Georgina Starr – Quarantaine
Opening: May 5th, 2022, h 18 – 21 – screening will start at 6 – 7 – 8 pm – 43mins
05.05.2022 – 02.07.2022
Pinksummer: Your film Quarantaine was shot in 2019 and completed in the very early 2020. Soon afterwards, in that same February 2020, the somewhat obsolete term “quarantine” would re-enter our 21st century lives like a hurricane. The word quarantine derives from the forty days of isolation to which ships, coming from exotic territories or areas affected by the plague or other infectious diseases, were subjected in past centuries. In fact, the term “quarantine”, beyond the specific amount of time, differs from isolation tout court because it is applied to subjects who may have been exposed to an infectious agent, but who do not have a diagnosis, in order not to transmit a possible contagion. The correct use of the term “quarantine” is not actually applicable to isolation in the face of a disease confirmed by diagnosis to stem its spread. The term somehow travels on a hypothetical track. Why did you decide to title your film with the French term Quarantaine which somehow refers to the exceptional proximity of remote territories compared to the solid parameter of daily reality that we always trust to control?
Georgina Starr: I associate “quarantaine” with the mythological and the alchemical rather than any particular definitive meaning of the word. When I chose the title for the film, as you say, it was well before the recent world-wide pandemic, so the word seemed more fluid and mysterious. I was thinking specifically about the idea of une quarantaine – a period I read about in Celtic mythology. It is believed to take place in the 40 days leading up to the 1st full moon of Spring. It’s a strange liminal time-frame whereby spirits can descend to Earth and live amongst mortals. Imagining what this une quarantaine moment would look and sound like I began conjuring a whole world that would exist within this highly charged occasion. Quarantaine has one foot in reality, but by “entering” through the tree portal the women give themselves up to the unknown. Inside there are new rules, new educational structures, and new languages to learn. I was thinking about a model of an ‘educational institute’ and the process of acquiring new codes of learning and ways to communicate. My research for the film was extensive and prolonged. I was looking at Marian mythology and its power over female pedagogy, the psychological systems of Wilhelm Reich, musical, vocal and movement teachings from Kodaly, Orff and Keetman, Delsarte and Mettler and also metaphysical transformation from the Rosarium Philosophorum as well as exercises in wellbeing and spiritual purity inside the ancient Chinese Daoyin Tu manuscripts.
PS: The Belle-Époque poster that V, the girl in the black leather jacket, comes across while riding her moped through a contemporary London, deprived of any mystery, in a place just off the busy ring roads, made me think of the surprise of the Parisians when, one morning in August 1623, they found mysterious handwritten posters, hastily affixed to the corners of some streets, which read: “We, deputies of the principal College of the Brothers of the Rose-Cross, are making visible and invisible sojourn in this city by the grace of the Most High, to whom the hearts of the righteous turn. We reveal and teach without books or signs how to speak the languages of the countries where we wish to be, and how to draw men from error and death”. Like the posters of the Rosicrucians, who informed, without saying where or when, that a secret brotherhood had taken up residence in the city that would teach true knowledge, the poster with the women lying with their legs raised in a V and the pink bubble, like an ephemeral sculpture informed by breath, with its explicit and retro eroticism, infuriates V. Why do you use the poster, a founding part of your cosmogony of the last decade, of which Quarantaine appears as the narrative summation, to introduce the initiatory journey of an exquisitely oneiric-linguistic matrix of V and L, the new Alice or rather Céline et Julie of Rivettian memory?
