Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller have been working together since 1999. Their works almost always use found footage and operate at the intersection of cinema and visual art. Tell Me What You See offers, for the first time, an overview of their work. For the exhibition, the artists have selected pivotal films from their ouevre dedicated to basic formal and film motifs.
The moving train is one such motif. Girardet and Müller have devoted the triptych video Locomotive (2008) to the train as it appears in one of the primal scenes of cinema, the Lumière brothers’ 1895 footage of a train pulling into a station, L’Arrivé d’un train en gare de La Ciotat. Composed of cinematic stereotypes, the installation comprises an array of footage: trains racing through the countryside, pulling in and out of stations, locomotives hurtling through tunnels, sleeping passengers, passengers walking along train aisles, endless tracks and mini-dramas of arrivals and farewells. The panoramic projection of three often-similar scenes running alongside each another lays bare the constructed nature of cinematic narration. Girardet and Müller deconstruct films and analyze them according to theoretical as well as thematic and visual criteria, assembling disparate found clips into a suggestive continuum without succumbing to traditional narration.
Some of the works are also dedicated to the basic parameters of light and darkness, seeing and not seeing. Contre-jour (2009) is stylistically reminiscent of 1960s flicker films: here, as in their previous film Beacon (2002), Girardet and Müller combine existing film footage with their own 35mm clips. The film is cut in a strobe-like staccato: wide-open eyelids, doctors shining head mirrors into their patients’ eyes, all spliced with the artists’ own footage of portraits of individuals who emerge from the darkness in contours or turn away from glaring light. Contre-jour is an experimental study in light, but it is also a metaphorically rich reflection on the medium, a visual récit about cinema as an eye onto the world.
By contrast, the human body is the focal point of Cut (2013), a work created specifically for this exhibition. Surgical references feature both in content and editing. Skin injuries and dripping blood are its main motifs: bodies suffer cuts, fevers, and sweats, are disinfected, operated on, stitched and bandaged. Clips of plants, water, sand and crawling insects form contrasting caesuras amidst a rapid succession of disparate images – sources ranging from David Cronenberg to Luis Buñuel, from The Exorcist (1973) to Black Narcissus (1947). The projection’s accompanying piece Cut (Workprints) (2013) initially appears rather didactic: a long glass table shows miniatures of more than 600 film stills arranged in tidy rows grouped by motif. Astonishing as it may be that the artists rely on such an analogue process in the digital era, it also shows the centrality of cutting in their work, as both technique and narrative element. It also demonstrates the importance, in their practice, of piecing together individual images. The title of Johannes Binotto’s essay in the exhibition catalogue encapsulates this approach: zusammen/schneiden: Operationen am lebenden Körper des Films (cutting/together: Operating on the living body of film) – the artists as surgeons, slicing into the corpus of film history.
Photographic works also accompany films elsewhere in the exhibition. Some of them function as a sort of introduction to the film, like the two-part photography work Somewhere (2011), which is atmospherically attuned to the film Meteor (2011). Others are more autonomous, such as the aphoristically titled If I Don’t See I Am Blind, I Am Blind, But If I See I Am Blind, I See (2010), a photographic work comprised of film stills.
On the whole, the exhibition gave a rich insight into the visual and narrative cosmos of the duo. Their film and video works function as distillations of cinematic history, using the principle of found footage to pose questions about the representational level of film imagery as well as to reflect on the methods of depiction and technological conditions of cinema as a medium. Not least, the snipped emotion in their works provide a substratum for our own desires, fears, dreams and projections.
Translated by Jane Yager