Tales and Destinies by Naoko Kaltschmidt

Naoko Kaltschmidt for VOL.TWO
The principle of dialogue or dialectics is an important characteristic of film: here the concern is not with an individual image, but instead with the sequence, the arrangement – in other words, with the confrontation of images which thus allows the creation of a complex fabric. Film montage on the other hand can produce as many different types of sensual contexts as the individual sequences allow. The concept of Michael Strasser’s exhibition project with the title Coupé International aims at exactly this potential of getting to know – in a new and enriching way – two artistic positions from different backgrounds, through their juxtaposition. In this case, the works of Johann Lurf (lives in Vienna, Austria) and Gina Telaroli (lives in New York City, USA) are brought together which at first glance, based on their divergent aesthetics, perhaps have little communication with each other. Lurf’s films are often characterized by austerity and reduction, and can be considered very comparable with the tendencies of the so-called structural film; Telaroli’s works are distinguished on the other hand by their accumulative process, which applies both to the (often appropriated) materials as well as the multiple stages of processing / working out. Yet one thing that is common to both Lurf and Telaroli in their working method is the knowledge of the technical conditions and possibilities of filmic expression, which they are both highly skilled at applying in their work. The handling of found footage can in this context be seen as an indication of a reference to film history and equally as an intelligence with regard to the historicity of audiovisual media. With Lurf and Telaroli, concern is also with the occupation with film, which in its self-referential, media-reflective practice, is always also informed of the specific potential of this art form.

In Johann Lurf’s work A to A (Kreis Wr. Neustadt) (2011) everything turns on the traffic design form of the roundabout: Lurf drives a Vespa around nearly a hundred of such rondeaus in Austria in order to record their architectural strangeness, which is sometimes exaggerated into grotesqueness. The carousel ride that Lurf takes us on (and this comes out more strongly still in the 3D version of the film), translates in its circular movement the geometric quality of this traffic island and at the same time offers a view to the surrounding landscape. The bleakness presented here is acoustically accompanied by a repetitively stuttering and unnerving motor sound which means that even the plane of sound is determined by monotony, yet one that is intentionally produced and which in turn possesses, in its incomprehensibility, its own irritability. Lurf portrays another non-place par excellence in RECONNAISSANCE (2012): the Morris Reservoir, located near the Californian city of Azusa. The huge reservoir served from the Second World War up into the 1990s as a testing ground for torpedoes; after its closing, the gigantic complex with its alienated purpose has the effect of a removed, yet still very threatening place. Lurf dedicated several months to the filmic exploration of this architectural ruin; the camera view glides over its surfaces, registers its configurations, and thereby leads our perception into the mindboggling optical illusions produced by the minimal movements of the camera. Lurf understands only too well how to charge this site atmospherically with night shots, lights, or the shimmer of the air. In light of the military context of this arena, these impressive shots refer equally to the targeted use or instrumentalization that images can fall prey to: as images of surveillance with all of their potential interpretations. These contexts, or the influence of war technologies on the general usage of images, is also a theme in Harun Farocki’s work complex Auge/Maschine I-III (2001–2003); Lurf had studied under him at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Very different in its approach is Endeavour (2010) with documentary NASA footage of a space ship that he lends such a rhythm to that it produces an intoxicating composition: several cameras film the path from the earth into space and back again; the result, if also characterized by a similar fascination for these unique impressions of space, is in its making far more radical than, for example, Alfonso Cuarón’s opulent, Oscar-winning film Gravity (2013). In a comparable visual staccato Twelve Tales Told (2014) celebrates, using an impressive cinemascope format (and fittingly, with the option of 35mm or 3D versions), the overpowering aesthetic of the big film studios, which they give prominence to in the front credits to their films: the lion of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the skyline of Miramax, the mountain peak of Paramount, the Pegasus of TriStar – we know them all. Here they are taken out of their contexts as accessories and presented as main attractions. And yet they are in part also already attractions, as the title suggests should one think of the complicated proprietary relations (1), so that the images do not simply fade away at the end without a degree of nostalgia.

