Breathless (Ausser Atem)

2000
one-channel installation
14:45 min.
no sound

A barren, hilly landscape. In the foreground, a house from whose chimney thick smoke constantly billows. The house stands in water. It has no windows and something about its proportions doesn’t seem right. Shot from the same position for a period of almost 15 minutes, the scenery develops a disturbing, one could also say uncanny effect.

Sigmund Freud described the uncanny as something that was once familiar and has become alien. The effect of the uncanny thus does not consist in the experience of something unknown and unfamiliar, but rather the reverse: in the alienation of something formerly familiar. What makes the uncanny uncanny is the distance between the simultaneous experiences of familiarity and strangeness. Maria Vedder’s video, too, has this effect. Everything seems familiar and yet somehow different and strange. The longer we view the presented segment of landscape, the more it loses its harmless character. If, with Freud, we consider the etymological connection between “unheimlich” (uncanny) and “heimelig” (homely, domestic, familiar, tame), then the house in Maria Vedder’s scenery in particular takes on a downright symbolic significance. For this house made of concrete and without any windows is not a home, but a spookily breathing dollhouse. (That it is indeed a miniature house becomes clear at the latest when hikers crossing the picture permit us to deduce the size of the house.)

Starting from this interpretation, one could continue in Freud’s tracks. The small, inhospitable housing would then be viewable as a metaphor of the body in the form of the return of the repressed: as the fantasized fear of a foreign body – or, perhaps better: of a body turned alien – and at the same time as evidence for Freud’s hypothesis that “the subject is not the ruler of his own house”.

Anja Osswald