BY Alice Koegel in Reviews | 05 APR 03
Featured in
Issue 74

Martin Arnold

Kunsthalle, Vienna, Austria

BY Alice Koegel in Reviews | 05 APR 03

Midway between the Viennale Film Festival's cinemas and the Kunsthalle a 12-hour DVD loop of Renée Marie Falconetti in the title role of Carl Theodor Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Suffering of Joan of Arc, 1928) was projected on to the façade of a building. Falconetti's expressive face morphed from one large-format still to the next; the grimaces of her torturers were edited out. In its expression of suffering the intensity of Jeanne Marie Renée (2002) stretched the limits of endurance.

Since the late 1980s Arnold has been taking our breath away with his films made from appropriated Hollywood material. With Viennale Spot (1997) he digitally condensed and ultimately vaporized Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). One minute was all it took to turn off its shower for ever - whereas Douglas Gordon slowed down the film to the point where it almost became a still (24 Hour Psycho, 1993). However, whereas Gordon relies on the aura of appropriated material and the prolongation of time in order to elevate film further towards panel painting, other, often overlooked, avant-garde filmmakers who have worked with found footage - Arnold, Peter Tscherkassky, Gustav Deutsch, Oleg Kovalov ... - turn to cinematic technology and materiality itself, using editing and special effects.

In his three DVD room installations at the Kunsthalle, Arnold revived old Hollywood films, as he did in his earlier image-samplings made for cinematic showing. This time, however, instead of chopping them up at break-neck speed, he used digital composition to ponder their materiality (and more than doubled his 45-minute oeuvre). The effect was to rob the original works of their surface allure in order to reflect on the ghostly creature we call film - and on the things that Hollywood cinema pushes out of sight.

In two of the three installations the gaze of the viewers alternated between two screens that faced each other, while loops undermined any remaining sense of linearity. In Forsaken (2002) the showdown from High Noon (1952) occurs between combatants who have been obliterated from the picture: the empty set is populated by nothing but clouds of smoke and dust, and the dead bodies of bandits. In Dissociated the two leading female characters from All about Eve (1950) face each other in a double projection. Their battle of words turns into silent tension: their speaking parts have been cut out and morphing has been employed, so that their mouths remain closed - Hollywood's horror of silent confrontation and unfocused gazes made visible.

In his one-hour work Deanimated (The Invisible Ghost) (2002) Arnold again attempted to 'remove the soul', while relying on a more traditional cinematic mode of display. Inverting the usual purpose of animation effects - which is to add digital details - he gradually removed, one by one, each actor from The Invisible Ghost (1941), a B-movie dealing with hypnosis, disappearance and forgetting. Horror vacui spreads and finally the black-out occurs. Unfortunately the five-channel sound was too weak to make the manipulated fragments of dialogue properly audible in the exhibition space: the film's state of eruption and collapse could be seen but not really heard.

With its built-in cinema seating Deanimated was not compelling as an installation. Although the double-projection pieces did not require the visitors to move around in order to experience space, the simultaneous projection of images made the viewer aware of the fragmentation of gazes. Arnold presents us with an idea of cinema constructed from the kind of image you don't get usually get to see in the cinema. The only thing that is still missing, however, is the acknowledgement by a wider art discourse of his and other filmmakers' work in this field.

Translated by Dominic Eichler