In collaboration with NOWNESS and the National Gallery, Monochrome, a film by Marie Schuller, sees Pina Bausch’s long-term collaborator Lutz Förster transport us through an artful black-and-white world. In celebration of the release, we caught up with Marie alongside NOWNESS video commissioner Shelley Jones to discuss the new clip and the importance of representing women in front and behind the camera.
Hey both, could you tell us a little bit about Monochrome?
Shelley: Monochrome is an artistic response to a new exhibition at The National Gallery, Monochrome: Painting in Black and White, which explores artists using black and white through history. The exhibition spans a huge section of art history — from wall hangings by Cistercian monks in the 12th Century to an Olafur Eliasson installation ‘Room for one colour‘ from 2015 — and the film explores some of the ideas in the exhibition in a cinematic way.
The piece is part of The National Gallery’s Monochrome: Painting in Black and White exhibition, how did the collaboration come about?
Shelley: We were really, really excited to collaborate with The National Gallery on this project. They have a really innovative approach to curation and communication. This is the first collaboration of its kind for them and they were interested in our visual and emotional storytelling to reach a wider audience than usual. For us, the chance to draw on their expertise and access to incredible artwork and locations was a dream. When it came to attaching a director, Marie was our top choice. We’ve worked with her a lot over the years – on films like Am I Ugly? and 1-800-Vision-Star – and she’s got a really evocative and unexpected way of telling stories, developed from her background in fashion.
What sparked your interest in fashion, photography and film?
Marie: My interest in film and photography came first – I went to film school and afterwards started experimenting with video clips for the then little-known medium of fashion film. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but that was the beauty of the medium. In comparison to other film practices, fashion was devoid of rules and norms, its merger with film was a genre in its infancy and left a lot of room for imagination and creativity. There weren’t many references so you had to come up with original ideas. Most of ours were horrific. My first films looked a lot like 70s soft porn. I then started working with SHOWstudio and Nick Knight for five years, which made me fully appreciate the medium’s possibilities and refine my work.
Please tell us about female representation in your work.
Marie: Of course femininity or gender identity is a major factor in fashion imagery generally, so female representation has always inadvertently been an important aspect of my work. My favourite woman when growing up was Grace Jones in ‘A View To A Kill’, I was always fascinated by strong Amazonian statuesque, almost frightening female characters.
Despite the growing acknowledgement of the need to provide more opportunities for women in the film industry, do you believe it’s improving?
Shelley: Yes definitely! There are so many amazing initiatives for female filmmakers now – like the brilliant directory Free The Bid , platforms like Women Under The Influence and a number of female-only grants and festivals. At NOWNESS we are really vigilant about diversity on and off screen and pride ourselves on our range of contributors and subjects. There’s still a lot that needs to be done in the wider industry but we can really see so much exciting new talent coming through, we’ve no doubt this movement will keep going from strength to strength.
Are there any emerging filmmakers you admire that we should know about?
Shelley: At NOWNESS we are really interested in the intersectionality of culture; people who move across disciplines and the new work that results because of that cultural exchange. We’ve always championed photographers-turned-directors, as they have a unique storytelling perspective that is less common in the film world. So someone like photographer and now filmmaker Maisie Cousins is really interesting to us. I think she’s going to create some really great and unexpected work. Equally Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan is an exciting voice in the industry right now as she brings a certain musicality to the screen. There are so many! Oscar Hudson, Dan Emmerson, Mollie Mills, Crystal Moselle (not really emerging but wowowow) to name a few.
How would you say fashion film has evolved and what direction is it going in?
Marie: Fashion film is still in an explorative era with the genre constantly reinventing itself – however, like any art form, the format dissects and responds to the zeitgeist of cultural and artistic change. I think one development that is very predominant at the moment is the urge for raw authenticity. Technological advances and the obsessive nature of presenting perfected versions of ourselves on social media has led to a boom in heavy image manipulation and overly retouched fashion imagery in the 2000s. But nowadays, the simplicity in removing someone’s pores, clinching someone’s waist or drawing in someone’s cheekbones means that these tricks of the trade are available to everyone with basic photoshop skills, a ring light or an Instagram filter. Fashion and social media imagery are oversaturated with pictures of digital perfection, I believe that this has created a need for realness. The artistry of image-makers addressing this anti-movement doesn’t create perfection; it’s about capturing the delicacy of real emotion, real connection, real raw humanity.
Watch the full clip of Monochrome by Marie Schuller below.
Monochrome: Painting in Black and White at The National Gallery is on until 18 February 2018 and includes works from: Jan van Eyck, Rembrandt and Hendrik Goltzius to Cy Twombly, Gerhard Richter and Olafur Eliasson.