By C.J. Hirschfield
A number of documentaries that feature the work and process of artists have gone on to reach and captivate large audiences. RIVERS AND TIDES featuring Andy Goldsworthy, and the more recent FACES PLACES with Agnes Varda and JR are good examples.
And now we have SERENDIPITY, a deeply personal film that opens us up to the life and creations of multidisciplinary French artist Prune Nourry, even as she finds herself challenged by the reality of her own breast cancer diagnosis. Executive-produced by Angelina Jolie (herself a breast cancer survivor), its deft merging of heart and art is bound to attract a wide following.
The Brooklyn-based, internationally acclaimed 34-year old Nourry muses on the fact that, years before she had to make the decision to freeze some of her eggs prior to her chemotherapy, much of her work focused on the theme of fertility. We see clips of her 2009 “Procreative Dinner” performance, during which a meal designed by a chef and scientist mimics the various stages of assisted procreation, with a menu that includes (fabricated and edible) depictions of embryos, amniocenteses and breastfeeding, served up with wit and a reflection on the idea of designer babies.
The film expertly cuts between Nourry’s hospital journey and the making and exhibition of her art over the years, accompanied by excellent sound design and music that ranges from hot jazz to celestial bells, to the sounds of nature. The film is beautifully shot, with creative angles and perspectives that often seem to become part of the art itself.
Nourry’s art is eclectic, thoughtful, and involves many media. We are taken to India, where her “Holy Daughters” woman/cow hybrid sculptures are created with the help of local adults and children, where they seek to challenge the preference for male children in that country.
In China, we observe her ambitious “Terracotta Daughters” display of 108 sculptures, (all based on portraits of eight young Chinese girls), which, following their display, were buried in a secret location in a 2015 performance. They will be excavated in 2030, when, according to Chinese demographers, the male/female imbalance will have reached its peak.
Seeing the bulldozers clear the land, the young girls touching their own likenesses– is a rare opportunity to see a noted artist’s vision executed on a grand scale.
The film captivates us with its footage of the tools used to make of Nourry’s ambitious art: blowtorches, airbrushes, mud, straw, paint, clay, water, simulated acupuncture needles; instruments of an extremely creative mind with a lot to say.
At one point in the film the charismatic artist recalls being asked what her superpower would be, if she were to be granted one. “I would be able to heal with my hands,” she says. That’s why I was doing sculpture—healing with my hands.”
Filmmaker/artist Agnes Varda, who died earlier this year, makes a brief, and uncredited appearance, as Nourry prepares to remove her long braid prior to her chemo session. They discuss what are seen as being the attributes of a woman.
SERENDIPITY will no doubt introduce Prune Nourry to a wider audience, and that is an extremely good thing.
Visit Prune Nourry’s website.
Watch this in depth interview with the artist.
C.J. Hirschfield recently retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry and produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel and has written a weekly column forthe Piedmont Post for 13 years. She has also written for EatDrinkFilms. She holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.
Hirschfield is former president and board member of the California Attractions and Parks Association, and also serves on the boards of Visit Oakland and the Lake Merritt/Uptown Business Improvement District and is on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film series showing free monthly movies in Oakland and Piedmont. C.J. says, “Documentaries make me a better person.”