INTERVIEW – OUTHERE

Interview with Maïder Fortuné and Annie MacDonell

Outhere is a four-handed essay on the art and life of American artist Lee Lozano (1930-
1999), a major figure in conceptual art. Where does your interest for this artist come from?
Why did you choose to make some research and a film about her?

We found out about Lee Lozano while we were researching figures of outsiders and drop-outs on
the art scene. We were amazed by the intensity of Lozano’s artistic gestures and the radicality of
her stances. She epitomises the questioning of the ruling institutions in contemporary art, which is
consistent with the protest against the principles of domination, extortion and exclusion
implemented by the global neoliberal political order. We feel a kinship with the statements of
Lozano and her close circle of artists, and we see a lineage with today’s boycotts, strikes and
petitions. Later on, we came across Lozano’s newly republished notebooks. The originality and
vitality of her writings only strengthened our will to make a film as a tribute to her.

The era (the 1970s), the context (art school education), the art form (performance), a certain
feminism, the use of digital masks: many elements in this new film are reminiscent of your
previous common project, Communicating Vessels. Can you tell us about the origin of
Outhere, and about the relationship or the transition from one film to the other?

Communicating Vessels portrayed the character of a borderline art school student, an outsider
whose stance unsettled the status quo of the educational relationship. Communicating Vessels is
fraught with the work and thoughts of artists from the 1970s. We are both fond of this time. It was a
time of deep political turmoil where radical, unprecedented practices emerged, carried out with the
utmost form of independence.
There are many overlaps and repetitions between the two films. The use of masks as a way to slip
between character and people is one overlap. But also, there is an approach to structure that is
shared between the two films. We are always interested in moving between very tight, structured,
almost formalist approaches and the pulling apart or intentional break down of those structures. In
Communicating Vessels we began with the scenes that corresponded most closely to traditional
narrative films (actors, composed frames, linear time) and then progressively broke those down as
the film moved forward. In Outhere we begin with a film that is all in pieces. Audio and picture don’t
match, the characters seem to be rehearsing rather than performing, the archival material is
disjointed and constantly interrupted. Then over the course of the film, we build towards something
that behaves like a proper film. In that way Communicating Vessels and Outhere move in opposite
directions, but they both play with narration, form, process in a similarly intentional way.  
Another, less central yet significant element is the fact that, in Communicating Vessels, we chose
to shorten the student’s name, leaving only the initial letter of her first name, E. When we made

Outhere, we discovered that Lozano, who changed her name a few times, used to call herself E
when she dropped out.

Before it became a film, Outhere was first created and presented as a performance in the
context of Toronto’s Art Museum. Could you elaborate on the context of the production, and
tell us what were the main issues when going from one form to another?
We were invited to make a performance in the context of an exhibition, and we proposed to make
something about Lozano. We had been researching Lozano for several months already, with the
plan of making a feature length film about her, and when this opportunity came up, we decided to
focus on the talk from 1971, which we found strange and compelling on multiple levels. Then the
pandemic hit, and we began to reimagine it for an online presentation. Once we finished the work,
we realised that what we had made was almost a film. Almost, but not quite. So we dove back into
the project and began shooting, recording and editing it into something new, something that would
make sense in a cinema context.

 
You co-directed a film between France and Canada, in the middle of a pandemic, on both
sides of the Atlantic: how did you work concretely? How did you solve or bypassed the
difficulties of the lockdown and the impossibility to travel and meet?

The work we do together is often triggered by a short period of time that we spend together in
France or in Canada, followed by a long development phase based on a continuous back and forth
on digital platforms. This time, we skipped the first phase, but we are used to long distance work
anyway… But then we found that certain tools for online communication actually gave us
interesting new possibilities. Programs like Zoom and OBS allowed us to share the space of the
screen, layer our images, and simulate a certain communal space of creation that had its own
possibilities. We tried to make the most of the tools that we had available, and we found that we
got to some interested new types of images that way. 

Each of the three parts invents a singular form, they approach Lee Lozano in a really
distinctive way, including a reenactment sequence, in which Lozano is played by an actress
on a film set. How did each part find its own form?

Listening to the archive recording of Lozano’s performance after doing some research about her
life and work for several months was a high point. Discovering the voice of a figure, who had just
been a pure image until then; hearing the sound of the 70’s in our present time… We immediately
felt that we wanted to share this rare document. The first part of the film is based on this archive
and the photographs of this event. But we also needed to link it to today’s experience, through the
text added on screen.

The second part is the reading of Lozano’s notebooks. Based on elements found during our
research, we imagined a script for a forthcoming film. The loft described in the script looks like the
space of our respective studios, where we would read and scan the notebooks. Our voices and
bodies substitute for Lozano’s in present time. It is the performative part of the film, which echoes
Lozano’s practice, alone in her loft in voluntary confinement (echoing our unvoluntary
confinement). We wanted to keep the conceptual nature of her approach.

The last part brings a new figure, that of the artist/actress, as an incarnation of Lozano. She stems
from the script, and partly brings it to the screen. The voice of the astrologist, who reminds us of
Lozano’s, and the use of the past tense keep a distance that problematise the incarnation of the
figure.

Among the motifs that appear in each part of the film, the constellation stands out. It is at
the heart of the educational performance, and it comes back later through Lee Lozano’s
birth chart by an astrologist. Why did you focus on this motif, and why did you decide, after
two parts based on your own voice and words, to give way to an astrologist in the third part
of the film?

The constellation is a major motif in the film, just like the communicating vessels in the previous
one. It is made of dots which form an invisible drawing, it shows a connexion, links, whose
subterranean nature seems to us to be a token of intellectual and political openness.
As she speaks, Lozano displays a constellation of ideas, a thought that isn’t linear nor dogmatic,
whose meanderings create stimulating junction points. Just like in her notebooks in which, day
after day, thoughts and actions get tangled up in a material constellation.
The birth chart uses the figure of the constellation as well, only in a more literal sense. But the idea
of a detachment is still there. The birth chart puts Lozano’s life in an extended temporality, it links
her to a cosmic movement that exceeds the human figure, that supplants the centrality of an
isolated and autonomous Self. All these were ideas that were essential to Lozano’s view of the
world and of her place in it. Neither of us are personally attached to astrology as such, but we do
like the place it holds in her thinking. It was one of many systems she used to help her make sense
of a world that she might otherwise have found impossible to digest. Also, we are happy to end the
film with the voice of a woman of the same age and same era as Lozano herself. The voice of the
astrologer creates a possible “now” for Lozano herself, after all the insistence we placed on the
“then” of the archival recording in the beginning of the film. 

Can you tell us more about the choice of the beautiful piece of music at the end of the film?
The song is Domine Libera Nos, by American musician The Space Lady (Susan Dietrich
Schneider.) It’s the only music in the film, and it accompanies the image of Lozano in the flesh,
laughing and mugging for Hollis Frampton in his film Manual of Arms from 1966. It’s a moment that

we hope is many things at once, joyful, and magical, and haunting… But also, we hope that those
final images make clear that the goal of our film is not in fact documentary at all. We are using
cinema here as dark magic, to raise the dead. Dietrich Schneider’s voice, its doleful incantation
and her out-of-this-world Casio keyboard are all essential to getting us there. 
Furthermore, the lyrics from the song are from a poem that was written by Walter M. Miller, Jr., for
his 1961 novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, a science-fiction classic Lozano, a scifi fan, sure might
have known.

Interview by Cyril Neyrat