète, aux côtés d’un infatigable globe-trotter, curieux du monde et de ses habitants : la Californie, l’Islande, la Corée, la Guinée-Bissau, la Sibérie, la Chine, l’Amérique latine de Mexico à Valparaíso en passant par La Havane, jalonnent ces trajets où l’amour du Japon occupe une place singulière. Les parcours de Chris Marker, à l’occasion, l’auront même mené sur Mars ou sur la planète virtuelle de Second Life…

[…]

La Cinémathèque française a recueilli les immenses archives de toute nature et sur tout support laissées par Marker à sa mort. C’est à partir de ce trésor aussi riche qu’hétérogène qu’a été conçue l’exposition, à la fois chronologique et thématique. La matière de ce legs est si riche et si complexe que l’inventaire de celui qui fut aussi un archiviste passionné n’est pas encore achevé au moment d’ouvrir l’exposition. On y découvre en particulier les œuvres originales qui lui avaient été offertes par de grands artistes, ses propres créations plastiques jusque-là inconnues, ainsi que ses deux grandes installations, Zapping Zone (Proposals for an Imaginary Television) et Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men, ainsi que le programme de discussion avec un ordinateur qu’il avait conçu, Dialector.

[…]

L’exposition est accompagnée, dans les salles de la Cinémathèque, par l’intégrale des films, vidéos et programmes télévisés (les treize épisodes de L’Héritage de la chouette) réalisés par Chris Marker. Seront également projetés les films auxquels il a collaboré, et le documentaire récent que lui ont consacré Jean-Marie Barbe et Arnaud Lambert, Never Explain, Never Complain. Et encore un programme particulier de grands films classiques particulièrement aimés de Marker et avec lesquels ses propres réalisations dialoguent.

Text by: Christine Van Assche (commissaire générale), Raymond Bellour et Jean-Michel Frodon (commissaires associés)

Find out more at: www.cinematheque.fr

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For those who wish in advance to dig a bit deeper into a philosophical exploration of Chris Marker and the archive, I recommend reading “Marker’s Archive”, the second Essay of Gavin Keeney’s recent book Knowledge, Spirit, Law: Book 2: The Anti-Capitalist Sublime. The sections of this wide-ranging reflection – within an even wider-ranging, fascinating book – comprise: I. Cultural Patrimony; II. Futural Intensity; III. Belated Assimilations; IV. Editioned Works; V. Pre-1962 Marker; and VI. Postscript. It is available through Punctum Books (‘earth, milky way’) in a limited edition. See punctumbooks.com.

Keeney is no stranger to Marker. In 2012, he published Dossier Chris Marker: The Suffering Image. The publisher Cambridge Scholars offers this sample online: Download PDF: Dossier Chris Marker.

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CHRIS MARKER THE 7 LIVES OF A CINEASTE
EXPOSITION – RETROSPECTIVE FROM MAY 3 TO JULY 29, 2018

The exhibition Chris Marker is a journey. A journey in space and time, a journey that accompanies, from the Second World War and the Resistance until his death in 2012, the exceptional journey of a filmmaker and a man out of the ordinary. This trip is at the same time the chronicle of a long and very full existence, and a free movement in the different layers of time alongside an inventive explorer of possible displacements between present, past and future, displacements of which La Jetée offered the best known model. This exhibition is at the same time a journey into space, on the surface of the planet, alongside a tireless globe-trotter, curious about the world and its inhabitants: California, Iceland, Korea, Guinea Bissau, Siberia, China, Latin America from Mexico City to Valparaíso via Havana, mark out those journeys where the love of Japan occupies a singular place. The courses of Chris Marker, on occasion, will have even led him to Mars or to the virtual planet of Second Life …

[…]

The Cinémathèque française has collected the immense archives of all kinds and on any medium [format, device] left by Marker at his death. It is from this rich and heterogeneous treasure – both chronological and thematic – that the exhibition was conceived. The material of this legacy is so rich and so complex that the inventory of the one who was also a passionate archivist is not yet complete when opening the exhibition. In particular, we discover the original works that had been offered to him by great artists, his own previously unknown plastic [fine art] creations, as well as his two great installations, Zapping Zone (Proposals for an Imaginary Television) and Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men, as well as the discussion program with a computer he had designed, Dialector.

