With Série Portraits (1979-...), started by Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki in parallel to their first two cycles, the artists offer many different faces of the "feminine", variable definitions, this time illuminated by the light of singular beauties. Both an extension and a displacement of La Tétralogie corporelle and Cycle de l'Unheimlich, this series, composed solely of single-screen films, reaffirms "encounters", in their strongest sense, as the conceptual foundation of cinéma corporel or cinema of the body. Whereas, with La Tétralogie corporelle and Cycle de l'Unheimlich, the two artists made self-representation a film genre in its own right, in this series they reinvent the art of film portraiture.
Série Portraits includes several short and medium-length films, such as Katerina Thomadaki's Portrait de ma mère dans son jardin (1980) and Chutes.Désert.Syn (1983-85), as well as 3.VII.1973 (1971), a portrait of her grandmother made in Athens, and Maria Klonaris' Isa en automne. Un portrait d'Isabelle Köppel (1979-81), Sauro Bellini (1982) and Christine Blues (1992). Feature films in the series include Selva. Un portrait de Parvaneh Navaï (1981-83) by Maria Klonaris, as well as Portraits/Miroirs (1984) and L'Ange amazonien. Un portrait de Lena Vandrey (1987-92), which they made together.
The encounters represented in these solitary portraits are not fortuitous but built around intense relationships that could be reminiscent, albeit in a completely different context, of the density of relations in a Francis Bacon painting. The inner dialogue that takes place during the filming seems to drive the plasticity and rhythm of the image, but it's still framed within a strong conceptual structure provided by the filmmakers in the previous and subsequent phases. In a way, thought is used to serve a relationship which, by coming into contact with the domain of the secret of being, breaks all preconceived codes and generates its own language. This is why, as an "exception that proves the rule"1, some films are signed separately. Insofar as each work results from a privileged encounter which, through the mediation of the camera, is transformed into a "creative exchange of forms"2, the two artists have chosen to indicate this relationship by signing their respective films individually, even if they work together in post-production (re-filming, editing, etc.). On the other hand, L'Ange amazonien, for example, which is one of their most ambitious film projects, was the object of close collaboration at all stages of its creation.
"Without any fictional alibi" (to use an expression of the artists), the films/portraits hold the viewer spellbound in each of their twenty, seventy or ninety-two minutes. Their visual beauty, inventive cinematographic language and imaginative editing never cease to amaze. This is cinema of admiration, allowing every grain of light to emerge as a variable of emotion. This is already very clear in the filmic self-portraits but it's just as clear in the films/portraits, such as Selva, L'Ange amazonien and Chutes.Désert.Syn, with the "electric encounter" of the filmmaker(s) and the one who risks being seen. The body in movement, in a state of dance, ritual or trance, the objects and colours, the space proposed by the performer (the expanse of sand in Chutes.Désert.Syn, the forest in Selva, the dance hall in Isa en automne and the painting studio in L'Ange amazonien), all make sense in the fiery moment of exchange by and for the camera.
Two feature films stand out particularly in Série Portraits for their strength: Selva. Un portrait de Parvaneh Navaï and L'Ange amazonien. Un portrait de Lena Vandrey3. In them, two women each provide a representation of a "feminine" of indomitable beauty, be it oriental or Minoan (Parvaneh Navaï) or Nordic and androgynous (Lena Vandrey). Like Selva, L'Ange amazonien is based on an elaborate sound creation and includes sequences of re-filmed photographs, achieving the most extensive mix of still and moving images of all the artists' Super 8 films. Selva and L'Ange amazonien also make the natural environment the object of a powerful relationship with the body of the performer, as well as with the eye of the filmmakers, and thereby "follow in the footsteps of Unheimlich III: Les Mères"4. These fresco-films in which the body, the imaginary and nature (earth, trees, water, air, fire...) come into play not only confirm that Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki have fully mastered the art of cinema but also that their "cinema of the body" is a principle of life rather than a mere artistic device. The films/portraits, like the "self-portrait" films, contain an ethical reflection and commitment to the relationship with the subject-woman, a dialogue in which the boundaries between Self and Other are tested. The result is the expression of a space in which, precisely, these boundaries are blurred, in which everything becomes fluid and changing.
At the heart of this approach, the lightweight, hand-held Super 8 camera is the ideal tool for Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki. The artists make the most of the medium's characteristics and push them beyond their limits: visual conflagrations of darkness and bright light, carefully chosen chromatic ranges, contrasts between the moving and still image. By contrasting the symbolic reality of the subject with the immediacy of the physical and technical presence, Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki's Portraits offer an unusual visual pleasure and emotional experience. 'An extraordinarily beautiful film, Selva was a revelation to me [...]: one of the most impressive non-narrative feature films I've ever seen', writes Jonathan Rosenbaum5.
With the films/portraits and "self-portraits" of cinéma corporel, Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki create images of women that are not only unlike any preconceived idea of "femininity" but reinvent this by interweaving highly complex meanings. They reformulate our gaze and, by positing the subtle links between body, psyche, mind and symbol, technicality and imagination, emotion and memory, nature and culture, assert that the subject (in particular, the subject-woman) remains ungraspable, free and infinite, but also that her vulnerability is actually her power. The cinéma corporel of Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki expresses the revolutionary language of "a radical femininity, of another cinema". From the feminine to the androgynous and intersexed beings, it ventures into an encounter between dissident bodies6.
Excerpt from CHICH, Cecile, in "Tous les corps de mon corps".
Le Cinéma corporel de Maria Klonaris et Katerina Thomadaki.
Originally published in Klonaris/Thomadaki. Le Cinéma corporel.
Corps sublimes / Intersexe et intermédia.
CHICH, Cecile (Coord.).
Paris: L'Harmattan, 2006.
Translation from French by Tracy Byrne.
- Katerina Thomadaki, during the round table held at the 27th Festival International de Films de Femmes de Créteil on 19 March 2005, moderated by Jackie Buet. The round table was preceded by the screening of her films Chutes.Désert.Syn and Selva. Un portrait de Parvaneh Navaï.
- Interview with the artists.
- This film is a portrait of the German-born painter and poet Lena Vandrey. It was blown up to 16 mm under the supervision of the artists thanks to a grant from the Delegation for Plastic Arts of the French Ministry of Culture.
- Interview with the artists.
- Jonathan Rosenbaum, noted critic of the Chicago Reader, in a letter to Maria Klonaris on 18 July 2000. Archives Klonaris/Thomadaki. Rosenbaum saw the film in Super 8 at the retrospective "Jeune, dure et pure !" at the Cinémathèque Française.
- See Klonaris/Thomadaki, "Intersexuality and Intermedia: A Manifesto", 1995, published in The Body Caught in the Intestines of the Computer and Beyond/Women's Strategies and/or Strategies by Women in Media, Art and Theory, edited by Marina Grzinic, Maska, Ljubljana, 2000. Also published under the title "Doubles et insoumis.es du genre. Intersexualité et intermédia" in Christine Buci-Glucksmann (under the direction of), L'Art à l'époque du virtuel, Paris, L'Harmattan, Collection Arts 8, UFR Arts, Philosophie et Esthétique, Université Paris 8, 2003.