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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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12/28/07 03:04:41 pm
Ulla von Brandenburg: La Maison

Ulla von Brandenburg??ôs work is full of contradictions. She explores death but is fixated by ghosts; her work is invested in theatre but not in narrative; and she consistently invokes the concept of infinity but clearly references very specific historical styles. She likes to conflate the present and the past, most often by using subtle fashion and props in her works that give the air of the 1970s, of the turn of the century, and of today simultaneously. It??ôs not done in a nostalgic way, but rather to draw out the notion of Timelessness. Brandenburg??ôs recurring motifs of stasis, the occult, and concepts of infinity and theatre have all culminated in La Maison, Brandenburg??ôs installation and film contribution to Performa 07.

La Maison takes the form of a complex of rooms created by hanging multi-colored fabrics tainted with colors from the old Luesched diagnostics examination. The rooms correspond to the ones in an historic French castle in which the film takes place. Her longest and most complex film to date, it winds in a loop through the castle corridors, beginning and ending by zooming into and out of a traditional oil painting depicting a landscape with a castle presumably similar to the one we are taken through in the film. The place of the painting in the castle hall corresponds to the screen??ôs placement within the fabric installation. The black and white film sequence shows actors frozen like sculptures in various poses, barely moving: They are in modern day tableaux vivants depicting a man with a ribbon around his hands in a figure 8, a woman holding a mask, a couple playing chess and reading palms, a man on a bench with his head covered in a cloth that undulates to his breath, a flute-player on the stairs, a man on his deathbed surrounded by onlookers, and finally two women holding against a wall the floorplan of the castle. Random props, such as a double cane, occasionally lie discarded on the floor. The silent loop is one continuous film take that makes the viewer feel as though she were a slow insect flying through a 3D photograph.

Brandenburg takes her cue from the theatre in using props and symbols. Throughout her multidisciplinary practice, her most common props are the mask and the cane possibly because they are the simplest way to transform oneself, to become Charlie Chaplin or a Dadaist. But they are also surrogates for body parts. The cane in Brandenburg??ôs works is often doubled, with two handles, alluding to a pair of legs. Mirrors are a recurring theme too. Through such theatrical props she explores the supernatural, itself intrinsically intertwined with theatre. Brandenburg often depicts images of a magician levitating a woman as if on display. Her ghosts are usually simply people sporting white sheets. Yet, instead of dramatizing her content, Brandenburg takes on a rational, perspicacious approach, as if she were a scientist in a lab coat. Drawings of Rorschach tests and old psychology evaluations using color, are mixed in with chess games. A recurring image in her oeuvre is of a man on his deathbed, surrounded by reserved family, none of whom sheds a tear or seems overwrought. This is Brandenburg??ôs world, as stark and existential as an Ibsen play or a Munch drawing.

Brandenburg??ôs practice seems to manifest in every medium. Her wall drawings are as well known as her films; her paper cut-outs as mysterious as her performances, and her installations are as rich as her drawings. The only thing missing is photography. For an artist completely invested in the concept of Time, and with her work so utterly photogenic, this seems a puzzle indeed.

A photograph is a moment, the decisive moment when the photographer releases the shutter. This is the precise moment when she does not see her subject. The shutter blocks her field of view, and she will only see it as a representation (after being developed on film and then on paper). Brandenburg, however, refuses to go blind, even momentarily, keeping her penetrating eyes open wide, unflinching from the subject. There is no one instance that is memorialized and therefore relegated to the past, to death and to stasis. Brandenburg??ôs film presents something in-between, a sort of living dead that operate at the intersection of photography and film. Extreme in their non-action, the works are half-living apparitions that are shadows of ourselves. Instead of creating a monument to time past, Brandenburg lets that moment go on forever, solving the conundrum and dispelling the seeming contradiction of death and eternity.


Chen Tamir

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