Interview with Marie Reinert

1. The world of work seems to be your favourite field as an artist. How did this project develop in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
Since the 2000s, I’ve been researching workplaces, whether they’re in administrations, ports or banks. I spend a lot of time alone or with a small group of colleagues examining the place of human beings restricted by codes, chains of command and machines. My creations have multiple forms: films, sound installations, tools, etc. I was living in Berlin when the Goethe Institut offered me an artist’s residence in Kinshasa. When I got there, I discovered the density of one of the biggest cities in Africa where each person has to negotiate a place for themselves, living from hand to mouth with different jobs. Every single place, whether it’s public or private, can be turned into a trading area ruled by the “invisible economy”. I wanted to immerse myself into the Kinshasans’ everyday life, to map the city by following the actions of its workers.

2. Did you define a protocol from the beginning?
The idea came to me very quickly not to shoot the film myself, but to give my mobile phone to the workers so that they could film their jobs “from the inside” while passing the phone among themselves like a relay baton. The residence was organised into two trips. During my first trip, I explored the city. It took some time for me to get the feel of Kinshasa and decipher its codes. I was lucky enough to have lodgings in Kinshasa’s Académie des Beaux-Arts’ guest house so I very quickly met artists and students. We started by experimenting together with the “relay” approach. The second trip was devoted to the shoot, forming a crew of seven volunteers, Chris Shongo, Junior Mvunzi, Magloire Mpaka, Jerry Lelo, Francis Longwa, Olikas Ngongo and Margot Oto, who were invaluable partners in this project.

3. How did you organise the shoot with your crew?
We spent a lot of time discussing the principle of transmission and passing the relay baton. How should the telephone be passed along? Which sector of activity? How do we open doors? We all met up in the field to test this protocol physically, which helped us sort out a lot of important details. The crew soon asked me not to come on the shoot. We had to infiltrate certain milieux and the colour of my skin was a problem. It was the first time that I’d found myself in that position. The crew would set off for the day and come back with what they’d gathered. Meanwhile, I organised discussions of the rushes with the entire crew and directors, writers and people from the Institute.

4. How did you create this special camera, the “Kisimbi”?
The Kisimbi consists of a handle adapted to my mobile phone to make it as easy as possible to hold. Its construction was entrusted to the artist Junior Mvunzi and designed from salvaged materials. Kisimbi, which means “bridge” in Lingala, is a hybrid object between “tech and salvage”, like many objects found in Kinshasa. It makes passing the camera very fluid, creating sequence shots from a subjective point of view, often at hand- height, one hand filming another at work.

5. This working chain is like a model of economic solidarity. What do you think?
It’s not exactly solidarity in a world of survival. There’s a scene that comes up often in the film, it’s from a tradition that’s become part of the everyday language of Kinshasa, “the cola-nut handshake”. Cola nuts are stimulants and very popular in Kinshasa. The tradition is to redistribute cola nuts between the members of a group. The expression “the cola-nut handshake” stems from this custom but the object of the exchange has been changed – a banknote is slipped from the palm of one hand discreetly into the hand of another person. In the West, we’d call it corruption, but in Kinshasa it’s more about redistribution. In a way, the Kisimbi has taken its place.

6. Article 15 captures the energy of Kinshasa City and its specific economy. How did you organise the editing with Clémentine Roy and Élise Florenty?
Élise and Clémentine are old friends of mine and we’ve always discussed our work together. After endless discussions and looking over the rushes, they constructed the film, suggesting the idea of crossing Kinshasa in one day, going from one place to another, from one activity to another, sometimes fluidly, sometimes jerkily, sometimes marked with a certain virtuosity and sometimes provoking a little discomfort. They proceeded by associating ideas or colours, sometimes cutting a shot to develop a better vision. The other important point is that they suggested keeping as visible as possible the dramatisation and the off-screen instructions explaining the relay system.

7. The richness of languages in the film also blends in with the other sounds. How important are they for you and why did you subtitle all of them?
I felt it was important to translate all the languages in the film without any hierarchy – Lingala, Kikongo, French, and English – as well as all the snatches of music and radio programmes. The film’s approach places a lot of importance on a “peripheral” vision of the city – an off-screen, hand-height perspective. The subtitles reinforce this attention paid to the slightest detail with no hierarchy, highlighting and honouring oral culture and micro-events.

8. The closing credits constitute a sequence in its own right. Why did you ask Lova Lova (who also composed the original music) to sing the credits?
Lova Lova was present from the start of the project in Kinshasa. A party had been organised at the Académie des Beaux-Arts and we presented the uncut rushes as an installation. Lova Lova thanked all the film’s protagonists in a performance. I met up with him again in France to commission the sung credits in the Libanga tradition often practised in the Congo. In addition to the credits, a chorus clarifies the film’s title. The credits are, therefore, a crucial scene.

9. What exactly does the eponymous “Article 15” represent?
“Article 15” is a very common expression in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It refers to an imaginary article from the DRC’s constitution that says “Make your own way in life!” It means that the Government won’t help people, and it’s sometimes used to justify illegal behaviour and corruption.

Interview by Olivier Pierre