[…]

The exhibition is accompanied, in theaters of the Cinémathèque, by the complete movies, videos and television programs (the thirteen episodes of The Owl’s Legacy) directed by Chris Marker. Also to be screened are the films he collaborated on, and the recent documentary directed by Jean-Marie Barbe and Arnaud Lambert, Never Explain, Never Complain. And as well a particular program of great classic films particularly loved by Marker and with which his own realizations dialogue.

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Update I: Assembling Marker with Jean-Michel Frodon

I just noticed news of an event, “Assembling Marker”, which will put Marker curator Jean-Michel Frodon in conversation with Nora Alter at Slought | Assembling Marker in Philadelphia, on March 12, 2018. It has been organized with Film and Media Arts at Temple University and Cinema & Media Studies and French & Francophone Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Of course the mention of a “double volume publication” by the Cinémathèque definitely caught my attention. Here an excerpt from the announcement:

Upon Marker’s death, there were no direct heirs nor designees to manage his estate, preserve his legacy, and archive his materials. That task was taken up by the archives experts from Cinémathèque française, with the help and guidelines of a few devoted individuals including Jean-Michel Frodon and Raymond Bellour. The result of their tireless efforts and commitment is a double volume publication forthcoming this May, the most comprehensive exhibition ever dedicated to Marker’s multifacted work, and a vast retrospective including all his films and many of those he was inspired by or that were inspired by him, opening at the Cinémathèque Française on May 2. In conversation with Alter, Frodon will discuss the experience and process of archiving Marker, editing his writings and preparing an exhibition—all part of the process of making accessible the work of a deeply private person who vehemently disliked public life.
slought.org

Where do people get the idea that being a “deeply private person” translates automatically into “vehemently disliked public life”? Sure, if we define public life as non-stop interviews and being stalked by paparazzi, that might hold true, but Marker welcomed strangers into his atelier, offered them vodka, made friends across the world, and in many ways made public life – the commons and the global village – the vast palette from which he assembled his creations, even though he no doubt needed long stretches of private, focused time to bring them to life.

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Update II: CHRIS MARKER L’HOMME MONDE

The current presentation on the Actes Sud site gives the title of the catalog (and the exhibition) as Chris Marker: l’homme monde:

L’exposition “Chris Marker, l’homme monde”, organisée l’année des célébrations du cinquantième anniversaire de Mai 68, s’accompagne de l’édition d’un ouvrage de référence, pour lequel ont été conviés les plus grands spécialistes de l’œuvre de l’artiste. Les trente essais qui composent cet imposant volume dévoilent les différentes facettes de la personnalité de cet homme qui fut tour à tour résistant, écrivain, cinéaste, amateur d’art, voyageur, photographe, éditeur, monteur… Répartie en neuf chapitres, l’iconographie riche et dense fait la part belle aux archives des collections de la Cinémathèque française, dont certaines inédites. L’ouvrage se donne ainsi l’ambition de plonger dans l’intimité de Marker pour permettre d’en saisir toute la contemporanéité du projet intellectuel et artistique, la curiosité et l’acuité du regard sur la situation de notre monde actuel, la générosité politique et l’exigence éthique. En outre, l’œuvre de Chris Marker a eu un impact considérable et fut une source d’inspiration pour nombre d’intellectuels, de créateurs, de réalisateurs et de passionnés du cinéma.
Actes Sud

