A New Take on the Iconic NovelThe first floor of Ars Nova will be filled with the multi-part video installation Madame B. Explorations in Emotional Capitalism, created by Mieke Bal (link is external), from the Netherlands, and Michelle Williams Gamaker (link is external), from the UK. The work, comprised of eight acts, offers a new interpretation of the classic novel Madame Bovary (1857) by French author Gustave Flaubert.
The story, set in contemporary times, examines the temptations of romantic love and consumerist culture. The protagonist of both the original novel and this new installation, Emma, is bored and unsatisfied with her marriage. She craves luxury, passion and freedom and strives for these through romantic affairs and material purchases. Emma is ultimately brought to desperate means. She is trapped in her own fantasies and falls out of touch with reality.
The Price of HappinessThe artists consider Flaubert’s novel to be culturally topical and use the video installation to examine contemporary culture. Emma’s frantic actions are juxtaposed with the modern culture of consumption and its desire for sensational experiences, emotions and excitement that is impossible to achieve.
Besides the craving for romance, the artists also explore “emotional capitalism”, a concept created by Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz. This denotes a culture where transaction, trade and capital are involved in emotional experiences as well as commerce. Emotional capitalism frames emotion and economy within the same functional logic.
An International ProductionThe artists see Emma’s crisis as a contemporary and global one, which led to the work including dialogue in several languages: Finnish, French, English and Swedish. The lead roles are played by Finnish Marja Skaffari (Emma) as well as the French Thomas Germaine (Charles, Rodolphe and Léon) and Mathieu Montanier (Homais). The work was filmed in Åland and Paris in 2012 and 2013 with a large number of volunteers. The installation was finished in 2014.
The eight acts of the installation loosely follow the events of the novel. The videos can be watched in any order and for any length of time. The combined length of the installation is around two hours. The videos are presented in large projections as well as smaller screens. Some acts include multiple simultaneously presented videos. These blend together memories, dreams and reality. The fragmentary work invites alternative ways to see and conceptualize Emma’s story.
Viewers who have read the novel “Madame Bovary” will find several familiar events and lines in the videos. Reading the novel is still not required for understanding Emma B’s desperation and the artists’ vision. Anyone can take the plunge into Emma’s world.
Subtitles are offered in Finnish and English. The installation also includes a number of photos as well as costumes that were used during filming.
Madame B has previously been presented in Columbia, Australia and Poland, among others, as well as its latest presentation in Oslo’s Munch Museum (January 28 to April 17, 2017). In 2014 the work was presented at the Eckerö Mail and Customs House in Åland. Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova is the only venue to present the work in mainland Finland. Mieke Bal and Michelle Williams Gamaker have also made a feature film of Madame B (2014).
Latest projects, exhibitions, screenings, talks and publications.