Walker Art Center
"Le Cinema est un Language Universel"

Cis Bierinckx and Philippe Vergne in conversation at the Walker Art Center, August 29, 2002.[1]

Philippe Vergne: As a film and video curator you've been programming across disciplinary boundaries for a long time now. Why do you think it's important for your practice to break through these boundaries?

Cis Bierinckx: For me, it's always a question of looking farther than your own nose. Breaking boundaries is very important in our world because the world is conditioned primarily by broadcasting and manipulated images. It's clear that in certain (even highly developed) countries the televised image fulfills nothing more than a conditioning task. Pictures are framed. You can select what you want to show and what you want to crop out. For us in the film/video field, it's important to give the screen to the voiceless, to subjects that are not covered by television, journals, mass media. Most of the television networks are connected to all sorts of national politics, to commerce, to industry, or to ideological groups ranging from the left to the extreme right. Cinema can provide a platform for other perspectives and voices. It is remarkable that even in the early history of film there was a very specific sense of "globalism" in place . . . first by anthropological films, later by festivals. In the early days of Cannes, which is one of the oldest film festivals in the world, one could discover the films of Indian master Satyajit Ray, which confronted the viewer with an Indian culture quite unfamiliar to Western audiences.

I can't explain why it has always been easy to cross borders in cinema, whereas it has taken a long time for the visual arts to develop an equally global interest. Although there were always visual artists who were crossing borders, even going back to the nineteenth-century French painters who were fascinated with Japan or chinoiserie. They reflected this fascination with the exotic in their paintings. Traditionally, however, curators either didn't show any real interest in non-Western work or organized exotic shows that did show African or Chinese art but avoided any global reflection. Times were different and colonialism was still strong then; today the global is active in the visual arts in a very different way and functions as a means of challenging a century of orthodoxy.

Film has always had a different attitude. Certainly in Europe, festivals were always looking to the "other," were open to the "other" and to those voices. Maybe it was simply because cinema was easier to transport than paintings. Film has long been viewed as entertainment and not as art. Movies never played in special buildings--art temples that could be entered only by climbing up the stairs of the sacred. The movie house was always a public, popular space rather than a holy dome for spiritual enlightenment.

PV: You've talked to me before about Cinema Novo in Brazil. What was the importance of that movement?

CB: Cinema Novo of the 1960s was the cinema of the poor. An unofficial history I've heard concerns an obscure Brazilian filmmaker, Josť Marins, who made horror pictures with almost no money. The shoestring budget

1 Cis Bierinckx is curator of film and video at the Walker Art Center; Philippe Vergne is curator in the visual arts department and curator of How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age.