Chris Marker L'Homme Monde catalog Actes Sud

The exhibition “Chris Marker, the world man”, organized the year of the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of May 68, is accompanied by the edition of a reference work, for which were invited the greatest specialists on the work of the artist. The thirty essays that compose this imposing volume unveil the various facets of the personality of this man who was in turn ‘resistant’, writer, filmmaker, amateur artist, traveler, photographer, book editor, film editor… Distributed in nine chapters, the rich, dense iconography is the pride of the archives in the collections of the Cinémathèque française, some unpublished. The book thus aims to plunge into the intimacy of Marker, in order to fully grasp the contemporaneity of his intellectual and artistic project, the curiosity and acuteness of his view of the situation of our current world, his poetic generosity and ethical imperative. In addition, the work of Chris Marker has had a considerable impact and was a source of inspiration for many intellectuals, creators, directors and film enthusiasts.
Actes Sud

Ghost Cat: Postcards + Exhibitions

cm-postcard-cimitiere-chat

Card 5 of 15
Roma, 1956

Chris Marker, Image from Staring Back
May 12-August 12, 2007
Exhibition organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Ohio State University

FYI, there are two postcard sets by Chris Marker that I know of. This set is from Wexner and is, I believe, out of print.

The other is Chris Marker, How a grinning cat visits the HISTORY OF ART, 10 Postcards, Peter Blum Editions. This production, to my knowledge, is also no longer available. I’ll see if I can get them into a gallery here soon, as they are replete with classic Markerian wit and digital détournement.

While the cards are not to be found on the Peter Blum site (peterblumgallery.com), it is well worth exploring the whole Chris Marker section, which includes Images, Exhibitions, Books, Press and Biography pages – the last containing a filmography, bibliographies, exhibition lists and more. The Biography section includes an exhaustive listing of Chris Marker exhibitions that I have yet to see appear on traditional filmographies or bibliographies:

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2014

“Koreans”, Peter Blum Gallery, New York

“Crow’s Eye View: the Korean Peninsula”, Korean Pavilion, Giardini di Castello, Venice, Italy

“Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat”, Whitechapel Gallery, London, England; Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, October 21, 2014 – January 11, 2015; Lunds Konsthall, Lund, February 7 – April 5, 2015

“The Hollow Men,” City Gallery Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

2013

“Chris Marker: Guillaume-en-Égypte”, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA & the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

“Memory of a Certain Time”, ScotiaBank, Toronto, Canada

“Chris Marker”, Atelier Hermès, Seoul, South Korea

The “Planète Marker”, Centre de Pompidou, Paris

2012

“Chris Marker: Films and Photos”, Moscow Photobiennale, Moscow, Russia

2011

“PASSENGERS”, Peter Blum Gallery Chelsea / Peter Blum Gallery Soho, New York, New York

Les Rencontres d’Arles de la Photographie, Arles, France

“PASSENGERS”, Centre de la Photographie, Geneva, Switzerland

Thinking Hands, Beijing, China

2009

“Quelle heure est-elle?”, Peter Blum Gallery Chelsea, New York, New York

“Second Life” (May 16 a one night event), Harvard Film Archive, Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Chris Marker: Par quatre chemins”, Beirut Art Center, Lebanon

2008

“Abschied vom Kino / Farewell to Movies”, Museum fur Gegenwartkunst, Zurich, Switzerland

“Abschied vom Kino / A Farewell to Movies”, virtual museum, Second Life

Un Choix de Photographies, Galerie de France, Paris, France

2007

“Staring Back,” Peter Blum Gallery, New York, New York

“Staring Back”, Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

“The Case of the Grinning Cat”, Film Forum, New York, New York

“Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men”, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia

2006

“The Hollow Men,” Dazibao Centre de Photographies Actuelles, Montreal, Canada

“The Hollow Men”,Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto, Canada

2005

“Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men”, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

“Through the Eyes of Chris Marker”, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, China

