– Autumn/Winter 2012

Neither Fish nor Fowl, but Real Bodies: The Films of Sven Augustijnen

Sophie Berrebi

Sven Augustijnen, L'École des pickpockets (The School of Pickpockets), 2000, video, colour, sound, 48min, stills. Courtesy the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels

The muffled laughter of the camera operator accompanies its jittery movements, as it sweeps upwards and across the façade of a building on the other side of the street, in the opening shot of Sven Augustijnen’s film Iets op Bach (Something on Bach, 1998). The camera peers into several windows to reveal here and there empty offices and bicycle storage. It finally reaches a set of windows that look onto a large, brightly lit and sparsely furnished room, decorated with paper garlands and stocked with snacks and drinks. A party seems to be in progress, and a dozen people move around, chatting and gesturing animatedly. The camera settles on this scene, alternating between close-ups and wider shots, moving jumpily from left to right and back, sporadically losing its focus. It shows us a fight between two girls, while a man skips across the length of the room in ballet moves, his open, printed shirt fluttering about as he twirls and jumps. Outside, dusk settles into darkness, and the blackened frames of the windows fragment the party scene: drinks are drunk, conversations continue in twos and threes and games are played. Occasionally the revellers all get up and briefly dance together, ignorant, it seems, of the prying camera. Yet even at this distance there seems to be something skewed about the party: the gestures seem a little selfconscious, the gaiety somewhat excessive, the lights just too bright. It looks like a pantomime as much as a real party, and evokes those reality TV shows in which young adults locked up together share exacerbated personal interactions with millions.1 A bride shows up and then a man with

  1. This comparison can only be made retrospectively as reality TV only became a staple of European television in the years that followed the film’s making.

  2. See Ray Carney, Cassavetes on Cassavetes, London: Faber and Faber, 2001.

  3. Philip Auslander, ‘The Performativity of Performance Documentation’, Performance Arts Journal, issue 84, 2006, p.5.

  4. See Sven Augustijnen, ‘Cher Pourquoi Pas ?’, A Prior, issue 14, 2007, pp.6—145; S. Augustijnen, Les Demoiselles de Bruxelles, Brussels: Projections, 2008; and S. Augustijnen, Spectres, Brussels: Asa Publishers, 2011.

  5. This ability might be partly the result of his early collaboration with Alain Platel and Les Ballets C de la B.

  6. Cited by Marie-Jos. Mondzain in Images (. suivre), Paris: Bayard, 2011, p.285.

  7. See Ludo De Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba, London and New York: Verso, 2001. Augustijnen has recounted how, during one of their encounters, Brassinne referred to De Witte as his ‘spectre’. See, for instance, Sven Augustijnen, Spectres, Brussels: ASA Publishers, 2011, p.4.

  8. Marc Bloch, Apologie pour l’histoire, ou métier d’historien (1949), Paris: Armand Colin, 1993, p.77. Translation the author’s.

  9. ‘Passion de l’image: des Cahiers du cinéma . Libération. Entretien avec Serge Daney par Michel Crépu, Gilles Delavaud, Michel Mesnil et Olivier Mongin’, Esprit, November 1983; reprinted in Serge Daney, La Maison cinéma et le monde, Vol.2, Les Années Libé 1981—1985, Paris: P.O.L. Trafic, vol.2, 2002, p.13.