4 Questions for Mathilde Heuliez – by Emma Bombail

Mathilde Heuliez’s video work Cell (2022) 24’:56’’, at Gerrit Rietveld Academie graduation show 2022.
Departing from the well-known narrative of a kidnapping, Cell evolves into an investigation of the spaces surrounding the body of the main character. The different spaces in which she evolves work as supports for her body that is being constantly turned on and off, looked at from inside and out, operating these jumps through an exploration of different camera positions, qualities, and movements. The author tries to question the position and weight of one’s body within a sterile environment (referring to the dutch landscape) and point at the struggle born from the constant presence of a male gaze operating on an invisible level upon women and the perception of their own body and the space around them.

Emma Bombail: Can you tell me about your years at Rietveld? What did you learn, and what are the difficulties you encountered? 

Mathilde Heuliez: Retrospectively, I think what I developed the most during my degree was the collaborative aspect of my projects. Every year of study at Rietveld felt different: the beginning was about exploring and discovering that I could express myself in a wide range of mediums. Before starting Rietveld, I thought that I already knew what I wanted to do. Luckily going there enabled me to deconstruct this idea, expand my practice and develop the few elements that afterward became very important in my work. After the basicyear (a sort of pre-course integrated into the 4 years curriculum), I integrated into the Fine Arts department. At this time, I returned to film and took a few months to research: archiving images, film spots, and architecture, working with voice-over… I was mainly working on a format that enabled me to do films on my own.

Then came the Covid-19 outbreak, which surprisingly led me to further develop my film practice. Stuck in Amsterdam with two friends, I started working with them on a film called Manhunt, which when I look back was an important turning point. It gave me the will to work on narratives and focus on the collaborative aspect of my practice. During that time also started to emerge the interest in developing specific movements and positions with the camera. For Manhunt, we created a rope system where the camera would move up and down: the body was not directly in contact with it, but you could still control it from the ground. I was interested in giving it a physical dimension, which drove me to enter the spaces that I was fascinated by. Being in the Netherlands where I found the landscape so dull pushed me to go after those images I would see on my computer: architectures, football fields, and spaces around Europe, mostly taken from a drone, from above, as if inaccessible. Going there with a camera and finding a way to communicate with these spaces at the scale of a human body is a different experience; the camera acts as a language device to speak with the space and record this relationship. It is in the last step of the editing process that these relationships, linked together, create a narrative.

During my 3rd academic year, I had the opportunity to do an Erasmus at Berlin’s Weissensee art school. The school had a much more loose approach than Rietveld, which gave me the time to investigate the architecture of the city. I moved into an empty Berlin, during the second wave of the pandemic, with my drone and my phone as my main cameras. I was constantly looking for ways to confront them; jumping from an embodied view to the one that is above and physically broader. I was interested in the travel between the two perspectives, the ‘human scale perspective’ and the one outside and above the body. This research gave birth to a movie partly shot in Berlin and partly in the Alps called Would I exchange my legs against wings, crystallizing this desire to have no body, to become light and be able to reach this upper point of view. This idea of lightness and evaporation is an interesting notion regarding the weight that the male gaze exerts on the woman, as a way to escape constant scrutinization.

Until Berlin, my practice was quite smooth. I didn’t have so many doubts and difficult times in my creative process. The uncertainties came in my graduation year: the first semester was hard and I was constantly doubting and thinking that what I do isn’t good enough. I was struggling to enjoy the process of making art. Sometimes I had minor epiphanies, but most of the time it was exhausting to lack confidence in what I do. All of this was probably fed by the underline idea that I was graduating and that I had to prove something, as graduation appears to be your ‘final moment’ to produce an impressive project – which is not true, it’s just a landmark: the beginning of what you’re gonna do after.

EB: When was the moment when you understood and affirmed your practice, when it started to take shape and make sense to you? 

MH: I think it was this year after the short movie I made in December. I was confident in the idea that I want to make films. I realized I was much more into filming than doing sculpture or installations. I understood I wanted the sculptural aspect of the video to be somehow embedded in the images themselves, inside the film: I’d prefer to transmit a feeling of space within the video rather than in the installation of it. I’m still interested in how my movies should be shown of course, but I see an installation more as a support than an expressive work. I don’t want it to have a stronger voice than the video itself; the viewer has to enter the film. I could have shown Cell in a black box, in cinema conditions, but Rietveld is not a film school so I wanted to make an installation to challenge myself and think of the projection of this specific movie within the specific architecture of the school.

EB: What are your plans for the coming year? Do you want to continue studying? Have you had any failures or doubts? 

MH: I don’t wanna study right after graduation. I think I need to take a break from school to find the reasons for my work without having a structure above me. I applied to G.Byrne’s film Klasse at Städelschule, but I didn’t get in. I might try again in 2023 because I have in mind to continue studying film. I was also thinking of applying to DFFB, the film school in Berlin, after learning German. I would also really like to assist or be an intern on movie sets. But for now, it’s still quite unsure, and I think I’m gonna figure out a lot of things during this year. I’m excited about moving to Berlin and having projects with friends here… and I also maybe wanna start writing movie reviews.

At the beginning of September, I’ll be organizing a screening in Cavia, a cinema in Amsterdam. I will show films from this year’s Rietveld graduates.

EB: Would you like to be a professional artist? What position would you like to have in the art world, if you want to be in it? 

MH: There are so many different fields in the art world so I’m not so sure but what I want to do for now is continue working on some film-related projects, apply for funds, collaborate with artists and friends, and through them, find emotional support and artistic structure. I don’t exactly know where I stand for now and graduation is still very fresh, but I come out of an art school environment so my position is very influenced by that. However, I feel so energized since I graduated, having projects that are defined only by opportunities and collaboration with people and not by school and institution deadlines. For now, I’ll let myself be carried along for a little… I’ll probably be able to answer that question in a few months.

Cell, 2022
Starring: Emma Lou Burkel, Kilian Mercadié, Félix Keslassy, Mathilde Heuliez
With the voices of: Niklas Wandt, Dennis Buckland, Tindra Jonsdotter
“Being this Cautious might end”, composed by Shelim Alvarado
Sound Mastering: Constanza Castagnet