“Through the Eyes of Chris Marker”, Macao Cultural Centre, Macao, China

2003

“Rare Videos by Chris Marker,” Anthology Film Archives, New York, New York

2002

“Chris Marker”, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

1999

“Silent Movie and Selected Screenings”,Beaconsfield, London, England

“Chris Marker”, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville, Spain

“Chris Marker”, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, Spain

1997

“Immemory One,” Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

1996

“Silent Movie,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

1995

“Silent Movie”, Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

“Silent Movie”, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

“Silent Movie”, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California

Peter Blum Gallery, Chris Marker, Exhibitions – Download PDF

Pompidou Planète Marker Video Archive

It’s been a great pleasure, having been unable to attend the Centre Pompidou’s 2013 Chris Marker exhibition and retrospective, to witness the appearance on Daily Motion of videos of the talks that were held, as well as a wonderfully edited overall / intro video that emerges us in Marker’s visual world. While a longer post is in progress on the series and the practice of video archiving, I did want to present the intro video first, as a kind of teaser and work of art unto itself.

Planète Marker – du 16 octobre 2013 au 22 décembre 2013


Planète Marker – du 16 octobre 2013 au 22… by centrepompidou

Par Raymond Bellour, écrivain et théoricien de cinéma.
Le Centre Pompidou et la Bibliothèque publique d’information (Bpi) rendent hommage à Chris Marker, à travers ses films bien sûr mais aussi en suivant la piste de ses inspirations, de ses amitiés et de ses rencontres… Au coeur de ce voyage, l’exposition de ses installations et des oeuvres multimédias rassemblées dans la collection du Centre Pompidou, ses films et vidéos et un salon de lecture à la Bpi.dailymotion.com/video | Centre Pompidou channel

Chris Marker Exhibition Opens in Oslo

Chris Marker TBD

Kunstnernes Hus Chris Marker Exhibition

Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat

31 October 2014 – 11 January 2015

Opening Friday, 31 October 2014, 7pm.

Opening speech by Christine Van Assche, Curator at Large at Centre Pompidou, Paris, and Artistic Director, Mats Stjernstedt

Guided tour in the exhibition on Saturday, 1 November, 2 pm, by Christine Van Assche and Mats Stjernstedt

Kunstnernes Hus presents the first Scandinavian retrospective of visionary French filmmaker, photographer, writer and multimedia artist Chris Marker (1921 – 2012). His films lace realism with science fiction and lyricism with politics. Changing his name, declining to be photographed or interviewed, Marker is both enigma and legend. His influence extends across art, experimental film and mainstream cinema.

Marker is widely acknowledged as the finest exponent of the essay film and is known as the director of over 60 films, including Sans soleil (Sunless, 1983) and A Grin Without a Cat (Le Fond de l’air est rouge, 1977). His most celebrated work La Jetée (The Pier, 1962) imagines a Paris devastated by nuclear catastrophe and is composed almost entirely of black-and-white still photographs, which informed the narrative of Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995).

Marker was an inveterate traveler – his camera was his eye. His astonishing range of images can encompass a temple in Tokyo devoted to cats, to frozen flowers in a Siberian science station. Marker pictures our cultural rituals, ancient and modern – visiting a shrine, playing videogames, protesting on the streets. He splices his images with found footage, including fragments of movies, cartoons, ads, and news reels. Musical scores are interwoven with the noises of everyday life; haunting commentaries are narrated as if from the future, meditating on history and memory.

Darkness also underlines Marker’s portrayal of planetary cultures – memories of war ravaged France, the brutalities of colonialism, the failures of revolution.

A Grin Without a Cat is co-curated by Christine Van Assche, Curator at Large, Centre Pompidou, Paris, writer and film critic Chris Darke, and Magnus af Petersens, Curator at Large, Whitechapel Gallery/Curator, Moderna Museet. The exhibition tours to Lund Konsthall in 2015.

