directors lounge monthly screening
my over-groomed sense of entitlement
Thursday, 25 April 2013
A woman, the sole character in the scene and obviously in some dependent employment stops to act according to the role expected of her as employe. With unblinking eyes she seems to follow a different agenda, or maybe a "vision". She seems to act strange or unreasonable, however it could be the opposite, that all of her surroundings appear to be unreasonable to her. "I would prefer not to..." is her response when asked directly (Bartleby) This brief outline of "Bartleby" a video adaptation of the novel of Herman Melville basically matches several of Gabriele Stellbaum's more recent works. Another response of the female main character is: "What you call a violation has been an act of disgust" (Summer Frost). The films are set in very different locations or studio sets. The camera follows her almost all the time, it is very rarely allowed to detach from her, and thus transmits a claustrophobic feeling, already. The picture is clear, pristine and of that unforgiving sharpness of high definition video realism, and still there is a sense of surrealism similar to some of Lars von Trier's Dogma films (and "Dogville"). According to the artist it is all based on images, she starts a project with a mental image she has, and searches or builds the sets she is looking for: an office space that totally matches the color of her printed cotton dress (Bartleby); a public indoor pool and all the adjacent facility spaces connected with it (Friday, the 13th); a seemingly endless parking garage that functions as a spiral-shaped maze (Honest Lies); or a flat, snow covered winter landscape used as intermitted images.
Given the precision of the images, it may be surprising to hear that Gabriele Stellbaum never has worked with a camera person in the classical sense. She usually sets up the scene and the camera, and uses a friend to just operate the camera according to her instructions. And yes, it is the artist herself playing the main character or even several characters, while only sparsely using other actors. Even though the films rely heavily on language, on-camera or off-camera but always diegetic (in direct, narrative connection), the language rather functions as text stream than as conventional dialogue. It may be this text stream above all, that breaks the rules of conventional narrativity. The things happening seem to follow a flow rather than a plot.
Gabriele Stellbaum is one of those artists who discovered video as a medium while following her practice. After having studied and worked as a sculptor, and with some influence from her dance training at high school, it was her relocation to New York, where she would stay for 10 years, which was the reason to switch to a medium of "less physical weight". Unlike earlier generations of artists who made the move to video (or "media"), and who explored video as a "material" in the minimalist sense, or as a means of political activism, Stellbaum refers to the narrative forms of the media, and to modern literature. The different characters she plays in her films may possibly be described as fluctuations of a single figure, as a kind of alter ego like K. or Franz K. is an alter ego for Kafka, like Bernardo Soares is for Fernando Pessoa or Buster Keaton the film character is for Buster Keaton the film director. Those little guys on Main Street, also true for Bartleby the character created by Melville, all struggle against the alienations of modern life with subversive methods. And all of them are male, whereas all of Gabriele Stellbaum's characters are female. Thinking of what else makes Stellbaum's alter ego contemporary rather than modernist, her female adaptation on Melville's Bartleby (from 1853) may be a key figure.
First, since the time of scriveners, mechanization and two world wars have put women into the profession of typists and secretaries making these positions an almost exclusively female profession. Second, after Freud's introduction of the illnesses of the psyche, and the rising power of the drug industries, Bartleby's delinquencies would surely find a fitting diagnosis and a treatment with drugs, if necessary in a hospital instead of a prison. Accordingly, in "Summer Frost" the main character is confronted with a medical examination. Still, the artist also has constructed a vaguely contemporary setting for Bartleby, and we may read the prison sequence at the end of the film more metaphorically as a mental image for her sentence "I rather would prefer not to change anything". If transferred to contemporary times, Bartleby would more likely be hospitalized than imprisoned, and the strength of the story, or its contemporary interpretation is possibly a counter-action against the complex demands of today's working environment than a rebellion against the patriarch hierarchy of Melville's time. This leads to the question if such rebellion has even more serious consequences in our a society, where any low-paid job is based on proactive adapted activism.
Gabriele Stellbaum will be present for Q&A. Curated by Klaus W. Eisenlohr