threshold (Schwelle)

2006
film and one-channel installation
8:12 min.
music: Brian Eno, J. Peter Schwalm
sound editing: Christian Obermaier

Thresholds mark transitions. They announce changes of location, but also changes in mental states. One speaks of the threshold between being awake and dreaming and of the threshold between life and death. Thresholds are often invisible; sometimes, however, one can also stumble over them. Then, at the latest, one becomes aware of the threshold as a boundary, as a non-space between spaces. Maria Vedder’s work THRESHOLD is, if you will, an audiovisual set of instructions for stumbling – for creative stumbling, of course, because what we see and hear there initially seems a familiar part of our everyday world of experience, but upon further consideration, the images and the sounds become increasingly strange.
The video shows passersby, filmed through a pane of frosted glass from a frog’s-eye view. One sees variously shaped shoe soles; the remaining parts of the bodies are lost in vagueness. The field of view is limited to a small excerpt. The viewer can make out neither where the passersby are headed, nor where they come from. No place, nowhere, only the tact of steps. Accompanying this is a composition by Brian Eno and J. Peter Schwalm that surrounds what is visually depicted with a subtle network of electronic sounds: a fine twittering like the static in a radio, but which can also swell to the ominous drilling and monotonous rhythm of a machine. Although the sounds are reservedly quiet, in time they develop a penetrating effect and mill their way into one’s hearing. Or is this buzzing and chirping that briefly tips into melody perhaps a signal received from alien beings from outer space? And wouldn’t the strange, disembodies footprints on the panes of frosted glass fit that?
The combination of the elements of depiction keeps all possible answers suspended in indeterminacy. Also suspended is the filmed site, which oscillates between the banal daily operation of a train station or airport, on the one hand, and a visit from outer space, on the other, and which abducts the viewer to a place that is transitory in both senses of the term. Here there is no arrival, only being en route. A journey through between Here and There.
The sociologist Marc Augé regards this somewhere-nowhere as characteristic of “non-sites”: “Just as a site is characterized by identity, relation, and history, so a space that has no identity and that cannot be termed relational or historical defines a non-site.” (Marc Augé; Orte und Nicht-Orte. Vorüberlegungen zu einer Ethnologie der Einsamkeit, Frankfurt am M. 1994, p. 92). Train stations and airports are this kind of places, functioning as relays and stations of passage. One enters them to arrive somewhere else. There is much openness in these spaces without grounding or traction. If homeland is a place where one feels physically or mentally at home, train stations and airports are places where spaces and times lose their solidity. This is probably why they are so well suited as projection screens for wishes and yearnings.
Maria Vedder’s video shows such a “non-site” as a paradoxical interface between physical and mental space. The passersby who rush back and forth, with or without luggage, become actors in a choreography of being en route, a choreography that can be regarded as a signum of the postmodern human par excellence. That the artist thereby relinquishes all technical ingenuities and ploys from the digital bag of tricks increases the intensity of the work as much as does the chosen camera perspective. The depicted space can hardly be grasped with the laws of statics and perspective. The result is a loss of grounding.
By making a spatial location indeterminate, Maria Vedder has conceived a video art work that expands into possible virtual, which means mental, visual, and auditory spaces, whereby thresholds are passed again and again. Depending on his mood and degree of attention, the viewer can glide across them – or stumble.

Anja Osswald