The exhibition is organized by Whitechapel Gallery.
Kunstnernes Hus

Kunsternes Hus

Kunstnernes Hus er en av Norges vakreste bygninger og et av de tidligste eksempel på norsk funksjonalisme. Huset har en spennende historie som et sentralt visningssted for norsk og internasjonal samtidskunst. Foruten faste utstillinger og en flott matservering med utsikt over Slottsparken kan vi tilby ulike arrangement både på dag- og kveldstid.

The Kunsternes Hus (Artists’ House) is one of Norway’s most beautiful buildings, and one of the earliest example of Norwegian functionalism. The House has an interesting history as a central viewing place for Norwegian and international contemporary art. In addition to permanent exhibitions and great on-site dining facilities with views of the Palace Gardens, we can offer various events both on the day and evening time.

Coréennes by John Fitzgerald – Chris Marker Photo Exhibition at Peter Blum Gallery

Korean Ballerina, Chris Marker, Peter Blum Gallery

John Fitzgerald is a periodic contributor to chrismarker.org, and we would like to extend our gratitude to him for crafting this piece for us. Previously he has written In a Train of the Métro, Passengers and A Grin Without a Cat, Lincoln Center.

A question that arose toward the end of my recent visit to Peter Blum Gallery in New York to view the Chris Marker “Koreans” exhibition is illustrative of the veil of mystery that hangs over so much of his life and work. Having studied the photos of individual North Koreans hanging on the gallery walls – photos that I had long believed had been incorporated into a film that he had done on the subject – I then came upon a book resting against the wall with all of the same photographs and with an accompanying text written in Korean. Beside this book was a smaller paperback, including an English translation of the text, but without the photographs. So were these pictures in the gallery photographs that had been incorporated into a film? Or were the photographs themselves the main body of work, of which the book was merely a compendium piece? Or was the book that I was holding in fact the principle artistic expression – the words and images playing off of each other, each giving added meaning to the other?

The gallery attendant helpfully added clarity, noting that the photographs originally appeared in the book Coréennes and that what was on display in the gallery were reproductions. What was not in the exhibition, then, was the accompanying commentary that Marker had included in the original book. (An added note of confusion came when I pointed out that the text was written in Korean – a language I was not aware that Marker had been conversant in – and we agreed that the actual text must originally have been in French before being translated into Korean.) She also noted that the photographs on view in the gallery were digital photographs. Marker had digitized, and in some cases altered, the original 35mm photos that appeared in the book.

Between the photographs being set apart from the original text that accompanied them, the digital alteration of the original images, and even the added confusion about what language the text had originally appeared in, the various levels of removal was reminiscent of the first time that I had been introduced to Marker’s work at a screening of Sans Soleil: a French film, dubbed in English, and largely about the Japanese, in which an unnamed woman seems to read letters she has received from an unnamed man across great gaps of distance and time. In everything that Marker touches, there are layers.

In an exhibition of photographs we are only treated to one of those layers. I would compare it to watching Sans Soleil with the sound turned off: the images of sleeping Japanese on the ferry from Hokkaido would not be half so arresting without Marker’s voiceover meditation – “Waiting, immobility, snatches of sleep. Curiously, all of that makes me think of a past or future war: night trains, air raids, fallout shelters – small fragments of war enshrined in everyday life. He liked the fragility of those moments suspended in time. Those memories whose only function had been to leave behind nothing but memories.”

One striking photograph in the exhibition shows a woman dressed in a modern gender-neutral shirt and pants walking down the street and effortlessly carrying a large basket perfectly balanced on her head. Marker captures her as she walks directly under an awning featuring a placard painted with a woman wearing a traditional Western-style white dress. Your eye notes the dualism of the figures in the photograph and you recall Marker’s affinity for contrasts. But divorced from the accompanying text, we miss out entirely on Marker’s poetic meditation of a street in North Korea as a kind of self-contained universe:

