'The Question Would be the Answer to the Question, Are you happy', 2009 - 2012
(Bilbao, Paris, Copenhagen, Dublin)
Four channel video
commissioned by If I Can't Dance, Centre George Pompidou,
Kunsthall Charlottenberg and the Irish Film Institute
image courtesy of the artist and EVA International
Sarah Pierce (b. 1968, USA) is an artist who lives and works in Dublin. She received and MFA from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, in 1994, and recently received her PhD from the Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2014. In 2007 she was one of seven artists chosen to represent Ireland at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Recent exhibitions include: Positions #2 (2016), Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Pathos of Distance(2016), National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State (2015), Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Lost Illusions/Illusions Perdue (2014), Mercer Union, Toronto; Flawed Memory Syndrome (2014), Temple Bar Gallery; Towards a Newer Laocoön (2012), National College of Art and Design and Irish Film Institute, Dublin; I Proclaim, You Proclaim, We Proclaim(2012), Stroom, Den Haag; After the Future (2012), EVA International, Limerick; A Terrible Beauty Is Born (2011), 11th Lyon Biennale; Push and Pull (2011), Tate Modern, London; Les rendez-vous du Forum: Fun Palace (2010), Centre Pompidou, Paris; among others. Pierce’s has recently published a mongraph titled Sketches of Universal History by Sarah Pierce, edited by Rike Frank (Book Works, 2013). She has written numerous essays, including ‘We New Traditionalists’ (co-athored with Pádraic E. Moore), published in Conversation Pieces (Revolver, 2011); ‘The Archive Becoming’, in Ireland at Venice (Culture Ireland, 2010); and ‘PARAEDUCATION’, in Curating and the Educational Turn (Open Editions/DeAppel, 2010); among many others.
Since 2003, Sarah Pierce has used the term ‘The Metropolitan Complex’ to describe her project. Despite its institutional resonance, the title does not refer to an organization; instead, it demonstrates Pierce’s broad understanding of cultural work, articulated through working methods that often stem from more personal and incidental experiences. Characterized as a way to play with a shared neuroses of place (‘complex’ can then be read in the Freudian sense) – within a specific locality or in other circumstances that frame interaction – her activity considers forms of gathering through historical examples and those she initiates herself. With a focus on research and presentation, Pierce highlights a continual renegotiation that is necessary in art making – renegotiations between dissent and self-determination, between the individual work and institution, and the proximity of past artworks.
Pierce’s The Question Would Be the Answer to the Question, Are You Happy? is a project she has restaged in different cities since 2011. For each chapter, a group of local university students gather to watch and discuss the 1961 film Chronique d’un été (Chronical of a summer), by French anthropologist Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin. The filmmakers enlisted a cast of real characters – students, office workers, factory workers, artists, families, and couples – to portray scenes from everyday life in Paris. The film is seen as one of the first examples of cinema verité, a documentary style of filmmaking to convey candid realism.
Chronique d’un été is presented with rudimentary English subtitles, which leaves much of the film ‘lost in translation’ to a non-French speaking audience. This symptom of misunderstanding, equally a quality of interpretation, becomes part of the larger work. The discussion following the film always takes place in a language other than English. An interpreter translates the conversation into English as it takes place and this imposing voice dominates the soundtrack, making it impossible to hear the conversation. The role of the interpreter is at once flawed, schizophrenic, and at times obstructive, however the viewer only accesses the conversation through the interpreter’s intense commitment to remaining true to what is said.
Writer and curator Chris Fite-Wassilak says of the work: Pierce is drawn to the potential of the transient and unfinished, hence the excavation of the political upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s, and the recurrence of the student – a figure whose role in society is that of the nascent adult, the perpetual being-in-formation. The examination of that potential is always deliberately but ambiguously framed, to foreground the inevitable mediation. Thus in each city where The Question Would Be the Answer to the Question, Are You Happy? was held, the recorded discussions respectively in French, Spanish and Danish between art, sociology and politics students was simultaneously translated live to English. Mediation, it seems, also involves distortion, loss and confusion.