Interviews on love stripped bare :
In conversation with Pascale-Sophie Kaparis / Ed Hanssen

After working as a translator with Pascale on the videos she directed with Dutch teenagers – I am Dutch myself and have been living in Paris for over 15 years (in the ‘land of love’ as we used to say in the Netherlands) – I was struck by the theme she was exploring – that of the feeling of love – and by her insistence during the interviews with young people on the questions she asked them repeatedly: What do we feel when we are in love? How do we know we love someone? I wanted to know more and doing this interview allowed me to improve my understanding of Pascale’s motivation, approach and objectives.

Ed Hanssen Pascale, did the French and Dutch teenagers you interviewed know what you would be asking them about? I ask because it’s not always easy to ask people questions about love! Pascale-Sophie Kaparis No, they didn’t know what the subject would be. I wanted to tell them on the hop, so that they didn’t think too much about it beforehand. It was clear that there should be no preparation at all. That’s what we see in the first few images, they’re surprised and flustered by the first question. Why does love fluster people so? What’s at stake? What are we getting into, what risks are we taking, it can take hold of us in such a powerful way!

EH It’s seems unusual to me to ask such a question so directly.PSK To say something about love…yes. For me there was a sense of urgency, I had to explore these feelings from a starting point which I did not understand myself about relationships. I worked with faces, words, sounds and silence, with language and the difference between two cultures – French and Dutch. My questions were simple: How do we know that we are in love with someone? What do we risk? Can we be scared of rejection? They answered by expressing joy, talking about the unknown, vertigo, the fear of losing, the fear of giving everything and taking risks. This was an audiovisual palette and the basic material for constructing the works.

EH You didn’t stop asking them the same questions! PSK I wanted to hear their answers to the same questions over and over again, I didn’t merely want one decent answer.

EH Watching the videos, I had the impression that the French were more at ease, or had more verbal resources for fleshing out their ideas on love than the Dutch. Afterwards, I even said to myself that it was no surprise that this exploration of love should be carried out by a French woman, because a Dutch person might be less pre-occupied by the subject… PSK But it’s not because I’m French that I’m working on this theme, it’s because love actually is an existential question! Also because we don’t choose to love and it can turn out to be a major challenge, we become swept along in a maelstrom and we have to escape from it and climb up the ascending spiral. There isn’t much left of us when we do, besides a few gestures, very few words.

EH What the French say is more elaborate and wide-ranging than the Dutch discourse… PSK At the same time, all of them – both French and Dutch – are communicating about an experience of love. Words in themselves are not important. I feel that the French, even if they speak more, even if they hold forth on the subject a little more…

EH They have more models available, that is to say there are a greater number of examples in French culture, in the cinema for example or in literature, more models they can refer to in order to speak about something as abstract as love. PSK But what I felt was that they all communicated something very powerful about love, even if they didn’t all have the words to do it with. Some of them said that words cannot describe what happens, as if words were not adequate (for the feelings they experienced). That makes us realize how hard it is to talk about love! That said, the language and the body are impossible to disassociate and body language supports the meaning of the words. That’s exactly where the problem lies, in love communication is difficult and there is distress linked to this difficulty that you can feel when you’re in love. You can feel a sense of such great joy and great distress at the same time which gives us the feeling that when we’re in love something is missing, we are slightly dispossessed when the other person isn’t there.

EH Don’t you think that is was the French that tended to say that? Personally, when I’m in love, Ioss, or the loss of self, doesn’t come to mind… PSK I like the Dutch answers and the affirmation that love is beyond explanation: “You feel it, but how? What more can I say, you just feel it! I can’t explain it.” The French say that loving is a feeling and that you cannot express a feeling using words.

EH In the recordings at times you zoom into the faces giving us the impression of being right on their skin. PSK Yes, for the young people, I thought about skin, it was the texture that I wanted, something very sensual. It was a question of getting under their skin…

EH You’re really on the skin, naked skin… PSK But are they really so naked? There is a much more general question that we could ask: What does a face reveal? Words don’t always express what we want to say and at the same time the face expresses something which isn’t necessarily the same as the words used. What we see in somebody’s face and what we hear in the same instant from that same face can sometimes be completely at odds! Someone who expresses an emotion, or a feeling in their face, could be affirming the opposite with language.

