BY Pablo Larios in Reviews | 29 MAY 13
Featured in
Issue 10

Cinematic Scope

Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna

BY Pablo Larios in Reviews | 29 MAY 13

David Maljković, Out of Projection, 2009, Installation view, Two-channel HD video installation

What ever happened to that ‘post-medium condition’ heralded by Rosalind Krauss in her 1999 essay A Voyage on the North Sea? It’s telling that Krauss’s text was really an examination of the moving image: the promises, doctrines and potentiality of a medium that stood for some time as the marker of its own ‘post-medial dematerialization’, to borrow from the day’s rhetoric. Today, accounts of film and video tend to fall into two camps. There are those, and they are many, that lament the passing of film – like VHS rental – to general cultural obsolescence. For others, the usual suspects themselves – the Internet, digital video, ‘prosumer’ technologies, Arab Spring-style footage taken on smartphones – constitute the very viability of the moving image, which still ambiently colonizes many aspects of everyday experience. Those two camps could be schematically distinguished by a reliance on avant-garde legacies on the one hand and utopian technocratic models on the other. The eight artists – all males in or around their 30s – grouped by curator Fiona Liewehr in Cinematic Scope at Georg Kargl Fine Arts fell predictably into the former camp, offering prints, projections, videos and installations that dealt with the legacy of ‘cinema’ in an ‘expanded’ – though very limited – sense.

The general stance of this exhibition was not strictly elegiac, but sought – according to Liewehr’s press release – to evince the viability today of the ‘“classical” medium of film’ – albeit often using the doctrinaire apparatuses of the former of the two previously mentioned camps (reel, screen, projector). Iconic in this regard was Wolfgang Plöger’s Texas Loud, Texas Proud (2013), a three 16mm-projector installation using final speeches of inmates on death row in Texas; their words were directly silkscreen printed on the films themselves but rendered illegible in the act of projection and magnification. This piece – noisy and kinetic in the exhibition’s main room – was successful in disturbing (and even enraging) the viewer. But, placed here, it overshot its mark due to the uneasy equivalence constructed between death row and the inevitable ‘end of film’ resonances of the physical apparatuses. The result was heavy-handed. More successful, and less definitive, was the installation by Slovenian artist Tobias Putrih, titled Pre-Projection (2008): an upside-down pyramidal object – like the fold-out bellows of a daguerreotype camera – drooped from the ceiling directing onto a teaspoon placed on the floor. The teaspoon, when inspected, showed a tiny image of a fan circulating like a reel though hopelessly out of shape due to the skewed reflection on the spoon (a camera obscura was hidden within the pyramid). In its cinematic panning between high and low – abstraction and object – the piece lent a tinge of levity and productive ambivalence to a series of pieces that, like the show’s concept as a whole, seemed fatally overburdened by a theme.

Take David Maljkovic’s two-channel video Out of Projection (2009), which was installed in the exhibition’s rear room. Maljkovic filmed retired Peugeot employees walking around the test track at Peugeot’s headquarters in Sochaux, France, pushing around prototypes of futuristic looking vehicles. The effect – in silent, surreal black-and-white – was moving and eerie: aged former workers caught in the bizarre, almost Sisyphean task of mobilizing prototypes whose realization they may never see. Beside this was a smaller screen showing straightforward interviews with former engineers. In a setting where apparatus and material are key, Maljkovic’s two-channel setup came across as needlessly pedantic, didactically literalizing the dualistic effects that were already implicit in the film (memory and future, past and present, reality and imagination, ‘projection’ and realization, and so on).

The almost defensively explicatory stance of Maljkovic’s piece – flattened in easy-to-digest form – chimed in too well with the stance of other pieces in an exhibition whose premise I initially found relevant and timely. But when it attempted to channel a previous generation’s problems by appropriating its aged rhetoric – the ‘expanded experience of the body in physical space’ through ‘actions, happenings, environment’, all within our ‘digital, post-media conditions’ – the show was burdened with a problem of its own projection. Neither were its solutions original. In that these prior ‘movements’ are only understandable within discrete, historically-specific contexts, an attempt to restage or repeat them (in ‘updated’ form) is to strip them of their original integrity and leave them as historically over-determined artifacts. As such, the silver screen became exactly that: silver-haired.

Pablo Larios is an editor and writer. He lives in Berlin, Germany.