Ha­ving a Point of View


Ar­chives are one of the most-used ele­ments in art these days. Ar­tists seek to re­cons­ti­tute the past (whe­ther their own or that of a com­mu­ni­ty or place, or even a coun­try), and his­to­ri­cize the present to give us a shar­per image of it. Cle­mens von We­de­meyer uses mul­tiple and criss­cros­sing points of view and tem­po­ra­li­ties by using a di­ver­si­ty of vi­deo and film pro­ce­dures. Is he chal­len­ging the sub­jec­ti­vi­ty of the ar­tist—he re­fuses to take a po­si­tion—or is this sim­ply a re­cog­ni­tion that some ques­tions have no ans­wer? The ex­hi­bi­tion P.O.V. (Point of View) at the Jo­ce­lyn Wolff gal­le­ry late last year sheds some light on this ques­tion.

Do­cu­men­ta 13 (2012) was un­doub­ted­ly a tur­ning point in Cle­mens von We­de­meyer’s ca­reer. There he pre­sen­ted Mus­ter/Rushes, a vi­deo ins­tal­la­tion si­mul­ta­neous­ly tel­ling three sto­ries in the form of “do­cu­fic­tions,” each on one screen, pro­jec­ted on­to a large tri­an­gu­lar struc­ture that pre­ven­ted vie­wers from seeing all three screens at the same time. The three nar­ra­tives were fil­med in the same place, the Be­ne­dic­tine mo­nas­te­ry in Brei­te­nau (Hesse, Ger­ma­ny, not far from Kas­sel), but the sto­ries take place in 1945, 1970 and 1994, res­pec­ti­ve­ly. In 1945 the mo­nas­te­ry ser­ved as a la­bor camp, in 1970, a boar­ding school for girls, and in 1994, a me­mo­rial. Three mo­ments in time, three ge­ne­ra­tions. The connec­ting thread is Ger­man his­to­ry, from the fall of the Third Reich—We­de­meyer’s cho­sen scene is the li­be­ra­tion of the camp—to the ter­ro­rist at­tacks of the Red Ar­my Frac­tion, the pro­test mo­ve­ments of la­ter de­cades and to­day’s reu­ni­ted, re­la­ti­ve­ly calm Ger­ma­ny see­king to pre­serve its me­mo­ry. Ins­tead of dif­fe­ren­tia­ting bet­ween these three time frames, We­de­meyer seeks to connect them by in­vi­ting vi­si­tors to move around the three screens.

PO­LY­PHO­NY This sup­po­sed uni­fi­ca­tion takes place on ma­ny dif­ferent le­vels. Through the uni­ty of place, the mo­nas­te­ry and the ex­hi­bi­tion site; the ac­tors, who in some cases ap­pear in dif­ferent seg­ments; the in­ter­lo­cking of the sound tracks, ma­king up a po­ly­pho­ny that al­lows us to hear snatches of what’s hap­pe­ning on the screen or screens we can’t see (we can on­ly watch two at once, and even that with dif­fi­cul­ty). Yet even though this po­ly­pho­ny holds it all to­ge­ther to some de­gree, we can ne­ver real­ly put the three sto­ries to­ge­ther. The frag­ments of conver­sa­tions that reach us from the other side in­ter­fere with what we’re sup­po­sed to fol­low on the side we can see. Thus the sound track forces us to weave our own nar­ra­tive as we move around. The most Car­te­sian vi­si­tors pass me­tho­di­cal­ly from one screen to the next, trying to res­pect the chro­no­lo­gy; while

others opt for a more di­sor­ga­ni­zed and in­tui­tive ap­proach, hop­ping back and forth bet­ween screens trying to catch the dia­logue, even though this ge­ne­rates mi­sun­ders­tan­dings and in­com­pre­hen­sion, dis­con­nects and holes, thanks to We­de­meyer’s tri­an­gu­lar ins­tal­la­tion. He de­li­be­ra­te­ly chose that mode of pre­sen­ta­tion ins­tead of one ma­king it pos­sible to see and hear the suc­ces­sive epi­sodes in or­der, so as to put res­pon­si­bi­li­ty in the hands of those to whom his films are ad­dres­sed. To have them adopt a point of view. This ques­tion of view­point is at the heart of his fil­mic en­ter­prise

