JENNIFER FLAY

JENNIFER FLAY

If you create the conditions in which people feel comfortable interacting with art, there are some really beautiful things that can emerge from that encounter. Things that I think are life changing. And so that’s why I enjoy it... When I was at school, we were told that we could do absolutely anything what we wanted to do. Anything whatsoever. If we wanted to be aerodynamic engineers, there were no barriers. None. And probably it made me the person I am today. I always thought that I could do exactly what I wanted. People also say, in terms of FIAC, that the fact that I am a foreigner has helped me because it’s true I don’t feel burdened by convention because it’s always been done that way. I feel completely unfettered and I don’t feel bound by convention and the aim is to federate the cultural world around the events. I am not going to create upset gratuitously, but if I think something can be done differently and better, then I will definitely do it.

– JENNIFER FLAY
Director of FIAC - Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain

DAVID HOLLANDER

DAVID HOLLANDER

Writer, director, and producer. Showrunner of the award-winning Showtime series Ray Donovan (starring Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight), Hollander also created, wrote and produced The Guardian and Heartland. He directed the film Personal Effects (2008). Today he writes mainly for television, but it was seeing plays with his immigrant grandmother that first inspired him to become a playwright and theater director. As well as writing for the screen, he also writes music and poetry. In this interview, which he kindly gave after wrapping the current season of Ray Donovan, he discusses the very different skill sets involved in writing for television and putting “a scene on the ground” and shaping an architecture for a twelve hour season that gives an intention to his actors and the rest of the creative team. He shares what draws him to Ray and other “hyper-masculine” conflicted characters, strong female roles, and writing about people “who don't want to change.”

DAVID HOLLANDER

TV writing was never my goal. When I first started, I wanted to write poems, and I wanted to write plays, but I grew up in a small city, and there was not a lot of... no one was a writer. No one was doing that for a living.

My experience was my father comes from a poor background. Hungarian immigrants. My mother comes from a family of immigrants as well. And the city I grew up in had that grouping.

My sort of working-class Jewish family, and then there was a very upper-class wealthy world. And I ended up going to a high school where a lot of the wealthy people lived. So I was balancing between the two places and it created a reality, an aesthetic in me that I wanted to write about. The distinction between the working class and the upper class. That's where it began for me.

And then characters who were impacted. Sort of male American impacted characters who were put in situations where they were striving or close to wealth or close to sort of things that were the American Dream, but they weren't really wanting it. So characters like Ray or characters like my first show were really about people that were negotiating the distinction between working class living and, frankly, upper-class living.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

And there's a conflict but also a kind of, in Ray, a kind of admiration. There's this longing to be in that world, as I see it. It's a heroic character. I want to discuss your whole body of work. As long as we're there, I think it seems like a very difficult line to keep his edginess and to keep our compassion for him. I mean he does some terrible things but he does you know very admirable things, in his defense.

HOLLANDER

Yeah, I mean I'm really interested in the old school American male construct, as it meets modernity, if you will. What is this John Wayne or noir character in the 50s, 40s, 30s and the 20s that the American story was sort of built on. These impacted male areas that feel like they have to be ultra-masculine and ultra strong and do these things that are either violent.

That concept has always been fascinating to me. When you add another piece to those characters, whether it's sexual abuse, addiction, confusion about who they are and where they come from. And that's what fascinates me the most, the American male prototype mixed with their complex backgrounds. So what do you if you're supposed to be this super strong heterosexual character, but you've had sexual abuse? What do you do if you're an addict? Or what do you do if you've lost somebody early in life and you've left to change your paradigm? So most of the things I write about are that character.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

It's interesting because throughout and I find that the tension is compelling. Speaking about Ray, but also of your other work. Personal Effects or other stories. With Ray, I'm often reflecting–his life really could have turned another way. Really, at core, he is this compassionate person. It seems it comes out he's defending people, even people who aren't family, but particularly family. And that you see, Oh if there hadn't been this sexual abuse, if there haven't been this I could envisage... I don't know what he would be, but he's very capable. In some ways, he seems like a kind of stressed out CEO, except handling a different set of problems.

I was wondering how, of course, the characters are inventions, but how certain elements of your personal life or your family appear in your work. I know your brother has this very admirable project Kids Voices. And I was wondering how those things are, if I may say, also some personal grief would overlay the storytelling.

