Monika in September
GAO is proud to present a solo show of recent work by the Lithuanian-born artist and filmmaker, Gintė Regina. The exhibition is prompted by her new film of the same name, Monika in September. Shifting between documentary, travelogue, and a variety of other genres, the film playfully combines personal history with intertextual narratives. Inspired by the work of the author Alice Munro, the exhibition examines notions of estrangement, belonging and fulfilment in the course of a young woman’s life.
A round, spiralling illustration occupies the left-hand side of the gallery. In addition to being referenced throughout the show, circles are rooted in Regina’s process. Because making a film is so often a multi-layered project, encompassing a range of thematic concerns, Regina finds that the motif of a circle acts as an organising principle, helping her to remember what lies at the centre of the work. The overlying text is an excerpt from the accompanying pamphlet, which visitors are encouraged to read and take away; it provides a depiction of the experiences not captured by the camera; those of the filmmaker herself. To the right of the entrance, two objects have been combined into a picture: a Canadian Maple leaf and a 1960’s postcard, both brought from Wingham, Munro’s birth place. Regina thinks of it as a ‘tangible connection to the place, and through that, to Alice Munro and her work’.
Internationally praised for her contribution to the short story form, the Nobel-prize winning author’s literary career encompasses hundreds of stories, published over a period of four decades. Munro often returns to a handful of deceptively humble subjects: small-town life, domesticity, and the coming-of-age of young girls. There is also a marked preoccupation with gender that pervades much of her writing. Women are often wrestling with the expectations of men, or otherwise attempting to navigate the deep-rooted edicts of patriarchy. Her precise, economical narratives weave all of these elements together, yet her characters always feel like fully-formed people, rather than the thin caricatures of satire.
Monika in September goes of in search of the author’s various pasts, beginning in Wingham, Ontario. Chronology is scattered; we see life as a series of vivid episodes rather than one continuous story, perhaps in a nod to Munro’s fictional preference for moments over extended narratives. Eschewing tourist board valleys and mountain ranges, Regina’s lens gives us a distinctly Munrovian Canada: flat farms and quiet streets, the presence of water; lives played out in minor key. Her palette is elegant and painterly, with a marked interest in the minutiae of ‘ordinary things.’ The locations are concrete enough: Goderich, Lake Huron, Toronto’s Union Station – all of which either hail from Munro’s history or literature; but the geographical settings end up being just that, backdrops upon which to project a new series of storylines.
The film skips forward in time, and we see Monika throughout the course of her life, recounting episodes of personal experience. What recurs time and again is this idea of estrangement – from parents, from the body, from self – a notion that life has somehow passed by, been missed, or not quite yet begun; that a perpetual ‘tomorrow’ will be the day that Monika will ‘wake up and finally start living.’ These are familiar questions – here I am; am I really here? What is the value of my experience, and how do I know when it crosses a certain threshold of authenticity?
It is only when we get to British Columbia, towards the end of the film, that Monika gains some autonomy over her narrative. Her voiceover shifts into first person, and we are no longer able to parse the imaginary from the real. Perhaps we don’t need to. After all, the two are not so easily disentangled, and Regina seems to suggest that there’s no reason they should be: the film weaves deeply personal experiences with Munro’s literary narratives, and in so doing finds an emotional truth that resonates. This truth is what seems to be at the centre of the circle and the heart of the work.