RESISTANCE The view­point of the ar­tist, from where the ca­me­ra ope­ra­tors (not ne­ces­sa­ri­ly We­de­meyer) are lo­ca­ted, of the ac­tors and pos­sible com­men­ta­tors and me­ta-com­men­ta­tors, and conse­quent­ly of us, the vie­wers. Of­ten this point of view is ac­com­pa­nied by an in­ter­ro­ga­tion of the con­di­tions and contexts (mo­vie house, open-air pro­jec­tion, etc.) of the pro­jec­tion of the three films ( Von Ge­genü­ber, 2007 and Sun Ci­ne­ma, 2010). Vie­wers can take the chance of mis­sing the pos­sible “content” of these films, which is, real­ly, the on­ly way to not miss the es­sence of this work. At a time of to­tal in­for­ma­tion over­load, We­de­meyer of­ten plays the card of di­sap­point­ment, fai­lure or de­li­be­ra­te­ly lea­ving things obs­cure, as in the Bas­ler Po­dest seen for the first time at the Ba­sel art fair in 2006 and re­moun­ted se­ve­ral times since, no­ta­bly at this ar­tist’s recent re­tros­pec­tive at the Ham­bur­ger Kuns­thalle. The piece is a bus­ted-up re­cor­ding stu­dio with, among other things, an over­tur­ned chair, splat­te­red blood and foot­prints, clues to an im­pro­bable and dis­tur­bing sce­na­rio. As to what hap­pe­ned, we are left in sus­pense; the clues don’t clear­ly add up, pieces of the puzzle are mis­sing and we can’t quite fi­gure out what it all means. There is a di­men­sion of mys­te­ry that ema­nates from We­de­meyer’s work. Whe­ther de­cons­truc­ted, put in­to pers­pec­tive or re­flexi­ve­ly com­men­ting and en­do­wed with co­pious notes for that purpose, ne­ver­the­less it re­sists all at­tempts and temp­ta­tions to box it in too tight­ly. This contra­dic­tion par­ti­cu­lar­ly mar­ked the show ini­tial­ly pre­sen­ted at the Neuer Ber­li­ner Kunst­ve­rein that the Jo­ce­lyn Wolff re­pri­sed at the end of 2016.

DECONSTRUCTION En­tit­led P.O.V. (Point of View), the show uses as its raw ma­te­rial se­ve­ral ar­chi­val films from 1938-42. They were made by the ama­teur film­ma­ker and Frei­herr Ha­rald von Vie­tin­ghoff-Riesch. At the front, but from a cer­tain dis­tance, and des­pite the res­tric­tions on image-ma­king im­po­sed by the Ger­man au­tho­ri­ties, he in­ces­sant­ly fil­med main­ly tri­vial epi­sodes wi­thout the kind of spec­ta­cu­lar ima­ge­ry you would ex­pect from amem­ber of Wehr­macht. Clear­ly he ca­red more about the fate of horses (Vie­tin­ghoff-Riesch was a Ritt­meis­ter, a ca­val­ry cap­tain) than the hu­man vic­tims of Na­zi bar­ba­rism. P.O.V. is a trap, in­so­far as we are temp­ted to see these films from an au­to­bio­gra­phi­cal angle. Ha­rald von Vie­tin­ghoff-Riesch was, in fact, We­de­meyer’s grand­fa­ther, but this fa­mi­ly tie turns out to be as in­ci­den­tal as most of the foo­tage shot by his fo­re­bear. De­cea­sed du­ring the 1950s, the lat­ter re­pre­sents a dif­ferent his­to­ry, even though that his­to­ry is so­me­thing ve­ry present to all Ger­mans of the ge­ne­ra­tion of this ar­tist born in 1974. True, Vie­tin­ghoff-Riesch’s films were shown at fa­mi­ly ga­the­rings when We­de­meyer was a child, but did they real­ly in­fluence his ca­reer as an ar­tist? He took his grand­fa­ther’s films from the Bun­des­fil­mar­chiv, not the fa­mi­ly ar­chives. Pe­rhaps he found it ne­ces­sa­ry that they be in the pu­blic do­main be­fore re­pur­po­sing them. What do these films tell us? Ab­so­lu­te­ly no­thing of sub­stance. At first sight, one would have trouble fin­ding a range of mea­nings and consistent mes­sages. Like the Bas­ler Po­dest, these mo­dest ho­me­mo­vies concern events that hap­pe­ned be­fore or af­ter Na­zi crimes, and with on­ly a few ex­cep­tions have lit­tle to do with them di­rect­ly. Of course, it is exact­ly this un­fo­cu­sed, so­me­times al­most in-

