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Liv Schulman: paranoia epidemic

by Sophie Lapalu

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Organising a paranoid chaos: this could be the leitmotiv of Liv Schulman’s works. Through the repetition of disparate elements, the establishment of a subdued strangeness, and through the power of humour with an occasional hint of sarcasm, the artist twists the meaning of words, images, and actions. The characters of her fictions (when she herself is not involved in the performance) are all suffering from lalomania and seem to be vainly seeking to reform reality. Thoughts pour out in inexhaustible monologues – no tourniquet could staunch the haemorrhage. The affirmations and other peremptory verdicts adopt economic jargon, borrowing from psychoanalytical or conspiracy theories, or from the history of art, and gleefully deforming semiotic stakes. Liberated from its receiver, detached from its speaker, delivered in inhospitable situations, what power does speech deploy? Will it enable a reorganisation of the world?

The film that was projected in November 2016 at In Extenso, La Desapariciòn, follows the artist on a cross-border journey between three cities: Misones (Argentina), Foz de Iguaçu (Brazil), and Ciudad del Este (Paraguay). At each step, Liv Schulman exchanges all of the money won from the Vairoletto Prize (1 000 USD), until it has all gone. Over the course of the journey, her discourse becomes less coherent, her thoughts become anxious; she loses control. The artist operates precisely within this limit where elements appear to be on the point of shifting. Hence each episode from the “series of art television”, which she’s been working on since 2011, the aptly named Control, follows the wanderings of a detective who spouts soliloquies in places where “dismay can be seen everywhere".1 Working with amateur actors, camera in hand, the balance is fragile – everything might collapse from one second to the next. Here, also, in this “machine for the creation of discourse”2, the phrases uttered by these bodies that roam between Paris, Buenos Aires, Mar Del Plata, Tel Aviv, and Rennes, are continually calling for meaning. As though from within the mechanisms of the liberal economy, Liv Schulman demonstrates that individuals are interchangeable: from one city to the next, the character permutates but remains recognisable in their grey trench coat, with their verbal diarrhoea, and their particularly ambiguous relationship to objects and architecture. Here, too, humans are treated like numbers, “elements that are indifferent in themselves, whose interest lies only in their objective and measurable output [...]”.3 They appear to have lost the meaning of their lives, desperately alone. To assuage this solitude, they become attached to the means that the consumer society makes available to them: impulsive drives are directed towards objects or the architecture around them, which are nonetheless unable to satisfy their apparent sexual frustration. In episode 5 of season 2, La Resistencia Pirata, the character with an overwhelming libido wanders around a shipyard before caressing his body without a shred of decency, using old fishing nets, then rubbing his face voluptuously against the fibres of a scrubbing brush. He affirms: “Desire is an enslaved way of living, my dear friend.” Commodities do not hide the sterile character of the relationships we maintain with them at all. “True resistance,” he hammers home, “is submission.” Under the reign of competition and exploitation of humans by other humans, the body can apparently be nothing but alienated. General meeting. Les Forces Reproductives, shot in Lyon, where the artist was in residency during her post-graduate diploma at the ENSBA in 2015, seems to present itself as an alternative to this loss of individuality: a group of people, sitting in a circle, have assembled to discuss the future of the helium balloon factory that they have acquired. But we quickly come to understand that they find themselves trapped at this general meeting, which they can no longer escape from and from which only impasses arise. “Let’s vote: who votes to no longer accept oneself and to abandon all individual or collective freedom?”

From one work to the next, the artist’s obsessions become contagious; for the spectator, each character is presented like a dilemma, each word demands new meaning, each term perturbs the association of phenomena that have steered our modes of thinking up until now. Our judgement is entirely altered. Doubt becomes permanent and paranoia, epidemic.

Translated from french by Anna Knight

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