In much of his output, the Austrian-born, Berlin-based artist Gernot Wieland juxtaposes fact and fiction, horror and humor, and profundity and triviality. In recent years, he’s created these tensions primarily through lecture-performances and videos, one of which will soon be on view at Berlinische Galerie in the IBB Video Space. The film to be screened is ‘Thievery and Songs’ (2016), a tragicomic work framed by the story of Hilde Holger, a Jewish dancer who, in 1938, fled from Austria and to Bombay where she lived in exile. Her story, however, is interspersed with other various narratives, all of which are composed of Super 8 film, video, watercolors, drawings, claymation and photos from Wieland’s father.
One emotionally gripping story is that of Wieland’s great-aunt who suffered despotic treatment at the hands of a Nazi farmer, which is relayed by the film’s narrator to his therapist during a psychoanalysis session. The film continues to reference Wieland’s personal experiences with Catholic education and the religiosity of the indoctrination of the Viennese actionists in Austrian culture. Back in the therapist’s office, the narrator talks about dreaming of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten, or the “Town Musicians of Bremen,” a famous Brothers Grimm fairytale. In the story, a group of outcast animals head to Bremen to become musicians. On their journey they chase away robbers and occupy a house, yet in Wieland’s version the four animals are unable to fulfill their dreams. In such failure lies the artist’s critique of the current state of capitalism.
When seen in its full duration of 20 minutes and 40 seconds, ‘Thievery and Songs’ addresses the present as much as it does the past without establishing any kind of narrative hierarchy. The ghosts of WWII are as significant as the capitalist regime we currently face. And while this could be a dark and sinister film, Wieland takes an approach that allows the piece to maintain a certain levity—albeit one verging on the brink of falling into a deep melancholia.