BY Axel John Wieder in Reviews | 05 MAY 99
Featured in
Issue 46

Fleeting Portraits

BY Axel John Wieder in Reviews | 05 MAY 99

'Fleeting Portraits' was curated by Realismus Studio (realism studio), which was formed in the early 80s, to ironically examine what is realistic about a studio practice when the West German art world was preoccupied with debates around the 'realistic' representation of political themes. The show deals with portraiture, exploring how, amongst multi-faceted attributions and projections, simple classifications of portrayer and portrayed evaporate.

The exhibition makes transparent the often-contradictory relationship between photographer and subject. Rineke Dijkstra's well-known video The Buzzclub Liverpool/Mysteryworld, Zaadam (1996/7) demonstrates how adolescent clubbers define themselves within codified social patterns and how they attempt to break out of them. Peter Land's Step Ladder Blues (1995) side-steps all attempts at authentic depiction, impersonating a painter who, to the not exactly bluesy music of Richard Wagner, clambers up and falls off his ladder. Tracey Moffat's video Heaven (1997), tracks Australian surfers undressing on a beach. It is unclear if the scene is an embarrassing actuality or whether it was staged - dubbed music, asynchronised edits and the title emphasise this ambiguity. In this respect, Gitte Villesen's video Vorbasse Market and Horsefair (1994) allows no such doubt. She videoed bored-looking people hanging round a Danish fairground, waiting for someone to become interested in what she was doing. Eventually, a lad in colourful shorts introduces himself and tries to flirt. The artist keeps filming. The young man thinks out loud that maybe it's a candid camera television programme. The camera conveys the mediated objectivity of observation, which becomes clear to the boy, who switches to the most rudimentary behaviour.

Running on a monitor, rather than as a video projection like the others, was Steve Reinke's 9 hour-long The Hundred Videos (1997). With exaggerated subjectivity the artist talks about himself through a crude mix of television snippets, drawings and home-made footage. Sometimes he feels like Frank Sinatra, a smooth voice-over tells us, but we can see no resemblance.

Bruno Jakob works with painting, drawing and photography, but the traces of his work are invisible. He paints and draws using water without pigment, so that all that can be detected are the crumbled waves of the paper, trusting the purely mental transmission of the person portrayed to be inscribed onto the paper's surface. Only titles like 7 Days of Death/at the Grave (1989/9) indicate an occurrence that in the mind of the artist has become history.

Michaela Meliàn's Hysterikerin (Anna O) (1998), is a projection of a single slide, which, by means of hand mirror driven by a disco-ball motor, wanders along the walls and a half-transparent hospital ward curtain. The projection shows a version of a non-existent woman's face: the image was produced by the Munich police's criminal phantom picture computer, based on a description given by the artist. The computer programme, however, only recognises male facial characteristics and types. The woman whose face Meliàn described was Bertha Pappenheim, who, under the pseudonym 'Anna O', was one of Freud's case studies. Diagnosed as a hysteric, she was a guinea-pig for the 'talking cure'. She later expressed her discontent about having been taken advantage of by the analyst, an observation that reinforces the theory that hysteria as an illness is a male construct, loaded with the devaluation of women. The diagnosis of an hysteric uses similar methods to the Munich police computer, which is only able to image a woman using characteristics denoted by men. Meliàn's rotating mirror transforms the worn-out, psychoanalytical meaning of the projection into an elegant technical model. The 'direct' representation of the criminal phantom picture of Anna O on the opposite wall, and its circulating reflection, recompose to a single image only for the blink of an eye - on every level, a truly fleeting portrait.

Translated by Dominic Eichler

Translated by Michael Robinson