When we think of Joan of Arc we might think of an androgynous heroine, Dreyer’s and Bresson’s marvellous films, the terror of interrogation, a tormented body, a fraught symbol…
But what happens when an artist with all this at the back of her mind takes a fresh look at the historical sources? What images do they conjure up?
Ana Torfs shows us in her installation ‘Du mentir-faux’ (About Lying Falsehood). In the context of the first exhibition of this installation in 2000 in Brussels, she made this artist’s book. It shows her profound engagement with this historical, mythical and literary figure. The book, with an introductory essay by estimated Belgian writer Dirk Lauwaert, comprises, apart from a selection by Torfs from these trial reports, an autobiographical text by her own hand, in which she bears witness of her fascination for the figure of Joan of Arc: not as the political or national symbol, but rather as the all too physical, self-willed yet ultimately defenceless victim of an all powerful system.
Particularly interesting is the graphic design Torfs chose for her text: in accordance with medieval manuscripts the core text, Torfs’ account of how the work was established and how this process relates to her personal history, shows added ‘glosses’ in a smaller typeface.
The relationship between both ‘trails,’ however, is not quite as one would expect. In this case it is not only the author herself who makes ‘comments’ on her own text: the intimate main text can be perceived just as easily to be ‘comment’ or ‘interpretation’ as its surrounding glosses, which in fact deliver more factual information. The more the reader moves back and forth between both trails, the more he or she will be awakened to the fact that any outright attempt at ‘interpretation’ of ‘facts’ can do nothing but founder. Joan of Arc appears as the constantly receding focal point of an inextricable tangle of accounts, testimonials and biased interpretations, out of which no ‘truth’ can be deduced.