The documentary videos by the Danish artist Gitte Villesen (*1965) can be understood as portraits in the broadest sense: they explore the form in which individuals or social groups shape their lives within the framework of their cultural possibilities. Villesen illuminates how subjects and identities are constituted in the everyday micro-politics of gestures, habits and rituals in the charged relationship between norm and deviation. At the same time, she carefully avoids social generalizations by situating the practice of documenting as exchange and encounter – as a specific form of social interaction, in which the forms of representation always become the subject of negotiation as well.
The film I had no other choice than to jump from one pile to the other, as there was nothing in between (2012) is made in conjunction with the long-term project she has conducted since 2008 about the figure of the Gambian musician Amadou Sarr and his family network. These works center around Villesen’s interest in the ritual practices and social functions of JuJu, a West African culture of white magic, which must appear alien to the “enlightened” Western European gaze. Villesen’s works approach this culture and its protagonists neither through the distanced, objectifying perspective of an ethnographer, nor through exoticist forms of over-identification. Instead, she makes use of a strategy of story-telling as a cultural form that opens up a shared space of interaction that dispenses with the category of distance on the one side and identification on the other.
Gitte Villesen’s new video work I had no other choice than to jump… (2012) now turns this strategy of story-telling itself into the subject of documentary reflection. Here, her protagonist Amadou Sarr performs a traditional piece on his molo – a Gambian string instrument said to have magical properties – that tells of the contest between two rival animals that each claim to be the oldest creature on earth. The question emerging from these two competing myths of creation is not so much whether the stories are true or not, but rather who tells the better story.
Gitte Villesen lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin. Numerous international exhibitions and contributions to exhibitions include: „Shaped by Time“, Danish National Museum, Copenhagen (2012); “squatting. erinnern, vergessen, besetzen”, Temporäre Kunsthalle, Berlin (2010); “I will Arrange Everything. It Will Be the Best Film Ever”, Casco, Utrecht (2009); “Just Different“, Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam (2008); “Juju White Magic”, Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen (2008); “How to Build a Universe”, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (2006); Danish Pavilion, 51. Venice Biennial, Venice (2005).