Marine Hugonnier:
'The Secretary of the Invisible'

Wed 28 January – Sat 21 March, 2009. Barcelona

The Secretary of the Invisible

NoguerasBlanchard is delighted to present Marine Hugonnier’s (Paris, 1969) latest film The Secretary of the Invisible. Shot on the river Niger in Mali, the work is an homage to Jean Rouch, the French anthropologist and filmmaker whose 1955 film, Les Maîtres Fous (The Mad Masters) heralded the arrival of a “direct cinema” which set out to collapse the distance that separates the apprehending gaze (the camera) from its subject (the Other). Following Rouch, The Secretary of the Invisible was filmed in the historic homeland of the Songhai people.

Re-enacting the participatory collaboration between actor and director pioneered by Rouch, the film documents the shared journey of Hugonnier and her chosen companions Damouré Zika and Moussa Hamidou – Jean Rouch’s principle actor and sound engineer, respectively – as they set out to make a film together. Set during ‘Cinema day’ the annual film festival in Niger’s capital Niemey, the narrative also features a “Holley” ceremony – an animist Songhay ritual. The story recounts Hugonnier’s exchange of her radio for another “transmittor of invisibility”, a South-West African transformation mask, which enables the inhabitation of animal spirits. The mask, which originates from another tribe, becomes an intruder in the Niamey’s ceremony, mirroring the presence of the camera, and behind it, the artist. Like the radio, and the mask, the author of the film is a conduit, or “secretary”, through which the events are transmitted and hence a metonymy is established that runs through the film’s discussion of authorship, and the paradox of critiquing the politics of seeing with a camera. The theme of mimesis, metonymically represented here by the chameleon, runs throughout the film. The reptile’s change of colour, its camouflage and subsequent invisibility are placed in parallel with the ability of the director to become an “invisible eye” and to remain in the service of this condition. The title The Secretary of the Invisible is an expression used by the character, Elisabeth Costello in J. M. Coetzee’s book entitled Elisabeth Costello. An expression Coetzee, in turn, borrowed from the polish poet Czeslaw Milosz.


Hugonnier’s practice has reconsidered the phenomenal world as a cultural construct, exploring how our visual aprehension of it is subject to ideological, political and physical positioning. Her films, photographs and works on paper are presented within broader systems of signification drawn from her anthropological studies. The artist approaches her themes and reflects on man’s ambitious quest for empire through a combination of visual techniques from the languages of film and photography.

Hugonnier’s recent solo exhibitions include Kunsthalle Malmo (2009); MAMCO, Geneva (2008); SMAK, Ghent (2007); Philadelphia Museum of Art (2007); Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin (2007) and Kunsthalle Bern (2007). Her work has also been shown in Pensée Sauvage, Frankfurter Kunstverein (2007); Badlands, MassMOCA (2007); Paraísos Indómitos, MARCO Vigo (2007), Universal Experience, MCA Chicago, USA/ Hayward Gallery, London (2005), Cine y casi cine, MNCARS Madrid (2007). She has participated in the 52 Biennale di Venezia (2007); the 27 Sao Paulo Biennial (2006); the Busan Biennale, Korea (2006) and T1 Torino Triennale, Turin (2005).
The gallery would like to thank the collaboration of Max Wigram Gallery (London) and MAMCO, Geneva.