suf­fe­ra­bly in­sou­ciant tone, un­bur­de­ned by what was hap­pe­ning fi­gu­ra­ti­ve­ly and li­te­ral­ly out of ca­me­ra range, that led We­de­meyer to make his mul­tiple va­ria­tions. Va­ria­tions not, or at least not on­ly, on these films as such but on film in ge­ne­ral, see­king in this way, as he has in his other work, to de­cons­truct both the ar­ti­fice of ci­ne­ma and this me­dium’s re­la­tion­ship with his­to­ry, or, more pre­ci­se­ly, his­to­ries in the plu­ral, re­lying on the com­ple­men­ta­ri­ty of cross-ge­ne­ra­tio­nal gazes conju­ga­ted and su­per­im­po­sed on one ano­ther. In these va­ria­tions, We­de­meyer in­ser­ted com­men­ta­ries and me­ta­com­men­ta­ries in­to his grand­fa­ther’s raw ma­te­rial, ad­ded do­cu­men­ta­tion, re-edi­ted the short se­quences (ne­ver more than two and a half mi­nutes long due to tech­ni­cal constraints back then), ac­ce­le­ra­ted the rhythm, exa­cer­ba­ted the aber­ra­tions pro­du­ced by de­fec­tive film stock, stuck in words, and cal­led in other pro­ta­go­nists and “spe­cia­lists” to shed light on what we see and al­so on what’s not shown. In the end he as­ked a vi­deo game de­ve­lo­per to invent a vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment ins­pi­red by the ori­gi­nal images, once again brin­ging to the fore the ques­tion of the point of view of the fil­mer and the fil­med.

COUNTER-DRAMA Conse­quent­ly, what We­de­meyer gives us is a di­la­ta­tion, rein­ter­pre­ta­tion, ex­ten­sion and ex­haus­tion of the fil­mic raw ma­te­rial. The re­sult cor­res­ponds to his aes­the­tics: a su­per­a­bun­dance of si­gns in­fuses mea­ning and a den­si­ty in­to ma­te­rial that is all but inert and emp­ty of sub­stance, and at the same time neu­tra­lizes our abi­li­ty to as­si­mi­late the overw­hel­ming to­ta­li­ty of images and sounds, not to men­tion the pros­theses he has graf­ted on­to it. One of the films of which P.O.V. is com­pri­sed is symp­to­ma­tic of this contra­dic­tion: the ac­ce­le­ra­ted ver­sion We­de­meyer made ba­sed on two and a half hours of Vie­tin­ghoff-Riesch’s films. Con­den­sed in­to five mi­nutes and trans­fer­red to 16 mm, it lets us see both eve­ry­thing and no­thing. The ar­tist says that vie­wers una­fraid of the fli­cker ef­fect ge­ne­ra­ted by the ac­ce­le­ra­tion “will re­co­gnize ma­ny things,” but he ad­mits that “phy­si­cal­ly,” it’s im­pos­sible to watch clo­se­ly.(1) In the “phy­sio­lo­gi­cal over­load” trig­ge­red by this fast for­ward, Bert Reb­handl sees a ma­ni­fes­ta­tion of the “mo­ral chal­lenge” ( mo­ra­lische He­raus­for­de­rung) confron­ted by eve­ryone when wat­ching images of the Ger­man war of ex­ter­mi­na­tion.(2) The fact that these images are ins­cri­bed in a ge­nea­lo­gi­cal fra­me­work is not de­ter­mi­nant here. What is more so is the fact that they are, at first sight, “in­no­cent,” even though cer­tain dis­creet si­gns here and there in­form us about the rea­li­ty. Such in­no­cence seems to us in­com­pa­tible with the image we our­selves have for­med from these his­to­ri­cal facts. We­de­meyer of­ten uses the slow mo­ments as a way to ac­cen­tuate the dra­ma­tic mo­ments in ab­sen­tia. The ma­laise dis­til­led by the Bas­ler Po­dest (at ArtBa­sel in 2006 the gal­le­rist Wolff had to invent sto­ries to fill the “nar­ra­tive void” left by the ins­tal­la­tion) is a me­ta­phor for the dri­ving ele­ments in­herent in the sense of counter-drama with which We­de­meyer de­li­be­ra­te­ly in­fuses his films, even at the risk of bo­re­dom. He is ful­ly aware of this di­sap­point­ment and bo­re­dom, as he ack­now­ledges when dis­cus­sing his piece Die Probe (2008) in a 2009 in­ter­view with Reb­handl.(3) The sto­ry takes place be­hind the scenes at a po­li­ti­cal ral­ly. We hear, but do not see, a mad­de­ned crowd spur­ring on a pre­si­den­tial can­di­date. At one point the man ap­pears backs­tage to pre­pare his speech. We learn that he will re­nounce his can­di­da­cy and quest for po­wer. He goes back ons­tage and it is exact­ly at that mo­ment that we rea­lize that the foo­tage is loo­ped and the chee­ring of the crowd af­ter­ward is iden­ti­cal to be­fore. This loo­ping (al­so used in other We­de­meyer works like Ot­jesd from 2005 and the 2009 Against Death) upends the nar­ra­tion and our re­cep­tion of it. Here, too, the ques­tion of point of view is rei­te­ra­ted, since the sto­ry is not, or is no lon­ger, the same de­pen­ding on where we come in on the loop, es­pe­cial­ly since we can­not know what the can­di­date is tel­ling the pu­blic. Has he stuck to his de­ci­sion? Has he re­si­gned? These are the kinds of ques­tions wi­thout ans­wers we are confron­ted with by this ar­tist who is a past mas­ter at de­mys­ti­fying the fil­mic ap­pa­ra­tus. It goes wi­thout saying that We­de­meyer ne­ver lets me­dia images just go by wi­thout saying any­thing. Our re­la­tion­ship with his­to­ry and with sto­ries, in the fic­tio­nal sense of the term, is of course at the heart of the aes­the­tics and is­sues at stake in his work. We can guess that the pre­si­den­tial elections of 2016 and 2017 will ins­pire fur­ther in­ter­ro­ga­tions on his part, and that he will know how to pro­per­ly dis­tance him­self, in line with his work of deconstruction.

