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Cities & Elsewhere - Villes & Ailleurs

Tableaux Mouvants

Rina Sherman

In Cities & Elsewhere, a collection of tableaux mouvants, I draw on the traditions of the tableaux vivants of Louis XIV, Delsartean ‘Living pictures’ and the later poses plastiques performance activities, as well as landscape painting and early landscape photography. My work as a performance artist with Possession Arts in Johannesburg in the early 1980s further informs the live still scenes filmed in Cities. Our living tableaux such as ‘Schreber’s Chicken’ and ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’ were set on stage and drew on the transformation of everyday scenes and duration performances, inspired by artists such as Philip Glass, the Wooster Group, Elizabeth LeCompte, Spalding Gray, Benjamin Patterson.

In the first two pieces of Cities, the images present everyday landscapes with little or no movement and minimal sound: a door closing, the cry of a seagull passing, footsteps going by… In time, the counterpoint between film, painting and photography, the reference to everyday reality interchanges with references to other dimensions of reality. The tableaux vivants come about in this transformation to create a living narration of the still landscape into a choreographed gesture in real time.

Anses de Paimpol et de Saint-Malo
Bays Paimpol and Saint- Malo

When crossing the Via della Libertà causeway that links Venice's centro storico with the Italian mainland, especially at night, I am always overcome by a strong sensation of melancholy as I enter this old and beautiful world built on water that seems to have been there forever and yet on closer inspection shows distinct signs of its future disappearing. On my first visit to Venice in 1989, I wandered off into the far-off streets of the Castello sistieri. There, at terrace eatery looking more like a private home than a restaurant, the owner served me the most delicious and unforgettable pasta dish. She spoke no English and stood nearby watching me with a look of intrigue as I enjoyed the meal. Then there is the ebb and flow of the water ever present and changing in the milky green of the lagoon and the opaque turquoise of the canals. A world of mariners, travelling to and from the islands in gondolas, water taxis and vaporetti. In Venice I stick to the outskirts and the islands, I stop here and there in the insulate corners of the city floating landscapes, where the eroding movement of time stopped seems to be eternal.
For many years people encouraged me to visit Brittany, saying that coming from Africa, I would enjoy the ‘wild’ landscapes. They must have had the Atlantic seaboard in mind for there was nothing wild about slowly sailing on an almost wind-still day into the bay of Paimpol in barely moving scenes of toy sized islets and lighthouses reminiscent of the moving décor elements in the film Farinelli (1994). The end of day shifts into the stillness of the coming night, as colour and mood glows into deep flamingo pinks over Saint-Malo bay.

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