GS: I didn’t know about the Rosicrucian poster campaign of 1623. It makes me think about Balzac’s History of the Thirteen his suite of 3 novels about a secret society at the heart of Paris. The vintage image on the ‘V’ posters in Quarantaine is also French in origin, it’s one that I’ve used repeatedly in my work over the last 10 years. It is a powerful image for me, and I keep being drawn back to it. It feels both mysterious and playful and also defiant. I was researching “anasyrma” while developing a performance work (Androgynous Egg, 2017) and the poster is very much connected to that. The history of the act of “anasyrma” is a complex one. The earliest examples I found describe women in battle situations – as the enemy approached the women would lift up their skirts in defiance to keep them at bay. It is also described as an apotropaic device to ward off evil. All these extraordinary stories unlock an interesting and complicated debate about the many meanings of “exposing” the female genitalia in religion, history, art, mythology and warfare. I was thinking about a dismantling of the body. This is a crucial theme in the film – the separation of arms, hands, heads, legs, ear, fingers and mouths. The film catalogues a taking apart of the female body to possibly rebuild, repossess or reposition it. The body parts that V “cuts” from the poster are literally the keys to enter Quarantaine – she inserts them piece by piece into the tree in the park before she disappears into it. Religion is riddled with separated female body parts, especially female hagiography – St Lucia (eyes), St Ursula (dismembered and beheaded) St Agatha (breasts) and many, many more. There was other imagery that inspired the arboreal portal. While doing a teaching residency in Glasgow in 2014 I was researching ancient alchemical manuscripts in the Glasgow University library and came across the Rosarium Philosphorum, a 16th century treaties on alchemy, part of which was an illustration of a tree growing out from the belly of two conjoined androgynous figures. The idea for the perfect alchemical transformation through Arborium Ostium was crystallised at this moment – they would enter the tree! By harnessing the magical powers of other arboreal spirits like Ariel and Daphne, I imagined that the whole of Quarantaine could take place inside this tree.
PS: The first word that is pronounced by L, the co-protagonist of Quarantaine while she is inaugurating a new chapter of her life sitting in the park, holding Papus’ book Traité methodique de magie pratique, a book borrowed from Jacques Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont in bateau, is a numerical incantation: “six six nine nine”, “66-99”. What is this encouraging number that opens portals and invisible passages? Are magic and references to occultism, in your work, in a Jungian sense, an ajar door to the unconscious?
GS: The numbers are a secret incantation, something that L believes will bring about a transformation. I think most of us have these odd, coded belief systems, whether it be prayer in the more regular religious sense, or other spiritual, esoteric or neurotic mantras. Those specific numbers “66-99” come from a novel I began writing about 6 years ago, so they have personal relevance to me. I also like how they sound and feel on the tongue. Numerical poems fascinate me. For the German artist and writer Unica Zurn the number 9 held the secret to everything. Numbers were her savior’s. She used anagrams to conjure her mystical hero The Man of Jasmin. Of this Man of Jasmin she said:
“Someone travelled inside me, crossing from one side to the other. I have become its home. Outside in the black landscape someone is claiming that they exist. From his gaze the circle closes around me. Traversed by him inwardly – encircled by him from without – this is my new situation and I like it.”
Numbers hold great power. In the closing scenes of Jacques Rivette’s 1976 film Duelle – Une Quarantaine the main protagonist Lucie (played by French actress Hermine Karagheuz) speaks a numerical poem out loud: “Deux et deux ne font pas quatre. Tous les murs à buf š’abatttre. Sept, huit, neuf, cinq, trois, six, deux.”
These numbers cast a spell on me. With a little digging I discovered that Rivette had borrowed them from the pages of Jean Cocteau’s Les Chavaliers de la Table Ronde – they were a magic spell that would allow Merlin to magically transport himself from place to place. Incidentally, the numbers 7 + 8 + 9 + 5+ 3 + 6 + 2 equal 40 – une quarantaine! Is that magic or just a coincidence?
PS: As in every initiatory journey to become adults, V and L must cross different doors: entering the tree in the park they are catapulted into the grey room, a sort of limbo in which the girls wait their turn to know their aims and destiny through the reading of tarots. Your tarot reading is silent, without voice, but very serious, expressive and didactic. Then there is the door of the wall with the representation of the tangled forest and that of the big ear in which the young women venture as if into a cave. Guided and urged by hands and heads without bodies, but above all by sounds to which the girls seem to lend their own bodies. The bodies trained finally to adhere to the sounds are able to materialize at heart height the pink brains (pink matter) to deform and re-inform them. Finally, the red door with women written on it brings them back to reality transformed. What trials must be overcome to adhere to the words and in particular to the name woman?
