The Female Conductor's Back

2011 (re-edit 2015) / Video & 9 Drawings / HDV / 16:30 min. / color / sound

„A conductor is expected to possess leadership qualities, authority and the ability to handle major formal concepts intellectually. A conductor who creates with empty hands has something intangible, something abstract about him. Women were long considered to be lacking these qualities.” (1)

The film centers on the act of beating time; this embodiment of an artistic power gesture, a classic example of male staging. Two female conductors appropriate this art of musical performance and dismantle it right away.

The young conducting student Maria José Villamil-Rodriguez* visualizes and explains the loaded repertoire of conductor's movements. The camera follows her hands while she precisely depicts the gestures for indicating upbeat, phrasing and crescendo. In addition Villamil-Rodriguez comments upon and draws over the traditional measure figures of her male predecessors. She deciphers therefore (for the audience) what the conductor Monica Buckland** already had performed in the kick-off scene. The opening scene of the film shows Buckland at an orchestra rehearsal; a five minute long prologue in which we face her and observe how she designs and earns the space through her body language.

“I have a upright posture while conducting. During a rehearsal once, while I was still a student, my professor said that my breast were too prominent when I held my body upright. He suggested trying a more hunched position.” (2)

The act of appropriation and mediation of those two women opens the space for fundamental questions of emancipation and the reproduction of power relations; of ascribed roles in the context of gender and cultural production. Thereby the camera-eye moves between fascination, dismantlement and complicity with the protagonists.

"The moment that female conductors will be as much the standard as male conductors are, will probably be the same moment when conductors are no longer considered necessary – when this image of power will have lost its magic and function.” (3)


*Maria José Villamil-Rodriguez was studying conducting in Vienna during the film recordings. At the same time she was conductor of the Vienna International Gospel Choir.
**Monica Buckland was conducting the University Orchestra Dresden during the film recordings.

(1) Eva Rieger, Frau, Musik und Männerherrschaft (Women, Music and Male Domination), 1981 (2) Female conducting student in interview, (anonym), 2011 (3) Hans Klaus Jungheinrich, Der Musikdarsteller (The Music Performer), 1986

The conducting patterns were copied from textbooks on conducting and enlarged to the actual size of the conductor’s hand movements. This enlargement produces a coarse image resolution. The lines were then touched up and filled in with pencil.


Video: HDV / 16:9 / HDCam / 16:30 min.
Performers: Monica Buckland, Maria José Villamil-Rodriguez
Sound design: Cordula Thym
Color correction: Kurt Hennrich
Language: German & English subtitles

Installation view Galerieb2, Leipzig, 2011, © Andreas Schulze
Video stills / The Female Conductor's Back