In light of film-historical developments, Gina Telaroli asserts the following powerful formulation: Digital Destinies (2012), as her work is called, plays on film footage taken from Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009). Telaroli undertakes here a complex and multiple image processing method by using different cameras – a HD camera, a smart phone, and a copying process – in various formats and programs and/or effects such as repetition and zooms. At the beginning (and the end) we see a monitor in a suggested room; the camera captures, not completely rigidly, the screen with the film playing. Already at the next moment, an additional film is laid over this opening scene, so that quickly and increasingly the subsequent visual levels intersect, which results in a partial overexposure. The classical motif of the image in the image is blown apart here so to speak in a shooting scene which is not only acoustically beguiling but also unleashes a veritable color explosion. History as layering, which makes some things visible yet other things incomprehensible, is what one might associate with this project, although it is also about an optical experiment. This on the other hand pays homage to a digital aesthetic and with it certainly also reflects Mann’s attitude with the so openly directed shots as well as their stylistic adeptness. Looking back on the visual opulence yet simultaneously the very conscious handling of the medial characteristics of the film, Telaroli clearly approaches in an artistic sense the work of Martin Scorsese whose video archive she manages; she shares an interest in film history with him, who along with his director and producer roles is also involved in securing and restoring analogue films. In SP(EYE) GAM3Z (2012), for example, Telaroli combines fragments of various provenience: she focuses on clips from Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler (1922) or Raúl Ruiz’ cryptic film La chouette aveugle (1987), Tony Scott’s Spy Game (2001), and Déjà Vu (2006), or John Carpenter’s satire They Live (1988). Motifs such as national security, or threats, but also, more generally stated, distrust, are subsumed under the concept of spying – all of it flanked by a dull-patriotic music video by Miley Cyrus delivered with a strong note of sarcasm. A national hero of a very different caliber is the subject of All Shook Up (2013): the biopic produced for television, Elvis (1979), likewise from Carpenter, has Kurt Russell in the lead role as “King.” Telaroli puts together excerpts from this film in such a way that in a verbal sense a multi-layered overall arrangement – not at all a narrative – emerges, which commands attention through its atmospheric qualities. Here, too, Telaroli films the screen and copies this footage further; the multiple images, almost lending spatial qualities, in the subsequent segment recall among others things the work of Stan VanDerBeek, an important representative of expanded cinema. Finally, in Brigadoon (2014) we are dealing with a virtual sound carpet: we hear music, there is singing and dancing – a wall of images that are titled after Vincente Minnelli’s eponymous musical of 1954. Here our concern is with an appropriation of content, not with the audiovisual elements: the urban-rural conflict is translated by Telaroli in – likewise historical – images of city scenery, advertising in neon light, and dance bars, until no one less than Vincent van Gogh (played by Kirk Douglas in Minnelli’s Lust for Life of 1956) opens the window of the room to the outside. The crowns of trees and landscapes meld into a dazzling, ornamental overall structure; Telaroli intensifies this indulgence of forms in that she consciously uses color distortions and positive and negative exposures (which are processed as real-digital) for an alienation effect. With this method she creates her own rules, her own reality. And it is precisely here where the unique magic of film lies, whose influence one should not try to avoid, as Scorsese wisely states: “Whenever I hear people dismiss movies as ‘fantasy’ and make a hard distinction between film and life, I think to myself that it’s just a way of avoiding the power of cinema. Of course it’s not life – it’s the invocation of life, it’s in an ongoing dialogue with life.”(2)

NAOKO KALTSCHMIDT studied art history and cultural studies in Berlin and Vienna, freelance writer (for e.g. Camera Austria, Cargo, kolik.film, springerin), since 2011 curatorial assistant at mumok kino, Vienna.

1. For example, Sony Pictures Entertainment at least partially controls the sister companies of the Japanese Sony enterprise, Columbia Pictures, MGM, TriStar Pictures or United Artists.
2. Martin Scorsese, The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema, in: The New York Review of Books, 15.8.2013, pp.25–27.

Thank you to our sponsors:
The Arts Division of The Federal Chancellery of Austria, Austrian Cultural Forum New York and Project: ARTspace New York

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