Trans­la­tion, L-S Tor­goff

(1) Cle­mens von We­de­meyer, quo­ted by Bert Reb­handl, “Eine Frage der Pers­pek­tive,” Frieze, num­ber 24, sum­mer 2016, p. 103. (2) Ibid. (3) In Freis­tel­ler, ex­hi­bi­tion ca­ta­logue, the Deutsche Gug­gen­heim, Ber­lin, 2009.

Cle­mens von We­de­meyer Né en / born 1974 à / in Göt­tin­gen Vit et tra­vaille à / lives in Ber­lin Ex­po­si­tions ré­centes/ Recent shows: 2010-2011 Pro­ject Art Space, Du­blin 2011 Ga­le­rie Jo­ce­lyn Wolff, Pa­ris Kuns­thalle Vienne ; Ur­su­la Bli­ckle Vi­deo lounge, Vienne ; Ga­le­rie Ci­vi­ca, Trente Kuns­thal Char­lot­ten­borg, Co­pen­hague Frank­fur­ter Kunst­ve­rein, Franc­fort 2012 St Paul Gal­le­ry, Au­ck­land Pu­blic Art Gal­le­ry, Du­ne­din; Mu­seo do Chia­do, Lis­bonne; Pa­ço das Artes, São Pau­lo 2014 Braun­sch­wei­ger Kunst­ve­rein, Braun­sch­weig; MAXXI, Rome 2015 Mu­seum of Contem­po­ra­ry Art, Chi­ca­go 2016 Ga­le­rie Jo­ce­lyn Wolff, Pa­ris (21 oc­tobre - 31 dé­cembre); Neuer Ber­li­ner Kunst­ve­rein, Ber­lin Ham­bur­ger Kuns­thalle, Ham­bourg; Ga­le­rie Kow, Ber­lin

De haut en bas / from top: « Ear­ly Mor­ning II » (« Sun Ci­ne­ma pro­ject »). 2011. C-print glued on PVC. 30 x 45 cm. « Against Death + In­ter­view Ac­tors ». 2009 Film 35 mm trans­fé­ré sur/ trans­fe­red to Blu­ray, 9 min (In­ter­view : vi­déo HD, 23 min). Vue de l’ex­po­si­tion à la/ ex­hi­bi­tion view at Kuns­thalle Char­lot­ten­borg. (Ph. A. Sune Berg)

« Die Pferde des Ritt­meis­ters ». 2016 Vi­déo HD, noir et blanc, son. HD vi­deo, 4:3, black and white, sound

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