by Judith Vallette // June 9, 2020
Scharaun, an exhibition space focused on promoting the intermingling of art and architecture, debuted the first of a rotating, 13-week online exhibition of video artists, presented weekly and curated by Olaf Stüber and Jaro Straub. The program, entitled ‘Kino Siemensstadt,’ references a former entertainment venue for Siemens’ workers that ran until 1962. The main themes communicated by the screened works—sorrow, abandonment, disconnect and loss—are all rooted around urban architectural spaces.
The first week’s debut was released on May 29th on Scharaun’s website, anticipated by a clock counting down the hours, minutes and seconds till the exhibition became available to online attendees. In light of the pandemic, Scharaun wants to test how audiences interact with video art, presented similarly as on other online streaming services we find ourselves so entirely captivated by. The countdown release has a duality in both the resemblance to waiting in line for an opening, as well as scrolling through Netflix’s ‘Coming This Week’ section.
In the first instalment, Kino Siemensstadt showed two works by Albanian artist Anri Sala, ‘The Long Sorrow’ (2005) and ‘Answer Me’ (2008). As an established video artist, Sala has a command of the medium, working with visuals, language and sound to question our experience of architectural spaces. For instance, ‘The Long Sorrow’—a longer and more intimate piece—takes place in an immense housing estate in the Märkische quarter of Berlin. The chain of 18th floor high-rise apartments was nicknamed ‘The Long Sorrow’ by its residents, and the name is here taken over by both the artwork as well as the free jazz piece played in it by famous saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, the protagonist of the video. The piece starts off with a distinguishably slow pan from within the space of an apartment to the flower-crowned head of Jemeel Moondoc, framed neatly by an open window. The singular jazz instrument free flow proves suspenseful, the viewer curious to discover who exactly is framed by the window. There is a stark contrast between the liveliness of the music—heightened by the choice of close-ups on Moondoc’s face and particularly, his eyes, as he plays—and the grey monotone of the city backdrop. The feeling of sorrow is enhanced by the slow camera panning, and the free flow jazz music, peppered with vocalizations. The floating presence of the musician on the very top floor makes it seem as if he is giving a concert to an empty city. The only other signs of life in the area come from the movement of bus transportation, captured in the reflection of the window. At the end, Moondoc himself disappears, also becoming symbolic of the architecture’s past.
A bridge between ‘The Long Sorrow’ and ‘Answer Me,’ besides interactions with sound, is Sala’s disconcerting focus on a gaze; both pieces use the tool of close-ups on eyes to showcase emotions. In ‘Answer Me,’ sound and silence are mobilized to exhibit the tensions of a crumbling romantic relationship. The piece speaks to a lack of proper communication: a man playing the drums refuses to receive any messages, thus shattering hopes for a reconciliation. His lover’s desperate pleas to “answer me” become the chorus of his rhythmic drumming instead of an open discourse between the two of them on the failures of their relationship. This video piece also deals with a sense of abandonment or disappearance, as the drumsticks in the solo shot of the woman are shown to be playing by themselves, seemingly connoting the missing half of the partnership. Once again, the piece is set in a historic architectural space in Berlin— the geodesic dome of Teufelsberg, which was used during the cold war as a listening station. These spatial ties serve to emphasize Sala’s manipulation of music and language and the broader theme of communication in his pieces.
The Kino Siemensstadt program runs until August 28th, with a variety of different video artists giving us the opportunity to revel in weekly at-home viewing soirées this summer, as we explore questions of urban space and historical architecture through the medium of video art. This week, from June 5th – 11th, the program features works by KORPYS/LÖFFLER.