May 3, 2014

Christoph Schlingensief Exhibit at PS1 by Ashley Morton

After the Cindy Keefer class, I decided to go find a film exhibition and walk around, and really focusing on how the exhibition was set up.
The exhibition I visited was at MoMA’s PS1. Currently, the museum is showing work created by Christoph Schlingensief (1960-2010), a German artist who worked in both film and theatre, as both a director and an actor.
            The exhibit begins on the third floor, and although you are aware that there is a best format to see the exhibit once you are inside it, it is not so clear where you should begin. Indeed, I actually visited the exhibition a few weeks ago and started with a part of it that is on the second floor, with very little context, since most of the exhibit is on the floor above. This time there was a sign that pointed to the “entrance” and a “no entrance” sign for the preferred exit, which would have been very helpful the first time.
The first thing you notice about the Schlingensief section of the museum is the noise. At first it is a bit jarring, there are a couple of films being projected on the walls with the volume way up, but, whether intentional or not, eventually the overlapping sound creates a sort of atmosphere that feels natural when looking at Schlingensief’s work. It also makes the gentle sustained hum of an organ in one specific room (which I will discuss later) all the more obvious and appreciated.
The exhibition is set up on two sides of the museum’s hall. The first side is a series of rooms, all done with white walls, but packed with information. Colored stills from his various projects cover the walls, so the white doesn’t feel stark, but rather helps make the color of the images pop. The photos are various sizes, and placed in no strict pattern. They are not framed images, but seem like stickers, flat on the wall; a less formal and more creative way of displaying them, that again helps their color and forms pop, drawing your attention to them, even more than the films themselves. The lighting is dimmer and warmer than other exhibitions in the museum, but still well lit. All of the tags are completely readable, without the font being too dark (which I sometimes find, when combined with harsh white lighting, creates a strange, 3D effect that can give me a headache).
Actual films are projected on portions of the walls, with “making ofs” and other informational films shown on smaller televisions jutting out from the wall (many of which have a chair seated in front of them so a viewer may sit and watch the film at length). These televised films cannot be heard the way the projected films are, rather they have subtitles, so that the passing viewer may read for a bit, and are also connected to headphones, so that one may listen if they choose to. There is clear designation between all of Schlingensief’s projects, with the titles in large text across the top of each new “section” but the hallway-esque room still has a sense of chaos and disorder (which, once you see his work, feels appropriate).
Each “room” feels themed; one discusses various films, one his theatrical projects, another his experience as a talk-show host (which includes a couch and chair set up, with televisions, so that the museum-goer may sit and feel like they are on a talk-show set. Much of Schlingensief’s work involved the integration of audience participation, so this setup is a nice addition, inviting you to become part of the “set”).
There are instances of bleeding from light sources, one projection is directly under an EXIT sign, giving it a slightly gruesome, Dracula, quality, but in general the museum has done a great job immersing you into this little world of a clearly highly creative man. Another room is devoted to his own pieces of what I might call installation art; one of which is an 18 screen piece, all showing different bits of filmed work (some original to this project, some taken from previous Schlingensief works) that do not tell a linear story. An entire wall is devoted to just these 18 screens, and his concept was that viewers use the images to make a narrative of their own. The tag quotes him as saying “the cinema is not the right place for this kind of film” and staring at all 18 screens at once, you can understand why.
            The best portions of the exhibit, in my opinion, are the rooms that really allow you to completely immerse yourself in Schlingensief’s creative world. In the first, you follow a hallway, lit by old fashioned lamps your grandmother would have, turn the corner and find his Animatograph piece; a structure on a revolving stage where you are invited to climb around, sign the “guestbook”, and interpret the work on your own. Schlingensief’s works, as I said before, were all about integrating the audience into the pieces. This piece was created to “break the separation between the art and the reviewer.” The structure is covered in what appear to be bird feathers, has various little rooms, some of which have films and projections themselves, and feels very violent and abrasive. (Perhaps I was just imagining the foul smell.) This room feels shockingly silent after the previous ones, and the low hum of the organ makes you feel like you need to be silent and move slowly throughout the work.
            My favorite room was the one on the second floor (which I actually visited first on my initial visit). On the wall is a brief description of the major films that Schlingensief created: the “Germany Trilogy” (100 Years of Adolf Hitler-The Last Hour in the Führerbunker, The German Chainsaw Massacre-The First Hour of the Reunification, and Terror 2000-Germany out of Control) as well as a fourth film, Please Love Austria. The description is clearly part of the art, for it has annotations handwritten from people like Tilda Swinton and Patti Smith, admirers and co-creators with Schlingensief. From around the corner you can hear screaming, and you wander down an entirely black, dark hall, (not going to lie—I was a little freaked the first time since I had no conception of the kind of art I was about to see) into a large space which contains four screens, all larger than garage doors, each playing one of the four films listed above, at full volume, and with subtitles. The four films are not playing in any particular way that I can see, they are looped, so the visitor never sees the same bits of each film playing at the same time. Each screen is down its own wide sort of section, allowing you to walk forward and focus on the one film visually, or stand directly in the middle and be surrounded by the violent noise and images.

            There are even more rooms to the exhibit, one room devoted to screening full Schlingensief films named Club 69, after the theater he opened to show his work. Outside the room is a list of the screening times, titles, and running times. There is also a room with four projections that is based on a piece Schlingensief himself created to show certain films in another way.
            This is obviously just a cursory glance at the exhibit, and I am not telling you too much about the actual content, because 1. It is hard to describe and 2. I so thoroughly enjoyed not knowing the first time I went, I don’t want to ruin that for you all, but I suggest you go check it out (NYU students get into the museum for free so you have nothing to lose even if it isn’t quite to your taste) if you are at all interested in seeing a somewhat eclectic exhibit, thick with images and information. If you need any sort of hint about the graphic nature of some of his images, consider the titles of his films. German Chainsaw Massacre is a pretty good clue.

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