Media Art Exhibition “Moments of Awareness“
curated by Johannes Kochs and Maria Vedder
with works by Heinz Emigholz, Harun Farocki, Johannes Kochs, and Maria Vedder
with a booklet
„There are different approaches to creating awareness of the urban environment, its phenomena and effects and the perceptions associated with it. Some of these methods—photography, film, installation—have been brought together in the exhibition “Moments of Awareness” which features works by four Berlin-Lichtenberg-based artists; works that convert aspects of the urban into forms that can be contemplated and considered. What becomes visible in the works, the particulars and continuities of urban space, depends on decisions, on choosing points of view.
If you have an eye for it and a hunch as to where, how, when, and how long to look, cities, their densities, are steady sources of the spectacular. It’s possible to envision the city as a large concentration of small stages on which everyday life is performed—nonstop, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But frameworks (spatial, temporal, intellectual) are necessary to lift these spectacles out of the blur of superimposed urban impressions and bring them into view.
The performance on display in Maria Vedder’s video “beieinander” (“at close quarters”; 2006)—found while the artist was wandering the city—is the spectacle of a fluttering curtain pushed and shoved by a strong summer breeze in front of a window in Lichtenberg’s Victoriastadt district. Animated by the wind, the curtain sometimes evokes a sort of hulking monster who has been violently knocked off balance into a stumble—yet every so often, from one moment to the next, as if out of nowhere, its amorphousness transforms itself and assumes elegantly flowing, flutteringly delicate forms.
The surprising range of forms that the wind lends the curtain is one aspect of “beieinander.” Another soon makes its appearance. After a short while, the billowing fabric also becomes theatrical prop, a stage curtain that draws attention to the goings-on behind it. Abruptly and erratically, the curtain presents and prevents the view of the room behind the window where the most commonplace occurrence becomes the object of the keenest interest: at this very window a man can be seen clipping his nails. A play staged by everyday life, performed in a framework that (with the help of Pascal Comelade’s toy music accompaniment) evokes a doll-like surreal miniature theater of chance.
Contrary to the accidental/found, anonymous, incidental nature of “beieinander,” Johannes Kochs’s video and photo series “Faces” (2015) emphasizes choice, the individual, the concentrated. In a way, his work grows out of August Sander’s documentary portraits from the first half of the twentieth century. Sander’s encyclopedic approach, however, is shifted by Kochs—perhaps because the kind of compilation of social types that Sander was able to pursue would at the beginning of the twenty-first century no longer possess the same self-explanatory obviousness. In Kochs’s series, there are very few instances in which the viewer is able to ascertain, just by looking, what the occupations of those portrayed are; this is in part because perceptions of “professions” (and “vocations”) have changed since Sander’s time, and there is also no association between profession and recognizable, proper “work” clothing. The people in Kochs’s images present themselves as individuals without clear attributes. And although the series locates them in documentary settings (in or in front of their respective places of work or homes) they seem strangely disconnected from everyday life.
Corresponding to the 25 photographs are 25 cinematographic portraits of Lichtenberg residents. In these, one senses a concentrated involvement of person recording and person recorded, a kind of “pact.” It seems as if the viewer is able to register the share of the individual’s work on his/her image, for example, the work that goes into positioning in front of the recording device and that of remaining and persevering in the chosen pose. This complicit consent to show up to be recorded as image of him- or herself, as captivating presence, becomes palpable. At the same time, however, this presence does not ascend to something statuesque (or a mystical “visage”). The serial montage (each shot lasts 45 seconds) protects from such elevation with its feathery-light, airy, calm rhythm.
In his 35mm film “Schindlers Häuser” (“Schindler’s Houses”; 2007), Heinz Emigholz also uses serial methods to compile urban images. The film shows snippets of urban Los Angeles via cinematographic recordings of buildings designed by architect Rudolf Schindler. The buildings are presented chronologically, in the order in which they were constructed, starting in the 1920s and extending into the 1950s. The spaces conceived and designed by Schindler are mostly residential, seldom commercial. Only a small number of people can be seen in the daytime images, nevertheless, their presence is inferred in the spaces portrayed and their interiors. Just as Emigholz’s camera, always at a slight tilt, presents the houses cropped in ways that suit the spaces, the shots are consistently distinguished by a characteristic gradation of the lighting that lends soft contours to surfaces. What is especially striking, however, is the tranquility that emanates from the film, its montage, and, consequently, from the spaces depicted. In “Schindlers Häuser,” the urban space is a constant acoustic presence as background noise, but (like the light) it pushes its way into the homes only in a muted and graduated manner. The result is an image of Los Angeles as a (sub)urban conglomeration of places of retreat—an image that stands in contrast to the representations of the city as hectic metropolis so familiar from cinema history.
“Gegen-Musik” (“Counter Music”; 2004), a video piece by Harun Farocki, assembles a different history of cinematographic forms for representing the urban environment. At the heart of his installation, the documentary “city film” of the 1920s is contrasted with recordings made by operational, surveillance cameras from the northern French city of Lille.
The emphasis and promise of 1920s avant-garde cinema (Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera” or Ruttmann’s “Berlin, Symphony of a Great City”)—that the new modes of picturing and montaging kinetic energies accumulated in cities, modes that transform notions of the perceptible, should be joined by new, progressive kinetic impulses for social and political movement—has today, according to Farocki’s cool diagnosis, turned into the managing of modes of transport by cinematographic means. The images supplied by operational cameras in Lille do not know the former promise of development and no longer have any awareness of narratives anxious for change. They only know states of regularity and divergence required to read and adjust urban traffic patterns. The images these cameras give of the city are regulative surveillances. The view provided by these cameras is normative; from their perspective, the dawning of the day no longer holds any promise of the start of stories than can be individually narrated.
Media artist Maria Vedder’s second work in the exhibition considers impressions of individual, irregular movements in the city. Her series “Desire Lines” (2015) features photographs of idiosyncratically branched or parallel-running tracks left behind as beaten paths in a fallow area of Lichtenberg.
One by one, people took these routes, turning them into collective paths. Something made them do this. What, exactly, this alluring “something” was is not shown. The pictures are not interested in the starting and ending points; they are interested in the stretches in between and the forms these display. They imagine this fallow area of Lichtenberg, which no longer exists, as ground into which flows of movements (and of desire) have been entered. The forms created in the process resemble prehistoric signs; they remind us of runes. But they also recall the origins of cities. Cities, we know, are mostly built at the junctions of frequently traveled Pathos.“