• Review

  • October 18th, 2013 10.18.2013

    Ulla von Brandenburg: secession Vienna


    The headliner of Secession’s recent three-part opening is a film and accompanying installation by German artist  Ulla von Brandenburg. For her exhibition Innen ist nicht Außen (Inside Is Not Outside), Brandenburg creates an immersive set-installation for the presentation of her film Die Straße [The Street]. Upon entering Secession’s main gallery, one is warmly invited into the space by a large raised platform, stage-like and complete with an immense red curtain. The wooden surface slopes gently to the foot of an impressive staircase behind the curtain. The gentle singing voices of a woman and man accompanied by repetitive music fills the space, luring viewers to climb the staircase and discover what lies on the other side. At the top, one stands above a descending set of stairs that serves as seating for the viewers of Die Straße, which is projected largely and flush with the floor against the far wall. The set, through its ups and downs and layers of visibility, allows one to reciprocate the theatrical actions made by von Brandenburg. On-stage and off-stage become tangible concepts and the large audience is its own quiet spectacle, though completely ignored by the actors of the film.

    Die Straße is characteristic of von Brandenburg’s video work. It is impeccably composed: one long and uncut tracking shot that moves back and forth between two erected walls of white fabric in a field. Like her other videos, it is black and white, muting any temporal or spatial specificity. The intimate space between the framed walls is filled with activity, captured by the camera which follows a curious man unfamiliar with the lively going-ons of the citizens of this community as respectfully observes the proceedings. The carnivalesque nature of each act is overlaid with the sound of an autoharp and lyrics in German that repeat childlike riddles. “Inside isn’t outside,/ today isn’t here./ Soup was at noon/ for supper you get beer.” von Brandenburg has chosen to use the same two voices on the soundtrack, though several men and women open their mouths to sing throughout the scene. At times, the female’s voice is applied to the image of a man singing. These details, simultaneously unifying and discordant, render each character voiceless; a single part of a larger whole with a specific task at hand. The film does not use a narrative or sequential construction, operating more like performance than cinema.

    René Zechlin writes in the exhibition catalogue, “Ulla von Brandenburg’s references to the theater repeatedly lead us back to the fundamental questions of our existence and society: Who are we? What roles do we play? What position are we given through our roles?” In Innen ist nicht Außen Brandenburg’s immersive construction does, through the viewer’s required physical engagement, ask one to reflect upon these questions that extend beyond the set. But these questions are limited by the sterility of both the film and the set. While one might choose to enter such an existential state of inquiry, it is far easier to be pacified by the film’s lullabies. Similar to the film’s isolated and seemingly arbitrary series of acts, the up-down-up-and-down-again movement to reach the film from the gallery’s entrance feels neither demanding nor illustrative. One could argue it is the responsibility of the viewer to challenge him or herself to delve into the piece more deeply, but I would not hold it against them if one simply chose to be charmed beyond criticality. In nearly anti-Brechtian fashion, Innen ist niche Auben wraps its viewers up in imitation and presents them with a form of escapism: a dream-like temporal void, where imaginary customs may remain just that: images constructed and displayed for the viewing pleasure of a captive audience.

    Ulla Von Brandenburg’s installation is one of three single-piece exhibitions currently on view at Secession in Vienna, Austria. A review of Hannes Böck’s exhibition, also at Secession, can be found here. Both exhibitions run through November 10, 2013.