Living Pictures

10 Minutes of Freedom

Video installation 1998-2002 / 39 minutes / Floating screen 3m x 2,50m / College Boris Vian, Coudekerque Branche, France.

I thought up 10 minutes de liberté [10 Minutes of Freedom] back in 1997, at the invitation of Michel Ruelland, who was teaching visual arts in a secondary school in a poor suburban area in a northern French city. In the end, the project did not get finished until 2002, thanks to the energy of that contemporary art enthusiast, one or two teachers and some private patronage. The condition for shooting was to write a short sentence about something we usually stay mum about, thus testing our own distance from freedom. Some 500 people— students, teachers, cleaning women, headmaster, secretaries, general handyman, concierge etc.—all wrote a sentence which was then printed on a T-shirt. The sentences remained a secret until 21 May 2002, on which date everyone put on their T-shirts and went into the yard. The recreation period, which had become an exhibition, was very quiet to start with, with everyone staring at the T-shirt on the person next to them. Some people hid their chests with their hands. Then the whole thing turned into a festive party and nobody wanted to go back to their classrooms. Some sentences were enigmatic, others cheeky, some dramatic, others powerful or commonplace. I remember a very proud kid in his first year who had written on his T-shirt: “Right now, I’m in love”. Everyone looked at him as if he had just done the most heroic thing of the day. Anyone who wanted to could go in front of the camera. The only condition for filming: imagining, on the other side of the camera, a friendly or hostile face and staying there for as long as it took, based on everybody’s pace. The video was very physical, with all eyes turned on us in the silence of the given sentence.

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