HOLLANDER

I think for me. I think a lot of people in the States where I come from, sort of working class or smaller cities. Loss, confusion. For me, I lost my mother when I was younger, I was never particularly successful in the ways of the culture I was in. Whether it was athletics, or whether it was a sense of hyper-masculinity that I didn't really feel so I started to write stories about hyper-masculine people who had tremendous chinks in their armor. Part of it was about grief and dealing with grief so almost every character I ever write has a loss of a mother, a loss of a sister, a loss of somebody feminine in their life and a desire to be this kind of hyper-male and in doing, in wanting to be a sort of savior or wanting to be someone very powerful. Running it into themselves.

Who do you want to be? And who are you? I think most of the characters that I write about have a deep conflict of about their sexuality and a deep conflict about their relationship to family.

They want to be the most powerful person who provides or creates safety, but they're also very dangerous because of that desire. And this idea that control creates in a way violence and a threat to their own outcomes. So Ray is very much like that. He is so much about controlling his family, but actually, he's doing harm to them because of that control. His fear of the things that happened to him happening to them, his desire to put a bubble around everything usually ends up creating huge problems for him.


THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Just thinking about the notion of control. There are just two questions. Is that something, is that why you're drawn to it, is that something you see a lot in American society in particular? An inability to face the vulnerabilities or to lose control? And then, speaking of control, it seems to me–I can't imagine how you do it as a writer and a showrunner and then you direct episodes. This very private process, a vulnerable process. I know you also work with other writers, but it's private. And then you transition to this, I don't mean very controlling but you're managing all of this.

So what is your directing style? What is the process and how do you how do you transition from all those different roles?

HOLLANDER

They are very different skill sets and very different ways of approaching storytelling. Writing is very private. I find writing to be very difficult. I have an idea. I have a feeling, and then I write into it. That part of the process is the most painful and the most demanding. Directing is easier. It’s a very different skill set. It’s applying a story to the technique of how you film it, how it’s going to work. That part is so simple. The writing is brutally hard... There’s an architecture to every season that you write in television. I have to see the whole story. This big twelve-hour story. There’s a lot of math in that. There’s a lot of Where am I going? and How is it going to feel? Because at the end of the day, all I’m doing is trying to make people feel something that I feel.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

And do you find sometimes even if it looks good on paper, it doesn't translate very well?

HOLLANDER

In fact the better it looks on paper, often the worse that it is. It's a strange thing. Ugly scripts make great film. Great scripts sometimes don't. It's hard to explain. Like I can write something so beautiful and so poetic and it's not filmable. But I can write something that's just guttural and a mess and it works and it's very hard to explain why that is.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

I like reading scripts and I like seeing the final product. It's fascinating to read scripts. I think they're so interesting and it's true some are beautifully written. If you read a Tennessee Williams, all the descriptions and all that, but it's really changed the way we view things. You can see it going back like a decade or two, there's a difference to our attention spans and the way we receive stories. So it's a leap because you have to hear and see those characters. And is it the minimalism that's difficult?

HOLLANDER

If by minimalism you mean the specificity and the smallness. I like to call it putting it on the ground. If you write dramatically from 30,000 feet and you're above it and you're trying to say something–you're fucked. It only works when you put it on the ground and you make it playable. And it's very hard the older I get, the more that I do it to explain it. To make it work is be alive to it right up to the moment that you film it.

When people want to talk to me about writing. Yeah, I'm a writer. Not really in that form [prose...] I'm actually something that people don't quite understand a lot. Cinematic writing, which is, for those of us that are filmmakers and writers–we're not writing literature. We're doing something different.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

You're motivating you. You're bringing their energies.

HOLLANDER

I'm giving my actors an intention and an obstacle, but I'm also giving myself. I know where the camera is going to be. I'm giving my crew a challenge. How do we shoot it? And all of that has to cohese into something that the viewer feels. So I'm not really a writer, that way, I'm actually... It's very hard to explain.

It's not writing–it's math plus emotion plus technical plus time plus visual plus something that's ineffable, which is just... I so badly want to communicate with my audience.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

It’s interesting how you write about the fathers and father figures in your stories. I mean even Mickey, who we were not predisposed to feel affection for, we see that he's really just trying to say he loves his sons. They're not listening.