head carrying coréenne

A great deal of Korea strolls by on Koreans’ heads. Like those salon magicians hired round the turn of the century – barely introduced beneath a false name before they would begin juggling with the furniture to entertain the guests – the Koreans like to set objects dancing. Baskets, earthenware jars, bundles of wood, basins, all escape the earth’s gravity to become satellites of these calm planets, obeying exacting orbits. For the Korean street has its cycles, its waves, its rails. In this double décor, where hastened ruins and buildings still aborning strike a second’s balance of incompletion, the soldier who (foresightedly) buys a civilian’s sun hat, the worker leaving the construction site, the bureaucrat with his briefcase, the woman in traditional dress and the woman in modern dress, the porter carrying a brand new allegory to the museum of the Revolution with a woman in black following step by step to decipher it – all have their route and precise place, like constellations.

smiling Korean Chris Marker Peter Blum Gallery

In a short notice about the exhibition recently published in The Wall Street Journal, the reviewer’s principle observation comes in the last sentence: “All in all, it looks normal.” The “it” that the reviewer is referring to is North Korea, and, confronted with images of people dancing, practicing ballet, walking to the market, or posing for a photograph, it does seem rather unremarkable. Given the West’s perception of North Korea as an isolated rogue state most commonly associated with newsreels of long columns of soldiers marching in machine-like precision while parading ballistic missiles down the avenue, there is unquestionably inherent value in an exhibition of photographs that shows them in their everyday life, images far removed from the militaristic propaganda with which we are all so familiar. Such images are nearer to the Petit Planète series of travel books to which Marker contributed and that went against the genre’s propensity to Orientalize far-off places. Standing in the gallery, we are not witness to the wretched shackles of communism or the visible consequences of a morally-depraved regime depriving its owns citizens of food. The little ballerina in Untitled #27 more closely calls to mind the world of Edgar Degas than Kim Il-sung.

Which begs the question – if ever so briefly – as to what extent these photographs themselves have elements of propaganda. The photos were taken during a period in which Marker was collaborating on some of his most overtly political films, including Cuba si! and Far from Vietnam, the latter of which was reviewed by Renata Adler in The New York Times as a “rambling partisan newsreel collage.” A filmmaker putting his name to projects featuring interviews with Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh might well be expected to paint a flattering – and perhaps skewed – picture of life in that other workers’ paradise north of the 38th parallel. But we must consider that North Korea in 1957 was not revealed as the human catastrophe that it was later to become under the ensuing decades of rule by the Kims, and we can excuse Marker for seeking out the basic humanity in a communist country that he had hoped – as he noted in a 1997 coda to the Coréennes text – would manifest a break with “the Soviet model” of Marxism. “Those children of Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Bolivar, or Marti had no reason to kneel before dogma elaborated by bureaucrats born from a Leninist host-mother inseminated by Kafka,” he wrote. “The answer is: they did.”

They did, indeed. And perhaps that is the other element that is missing from this exhibition, an exhibition that might have shown pictures of the promise of communism alongside pictures of the consequences of communism, such as borrowed newsreel images of starved bodies or the tens of thousands of political prisoners in forced labor camps. Marker included a powerful postscript to his Coréennes text for inclusion on the Immemory CD-ROM in 1997, a postscript that was shown against a background of newspaper clips of the North Korean famine. “The balance sheet to which most of the texts and images on this disc bear witness is totally disastrous, and I feel neither the right nor the inclination to ignore that,” he wrote. But no equivalent photographic postscript was evident in the exhibition at Peter Blum. As I left the gallery, one of the most striking images I noticed was of a handsome Korean man in Western clothes grinning widely, and I could not help but think of Marker’s Lewis Carroll-esque expression for the illusory hopes of socialist revolutions that never materialized – “a grin without a cat.”

A short 2009 note by Marker that accompanies the exhibition to some extent fills in the gap left by the photographs, observing how “time froze on that country . . . while the megalomaniac leadership of both Kims had proven a disaster.” It also includes a contemporaneous snippet of a communiqué from the country’s state-run news agency touting a much-publicized missile launch, noting that the government’s recent actions had the full support of “the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Marker observes: “Yes, you read correctly. ‘Soviet Union.’ In 2009.”

