In the February edition of Double Feature, the SCHIRN presents “Apicula Enigma” by the London-based artist Marine Hugonnier, followed by a screening of her favorite film, “Honor de cavalleria.”
The beehive and the honeybee that lives in it are frequently used to make comparisons, be it in the areas of national policy or the social sciences. It seems that modes of behavior such as swarm intelligence or the social structure of the beehive, in which the individual honeybees ultimately serve the collective, automatically lend themselves as analogous metaphors for human coexistence or its sociopolitical organization. The use in the context of what were originally terms based in anthropology or the philosophy of law, such as "social structure" or "body politic," can be confusing at second glance and laid out as a pedantic need to interpret nature according to human criteria.
At first glance, the nearly twenty-six-minute film "Apicula Enigma" (2013) by the artist Marine Hugonnier (*1969 in Paris) seems to be a documentary. At the audio level, one years the chirping of crickets; after several moments, a black image opens up into a colorful forest and meadow landscape into which enters a beekeeper in full attire. In the following minutes, we anticipate clarification of the "Apicula Enigma"--the secret of the bees. However, those who have already had the opportunity to see earlier films by Hugonnier will accurately suspect that it will not ensue in a narrative sense. In past works, the artist addressed the viewer's gaze at a certain object, such as, for example, the military perspective of the state ("Ariana," 2003), the tourist's gaze at a specific destination ("The Last Tour," 2004), or that of the museum visitor at its exhibition spaces ("The Crystal Palace," 2009).
In "Apicula Enigma" we are now carried off into the world of the honeybees in stationary images; static close-ups lasting several minutes repeatedly show the activity of the bees in the Koshuta mountains in Carinthia, Austria. The off-camera commentary typical of documentaries is completely lacking; instead, Hugonnier time and again shows the film crew at work: such as the sound technician handling the boom arm, how the focal distance is measured, or how lenses are cleaned. In doing so, Hugonnier refers back to the movie image's representation of reality, often taken for granted, whose supposed objectivity in fact always presents only the subjective perspective of the filmmaker. This is how the only spoken sentence at the beginning of the film--"Nature doesn't tell stories"--is to be taken: the individual is telling the story, not the object being addressed, whether verbally or by means of an image.
The Dignity of Life
Following a discussion with the artist, we will present her favorite film, "Honor de cavalleria" by Albert Serra. Financed completely without government subsidies, the film was released in 2006 and received awards at several international film festivals. The plot appears to play in a kind of parallel universe to Miguel de Cervantes's novel about Don Quixote and his loyal squire Sancho Panza. While Cervantes's characters experience odd adventures, Serra's Quixote and Sancho are downscaled alternatives of their namesakes. In long takes, shot entire without artificial lighting, for the duration of the nearly 100-minute debut film one is the constant companion of the protagonists, who most of the time do not have anything particular to do. Entirely beyond any psychologization, one watches Don Quixote and Sancho roaming through the hot summer sun, swimming, or sleeping. There is hardly any dialogue; if anything is said, then it is Quixote ordering his loyal squire to perform small tasks in an authoritative, caring tone of voice, or attempting to impart ostensible nuggets of wisdom. In a certain sense, the surrounding flora and fauna assume the supporting third role, which in "Honor de cavalleria" is staged in all of its--almost documentary--glory.
In “Honor de cavalleria,” Serra does not let either nature or human beings tell a story. Rather, beyond any concepts, attributions, or contexts he simply presents their proverbial existence, which lends them incomparable dignity and grace. Perhaps therein also lies the secret alluded to in the title “Apicula Enigma.”