You have children?

HOLLANDER

I have three.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What do you tell them? Are they pursuing artistic paths as well? What do you make sure that they know?

HOLLANDER

My children are... What I know to not tell them is probably more than what I tell them. I tell them that I love them. I tell them that they're free to pursue what they want to pursue. I try to be an example to them of someone is in process more than product. And they'll land where they'll learn. I don't think I can give them a guidebook.

It's going to be a world of rejection and a world of confusion and a world of hotel rooms. If they are successful at it. But I don't have advice for anybody. That's why I stopped teaching. My students would say, "Am I good?"

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Sometimes you have to tell them what they've written is not good.


HOLLANDER

It doesn't matter what I think. Because it only matters if they keep doing what you're doing. Your vision will either resonate or it won't. But it's not up to me to tell you whether it's good or not. I can only tell you practice your technique. And do the shit that's boring, which is write every day. Don't be afraid of rewriting. Learn rejection is actually your best friend. People fighting against your idea is your best friend. That's the only thing I can teach you. The more people say no to you, the more you listen to why they're saying no. Now that you accept it, that you listen to what they're saying and maybe you find ways to take that tension, that opposition and infuse it into the next pass. Your anxiety, your fear, those are your friends. It sucks, but it's true.


This is an excerpt of an interview which will be shared across our network of university and national literary magazines in the coming months.

Study for an Audience of the Ray Donovan show

Study for an Audience of the Ray Donovan show



BARBARA BAERT

BARBARA BAERT

During her studies at the University of Leuven, where she graduated in 1989 with the Highest Distinction, her interest for research grew. In 1993, her M.A. dissertation on an unknown fifteenth-century incunable (an early printed work held by the Royal Library of Belgium) was awarded a prize by the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium, Class of Fine Arts. After graduation, Barbara Baert won a Flemish Community specialization scholarship to the Università degli Studi of Siena (Italy), where she worked with professors in the fields of stylistics (describing and researching visual idioms) and of iconography (describing and researching thematic traditions in the arts). This specialization year provided her not only with expertise in Italian painting but also with an itch for an integrative approach to Art History that would combine both form and content.

A position as assistant in the tutorial service brought Barbara Baert back to the University of Leuven, where she devoted herself to advising first-year students. Her inspiring teaching is still valued to this day. While holding this post, Barbara Baert obtained a B.A. in Philosophy and, under the supervision of Professor Dr. Maurits Smeyers, she began to work on a doctorate on the cult of relics that would have a major impact on the scholar community in her field. The extent and ambition of this project were celebrated by a foreign colleague with the ironic description of “The glorious mistake of a pioneer.” The resulting book, A Heritage of Holy Wood (Leiden, 2004), has now become a reference work. It lays the basis of Baert’s characteristic ‘iconological’ method: a method that combines in art history, the history of ideas, theology, literature, and the visual arts.

In 2016, Baert won the prestigious Francqui Prize for her "bold approach to and pioneering work in medieval visual culture and the worship of relics."

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

How did you come to study medieval iconology, sacred topography, visual anthropology, relics and devotion, and medieval gender? When did you realize you wanted to study images and image-making?

BARBARA BAERT

My work never avoids large-scale questions. My work links knowledge and questions from the history of ideas, cultural anthropology, philosophy, and in some measure also from psychoanalysis, and shows great sensitivity to cultural archetypes and their symptoms in the visual arts. My usual point of departure is the art of the past, especially the Middle Ages and early modernity, but where relevant I also engages with contemporary art.

My  investigations into the way that cultural symptoms (such as texts, or elements of oral culture) are ‘turned into’ visual works, are widely regarded as a model for further research. This approach has its origins in her dissertation on the relics of the True Cross in Western Europe, published as A Heritage of Holy Wood (Leiden, 2004). Now an important work of reference, it was then a methodological trailblazer. One person called it the glorious mistake of a pioneer!

I aim a determined interdisciplinary dialogue within the humanities: the methodological space between text and image, the impact of the sensorium in the visual arts, and finally critical reflection upon her own discipline.

