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Juliet Carpenter

Film still taken from 'Egolane', detail
© Juliet Carpenter

The Goethe-Institut New Zealand and Contemporary HUM present a series of portraits about New Zealand artists who have found a new home - also artistically - in Germany. Curator Cameron Ah Loo-Matamua chats with Frankfurt-based filmmaker Juliet Carpenter.

By Cameron Ah Loo-Matamua

I am speaking to Juliet through the blue glare of my laptop screen. She is speaking from Frankfurt am Main while I am in Tāmaki Makaurau. We have spoken like this for the last four years through differing time zones, places and moods. In this call she has ensconced herself to the side of her bedroom with a cup of tea and one foot up on her chair. It is night for me so the haze of her morning-lit bedroom is harsh. “The main focus is how to make a narrative film in a time where all narratives have been kind of dismantled…” she explains to me. We are speaking about the production of her latest film EGOLANE, while also trying to conjure a cohesive retrospective of these past few years that have been so intensely punctuated by the coronavirus pandemic.

In late 2018 Juliet moved to Germany to take a place in the film class of Frankfurt’s State Academy of Fine Arts, better known as Städelschule, to be taught by artist professors such as Douglas Gordon, Wu Tsang, and Gerard Byrne. Her campus experience, although paced atypically, seems to have been a fuller and more intentional undertaking precisely because of the intermittent waves of lockdowns and course adaptations to virtual delivery–the reality for most students across the globe right now. Like many artists working within this peculiar context her relationship to her studio space and editing room has deepened, however coupled with feelings of isolation and boredom. We speak often on these dual states of productivity and inertia, trying to make sense of them. Juliet relates this to thinking by musician Terre Thaemlitz, also known as DJ Sprinkles, in which she argues for boredom as a necessary part of any listening experience as it allows space for moments of true euphoria to occur. Juliet riffs on this by adding that “...music is able to offer a nonlinear affective experience that is compelling,” and perhaps in ways that traditions of literature or cinema struggle harder to achieve. This felt to me like a true or even optimistic assessment of the last two years and it made me recall what a friend quipped to me recently: ‘...there is no joy without context.’”

Juliet’s remarks are suggestive of her approach to making EGOLANE, commissioned by Berlin gallery, Salon Stuttgart, and which she will also present as part of ‘Rundgang’ Städelschule’s annual student exhibition. The film loosely depicts the story of an unidentified woman travelling alone in an autonomous car, who upon suffering an injury dies within the moving yet driverless vehicle. Her lifeless body, subtly sliding to the rhythm of the car and glistening with a halo of blood, is the first image we see. It is a jarring first encounter, and is coupled with flashes of the character alive, anguishing at an earlier stage in her journey. As is characteristic of much of Juliet’s other work the film offers a harrowing intimacy to its portrayal of varying psychological states, and in this film its effect is amplified by the context of the pandemic in which it is produced. The filmic location of the car becomes a metaphoric space of isolation where the experience of time is marked primarily by the protagonist's emotional journey through feelings of despair, ecstasy, contemplation and boredom, rather than conventional sequencing of significant events. In this way the film performs an affective experience similar to that of our global lockdowns, where time is rendered as an amorphous concept that feels like it has been lost, its usual reliability corrupted by the inability to exit our homes and maintain daily rituals. As Juliet earlier alluded, this rupture to our ritualistic keeping of time becomes a profound phenomena ripe for cinematic exploration.

  • Egolane, planning collage © Juliet Carpenter
    Egolane, planning collage
  • Film still taken from 'Egolane' #1 © Juliet Carpenter
    Film still taken from 'Egolane' #1
  • Film still taken from 'Egolane' #2 © Juliet Carpenter
    Film still taken from 'Egolane' #2
  • Film still taken from 'Egolane' #3 © Juliet Carpenter
    Film still taken from 'Egolane' #3
  • Costume fitting with costume designer, Luka Mues © Juliet Carpenter
    Costume fitting with costume designer, Luka Mues
  • Film class meeting held by Gerard Byrne via Zoom © Juliet Carpenter
    Film class meeting held by Gerard Byrne via Zoom
  • Coronavirus testing station located near Juliet's home © Juliet Carpenter
    Coronavirus testing station located near Juliet's home
  • Juliet on the set of 'Egolane' © Juliet Carpenter
    Juliet on the set of 'Egolane'
Cinema is predicated on its ability to ‘capture’ reality and reproduce it as a unique material experience, reflecting the world in ways which can sometimes engender an uncanny effect. During one of our discussions Juliet suggested that I read The Slow Cancellation of the Future, an essay by Mark Fisher in which he argues that through the rise of neo-liberal social structures we have entered a moment of ‘formal nostalgia,’ characterised by a dominating mode of cultural production that is ‘attached to the techniques and formulas of the past.’ It is within this moment, he suggests, that our perception of cultural time breaks down, and to a point in which time itself can begin to feel as if it has stopped. In EGOLANE this becomes an artistic strategy most exemplified in the figure of the autonomous vehicle (the actual make of the car a 1999 Mitsubishi Galant station wagon), conceptualised as both a pastiche and a ‘ghost of the future’ as Juliet described to me. The vehicle comes to represent an intense temporal anxiety that is physically represented in the anachronistic mashing together of past and future mechanical elements, and in affect through our experience of the protagonist’s kaleidoscopic emotional journey. What results is a film that problematizes the conditions in which we live today, already precarious and unstable, and which have only come to be further emphasised by the dramatic upheavals of recent years.

Juliet has continued to develop her distinct cinematic language throughout her time in Germany, one that is acutely aware of the mechanics of its production and the contexts in which it emerges from. In EGOLANE she revisits the art of the character study, arriving at a work that contains searing allegorical import.

Biography

Juliet Carpenter is a film maker from New Zealand currently living and working in Frankfurt am Main. Juliet gained a BFA from the Elam School of Fine Arts in 2013, and since 2018 has been a student in the film class at Städelschule Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste currently lead by Gerard Byrne. Her practise often foregrounds sexual and emotional experiences and amplifies qualities of these narratives that are considered hysterical or disturbed. Her work is interested in the ways that individuals produce themselves as characters, especially through contemporary image technology.

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