17.02.2019 – 02.06.2019
Musée régional d’art contemporain
Occitanie / Pyrénées-Méditerranée
146 avenue de la plage, Sérignan
By means of a wide range of media (installations, films, drawings, murals, carvings, sculptures, set designs), Ulla von Brandenburg develops a total art form which is deeply inspired by the theatre and its conventions. Revisiting certain aspects of late-19th and early-20th century culture, nourished by literature and psychoanalysis as well as hypnosis, magic and spiritualism, the artist explores the illusionist essence of images. She poses questions about the connections between reality and illusion, authenticity and pretence, and the various elements which act as metaphors for our relationship with others. Diving into imagery from the beginnings of modernity to better search for an understanding of our current world, her work uses recurring motifs from the theatre (curtains, accessories, costumes, tiered seating, marquees) in stagings that have been devised according to the exhibition space.
In her installations, the public is often led to cross thresholds that are materialised by drapes which, like a theatre curtain, mark the entrance into the imaginary. The continual presence of backstage props (ropes, pulleys) suggests that the illusion relates to a social and historical construct. The recurrence of textiles reveals the interest of the artist for this transportable and flexible material, which circulates, is traded and transformed with time and depending on the communities that produce it. Often in black and white, deliberately enigmatic, the artist’s films are at the heart of her artistic practice and have their roots in filmed theatre, a form of proto-cinema, produced without editing and favouring automatic writing as its mode of operation.
L’hier de demain, (The yesterday to tomorrow) her exhibition at the MRAC, leads us into a proliferating staging that matches the scale of the venue; the curtain is raised at the entrance of the exhibition with an installation that radically transforms the spaces inside the museum. The visitor is invited to enter six coloured rooms composed of monochromatic curtains which cover the walls and take their place. Inspired by 19th-century museums, where coloured walls are preferred to the concept of the white cube for displaying works, these textiles bear the ghostly mark of paintings that have mysteriously been removed. Thus, there is nothing on the walls; nothing that can affirm the authority of the artist nor that of the museum. On the floor, the artist arranges a heterogeneous ensemble of films, drawings and sculptures as well as object-talismans from her personal archive (books, postcards, objects). The collection is that of the artist, yet it is also somewhat our own, inasmuch as it manipulates an affective memory that has shaped our collective outlook on objects. All these elements are intertwined, bouncing off each other to form a floating world which seems to be waiting to be set in motion. The artist’s drawings, watercolours of a melancholic sweetness overflowing in coloured drips, reflect this great theatre which is life, creating a place for the artist’s favourite communities (animals, circus characters, famous women). The silent films, projected directly onto the drapes, depict domestic architectures in which strange collections are spread out. Halfway between a fictional museum, a laboratory of shapes and an archive to be brought to life, this installation clouds the status of the objects presented, but also blurs the temporality in which they evolve and unfold.
In the next room, the installation Eigenschatten (literally «one’s own shadow») presents a set of accessories hung from clothes racks similar to those found in the wings of theatres. The simple shape of these objects (sticks, ropes, hoops, shepherd’s costume) reflects the various geometric forms (circle, cylinder, triangle), while the costume refers to the protagonist of a spectacle to be imagined. On the wall, six drapes bear the imprint of these objects in a ghostly fashion. Obtained through chlorine bleaching – reminiscent of the photogram technique – these shadows take the form of printed images floating in an unreal fashion, the materiality of the object being provided by that of the fabric.
To conclude the exhibition, the artist presents one of her latest films: C, Ü, I, T, H, E, A, K, O, G, N, B, D, F, R, M, P, L. In the theatre, this is known as the finale, a tradition which marks the apotheosis of the spectacle, and it is an understatement to say that this film rises to the occasion. Made in 2017, it unfurls a procession of tissues of unknown origin, similar to dresses or veils. The camera advances as the sections of textile open one after the other before it, as if moved apart by an invisible being that one can only imagine. The presence of a body is suggested by the almost ghostly movement of the fabric but also by a crystalline voice which sings the title letters in an endless loop, a reference to a poem by the Polish writer Wislawa Szymborska. Lyrical and mysterious, the film majestically closes this exhibition, the title of which seems to suggest that the survival of forms and images, the “yesterday” in question, constitutes a part of us both individually and collectively, and resonates in our contemporary world.
For more information, please click here.
Image courtesy of MRAC, Sérignan.