From the first angle, I have conducted much work into the body as medium in text and image. My research into the issue of ‘touch’ in the iconography of biblical women (Mary Magdalene; the woman with an issue of blood) has contributed to a better understanding of gendered taboos of touch and blood. An important concern in this group of publications on corporality is the role of relics, on the one hand, and, on the other, of textiles as a second skin. In these projects I worked comparatively across the cultural boundaries of Europe.

My familiarity with research questions on the impact of touch, on textiles, and on the body’s liminal zones has secondly led to projects on the human senses.

The latest challenges are the representation and experience of the senses that escape the visual medium, such as scent and wind, and can only be visualized indirectly. My recent book on these themes is Pneuma and the Visual Arts in the Middle Ages and Early Modernity. Essays on Wind, Ruach, Incarnation, Odour Stains, Movement, Kairos, Web and Silence. This deals with the complex relationships between the human person and their ecological environment, the person and their body, the spiritual relationship between visible and invisible in the visual arts. I proposed the phenomenon of ‘wind’ as a paradigm for research into the image as such.

This is actually developing in an international project on Kairos or the Right Moment. Nachleben&Iconology

My third approach is critical reflection on the foundations and the future of my discipline. This is an angle, I try to implement in my teaching (infra).

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Were you born into a family of art historians or teachers?

BAERT

I was raised with a great interest in the visual arts. My father, Paul Baert is a painter. Frequent journeys during my childhood through Southern Europe gradually drew her heart towards medieval and Renaissance art. When I graduated from the Latin and Greek stream of the Spijker Instituut in Hoogstraten (1979–1985), my teachers advised her to pursue a degree in Classics, but  I did not hesitate to enroll in the Art History programme at the University of Leuven.

Art History is the only discipline for me, that gives me the opportunity to think freely and critically, to do research at the borderlines of all disciplines in the humanities and to reflect on new hermeneutics.

The discipline of Art History is a house of many mansions. A single field that deals with questions about form and beauty through time, as well as about content (iconography), cannot but embrace diversity. Art historian James Elkins (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) once wrote: “It is a sign of the health of Art History that it can address large-scale questions”.

This preoccupation on the foundations and the future of my discipline has taken shape in a series of reflective essays on the discipline within the purpose-made series Studies in Iconology (Peeters Publishers).

This series shows a teacher protecting an intellectual sanctuary and by analogy cherishing a discourse that dares to interrogate the academic genre itself. I defend an academic practice of ‘fluidity’ and empathy rather than one of boundaries and a fixation on the ‘self’ in my essay "Echo."

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations? What are your views on the importance of creativity and the humanities?

BAERT

One last question remains: what name to give such an interdisciplinary dialogue in the current juncture? German uses Bildwissenschaften. French currently prefers Anthropologie visuelle. Flemish retains the original term iconologie. Whatever the case may be, the exceptional energy of Art History as a whole perhaps lies in its unclassifiability. As the Italian aesthetician Giorgio Agamben has fondly remarked: it is la scienza senza nome. The current richness of Art History in the Low Countries is perhaps explained by Belgium’s key position and its three language zones: constantly subject to dynamic influences, constantly open to friendly ‘contagion’, and constantly alert to new initiatives.

For this reason, I most recently founded a new Annual where the opportunity to think freely and critically, to do research at the borderlines of all disciplines in the humanities and to reflect on new hermeneutics; is combined. This preoccupation on the foundations and the future of my discipline New Series Recollection.

Baert on Arachne in Berlin

NOAM CHOMSKY

NOAM CHOMSKY

I think I can do no better about answering the question of what it means to be truly educated than to go back to some of the classic views on the subject. For example the views expressed by the founder of the modern higher education system, Wilhelm von Humboldt, leading humanist, a figure of the Enlightenment who wrote extensively on education and human development and argued, I think, kind of very plausibly, that the core principle and requirement of a fulfilled human being is the ability to inquire and create constructively independently without external controls.

JANE OHLMEYER

JANE OHLMEYER

In fact, some of the biggest issues of the contemporary world can be better understood through the prism of the Arts and Humanities because these disciplines have important things to say about every aspect of human existence. The list is endless but some pressing examples that come to mind are terrorism and war; migration and multi-culturalism; security; privacy and freedom; environmental and digital issues; and mental and physical well-being. The Arts and Humanities both celebrate and challenge the expression of the human condition in its numerous manifestations and place human values at the centre of our world.