Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker

Precarity is an installation by Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker.


Arts Technology Research Lab | Auditorium, Ground Floor

Launch: Thursday, 7 April @ 18.00

Open for viewing

Thursday, 7 April 18.00-20.00

Friday, 8 April 11.00-17.00

Saturday, 9 April 11.00-18.30

Sunday, 10 April 11.00-16.00

Precarity  Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker, 5 screens, 15’’ (2015)

This five-screen installation puts forward different contexts of precarity in today’s global society. Everything, from health to relationships to labour rights and human rights as well as economic survival is precarious. We attempt to bind these areas together in their audio-visibility.

Based on Flaubert’s prophetic novel Madame Bovary from 1856, our five screens show the precariousness of an adult life beginning; the world that seduces her into risking what she has and craving for what she doesn’t; and when, grasping at last straws, she takes more and more dangerous turns, and thus, inevitably, she ends in misery, both economically, psychically, and physically.

Meanwhile, from the edge of the space where her life plays out on four screens, we see how this is not an individual ill nor a blameable transgression but something towards which she has been pushed all along by her surroundings. Especially the meddling pharmacist Homais represents the probing of the curious and the rejoicing in Emma’s misfortune and downfall, as we see in Probing and Meddling.

In Shaping and Moulding the young woman is being educated in and outside school, and educating herself with activities inspired by her cultural environment. In Seduction she is lured into adventures that promise her a more fulfilling life, but instead, give her heartbreak and unsolvable debts. Nothing is what it seems. Last Straw presents her ultimate, desperate attempts to happiness, but only confronts her with the impossibility of achieving it in the social passivity she has been raised to cultivate. Hence, in Endings we witness the inevitable denouements such striving and failures entail: financial ruin, divorce, mental breakdown, death.

Emma: Marja Skaffari

Charles, Rodolphe, Léon: Thomas Germaine

Homais: Mathieu Montanier

Singing Beggar: Lila Köngäs-Saarikko

Cinematography: Christopher Wessels

Sound: Sara Pinheiro

Madame B is a feature film by Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker.


Arts Technology Research Lab | Auditorium, Ground Floor


Sunday, 10 April, 18.30 – 20.10

Introduction by Dr Niamh Ann Kelly, DIT

Madame B  2014 | 96′ | Color | Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker

Genre: Drama.

Language: Finnish, French, Swedish, English; English subtitles

Madame B is a film about the entwinement of capitalism and romantic love. Updated from the prophetic novel from 1856, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, and transformed into a feature film, Madame B explores the way dominant ideologies from the late nineteenth century are still rampant – specifically, within the framework of patriarchy, capitalism and its investment in emotions, while love is for sale. Today, more than ever, capitalism and romantic love, both luring people in with the contradictory expectation of permanent excitement, conspire to make individual lives hard, disappointing, and at times ruinous.

The film’s starting point is a real event that took place in the mid-nineteenth century in Normandy, France, but could happen today as well. The anecdote is taken from Flaubert’s masterpiece. By drawing on classic literature in order to provide an allegory for contemporary mores, the film offers a radically new interpretation of the text, replete with powerful imagery and playing with anachronism: this is not a historical drama. The film’s starting points are based in historical reality, but at the heart of the story is the relationship this event has with today’s situation of economic hardship all over the world driven by an compulsion to (over-)consume. Because this could still happen everywhere today, the film is spoken in different languages.

The story is a familiar one. Living on a farm and going to school in the nearby town, young talented Emma spends as much time as possible outdoors, far from the oppressive confines of the homestead. What she seeks most of all is an escape not just from the farm but to a life of glamour, passion, and freedom. Marrying Charles, a widowed doctor, seems a notch up from living on the farm; but in everyday life he turns out boring. She seeks passion in a lover, then turns her attention to the allure of money and consumerism, spending lavish amounts on extravagant products. The consumer addiction will lead to her destruction, as ruinous debt leads to all her and her husband’s possessions to be auctioned off. When Emma’s attempts to recoup money or secure loans from businessmen, former friends and lovers run cold, her needs turn to desperation. This can end in different ways – and in Madame B, it does!

Mieke Bal is an internationally known cultural theorist, critic, and video artist. Her interests range from classical and biblical antiquity, 17th century to contemporary art and modern literature, feminism, migratory culture, mental illness, the critique of capitalism, and the world’s need, against all odds, of rationality. Her many books include a trilogy on political art: Endless Andness (on abstraction) and Thinking in Film (on video installation), both 2013, Of What One Cannot Speak (2010, on sculpture) and A Mieke Bal Reader (2006). She is presently publishing a book on the political force of the shadow plays of Nalini Malani.

Her experimental video documentaries on issues of migration and identity have been internationally exhibited. Her video project, Madame B, with Michelle Williams Gamaker, which offers an artistic critique of capitalism and what is now ravaging the world as neo-liberalism, is widely shown. A five-screen spin-off called Precarity focuses more on the precarious economic situation than on the life of the character Emma. In April 2016 the première of a 5-channel installation and a feature film on the mis-encounter between René Descartes and Queen Kristina of Sweden, leading to the philosopher-of-rationalism’s death, and the two lives preceding that moment, will take place in Kraków, Poland.

Michelle Williams Gamaker (1979) is an artist and researcher. Her work deals broadly with performance and complex renderings of reality via documentary, fiction and video installations.

A key aspect of her practice is the use of collaboration: she considers her work living research into meeting people and finding ways to record their stories. Williams Gamaker’s work also explores performance as physical research, as in her video Words in Movement (2014, with Berta Roth) and Scaling Copan (2009, with Julia Kouneski).

For over 10 years, together with Dutch artist and cultural theorist Mieke Bal (and their Cinema Suitcase collective) Williams Gamaker has completed several films and installations, the latest: Madame B explores Capitalism and gender ideology.

Her latest project, Black Matter Earth is a post-colonial, post-romantic exploration of the female protagonists of British directors Powell & Pressburger scheduled for 2017 at the BFI.

She works as a Senior Lecturer at Kingston University and Lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London in Fine Art and is an arts educator at Tate Britain and Modern.