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Here's your chance to read comments, reviews and ideas arising out of this year's Biennial posted by specially commissioned writers, critics and theorists. The Writing Live Fellows have been generously supported by Arts Council England.

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11/21/07 10:14:31 am
Review: Ulla von Brandenburg

Ulla von Brandenburg, La Maison at Saatchi & Saatchi, 375 Hudson
Nov 12 - Nov 17

The black and white film in La Maison is a grainy journey through the rooms of a baroque country house. Shot on 16mm film in a single take, the camera??s gaze feels as continuous and fallible as that of a human being. As it moves through the building, it discovers people in modern dress acting out tableaux vivants against a grand architectural backdrop.

In contrast to the elaborate architecture depicted in the film, as well as it??s grey and textured aesthetic, the work is shown in a bright, crisp, multi-coloured installation ?? it??s the film and the installation together that make up La Maison. The bright colours are large hanging rectangles of yellow, blue, green and red, which create a simple network of corridors leading to a central viewing area.

In fact, La Maison is structured out of contrasts. As well as the contrasts between the film and the installation, the dead-ends and blocked corridors of the installation itself seem to conflict with the clarity and simplicity of its fabric walls. Within the film, the decorative interior of the house contrasts with the utilitarian furniture and modern dress of the things and people that inhabit it. And ?? most strikingly of all ?? the constant movement of the camera contrasts with the frozen stillness of the tableaux vivants it finds on its journey.

These tableaux vivants are ???living pictures?? in two ways; not only do they show real people who remain static in time, as if drawn or painted mid-movement, but they also quote from pictures or genres of picture from the canon of art history. A woman faces a mirror but her reflection shows the back of her head ?? an echo of the painting Not to be Reproduced (1937), by the surrealist painter Ren? Magritte; a man sits on some steps playing the flute ?? he is a latter day Pan (the Greek God of nature), stripped of his flock of sheep but lifted straight from an eighteenth-century Elysian landscape.

And yet the movement of the camera versus the unnatural calm of the actors has already marked the poses as significant. Leading the viewer through the building in a single shot, the film stumbles upon these tableaux as both deliberate and unexplained, which denotes (but does not define) meaning. Beyond the layered symbolism of its individual elements, the formal balance of opposites in La Maisoninfuses it with energy.

Because its structure is built from contrast, La Maison speaks its own signification without having to explain it. And yet there are things to explain ?? intricate layers of meaning that sculpt the design. The fundamental contrast in this work, then, is this contrast between formalism and symbolism. Just as the moving camera marks the stillness of the actors, the formal elements of La Maison mark its symbolism, and vice versa. The resultant tension is what holds the disparate elements in this piece together, but it is also what separates them from the outside world. Concentrating on its own elaborate balance, La Maison presents a chilly face to its visitors and, ultimately, speaks to itself.

Mary Paterson

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