4 (1&2). pp. 287-292. ISSN 2045-6298
At Ambika P3 London, we have just opened Chantal Akerman: NOW an exhibition of seven installation works by the acclaimed Belgian film-maker and artist. Summarizing Chantal’s achievements over a 44-year career, Adam Roberts wrote:
Chantal Akerman is widely considered to be one of the most unpredictable, farsighted, indefinable, rigorous and playful film artists of her generation. While showing the troublesome complexity of human existence, Akerman’s works are filled with beautiful imagery, music, magic of chance, yearning and hope, yet she also investigates hot-button themes such as racism in the American South, illegal immigration, and terrorism in the Middle East. Chantal Akerman was one of the first to move from independent film-making to embrace the gallery space in the mid 1990s. Her work pursues her obsession with borders and tensions between documentary and fiction, between her mother and herself, between chaos and control, art and history.
Chantal took her own life on Monday 5 October 2015 at the age of 65, just three weeks before the exhibition was to open. The curators A Nos Amours (Joanna Hogg, Adam Roberts) and myself had been working closely with Chantal on the exhibition for over eighteen months.
I still want to make movies but in a way I could have stopped because I had reached a point I was heading since I was 18 and probably all my life and that would had been enough. So I tried to make comedy, to make this or that, just to get rid of Jeanne Dielman because it was a curse on my shoulders. And I thought how can I keep going after that but I wanted to keep going just because I love the making of film but I knew I had reached a point that maybe I would never reach again. 
In particular her installation work was largely unknown in the United Kingdom and rarely shown. Developing the exhibition was extremely challenging, firstly because we wanted to present as much content as possible (we started with nine works but cut them down to seven). Secondly, many works had complex and precise requirements in terms of space, projection and sound. Thirdly, Chantal was living in Paris and not always accessible. A new Commission NOW, was in development for the Venice Biennale and was to be the centerpiece of our exhibition, but its configuration kept changing.
Many variations on the layout, design and selected works took place over that 18–month period – I think that Chantal wanted the audience to travel through her work in the space, as she had travelled through the world making them. She had a distinct idea of how each work should be positioned in relation to the next, and a specific itinerary in mind for the audience. So the logic of space, sound, content and scale where not the only guiding factors in the layout – they all came into play within the framework of her imaginary itinerary. She was forceful but open to suggestions and new ideas and strategies for the exhibition.
NOW, is on 5 channels – it would be great to know what you think are the benefits of multi-channel work and how it differs from a single channel piece and indeed, how (and if) it affects the ‘reading’ of the film in a narrative sense? Is there a monumental or immersive aspect that is important here?
Chantal answered him in terms of a choreography of movements and flows:
NOW is a piece for five looped channels. It is like choreography. The images talk to each other. As you move through the room you will get different impressions. In the case of NOW the impressions are mostly generated because the soundtracks of the first two screens evoke fear before a war, the next two, war, and the fifth, the rest of the world. You can always construct a narrative, but in the case of NOW it happens as the audience passes through the work and that is very different from a single projection. You can stop and find yourself immersed in the surround sound and image. But you can also stop just before the five screens and find something monumental, so I would say that the work is both immersive and monumental. 
The final configuration of NOW at Ambika P3 was different to what we had anticipated. It was a larger, more ambitious piece, devoid of people and the many different visual forms and styles Chantal had used in her earlier works. It is a breakthrough work, a departure. Chantal had been working away with her long time editor and friend Claire Atherton, testing out different configurations for the work in her Paris apartment. Claire told me she would raise and lower screens with cigarette packets in order to adjust their height and position. She was not a conceptualist, she developed her work through process, always questioning her own decisions and aiming to meet the extraordinarily high standards she set herself for all her work.
Chantal came back to the gallery on the 15 July 2015 and we spent the day finalising all aspects of the exhibition. I noticed that her hair was chopped short. She said she had done it herself. She looked tired. We walked around the Ambika P3 space together and then set up a chair for her – she sat in the middle of the space – her tiny frame in this vast bunker. However, we felt we had nearly cracked it. The funding was coming in, the layout was all but finalised. The only issue was that the cost of staging NOW had rocketed. We looked at simplifying NOW, discussing the fine detail such as using drapes instead of walls but it was impossible. ‘Mais Michael ça ne marchera pas!’(‘But, Michael, it won’t work’), said Chantal. She was right – it had to be exactly as she had planned and wanted it.
On the morning of the 6 October I was accompanying my wife for a doctor’s appointment. I picked up emails in the waiting room – among them a mail from Ambika P3 read:
We’ve just seen a facebook message saying Chantal has died. Is that true? Have tried to call you but can’t get through.
Let me know, Heather.
I walked into the doctor’s room and started crying quietly. ‘Someone has died’, I said.
NOW opened at Ambika P3 on the 29th of October as planned.  Chantal rests at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, alongside many of her creative peers. The ceremony was very moving and was led by the liberal Jewish Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur.  Chantal is gone but she feels very present at Ambika P3 and as a colleague said ‘her death seems to have provided a way in for the audience, a key to a better understanding of her work’.
We shall never know.
Many thanks to Mohammed Ali, Claire Atherton, Carole Billy, Heather Blair, Joanna Hogg, Andrew Leslie Heyward, Christian Newton, Adam Roberts, Jonathan Samuels, Pascal Willekens and the Vidi-Square team.
 Chantal Akerman (2013), ‘Do not let me go, not yet. I am not ready and maybe I will never be ready’ from Ma Mère Rit, Paris: Mercure de France.
 Adam Roberts (2015), extract of press release for the exhibition Chantal Akerman NOW, London: Ambika P3, November.
 Chantal Akerman speaking to a live audience at the ICA, 22 May 2014.
 Chantal Akerman interviewed by Oliver Bennet for Art Quaterly, 30 October 2015.To be published in November 2015.
 Chantal Akerman: NOW is jointly curated by Ambika P3 (Michael Mazière) and A Nos Amours (Joanna Hogg and Adam Roberts) and presented in association with Marian Goodman Gallery. It is supported with funding from Arts Council England, Marian Goodman Gallery and the University of Westminster.
 Delphine Horvilleur is France’s third female rabbi, and (as of 2012) editor-in-Chief of the quarterly Jewish magazine Revue de pensées juives ‘Tenou’a’. She leads a congregation in Paris, and is currently co-leading the Liberal Jewish Movement of France, a Jewish liberal cultural and religious association affiliated to the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which she joined in 2008. The text of the ceremony can be found here in French: http://tenoua.org/chantal-akerman/. Accessed 13 November 2015.
Michael Mazière is an artist and curator, currently Reader in Film and Video at the University of Westminster.