On Screen // Identity Development through BDSM and Fetishes: Soldat Screening at Volksbühne

“On Screen” is Berlin Art Link’s newest blog series that explores and discovers contemporary film, video art, and installations. Every week we will offer impressions from the latest selection of screenings in Berlin.

berlin-art-link_soldat Jan Soldat – “Der Unfertige / The Incomplete” (2013); Copyright Jan Soldat

I was waiting outside of Volksbühne in Mitte, before the Jan Soldat screening, in an adjacent dirt lot that had a series of corrugated wood benches. Earlier in the afternoon, I purchased Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death and thought it was a perfect time to begin reading it. A friend planned to join me for the screening, but before she arrived I started to read.

The first few lines of Kierkegaard’s treatise on despair (and by extension, death) relate almost entirely to the content of Jan Soldat’s three films: the fragility of identity. I had no idea this was going to happen when I purchased the Kierkegaard book or turned up at Volksbühne — such moments of artistic cohesion arise in the most arbitrary circumstances. Kierkegaard writes: “A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. In short a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two terms. Looked at in this way a human being is not yet a self.”

Jan Soldat’s three films emphasize the development of self within the context of sexual desires or fetishes located outside of the range of so-called normalcy. It’s not each individual’s fetish that sets to confine them, but rather, as Soldat illustrates, to expand the ever developing “synthesis” of each person. Soldat’s seamless shots align with intimate confessions to avoid ostracizing each individual in his three films, but rather, to show how these people are humans — like everyone else — caught within the chains of what Kierkegaard calls “freedom and necessity.”

The first film Geliebt (Be Loved) (2010), is a sixteen-minute documentary about two friends living together in Berlin, who share a deep connection with their dogs. The calmness with which Soldat catalogues how these two men walk their dogs, feed their dogs, play video games together, eat pizza, and (eventually) express moments of physical connection with their dogs, allows the viewer to understand the inherent sense of trust and love found between a man and his dog. Soldat is phenomenal at catching moments of the banal, or the ordinary, on film that manage to normalize what could initially be perceived as a strange or bizarre situation. It’s the fragility of everyday life, and Soldat’s ability to articulate that on film, which makes Geliebt an incredibly soft and romantic piece.

Jan Soldat – “Ein Wochenende in Deutschland” // “A weekend in Germany” (2012); Copyright Jan Soldat

Soldat employs humor and highlights the absurdity of desire in his 2012 film Ein Wochenende in Deutschland (A Weekend in Germany), which is about a 70-year old BDSM (Bondage Discipline Sado-Masochism) couple living together, who spend their time whipping each other, eating steak, checking out men online, tending to their garden, and joking around in a gimp suit. The portrait of these two men’s lives illustrates how the BDSM aspect of their relationship brings out a more playful aspect to their lives that adds intrigue and continual pleasure. In a way, Soldat’s filmmaking capabilities remove sexuality completely from A Weekend in Germany, although throughout most of the film the men are laying around naked or chaining each other to the ceiling — it’s not the sexual aspect of BDSM that Soldat is exposing, but rather its ability to connect two people in a wonderful union of humor and friendship.

berlin-art-link_soldat3Jan Soldat – “Der Unfertige / The Incomplete” (2013); Copyright Jan Soldat

The final Soldat film shown at Volksbühne was slightly more serious in that Der Unfertige (The Incomplete) (2013) was a delicate portrait of Klaus Johannes Wolf, a self-created sex-slave. Throughout the film Soldat shows Klaus chained to his bed, attending slave camp, and discussing how he came to chose the life of a servant. Again, Soldat is not brandishing a story of a compelling fetish for shock value or to disturb his audience. That is not the point at all and definitely not how the film treats the topic. Quite the opposite, The Incomplete shows how a man is able to push himself to new levels that he wouldn’t be able to imagine if he had not chosen this lifestyle. A powerful moment in the film occurs when Klaus is naked and chained to his bed, talking about what it means to be naked in contemporary society in relation to the Fall of Man. Klaus says how the blame should not be on Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit nor even on the snake who offered it to them — rather it was their realization that they were doing something wrong that Klaus considered quintessential to the Fall of Man.

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Additional Information

More information about the Soldat Screening at Volksbühne: www.volksbuehne-berlin.de

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Blog entry by Graham Haught in Berlin; Thursday, Apr. 10, 2014.


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