EH The interviews with the young people, was it is a sharing process too? PSK They were shared, very close moments about the subject. At that time, I realized that they would never be able to answer my questions and in fact I myself didn’t expect my questions to be answered.

EH Didn’t you ever say to yourself during the interviews: I shouldn’t ask these questions, because love cannot be put into words? In the end, that’s one of the things you demonstrate as well, in my opinion. PSK Yes, but it is not the question which is important, that counts, it’s what the question will call forth. It is the tone and repetition of the question. It is the conditioning through the questions, that is to say putting the conditions in place for talking about the theme of love, the confusion that the question might provoke. What interests me is the change in the facial expression at the point when I ask the question and I tried to film it. These slight movements at the point when the interviewee is flustered which I saw and recorded. The teenagers I filmed are models for me, I work like a painter,. Sometimes I am captivated by certain faces and they grab my attention. I retain their faces intact within me. When I show a face I try to get as close to the truth of it as I possibly can. I film the imperceptible facial movements. I remember seeing two portraits of women in the Louvre painted by an 18th-century German artist, Balthazar Denner, (Hamburg 1685 – Rostock 1749), a middle-aged woman and an old woman. These painted portraits moved slowly, sliding imperceptibly.

EH The title Pièces sur l’amour only partly covers your exploration, I mean, the subject of love is perhaps merely a pretext for your work as an artist, to put your finger on what is happening in faces? PSK I made an experiment – just as everybody is bound to – to see how facial expressions can be at odds with the meanings of words, to see to what extent the face and language can be disassociated. What troubles me is distortion, the disparity between face/body and language which leads to non-sense. A face can lie. I believe I am looking for a certain truth or truth itself. I filmed these teenagers with their own questions which we hear, but I also filmed what we don’t hear: for example, movements and signs of anxiety are words, are clues. Yet people remain impenetrable! Does the deconstruction of language somehow enable you to approach the impenetrable more easily? Does deconstructing language allow you to attain a certain truth? When someone starts talking and talking and talking, they construct a wall of words and that stops you from getting closer to them. Deconstructing language makes obstacles and barriers to understanding collapse. What interests me is the following question: if we deconstruct linguistic form, phrases and the articulation of words themselves, whilst retaining the tonality and music of language, is it possible to get close to someone? Simply draw closer to a form of truth in a stripping bare of words, a stripping bare that is not actually seen. I think that the goal can be achieved in this way as well.

EH And what were you saying about distortion? PSK Yes. Distortion or the gap that exists between words and anxiety in a face, between language and the face, that can give me, how shall I put it, a feeling of…

EH Anger? PSK Yes, anger. Anger at seeing how great that gap can be, how a person can be at such a distance from his own self, his body and his language. Awareness of how far language can be removed from the body makes me very angry. Perhaps it is that which pushes me to work, that anger.

EH We cannot hide on our face what we can hide in words – is that part of it too?
PSK We can hide less, but we can still hide something! That makes me angrier still. There are people who manage it, who wear masks. A mask is double protection. We have talked about distortion of language and faces, the point where we become aware that language is not in tune with the face. Then there are those who manage to take control of distortion or facial signs of anxiety, so as to match them up with language. So how can we know? How can we avoid making mistakes? Where is the truth? What is true?

EH Was it difficult to compile the five or six hours of filmed material, to select extracts for the pieces with dialogue? PSK One always has too much. These recordings have provided me with material I shall be using. But don’t imagine that what has been recorded already makes up a sound-track. It is simply material.

EH Raw material? PSK Yes, raw material, and later I blended it together and produced something rather different. I did not choose the pieces I had lined up with each other. It is a powerful mixture which deconstructs phrases, the order of words and with this deconstruction I made sound loops. The sound loops are word associations. So the work is made up of words in vertical layers, as if they had been written on a score. The voices are superimposed, absorbed and repeated incessantly: they intermingle and gain momentum. Perhaps this will allow us to gain closer access to what is in our heads, to draw us nearer to the obsession of love.

Ed Hanssen - 2010
Professor of Dutch at the Netherlands Institute in Paris

Pièces sur l'Amour / Pieces on Love
Exhibition and catalog