GS: The Pink Ursula Material appears at womb height rather than heart height. This Pink Material suggests a turning inside-out of the body. It’s visceral stuff: gloopy, mesmerising, disgusting and quite uncontrollable. It is also sacred – a kind of sculptural manifestation of jouissance. Is it a gift for the strict lessons in language and physical geometry that the initiates have endured in The Light Room and The Curtained Room – an offering from Pearl Mama One their disembodied head teacher? The Pink Material also has a voice*. It speaks:
Rose à voix haute
Rose cerveau de la pensée
Résine vierge de résidus
Matière Ursula Rose
Matière Ursula Rose
(Pink Spoken Loud
Pink thought brain
Residue Virgin Resin
Pink Ursula Material
I repeat !
Pink Ursula Material)
It is also a morphing material with hallucinogenic properties. I like to read Henri Michaux, especially his work written while under the influence mescaline. He describes incredible new treacherous journeys as if infiltrating another language:
“Enormous Z’s are passing through me (stripes-vibrations-zig-zags?). Then, either broken S’s, or what may be their halves, incomplete O’s, a little like giant eggshells a child has tried to draw without ever succeeding. These shapes, like an egg or an S, begin to disturb my thoughts as if they partook of the same nature. I have once more become a passage—a passage in time. So this, then, was the furrow with the fluid in it, absolutely devoid of viscosity, and that is how I pass from second 51 to second 52, to second 53, then to second 54 and so on. It is my passage forward.”
At the end of Quarantaine V and L are ejected via the bright red door labelled “Women”. The meaning of this violent ejection is multi-faceted – who and what have they become? You could ruminate for hours about what this final exit represents. If you listen hard enough, you can hear some words spoken by L into the ear of V – this might hold some clues.
PS: In your film, the sign quality of the generative matrix of nature emerges as an apparition, as if to recover the primordial origin of a mimetic language of matter and form. The final lesson in fact moves from vowels and consonants in the act of naming at last: the s drags on until it generates souffle, breath. If language were to convey only a convention, the idea of searching for a truth, would it be a naivety without parameters? In your film Quarantaine do you try to recover the glorious body of language?
GS: Above everything I am interested in sound and voice, how listening can transport and communicate independently of linguistic “meaning”. The lessons in listening that the initiates undertake in Quarantaine really begin inside the EAR Room. Before that the codes are mainly visual (the cards in The Grey Room). While laid naked beneath the EAR they are serenaded by Pauline Oliveros’s Bye Bye Butterfly (1967), a seminal experimental electronic sound work from the pioneer of “deep listening”. Of this work Oliveros said – “It bids farewell, not only to the music of the 19th century but also to the system of polite morality of that age and its attendant institutionalised oppression of the female sex.” It was important for me to use this piece in this scene. In the following chapter – through/or inside the EAR, we encounter the instructor Pearl Mama One for the first time. She performs a prolonged and extreme vocalization while hovering back and forth as a floating head. The sounds, breaths and utterances are strange and foreign to us, it’s difficult to listen to, she penetrates our brain, but if we listen deeply enough meaning will eventually arrive. In fact, Loré Lixenberg (the mezzo soprano performing as Pearl Mama One) had Oliveros’s Bye Bye Butterfly inside her ear during filming and was attempting to vocalise and translate these electronic sounds. This was a glorious virtuoso performance which created a whole new embodied language and became the beating pulse and breathing lungs of Quarantaine.
*The voice of The Pink Ursula Material is the voice of Rivette muse and star of Duelle (1976) the late actress Hermine Karagheuz, recorded in 2017.