After William Castle’s “Percepto!” or John Waters’ “Odorama,” it seems like the time has come for Swedish provocateur Anna Odell’s “The Gynaecological Cinema Chair” – an interactive experience created specially for this year’s Göteborg Film Festival. A concept that’s more than just an attention-grabbing gimmick, however, as the director behind 2013’s “The Reunion” was quick to point out to Variety following the screening of “The Examination”. Her new project, which sees Odell talk to known Swedes about subjects ranging from equality to strength, before asking them to strip from the waist down and sit in a gynaecological chair, in front of a trained professional, describing the workings of an actual exam.
“When I invited these men, I said: I am going to ask you to do something that only women do. I was afraid that if I tell them about the chair right away, they would run away,” explained Odell, also in town to give a director’s talk.
“Last summer I was in Poland, showing my latest film “X&Y”, and went to see an art exhibition. In one of the rooms, there was this gynaecological chair. It just stayed in my head,” she added. “When the festival called me about making an official vignette this year [showing her standing over writer Jan Guillou with her foot firmly placed on his head, as in direct response to him body-shaming Stellan Skarsgård in the past] I thought: Sitting in this chair puts you in a really vulnerable position. If I could do this to powerful men, it would be really interesting.
Men that, apart from Guillou, also include hockey legend Börje Salming, former Swedish minister of justice Thomas Bodström, and former president of Interpol Björn Eriksson. But not all of them agreed to her terms, with comments like “this image would be used as evidence of what an idiot I am” or “I would be doing it just to be nice” backing up their refusal. “I think it’s quite typical,” said Odell. These men, they want to be seen and say what they think, but going ahead and actually doing something is another thing altogether. Many of them are older, so to suddenly do something that women are doing didn’t seem “manly” enough. It was fine, knowing that some of them won’t sit in the chair, or will insist on keeping their clothes on. I wanted to find out what they would say about it.”
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Predictably, the reactions vary. Some get critical, others suggest finding another way to show their vulnerability – with Odell sitting on top of Eriksson in one scene, holding him down. “He said at the end: This was fun. You would never get up from a gynaecological chair, saying: Doctor, this was fun,” deadpanned Odell. “Jan Guillou was the first one I met and I was a bit nervous. But when I asked him if he has his own idea of what he could do instead, and he did, I was happy. If no one would sit in the chair, it wouldn’t be a very good project. But he showed me another way of being vulnerable, and that’s when I started to believe this might actually work.”
Odell, already a headline-grabbing artist in Sweden, is no stranger to making people uncomfortable. “I have done different work before, like when I faked psychosis. People reacted very angrily to that idea, so I am used to it,” she said, referring to an art project “Unknown, woman 2009-349701” that led her all the way to court. “It was interesting to see them getting so defensive and seeing what kind of defence they were choosing. Or hearing one of them suggest it would be better to focus my attention on erectile dysfunction,” she revealed. “The way I work, I slip an important question into something that’s strange, forcing people to be honest. We can’t just blame men for inequality, women play a big part in it too, but maybe we can finally accept that being strong doesn’t mean behaving “like a man”. Just think about how much they are missing when they are taught to never show any emotion.”
Odell also decided to create the whole environment around the project, with nurses inviting people for the screening in the waiting room and then leading them to the examination room for the second part. To be experienced in, no surprises here, an actual gynaecological chair, an idea resulting in more than a few stifled chuckles. “We laugh when we are uncomfortable, it’s a way to handle it. We are not used to seeing a man exposed like that. But maybe seeing that will actually change something?,” wondered Odell. “There was this young girl and she said: It feels so strange, I am sitting here showing my vagina to all these men and some of them make me so angry! For me, this second part is really funny. No one has ever laughed in a gynaecological chair before and I wonder if it’s something that could be done in the U.S.,” she said, with her producer Manne Indahl chiming in. “Maybe Obama would do it?”
Anna Odell’s “The Examination” was shown at the Goteborg Film Festival at the first interactive gynaecological cinema aka “The Gynaecological Cinema Chair.”