Bak’s multi-disciplinary practice revolves around the creation of films addressing the notion of community and identity and evoking a “tribal adventure” through which she tells stories about the communities she seeks out. Since her initial experience in 2007 within the mining community of Barlin in France, Bak has continued to immerse herself within micro-societies – sensitive to the situation of these communities, she appropriates with affection and humour these ethical systems and popular traditions.
If the result of her “infiltrations” convey the aesthetic of an ethnographical documentary, some picturesque elements and other incongruities however lead these realistic stories towards semi-fictional portraits of united singularities. From the Polish community of New York to the Din Daeng neighbourhood in Bangkok or the French convent in Paris, Bak portrays with sensitivity and humour the broader life within these communities – mixing truths and falsehoods and playing with how the clichés and fantasies that we have of these populations resonate with us.
Bertille Bak’s approach to community systems naturally took place within the mining village of Barlin in northern France, her familial hometown. Destined to being demolished, Barlin is the theatrical setting of two initial main projects T’as de beaux vieux tu sais…and Faire le Mur in which the artist opens a space for dialogue between various generations and environments. In T’as de beaux vieux tu sais… the residents of Barlin and Bak’s family play their own role in a film which brings the artistic act to another level of commitment. In Faire le mur, Bak returns the favour to the “Barlinois” by pointing out and denouncing the injustices suffered by the residents of mining towns in Northern France as they are threatened with having their homes destroyed. Far from adopting a miserabilist form, the stories and revolts orchestrated by Bak take on a greatness and a poetry of the act of protesting.
The prestigious Edward Steichen award was presented to Bak in 2010 and led her to a six months residency in New York. There, she was faced with the massively cosmopolitan composition of the city, and so she researched, located and copied out via GoogleMaps the areas with strong concentrations of satellite dishes giving her a picture of the locations of certain communities. She then went on to discover the Polish community whose immersion within the city gave birth to the project Urban Chronicle. The film, Urban Chronicle 3, is a fiction based on the stories she was told about the traditions and visions the Polish community has of the city as foreigners. Here, the frog competitions, national parades on Fifth Avenue and other folkloric elements compose a humorous contemporary tale raising the question of immigration and the repartition of these communities within large cities.