Looking for Jeanne: An artistic study in four parts

Jeanne sits alone at the living room table in the dark staring out into the void. The dead body of a client remains in the bedroom. Jeanne killed him earlier that day, with a pair of scissors. Her son has not yet come home, and no one is aware of what has taken place. But soon everything will change.

See also: Nothing About Us Without Us, Mothering

Petra Bauer

Workers! Film Still, 2018

The sentences above describe the last scene in the film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles made by Chantal Akerman in 1975 depicting the daily routine of housewife, mother, and sex-worker Jeanne. At the time of its making, the film asked important questions about women's conditions and experiences. It problematised and celebrated the reproductive work such as cleaning, fucking, and mothering that makes and remakes people. In this last scene I also see an address to the future, asking us to continue exploring women's experiences, organising and resistance, and how they can be narrated and visualised. It is exactly here that the artistic research project Looking for Jeanne begins.

With collaborators in many different locations, we ask ourselves what happened to Jeanne? Where is she? What is she doing? But above all, who is she today? How can she be narrated and visualised in a global world?

This search for a contemporary Jeanne took us to Scot-Pep, a sex-worker led organisation in Edinburgh that fights for the rights and conditions of sex-workers. They stress the importance of being part of a larger solidarity movement to bring about concrete political change. In Sweden, we met mothers who lost their children in shootings and continue to fight against the criminalisation of those murdered children. We visited women's organisations in poor neighbourhoods; women who support each other with friendship and care, to survive mentally, physically, socially, and politically in everyday life. Women who refuse to adapt to the conditions that have caused their marginalisation. We met several people who, like us, are exploring the possibility of developing a practice and approach to the world that is permeated by togetherness, care, solidarity, and sustainability. Together we talked about how we as cultural workers and activists can acknowledge and maintain what is already existing. To act in the middle of things.

The research project Looking for Jeanne is an artistic study in four parts that loosely relates to some of the themes highlighted in Jeanne Dielman, namely sex work, motherhood and homework, as well as reproductive acts, cyclic time and sisterhood. The different parts explore how contemporary female subjects can be visualised and narrated based on a global contemporary with decolonial ambitions.

In 2018, we completed the second part, which was given the overall title Nothing About Us Without Us. It was created in close collaboration with Scot-Pep and Frances Stacey, produced by art organisation Collective in Edinburgh. The work consists of the film Workers!, a newly produced banner for Scot-Pep, a sound installation where we listen to sex workers' political ideas and a production dossier that addressed the process of making the work.

The next two parts, which revolve around mothering and domestic work, are expected to be completed in 2023.

Workers! Film Still, 2018
Workers!, Petra Bauer & SCOT-PEP, film still, 2018. Photograph Caroline Bridges.
Workers! Installation View, Collective, Edinburgh
Workers!, Petra Bauer & SCOT-PEP, installation view at Collective, Edinburgh, 2019. Photograph Tom Nolan. Courtesy the authors and Collective.
Workers! production shot, 2018.
Workers!, Petra Bauer & SCOT-PEP, production shot, 2018.