Aminatou Echard - French Experimental Movie Maker in Central Asia
by Daniel Gallegos

Aminatou Echard is an experimental video and film maker and installation artist who lives in Paris. She is currently working on a movie about her trip to Kyrgyzstan and on a new project in Kazakhstan. I met Aminatou last fall at the end of her three-month trip through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. I was introduced to her by chance in a gallery in Almaty. She explained to me that she is an experimental film maker trying to work out some ideas for projects in Central Asia. Almaty was the last leg of her trip. I noticed she didn’t have a camera in hand. When I asked if she brought a camera to Almaty, she said yes but added that she often leaves it behind to get a better understanding of the places she visits.

Much of Aminatou’s work is based on an ethnographic approach to making movies. That process starts with building a relationship to the place and people. The idea of building relationships is central to an ethnographic method for studying and understanding your subject. Ethnography gives one an insider perspective on the place one studies. This allows a complex understanding of one’s research subject.

Developing a two-way relationship adds deeper insight on one’s subject of study. In her travels, Aminatou doesn’t hesitate to offer workshops to the community. During her three months here in Central Asia she has led workshops in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan about making experimental video. Aminatou prefers to offer this knowledge to non-artists. She often works with students, children, housewives, or anyone who hasn’t had much access to work with video equipment.

Aminatou is no stranger to traveling. She has spent a total of four years traveling back and forth between France and Bolivia. This led to her work on an experimental documentary called “Gens De Potosi“(People Of Potosi). During this period, she traveled three times, which totaled to ten months on this project. This video is about the mining town of Potosi. This experimental documentary presents this unique place in a sort of ethereal dream state, as a memory of a place one has traveled to. She seeks and gains a deep psychological understanding of the town and its inhabitants through sound and visual images. In the film, one hears dialogue in Spanish. One sees the streets and images of the local architecture. Also, the viewer hears the sounds of music that Aminatou has recorded from local “Banda” musicians playing in a rapid brassy horn rage. Her studies in ethnomusicology had led her to use Bolivian “banda” music - a distinct style of horn music unique only to Bolivia. This music is a subtle element to the film that adds richness to her documentary. All of this image and sound is skillfully edited in a way that reminds me of memories upon returning from a long trip. Aminatou is able to retain that specificity of place in her video and film work.

Recently, Aminatou has been putting the finishing touches on a short film called “Esquisses Kirghizes”(Kyrgyz Sketches) about her experiences last summer in a small village in southern Kyrgyzstan. This film conveys images of a place that naturally has many beautiful textures in sound and image. She easily conveys the image of the waning Kyrgyz day light in the fall all too well. These images of fall in southern Kyrgyzstan can only be filmed by someone who has spent a deal of time becoming intimate with it. The beautiful footage is conveyed in her mixed use of super 8 camera and digital video. She capitalizes on the strengths and limitations to all of the camera devices she uses.

When Aminatou returns to her apartment in Paris she decides how all of this footage and sound will fit together best. This process may take months. She has to develop a level of perspective on what she has experienced before she can make an attempt at proceeding with her work. In her apartment she works for hours or even days in front of her computer on a scene that other filmmakers would just see as a transition from one scene to the next. What makes her film so special is this rich attention to the detail of transitions from scene to scene as well as the relationship of sound and image.

Aminatou sees the importance of the relationship of image and sound and the passing of time. Often you are involved in flashing images that are less than seconds. It’s hard to forget these beautiful images that burn into your retina. She is skillful with the camera and attentive to light. Her attention to the beauty of the most mundane objects in our world is another layer to Aminatou’s deep unconscious approach to making short films. She can stop a scene and even make you relax and drift into meditation with the images she presents.

Through editing, she breaks down linear time. She fractures time to show us how we are able to convey our perception of reality. The meltdown or fracturing of time is not a new concept in art. Artists have been doing this for the greater amount of the last century. Like the artist René Magritte using disassociated words to images or George Braque’s Cubism or the musician Steven Reich’s recordings of atmospheric sounds, the fracturing of time and space gives us a better understanding of our consciousness, memory, and view on our world. Aminatou’s works also seek to understand all of this fracturing of time, memory and space. But she takes not an avant-garde elitist approach to seeing the world but an egalitarian take. She seems not to forget that it is not art for an elite few but for everyone to understand.

The future work of Aminatou Echard is a summer project with local artists in Almaty. This will lead to a gallery exhibit at the Soros Center for Contemporary Arts in August 2007. She plans to stay in Kyrgyzstan in the fall to do some research for more experimental movies.

Daniel Gallegos | on May 4th, 2007
In Neweurasia