Sea of Wanderers
During Thanksgiving, I went to Boston and visited the MFA. As I was exploring the museum, I kept thinking back to my “Walking in Literature” class. People around me were going from painting to painting, sometimes pausing to glance, other times stopping in their tracks completely. Everyone in the museum was drifting, and I realized it was the ideal space for flânerie. In class, we studied the flâneur’s experience within the crowd of the city, and I wanted to explore how both the crowd and the flâneur walk in museums. After spending the day observing how others and myself walked in the MFA, I went to the Musée d’Orsay with my dad, this time with my camera in hand. As soon as we arrived, I told him all he had to do was forget I was there.
At first, my dad would look back at the camera and check up on me. But as he grew more and more interested in the art around him, he became lost in the space of the museum and its atemporal experience. In fact, we only checked the time once, and we were surprised that more than an hour had gone by. Walking in museums is very different from taking a stroll in the countryside or roaming around the city. There is no end goal, no specific destination to reach. You can spend less than an hour there as easily as you can stay for more than three. Throughout your visit, your pace fluctuates. My dad spent more time in the Impressionism exhibit than in the rest of the museum overall.
Another aspect that fascinated me was the crowd’s experience of walking in a museum. According to Baudelaire in his essay The Painter of Modern Life, “For the perfect flâneur, […] it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.” The same is true when visiting a museum: the flow of the crowd is even more comforting. In the city, the crowd swarms around the flâneur who walks at a leisurely pace. However, in the museum, the crowd is transformed into a single mass flâneur: everyone is wandering. My dad was either in empty spaces or surrounded by people, and yet everyone was following their own path. In addition, contrarily to Walther Ruttmann’s Symphony of a Great City, which accumulates images of the chaos of the city, I wanted to make a compilation of slow images to create a peaceful atmosphere. I considered adding a voice-over to my project, then decided against it as it would ruin the sense of serenity created by the music and the images.
When I was working on the montage of the original 22-minute footage, I wanted to recreate the meditative space of the museum. At the end, a close-up of my dad’s face allows us to study him as he looks at a painting while, behind him, people continue walking. The stillness of his face is juxtaposed with the slow movement of the crowd in the background. I also overlayed three videos together to create a sense of loss of space and time: the multiplied figures of my dad walk in the same room, but they look at different things, and are filmed from different point of views. Lastly, the final shot is in real-time and I kept the full twenty seconds so we, as viewers, can experience the slow absent-minded stroll of the museum visitor. Since taking this class, I am more attentive to the way the experience of walking affects our state of mind depending on our environment. This project was sparked by my class discussions, which gave me the desire to study a new type of flânerie.