CIFF Diary: Day 5 - Twin Perspectives on Performance Art, Food, and the Body

10/11 - Tuesday's fest began for me with a screening of the new documentary by Lisa Boerstra, L.A. Raeven: Beyond the Image, which introduced me and much of the audience to the video and performance art of Lisbeth and Angelique Raeven, sisters who deal with issues of anorexia, food obsession, and the fashion industry through their perspective as twins.  Boerstra documents the twin artists in an incredibly thoughtful manner, often framing them in interviews in a close two shot, capturing the nuance of the reactions between the sisters as they deal with some pretty personal decisions in their lives, particularly Angelique's relationship with her boyfriend and desire for a child, which threatens to separate the two in a way that is unprecedented for the emotionally and artistically intertwined sisters.

Lisbeth and Angelique Raeven
As someone who is interested in performance art and artists, I found the exploration of this unique couple's work and lives fascinating.  Upon reading C. Carr's seminal performance art text On Edge:  Performance Art at the End of the Twentieth Century while taking a performance art course with writer/performer/mentor Craig Gingrich-Philbrook at Southern Illinois University (get into his work on the performance studies site Liminalities), one of the consistencies that struck me across the wild and wide ranging examples of performance artists covered there was how much of a necessity the creation of their art was, no matter how seemingly insane.  L.A. Raeven give off that exact same vibe of a tightly woven relationship between living and creating that seems to define the "performance art" impulse.  This is evident in what Boerstra so adeptly captures, and at the end of the screening I was not the only one who had questions about whether some of the scenes were leaning into Herzog-ian territory, maybe having been a bit more "performance" than "reality," but Boestra assured us that there was no interplay between the two.  A testament to Boerstra's skill in capturing these fascinating subjects, the film often looses any sense of documentary, unflinchingly witnessing and sharing not only the history of the Raeven's work, but their personal struggles, as well.

Still from an L.A. Raeven video/gallery piece, "Wild Zone"
Primarily, L.A. Raeven addresses issues of food and eating disorders in their work;  we see this through a skillful collage of some of the works, including "Wild Zone" from 2001, "Kelly" from 2006, and "Mindshare" from 2007.  We also see them creating video works like "Dead Man Walking," which involves lining their apartment floor with eggshells as a metaphor for living with HIV.  These obsessions carry over into scenes of the twins doing their daily routines, particularly in the distinctive ritual of the meals they share, at one point revealing that they have often made agreements to attempt to always eat exactly the same amount of food, an experimental agreement that then works it's way back into one of the videos we see them creating.

L.A. Raeven:  Beyond the Image
Boerstra's documentary is not only a great platform for exposing the work of L.A. Raeven to an audience that reaches beyond the performance art venues and video gallery scene, but also as an engaging narrative documentary.  I know I have some readers out there who are performance studies/art enthusiasts--for you folks in particular, this is one to seek out.

Up Next:  Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.



Paul Lorenz said...

'L.A. Raeven' has stuck in my mind since leaving the festival. There is a delicacy and sadness created by the filmmaker which plays with and against the sisters artistic rebellion, yet helps define their co-dependence on each other. Haunting and timely.

Jason Hedrick said...

Nicely put, Paul. It is one thing to make a doc about an artist that weaves together archival footage with interviews of experts and friends, which we have seen before a million times, but here the director really sets out to capture the subtleties of their relationship, and who they are as artists and sisters in the moment. I hope this gets a wider audience.