Satellite Image of Dark North Korea

The difficulty is that these photographs are likewise frozen in time and the overwhelming “normalcy” of the images seems so dissonant with what we actually know about life in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I noted earlier Marker’s description of the “satellites” in a North Korean street, but one of the most compelling recent visuals to emerge of this impenetrable country is the image of North Korean streets seen from the satellites – an entire population literally living in the dark. Photographed intermittently from orbiting satellites over the years, the recurring image is that of the democratic south shimmering in light while the communist north is shrouded in darkness. With his penchant both for technology and juxtaposition, it might have been a fitting image to accompany his postscript to Coréennes, a poignant aria of disillusionment penned toward the close of the 1990s and concluding with a bleak commentary on a century that, “despite all it shams, had so little real existence – which may after all have been nothing but an immense, interminable fade-over.”

John Fitzgerald

Installation Views Courtesy of Peter Blum Gallery, New York
Works Courtesy of the Chris Marker Estate and Peter Blum Gallery, New York

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Coreennes English

Editor’s Addendum

Coréennes doit s’entendre ici au sens de Gnossiennes ou Provinciales c’est’-à-dire “pièces d’inspiration coréenne”. On y trouvera, outre les dames de Corée (qui à elles seules vaudraient plus d’un long-métrage), des tortues qui rient, des géants qui pleurent, un légume qui rend immortel, trois petites filles changées en astres, un ours médecin, un chien qui mange la lune, un tambour qui fait danser des tigres, plusieurs chouettes, et sur ce décor immortel un pays anéanti hier par la guerre, qui repousse “à la vitesse d’une plante au cinéma” entre Marx et les fées. Vous apprendrez encore que les Coréens ont inventé l’imprimerie avant Gutenberg, le cuirassé avant Potemkine et la Grand Garabagne avant Michaux, dans ce “court-métrage” où l’on souhaite voir apparaître un genre distinct de l’album et du reportage, qu’on appellerait faute de mieux ciné-essai comme il y a des ciné-romans — à une seule réserve près, mais d’importance: les personnages ne s’y expriment pas encore par de jolis phylactères en forme de nuage, comme dans les comics. Mais il faut savoir attendre…Chris Marker, cover of orig. French version of Coréennes, curiously elided in English text version

Coréennes should be understood in the sense of Gnossiennes [Satie] or Provinciales [Pascal], that is to say ‘pieces of korean [fem. – Ed.] inspiration.’ Besides the women of Korea – who themselves would be worth more than one full-length film – one will find tortoises that laugh, giants who cry, a vegetable for immortality, three little girls turned into stars, a doctor bear, a dog who eats the moon, a drum that makes tigers dance, multiple cats, and on this immortal decore a country annihilated yesterday by war, one that regrows ‘with the speed of a plant in the cinema’ between Marx and the fairies. You will learn as well that the Koreans invented the printing press before Gutenberg, the armorplate/breastplate before Potemkine and the Grand Garabagne before Michaux.* In this ‘short film’ one hopes to see revealed a distinct genre of the album or journalism, one will call for lack of a better term ‘essay film’ – like there are novel films [ciné-romans, a sly reference to La Jetée -Ed.] – with one small but important reservation: the people do not express themselves by the amusing bubbles in the form of clouds, as in the comics. But just you wait…Chris Marker, Coréennes

* Henri Michaux’ work Voyage en Grand Garabagne was written in 1936 and later became part of the volume Ailleurs, published in 1948. As one critic puts it, “Voyage en Grande Garabagne présente des peuples inventés avec des moeurs et des coutumes fantastiques. […] la grande sobriété de l’écriture contraste avec l’imagination et l’invention débridées de l’auteur. – overblog. We can’t help but be reminded of Borges and Foucault’s great opening to Les mots et les choses