Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler
The 6th chapter of the Moving Image Department concentrates on two parallel and complementary themes – the (inner) architecture of time and the architecture as a vehicle of a (real and imagined) temporality. The works gathered in “The Inner Lives (Of Time)” are reveries and as such, oscillating between the states of dreaming and waking, they express the psychology of both time and architecture, and their influence upon (mainly female) protagonists’ conscious and sub-conscious acts and the actions' flow. From the trance films of the American avant-garde filmmaker and film theorist of the 1940’s and 1950’s, Maya Deren through a cinematographic masterpiece, “House with Pool” (2004) by American-Swiss filmmakers Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler down to the structural poetry of Czech artist Markéta Othová’s photography and the poetic structure of Austrian artist Josef Dabernig’s already iconic Montage-System, the exhibition loops the stories in a search for a cinematic truth and magic.
The rationalistic origin of Josef Dabernig’s purist and minimal structures, and the artist’s passion for systematic clarity, precision, and the logical order constitute a subversive entry-way to the Moving Image Department’s 6th chapter's cinematic and photographic narratives, dominated by a dream-like aesthetic and a stream of consciousness. On the other hand, Dabernig’s industrial, mathematically structured aluminum grid systems, appropriated by the artist from the construction of suspended facades in the building sector, allude to the modernist pattern, present in the location sets of Othová’s photographs and Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler’s films, and they too correspond with the oneiric sites of Deren’s films, built upon repetition, symmetry and mirroring. Rigid geometry of Dabernig’s grid operates as a framing template for Markéta Othová’s reconstructed series of “Utopia” (2000\2016), consisting of 9 black\white photographs, a lyrical, contemplative study of a voyeurism, set up in a suburban landscape. Catching an ephemeral moment and mapping a relational space between the architecture and a psychology of a human subject, the artist’s fixed camera portrays children playing in a modernist housing complex’s courtyard. Architectural structure dominates the frame and builds up a new aesthetic consciousness. Othová’s new, large-format photographs prove such mechanism. An almost sublime merging of a subject-matter and a surrounding highlights both a chance and a control over the picture’s frame.
In almost all photographic and cinematic works by Teresa Hubbard (1965) / Alexander Birchler (1962), cinema appears as a unique and uncanny construction of appearances and illusion. Rendered with unsettling slowness by a traveling camera, their cinematic narratives make reference to the persuasive illusionism of dioramas and other ancient miraculous mechanisms of vision. To achieve the unforgettable sense of unreality, the artists manipulate the perception of space by constructing a location set like a sculpture, filmed from all around by the camera’s disquieting movements, which emphasize the artificiality of an environment (impression of a still-life) and strong sense of staged situations and mise-en-scene (theatrics of the wax museum). Such treatment of space is only one of the aspects in the Brechtian process of intentional unmasking of the filmic illusion. The omnipresent dichotomy of inside/outside, as reflected in this specific space of cinematic architecture is echoed and explored on the mental level of the human psyche: all the stories that the spectator witnesses are actually taking place in the mind set of the characters, as projections of dreams, desires and expectations, on the edge of being familiar and non-recognizable. As a result, the atmosphere of the works is one of estrangement and reverie, between the somnambulant drive and a state of awakening, marked by a fragile tension of an unresolved mystery due to broken and disconnected narrative: a phantasmagoria. “House with Pool” (2003) tells such a story composed of fleeting and detached moments, filled with intriguing narrative voids, open to the viewer’s imagination and fantasies in the process of completing a possible storyline. Set in a 1950’s modernist house, designed by Roland Gommel Roessner in Austin, Texas, “House with Pool” is a suspense movie where Alfred Hitchcock meets Alain Resnais in the labyrinths of mystery and puzzle. This is the stage on which the troubled subjectivity is constructed and performed: in a semi-conscious process of searching for identity, between the blurred screens of memories, past events of forgotten significance and shadowy figures of multiplied self. Two women, most likely a mother and a daughter, seem to haunt one another as they move inside and outside of a house in a masterful choreography which generates psychological tension, recalling David Lynch’s delirious narratives. Apparently unresolved family conflicts, implied guilt, separation and the inability to forgive are at play here. The film is filled up by bitterness and unfulfilled desire. Here, there is a particular, captivating story of a homecoming as a stage for a trauma of detachment and displacement.
