Ingrid Wildi Merino

¿ Aquí vive la Señora Eliana M… ?

Comprised of interview fragments loosely arranged in chronological order, ¿ Aquí vive la Señora Eliana M… ? records moments of the artist’s search, camera in hand, for Eliana Merino, her missing mother. As is made clear from the outset, the artist finds her mother, a well-known soothsayer, whom we see and hear in avant première of the video essay discussing her gift of clairvoyance. Contrasting with the mother’s foresight, the artist’s video insight works throughout the film to disclose the narratives of the past of both the family and of Chile, which underlie the daily reality of the interviewed speakers. Guided by Ingrid Wildi Merino’s skillful questioning, her grandmother discusses the family’s history of immigration, an art critic analyzes the country’s tendency to deny its origins, a cousin’s comments on his profession as an anesthetist become a metaphor for Chileans’ desire to forget their past, and an aunt concludes from her experiences in parapsychology that a level of reality is there, unseen but at work, “like electricity.” It is precisely the workings of this invisible reality that viewers witness as the camera takes them from Santiago to Arica, through the eclectic comments and observations of bus and taxi drivers, street vendors, barmen, and acquaintances of Eliana Merino. The video ends at the threshold of a last door at which the artist knocks, raising the question of where, at what level of the map of stories told and untold, Eliana Merino can be ultimately located, and of what is located once the stories are told.

Text by Hans Rudolf Reust

An elderly woman sits on the edge of a bed, smoothing down a knitted sweater. “I predicted the Berlin Wall, too—five years ahead of time.” With these words, spoken almost as an aside, a journey begins, leading from Santiago to the desert in northern Chile. In her 68-minute-long DVD ¿ Aquí vive la señora Eliana M… ?, Wildi Merino interviews her way through relatives and acquaintances in search of her mother, with whom she had lost all contact since childhood. The camera follows the search closely, but never relinquishes some last crucial bit of documentary distance. Tension is created through the curiosity aroused by the search for clues—from a great range of interviewees who are also likely to offer anecdotes, great and small, from their own daily lives. From this search for the mother emerges a subjective portrait of a society. The film, document of both memory and prophecy, ends at the front door of a house, but doesn’t wait for it to open. Wildi Merino adopts documentary strategies typical of much current art meant to be political, but expands on them, to interrupt and differentiate them with fictions. Here documentary functions as a mindset, a way of showing people themselves rather than an abstract, predetermined agenda. A journey takes its origin from encounters with people, with their premonitions and viewpoints, with the objects they use to explain some part of their world. De palabra en palabra is the title of the exhibition catalog, and indeed, word for word, world-pictures are created whenever someone explains the choice of some personal effect or recounts a memory—when a projectionist, for instance, rattles off his account of the film playing in the cinema and comments on the reactions of the audience. Only occasionally does the artist enter the picture, in voice off. Her questions seek precision while also leaving room for digressions. Because of her own history as a migrant between South America and Europe, between languages—Spanish, German, and French—she also moves between different narrative modes. Fiction and reality cannot be readily separated. With the concept of the video essay, Wildi Merino lends her work a status somewhere between objectivity and inwardness; thus the unobtrusive but highly conscious editing of the individual works. Likewise, her still photographs take the documentary conceit of the medium as their departure point, showing subjective moments in urban spaces from a neutral distance. In both cases, Wildi Merino works to trace changes at the margins of history, the kind of details from which Walter Benjamin developed his interpretation of the nineteenth century in his unfinished Arcades Project (1927–1940). This attention to particulars determines the film’s duration and its gently slowed-down rhythm of perception. Through a simple series of conversations a portrait of the missing mother gradually emerges, an absent image that merges with the memory in the opening sequences. It is as if filmic time could abandon its linear nature and forever change the borders running between real time, memory, and fiction.

¿ Aquí vive la Señora Eliana M… ?, 2003

Video (DVD), 68:00 min., language: Spanish, subtitle: German/ French Text by Hans Rudolf Reust (translation by Sara Ogger), published in Artforum International (December 2004)

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