Mattias Härenstam

Portrait of a smiling man

Single Channel Video 2010. Full-HD, PAL. Duration: 4 min 31 sec. No sound.

The Smiling Man: Andreas Albert Müller

An actor has been given the task of trying to keep a broad smile for long as physically possible. Gradually the smile breaks down into an increasingly grotesque grimace. See excerpt of video.

(...)PE: The work Portrait of a Smiling Man (2010) is a chilling psychological performance by an actor whom you have shot trying to smile for as long as he physically can. Personally I have problems watching this poor guy as my face muscles start to hurt just from watching him. Crying and laughing are close to each other. Did others react the same way when watching it? Was this physical effect your intention? Tell me more about the work.

MH: Drawing Circles and the ... Smiling Man are probably the two pieces that owe most to the renewed interest for the work of Bacon, mentioned earlier. In this specific case, not so much the famous screaming popes, but a series of paintings with (business-)men sitting alone in dark spaces. I think that Portrait of a Smiling Man just might be the closest to a self-portrait that I will ever make. 
   My actor was given a very simple instruction-to smile as widely and for as long as possible. He decided himself when to give up (and some of these takes lasted almost 40 minutes!). We spoke earlier of control and the loss of it, and this was an experiment in just that: For how long can you manage to keep it up? The both comical and painful struggle to keep the facade intact, if you like. I liked the way the smile was gradually distorted by muscular cramps, turning it into more and more of a grotesque grimace. Maybe it becomes an almost physical experience to watch because you instinctively want to smile back at someone smiling at you, creating a direct relation to the pain the man inflicts upon himself.
  Excerpt from an interview by Power Ekroth, published in the catalogue "Failure", 2012.

   This video was shown for the first time at Art Kino#7, Bio Rio in Stockholm in March 2010, selected for a thematic program by Virlani Hallberg and Camilla Larsson of Bonniers Konsthall. It has since been shown at the II Baltic Biennale of Contemporary Arts, St. Petersburg June - July 2011 and the annual Spring Exhibition at Fotogalleriet, Oslo, in March - April 2011. In January - February 2013 it was shown as part of a solo show at Galleri Rostrum, Malmö, Sweden and of another solo show at Luleå Konsthall March - April 2013. 

  The video was also toured within the program "Flaggfabrikken presenterer: Nordic Art Express" with screenings at Fotogalleriet, Oslo; the Film School in Lodz, Poland; SUPERMARKET Art Fair in Stockholm; Landmark, Bergen Kunsthall, Norway; Trajector Art Fair in Brussels; Temnikova & Kasela Gallery, Tallinn, Estonia and Fishfabrique in St. Petersburg and shown in a program of Swedish video art compiled by Art:Screen at Beaconsfield, London Feb. 2011 and the International Film Festival Rotterdam Jan - Feb. 2011. It has also been shown at "Invisible Violence", Fest'Arte, MACRO, Rome; Videoholica Festival, Varna, Bulgaria Aug. 2010 (and later toured as part of a special selection program to Plovdiv, Bulgaria; MEM Festival, Bilbao; Espressioni Festival, Milan; Oodaaq Festival, Rennes and (.BOX) Video Art Project Space, Milan); Madatac Festival, Madrid, Dec 2010; "From the Norse", NABROAD and Royal Norwegian Embassy, London; "Neue Bewirtschaftung", Galerie Soumesta, Berlin; the 21. International Videofestival in Bochum, May 2011; Norwegian Short Film Festival in Grimstad, June 2011, Videocracy, Budapest Nov 2011; Serial Box Festival, Columbia, MO, USA during the winter 2011/2012; at Préavis de désordre urbain, Marseille Sep 2012; Coagula Curatorial, Los Angeles, September 2013; Museo del Convento de Santo Domingo - Qorikancha, Cuzco, Peru October - November 2013  and at Sala Luis Miró Quesada Garland, Lima, Peru November 2013.