Female protagonist, the heroin who undertakes an interior quest, had been always in the centre of Maya Deren’s experimental films, evident especially in her masterful “Meshes of the Afternoon” (1943) and “Rituals in Transfigured Time” (1946). Deren, a key figure in the development of the ‘New American Cinema’ was also a choreographer, dancer, poet, lecturer, writer, photographer and films theorist (author of, amongst others, “An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film”, “Cinematography: the Creative Use of Reality” and “Poetry and the Film”). Realized in a collaboration with Alexander Hammid (Deren’s first husband, born in 1907 in Prague, a Czechoslovakian filmmaker, cameraman and editor, working in Hollywood), “Meshes of the Afternoon” is the first narrative film in the avant-garde American film history which took on an autobiographical tone - for women and the individual (both Deren and Hammid played in the film themselves). P. Adams Sitney describes it as an expressionistic "trance film”, full of dramatic angles and innovative editing, based upon an intricate spiral structure while another film critic, Thomas Schatz categorizes it as the first example of “the poetic psychodrama” which “emphasized a dreamlike quality, tackled questions of sexual identity, featured taboo or shocking images, and used editing to liberate spatio-temporal logic from the conventions of Hollywood realism.” The film investigates the ephemeral ways in which the protagonist's unconscious mind works and makes connections between objects and situations. As Maya Deren wrote, “this film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simply and casual incident into a critical emotional experience”. Here too, like in “House with Pool”, a dream conditions a film’s narrative: “the girl falls asleep and the dream consists of the manipulation of the manipulation of the elements of the (first sequence’s) incident”. In “Meshes of the Afternoon”, like in all other Deren’s films on self-representation, the artist navigates conflicting tendencies of the self and the “other” through doubling, multiplication and merging of the woman in the film. Multiple exposures, jump cutting, superimposition, slow-motion and other camera techniques strengthen the psychological intensity of this film, evoking a sense of restlessness, alienation and uncanny estrangement. Following an oneiric quest with allegorical complexity, “Meshes of the Afternoon” has an enigmatic structure and a loose affinity with both film noir and domestic melodrama, naturally echoing surrealist cinema of Buñuel, Dali and Cocteau.
Silently, a woman wakes on a beach as the tides go in reverse. Her dreamscape unfolds as she tries to locate a chess piece traveling from the beach to a party to a country road and then back… Thus begins “Ritual in Transfigured Time” (1946), Maya Deren’s 4th film and the most complex one, marking a radical extension of the trance film towards the architectonic film which found its best expression in the work of Gregory Markopoulos and Stan Brakhage (P. Adams Sitney). “Ritual in Transfigured Time” is Deren’s further exploration of a borderline between the external and inner world: it is a film about “the nature and process of change”, where “the external world itself is but an element in the entire structure and scheme of metamorphosis: the sea itself changes because of the larger changes of the earth”. Here too, a woman played by Maya Deren, like a somnambulist, participates in a ritual of a split self, performing a duality of human nature in a hypnotized and enchanted choreography of movements and gestures. Sidney observes that “Ritual in Transfigured Time” is Deren’s great effort at synthesis, considering a transformation of somnambulistic movement to repetitive, cyclic movement, that is to dance, as well as a fusion of traditional mythological elements (the Graces, Pygmalion, the Fates) with private psycho-drama. Here too, Deren demonstrates an attempt to present a complete ritual in terms of the camera techniques she had utilized in her earlier films - slow motion, freeze-frame, repetition of shots, and variations on continuity of identity and movement.
Curated by Adam Budak