Films are dwellings. In the garden of the Silent Green, a small tent invites you to slip inside. It is Sandrine Bonnaire’s tent in “Vogelfrei”, the tarpaulins are made of celluloid strips from the film by Agnès Varda, with which she won the Golden Lion in 1985. The film material, which has become a waste product in the digital age, is thus recycled into a refuge. The backpack of the young tramp is still there. Further back, towards the cemetery, a wooden hut houses a burial mound with a video installation for Varda’s beloved cat Zgougou. A mausoleum for a cat, Varda would certainly have liked the German pun.
Agnès Varda, “Agnès was there” – the filmmaker would have liked the play on words created by curator Julia Fabry in the catalogue. The small, cheerful, talkative Agnès, as she characterized her role in documentaries such as “The Beaches of Agnès” or “Varda par Agnès”, loved wordplay and portmanteau, the lightly fabricated language – and the images she evokes.
And she’s still there. At the foot of the ramp down to the concrete hall, Varda opens a plastic curtain – the very curtain on which the short video loop is projected – and comes towards the visitor. Just beyond is the beach, one of her beloved beaches: the Atlantic photo ebbs out in video waves, into a real expanse of sand. If you could open people, you would find landscapes, she once said.
The exhibition in the former crematorium in Berlin’s Wedding, curated by Julia Fabry and Dominique Bluher, is dedicated to the “Third Life of Agnès Varda”, flanked by a film series in the Arsenal cinema. The pioneer of the Nouvelle Vague, who died in 2019 at the age of 90, is best known as a director and photographer. Her visual arts are presented here for the first time.
It is autobiographically colored in a similar way to her cinematic works: a wavy line course with videos, assemblages, triptychs, film still series and the polyptych “The Widows of Noirmoutier”, inspired by early panel paintings. The central video with the women walking on the beach is framed by 14 projections, with headphones hanging from each of the 14 chairs in front of it. So you can listen to the women living on the Atlantic island as they talk about themselves. Another recycle: Your 2006 documentary is based on this material.
Past Varda’s idiosyncratic, cheerful self-portraits from 1949, 1962 and 2009 – as a Roman mosaic, as a Renaissance profile in a Bellini painting, as a mirror-splinter likeness – the first step is her photo series of walking people from the 1950s. A Portuguese woman, back on the beach, carries a washbasin on her head with her child in it; a Chinese water carrier is found next to women with huge bundles of hay. Bodies in motion, in still black and white shots, Varda has always been interested in this tension.
Best of all: their potato art. During the shooting of “The Collector and the Collector”, which opens the film series on Saturday, she was happy about the invention of the digital camera. Without any effort, she was able to approach those people who live on waste, on what is left on the garbage dumps of the affluent society. She discovered deformed potatoes, which were mostly thrown away, heart-shaped potatoes. She kept them, let them rot, photographed the bizarre structures with wrinkled skin, proliferating germs and purple root fibers. Marvels of transience, which she paid homage to with her triptych “Patatutopia” at the 2003 Venice Biennale.
Her photo series with potato hearts arranged on pumpkin pedestals can also be seen in Silent Green – and just around the corner previously unpublished snapshots from Dinkelsbühl in Bavaria from 1960. People in the small town, children, passers-by, workers, suppliers – that too is a waste product her insatiable curiosity. Actually, she was in Dinkelsbühl as a photographer on behalf of the magazine “Réalités”. Sometimes curiosity also related to my own work. So she followed the story behind her 1954 photo of Cuba – a dead goat on the beach with one eye open, in the background a man and a boy, both naked – 28 years later in the short film “Ulysse”.
Glances, memories, head cinema, dreams. The utopian on the fringes of reality, including the political, in her installation “Homage to the Just” for the Paris Pantheon, which will also be on view in the dome hall from July 10: the curators’ catalog essays outline Varda’s cosmos, her humanism , its echo chambers and inspirations. For example, she carried the books of the philosopher and reverie expert Gaston Bachelard, with whom she had studied, with her when she traveled. She never read them.
And there she is again, at the edge of the parcours, in her potato dress, with which she amazed visitors to the Biennale in 2003 on her debut as a visual artist. Varda, a walking potato: If you get close enough to the costumed figure, you will hear her voice reciting the names of ancient potato varieties. A litany of food, nothing should go to waste.