Linda was part of a circle of close friends that included her partner Margo, the writer and curator Helena Blaker and her partner Nicola, along with Linda’s childhood friend the painter Celia Paul. Linda and I were both sitting for Celia who was painting and drawing us and this went on for many years.
For some time Linda had been waiting for Chantal to come to London for this conversation at the ICA, on her way home to Brussels from the United States. Linda had to reschedule a few times as Chantal delayed her return home because of her mental health.
When Chantal finally returned to Europe and stopped off in London for this public conversation with Linda at the ICA, I was part of the audience and contributed to the discussion when it opened to the floor for questions. Linda had told me before the event that Chantal’s close friend and muse, the actor and director Delphine Seyrig would also be in the audience. Delphine sat a few seats from me in the front row. She had the presence and beauty I expected from having seen her in Alain Resnais’ Last Year In Marienbad (1961), Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness (1971), Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman (1975), Marguerite Duras’ India Song (1975) and Delphine’s collaborative film with Carole Roussopoulos based on Valerie Solanas’ feminist Scum Manifesto (1976).
Chantal was open and honest as she spoke to Linda in front of us about what she had just lived through. She had travelled to the U.S. to interview the children of survivors of the Holocaust. She discovered that many of them had become ill with psychological breakdowns in their forties. What they had in common were parents who were unable to share their experiences of what had happened to them during the Shoah. Chantal too was the child of Holocaust survivors and they also kept the details of what happened to them from her.
While Chantal was doing this research in the U.S. she broke down, was unable to travel home and was hospitalised. She shared this with the ICA audience and I remember being affected. Many of us at that time were familiar with the work of the psychoanalyst collaborators Nicolas Abraham and Mária Török. They had theorised how a child could have direct empathy with repressed unspeakable shame in the psychic matter of a parent. And how this could become buried and passed down through generations, as a phantom encrypted in the unconscious of later generations, to emerge as psychic collapse. This was the content of the conversation Linda and the audience had with Chantal that night at the ICA.
After the event I was invited to join a group including Chantal and Delphine at a private members club nearby, 2 Brydges Place. Linda had booked a table in an upstairs room for us. We ate and drank and talked until the early hours.
Linda hoped at this time that she was in remission from cancer but in fact she was in the last years of her life and it turned out Delphine would die from cancer very soon after this extraordinary encounter.
Jean Mathee is a London-based writer, artist and curator. While her work has been exhibited at Tate Modern, Tate Britain and various international institutes she has taught in London and held a tenure as professor of Theory Fine Art at NTNU in Norway.