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We walked through the Eija-Liisa Ahtila exhibition at M Museum together with young filmmaker Heleen Declercq. Heleen is mostly known for her documentary Girlhood, where she questions her own sexuality and what it means to be a woman. She portrays her personal struggles with femininity and reflects on how nine of her close friends experience being a woman in this era. Her movie is very confronting and that’s the way she likes things. We linked Heleen and Eija-Liisa up because they both work around these teenage struggles and personal dramas. Siene Hollemans joined us and shot these awesome pictures.
Text by Laura-Andréa Callewaert
Pictures by Siene Hollemans, shot in M Museum, Leuven
How would you describe your own work?
I find a lot of clarity by turning those personal issues into film and seeing them on display
I make documentaries where my main goal is to make people feel a connection when they watch it. For me, textures and emotions are a big part of the creation process. I want the audience to relate to my stories and make it recognisable for them. It’s also a way for me to bring out certain issues that I think are important, that are sometimes seen as taboo. That way I want to make these themes more accessible and make people more tolerant for people who aren’t like them. Because of my movie Girlhood I made being gay something way more discussable around my friends and family. It wasn’t easy for me to come out as being gay through a movie, but now they all know and I don’t have to tell everyone separately (laughs). Making movies is a method for me to resolve things that I’m struggling with, or questions that I can’t seem to find answers for. I find a lot of clarity by turning those personal issues into film and seeing them on display. And I hope that in a certain way it helps the audience as well.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I like this question (laughs), because people always ask me which movie inspired me the most. But I don’t really get inspiration from other movies. It’s not because I make documentaries that I’m inspired by them. My biggest inspiration and my ideas come from when I’m driving around in my car at night. I’m all by myself, listening to music on an empty dark road. The voids of the tunnels that keep on coming. That’s when everything starts flowing in my brain. Another thing that really inspires me are pictures. My biggest inspirations in photography are Dana Lixenberg and Kevin Amato. When you look at a picture you see only one image and that image gives the freedom to your fantasy to make all kinds of stories around it. With moving images in film it’s different. The situation is often determined and it leaves less to the imagination.
What are you working on right now?
We want to make a series about young people, where we would like to break the lines between fiction and documentary
I’m working on a long brainstorm session with a lot of people. I can’t say too much about it but we want to make a series about young people, where we would like to break the lines between fiction and documentary. Now we’re experimenting a bit with some of the ideas.
What does walking around in a museum mean to you?
That’s one of the few moments that I’m purely thinking about nothing else but the things I see in the museum. It’s like my mind clears up from everything and I only focus on the artwork. I’m someone who’s always busy, easily distracted and does many things at the same time, but the atmosphere of a museum calms all those thoughts down. The peaceful feeling that’s hanging around in a museum makes me forget everything.
Which work from the exhibition did you like the most?
I just love to see how people keep trying to achieve something and after a while they do succeed and that’s when I feel so much happiness
I would say the one with the boat. It was a movie of a group of fishermen, who try to get a boat back in the water when it’s heavily storming, but they don’t seem to succeed. They keep on trying and trying but it’s not working. It reminds me of an exhibition I saw one day from a video artist called Francis Alÿs. It was one of the best exhibitions I ever saw. There was a video of a Mini Cooper who tried to drive up a hill but didn’t succeed. Every time the car is almost on top it slides back down. It goes on like that for about an hour and at the end he does make it to the top. But I just love to see how people keep trying to achieve something and after a while they do succeed and that’s when I feel so much happiness (laughs). The banality of these things tickle my interests. He also made a video where he jumps into a hurricane with a small camera and films everything. It’s so cool to watch. Or a video where he has a giant ice cube tied around him and walks through the city. The ice cube gets smaller and smaller while time ticks away. I don’t know, I just love that guy.
Could you link some of the work from the exhibition to your own work?
It’s quite difficult because I see video art as something completely different than regular video or documentary. Here people pay to see the work and they take their time to understand every video. Regular video feels more like entertainment and is more distant than video art. Where I can link my work with hers is in the stories: Eija-Liisa always tries to push the boundaries. I do the same thing with reality and fiction in my films, I try to fade these borders. For example, in my movie Girlhood I have a telephone conversation with my mom where I tell her I am gay. People often come to me and ask me if it was a real conversation or not. Well, it was real and I like the fact that people think it was fake, because that way I’m breaking these boundaries between fiction and reality.