Lucy Moore interviews artist Samuel Fouracre on his new show Gaudeamuses, which opens at Christopher Crescent on Saturday 24 April. Private View Friday 23 April
Lucy Moore: Someone once described parts of Bruckner's 6th and 7th Symphonies as musical coitus interruptus. In your film Gaudeamuses, there is a suggestion of a narrative but it is always denied and never achieves a resolution and this leads to a surface-cold quality of the film.
Samuel Fouracre: I thought it was a hot surface! Well, Bruckner's romantic relationships were totally stunted and he never got them off the ground, due in no small part to the extreme age difference between himself and the girls of his affection, and I wanted an aspect of that distanced romantic admiration to feed into the film. But you are right; certainly the structure is coitus interruptus. In Bruckner's 2nd Symphony, which is used as the soundtrack to the film, there are these rests within the movement, very clear stops. The film follows this structure, where the pace increases and the music almost reaches a crescendo before returning to the motif and bringing us back to square one again. The crescendo is never a release. Perhaps it's more coitus reservatus…the film continues to promise a resolution but restrains itself. But I don't think that adds coldness to it.
LM: It's distancing. Narrative is a way for the audience to become absorbed in work, and so if they are denied that then they are distanced. The psychology of the cinema is that you insert yourself into and identify with certain characters, but you can't do that with something like this because it resists that.
SF: This is certainly not a narrative film, though there are devices being used to encourage a certain progression of theme. The music in someway dictated that structure, which is what I wanted. I had thought of using Wagner, but I wanted something that was more tentative in its resolution.
LM: It's a repetitive work that reveals an obsession, which is psychological, but at the same time it is an abstracting process, which is more formal.
SF: Well, this is a work that hinges on obsession so it needs to be repetitive. It's not only obsessive in relation to the male gaze that pervades the film, but obsessive for the women involved: this is a performance of extreme cyclical self-awareness. It was important for the work to be the length it is to allow that cycle. I wanted the space and time to appreciate the theatrical aspect of the act of creating one's self image.
LM: You have heavily stylised the act.
SF: It's an attempt to reflect the real processes and actions of the two girls involved, in this case applying make-up and enjoying a kind of soft hedonism, through my process of looking from a male perspective, of enjoying looking at them.
LM: I have been re-reading Nabokov's Lolita, which is full of doubles and mirrors and repetitions. This is something that appears in Gaudeamuses. Your attention shifts from one girl to another and one is not sure who the subject or protagonist is. There are also moments when there is a strange amalgamation of the two, sometimes effacing each other, either losing their identity or making a new one.
SF: There is a lot of mirror imaging in the film. Either the girls are mirroring each other, or I shoot through the mirror so we are seeing their reflection. All of the makeup shots and many of the dancing shots were filmed in front of the mirror. So all of the expressions in the eyes, the shots of the girls gazing off camera are in fact their response to looking at themselves or each other. It's a kind of communion with one's own image, rather than any aspect of spiritual communion. At the beginning we see the girls independent of each other. They are introduced with an accompanying suit, (hearts and diamonds for Lolita and spades and clubs for Charlotte). The card flourishes that punctuate the film reflect the relationship between the girls, the counterpoint. So there is an attempt in the first half of the piece to integrate them falsely, through editing. But by the end, when they are dancing, they are doing it themselves. They completely respond to each other and mirror each other's dancing and this reflects their relationship, which is a very real and genuine one.
LM: How is this work a departure in relation to your other work?
SF: In a very broad sense, the perspective of all the recent work is a contemporary male one toward aspiration and female sexuality, which in itself may not be any different than 50 years ago. In the past I have used the technique of parodying advertising or commodities and drawing parallels in the same way that Richard Hamilton did, for example between women and cars. The current work is less concerned with the sardonic approach of some of my earlier work. Even though you say the distance is still there, and you're right it is, it is not created by irony. It is very much the honest distance that a man has from a woman I think.
LM: Are the two women in the film themselves or stand-ins for an archetype or are they actresses?
SF: They are all three. They are themselves as actresses acting as archetypes. This is one of the reasons they are specifically teenagers rather than women. I remember being in my late teens/early twenties and deciding, ok, this is the person I am going to be. And Lolita and Charlotte are doing this at the moment, which is more interesting to me than if I had chosen women in their late twenties. There is a performance there that I have a great appreciation for.
If you are asking whether I could have made the film with any girls, then no, I couldn't. It was during an evening in my studio when I was watching them dancing together that the idea for the film arose. I wouldn't have thought of the film without them. So in that sense, they do not represent all young women, they simply represent in a very stylised way, themselves as young women and I was interested, particularly in the latter part of the film, in their particular relationship.
LM: The fact that you say they are themselves acting as archetypes makes me think of the notion of what's real and what's acted out, and that the clear distinction between the two is a false one. We construct ourselves everyday and that is our real self. It is in our real nature to do that.
SF: Completely. That's why the video for me is representative of what I believe and adore about being alive. It is not as simple as saying that you wake up and act for a day. It is to say that, through discriminating and deciding what one wants to be and then acting that out, one eventually becomes it. If you are being honest with yourself you have to engage with your desires, with what you really want to become. That's why currently younger people are more interesting for me to film because they are engaging with that desire. They haven't become tediously pragmatic about things. They haven't become…
SF: Resigned, yes. So it's much more exciting. Potential is alluring. And I feel every day is like than for me, I don't feel resigned to anything, especially the way that I am.
LM: Like Peter Pan?
SF: Yes, well, I don't know if you noticed but Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are secreted in the film.
LM: We talked before about cliché and that there is a condition now that we experience where going against cliché has itself become a cliché and that perhaps to get past it you have to enter directly into it, and that is something that the film does.
SF: I noticed when we watched it there are a couple of sections where you laughed and they are perhaps the most sentimentalised parts and I don't know whether that was because you were laughing at my audacity to be so clichéd in my depiction of young women or whether you were laughing at the fact that maybe I wasn't aware that I was doing it.
LM: No, no I'm laughing at myself and them and everyone else who does it. Everyone acts the cliché. So I am laughing at human beings!
SF: I laugh at myself! That's what I love about good filmmakers or writers. It could be a very serious film or book and you see a situation you considered particular to yourself being dramatised or illustrated as being par for the course of being human and you have that beautiful humour of recognition. This is where the ameliorating effects of art come into play. Art, if it is done well, is sporadically hilarious if it is truly about people rather than simply ideas.
Coleridge once wrote that the problem with clichés are that they are essentially true, that's why they became clichés, so you have to come up with a new way to articulate the cliché. Now, I'm not taking on the onerous task of an innovative way to articulate a truth, I am simply admitting it to myself. Technically I do this by isolating the particular cliché (for example the hair section of Gaudeamuses) and elongating it, stretching it out, revelling in it. I am using the power of this particular imagery to say that my views on life are, as everyone's are, actually quite conventional in a way, and certainly my views of women because how can they not be? They have been directed that way since I was a child. You can't possibly have, as a heterosexual man, a new, innovative feminist approach to sexuality because your sexuality is geared toward wanting to fall in love. And we all know that's the biggest cliché in the book!
Samuel Fouracre and Lucy Moore