Performance, film and photography have always made a perfect threesome.
Capturing the ephemeral in pictures, after all, can make the ebb, flow,
whirl and burl of something staged come alive in an altogether more
personal, warts n’ all kind of way. The working relationship between
cinematographer and photographer Babette Mangolte and dancer,
performance artist and film-maker Yvonne Rainer, then, was a match made
in 1970s New York which has only recently stepped out into the
twenty-first century limelight to be reassessed anew.
Twin poles of this living retrospective of such a seminal encounter are
the first ever solo show in Scotland by Mangolte at Sorcha Dallas,
which runs alongside a week of screenings of Rainer’s dance-based films
at Tramway. While the Rainer showcase features moving images shot
across the last four decades, the still lives contained in the Mangolte
show focus on the years 1972-75, when Mangolte worked as
cinematographer on Rainer’s feature-length films, ‘Lives of Performers’
and ‘Film About A Woman Who…’, both scheduled for Tramway. At Sorcha
Dallas, however, viewers are allowed backstage to see verite shots of
the former piece being filmed alongside images taken during a
performance of the stage version of the latter. These images aren’t
merely production shots, but works of art in themselves.
“She’s such a seminal figure,” Dallas enthuses. “Rainer’s work is
probably better known, but Mangolte’s practice is just as important.
She was the main cinematographer and documentarist, not just of
Rainer’s work, but of Chantal Ackerman and Trisha Brown. But it wasn’t
just a case of turning up and taking pictures. With Mangolte it was a
real collaboration, and there was a real cinematic approach to what she
did, so you got this beautiful thing between the two women, and some of
the images are the only documents that exist of these events.”
Born in France, Mangolte became one of the first women to study at
L'Ecole Nationale de la Photographie et de la Cinematographie in Paris
founded by Louis Lumiere. Decamping to New York, Mangolte’s subjective
approach chimed with the post 1960s experimental theatre and dance
scenes, and the first of Rainer’s performances she documented was when
she appeared with the Grand Union troupe in 1972. Mangolte’s feature
film debut came in 1975 with the experimental ‘What Maisie Knew,’ which
features Rainer in a lead role and also forms part of the Glasgow show.
With some forty images from Mangolte’s extensive archive on display,
Dallas’ show is a significant coup, and continues the gallery’s
championing of feminist icons, including the production of the recent
thirteen-hour performance by post-punk collagist Linder. As with
Linder, though, despite Mangolte’s pioneer status, her work is more
than a matter of gender.
“As a female artist Mangolte’s influence is huge,” Dallas concedes,
“not just in terms of how she showed that female artists could be in
control of their own work, but that they could also be judged on equal
terms as male artists. So that’s part of the legacy, that work wasn’t
just judged on whether the person who made it was male, female, black
white or whatever, but that in Mangolte’s case, at least, they were
judged on being a great artist.”
Babette Mangolte – Yvonne Rainer: Testimony to Improvisation 1972-75 at
Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow, October 1st-29th; Yvonne Rainer: Dance and
Film, Tramway, Glasgow, October 5th-10th.
The List, September 32010