Artist: Dóra Maurer
The exhibition many a time presents three films from the 1970s by the Hungarian artist Dóra Maurer. These chronoaesthetic investigations are dedicated to the grammar of the filmic image and the qualities defining the structure of its pictorial space. In Mauer’s work, mathematical rules and numerical relationships dictate the structuring of time, the space of the image, and the actions performed in the work. However, her films focus less on the schema and structures inherent to these processes. Instead, it is the use of the body as a primary focus and mediator of the action that tends to create ever-greater elements of divergence and difference in scenarios determined by repetition and metrics.
Maurer’s films have the quality of visual experiments and are characterized by an analytical, systematic, and at times even didactic strain. At first glance the artist seems to fulfill the requirements that one could apply to science, such as repeatability, measurability, and the objective nature of observation. Yet despite their ostensibly analytical nature, the films have a fleeting quality. Maurer’s explorations on film always seem situationally determined; they have a makeshift quality. Simple and seemingly unimportant series of actions and movements are repeatedly recorded. The various recordings are placed in structural relationship and are examined on a metapictorial level. In this manner the observational dispositive shaping perceptual experience increasingly comes to the fore in the process of aesthetic reflection. Of primary interest is not the result of a measurement but the attempt to measure, not the final recording but the process of producing various observations (recordings) and their obvious convergence and divergence. Measurement, repetition, and displacement form processes that are more aesthetic than reflective of standardizations and norms. The translation of an action into a structure through the use of repetition, overlap, etc., presents a process of abstraction, through which individual actions lose their semantic relevance. However, contradicting an initial appearance of objective perception, Mauer develops a system of aesthetic observation that does not attempt to negate or reduce variability and difference but to make them visible in a sophisticated manner. To varying degrees the three films on view can be described as a decoupling of the respective scenario from its filmic image; the films make obvious how the dimension of time enters into the movements portrayed. Through different articulations, the films mark the threshold between the movement image (Deleuze), the filming of a movement, and the time image, a fleeting, temporal-relational image with an autonomous aesthetic presence.
Learned spontaneous movements (1973) entails the most coherent narrative of the three films in terms of its filmic scenario. The viewer hears a voice from off screen reading the story “The Old Viper” by Sergei Sergejev Tsensky in Hungarian, while the protagonist repeatedly carries out a specific series of seemingly random movements, for example playing with a strain of her hair. In four variations the different recorders of this sequence of staged automatic actions are combined with each other in different ways, providing a basis for comparison. Variation 1 shows the individual sequences of the scene one after the other, and in this sense it still is a series of “documentary recordings.” Variation 2 overlaps the footage acoustically, whereas variation 3 visually overlays individual recordings in layers, thereby combining the film negative and positive. In variation 4 the image is divided into four parts, and the viewer is presented with four different films shown simultaneously. What initially seems to be documentary material is successively robbed of its credibility and revealed as staged.
This reveals a media-epistemological interest in the relationship between perception and reality. The object of exploration is not primarily the seen and observed operation or the object of observation but the system observed, in this case the (documentary) film and the assurance of it being an indexical depiction. However, not only the medial and apparatus-based conditions but also the perceptual conditions become a point of focus in the work of Mauer: the perception of the viewer, who plays a decidedly active role as the center of the focus and mediator of the action.
In Proportions (1979) Dóra Maurer uses the dimensions of her own body as a point of reference. On a roll of paper spread out on the floor the artist documents the dimensions of her body, and she subsequently uses a fourth of the thus measured length of her body as a system of reference and ruler for recording and determining the comparative measurements of other parts of the body—the span of a hand, the length of a forearm, and the breadth of her shoulders. Beyond enabling an observation of the proportional correspondence between various bodily measurements, the film takes on a rhythmical dimension. The element of repetition, which results from the sequencing and ordering of the body parts within a linear “strip” of notation not only lends a calm pace and meter to the action, but it also lends the filmic image a temporalization that isdisassociated from the action shown. What initially appears to be a process of spatial and pictorial investigation and measurement, gradually becomes a subtle form of temporal measurement. The work does not foreground the act of making space linear as much as the process or sequence of registering the body, the movement of the female protagonist’s along the lineal scale.
In Timing (1973/1980) the viewer is confronted with a spanned, white cloth, which at the beginning of the film encompasses the entire space of the image, corresponding precisely to the proportions of the image frame. The cloth is subsequently folded in half seven times by Dóra Maurer, causing the dark background to increasingly take over the white area of the “canvas.” Dressed in black, the artist largely remains invisible when standing in front of the black background. Only her hands reveal her as the protagonist of the folding process. Like the film Learned spontaneous movements, the work Timing is also broken down into four segments: sequence 1 shows the successive folding of the cloth. As in Learned spontaneous movements, one could describe this first part of the film as a mere recording on film, a documentation. In the second film sequence, however, one half of the image is masked off, the film is rewound and the previously masked half of the film is then exposed while filming the same repeated action. Through their juxtaposition the two sets of film material indicate minimal discrepancies and shifts in the performed actions. The supposedly documentary scenario begins to break down; the unity and correspondence of filmic time begins to fall apart. In this chronoaesthetic manifestation of difference the filmic notation begins to operate in opposition “to itself.” Again, the dimension of time enters into the image. In the third film sequence Mauer divides the rectangle of the screen once again. Individual sections of the image end up going dark due to the differing lengths of the footage. This drifting apart of the juxtaposed film segments gives rise to the impression of pictorial breakdown and disruption, which forms a predominating aesthetic. In the fourth sequence the image is now broken down into eight parts, utterly overwhelming the viewer. The coherency of the depicted action seems to be completely deconstructed and—for the viewer—kaleidoscopically refracted.
In the exhibition many a time Mauer projects Timing onto the cloth that was originally filmed. Hung on the wall it shows signs of having been folded, traces that do not merely refer to a past but potentially also a future action. Incorporating this material basis of the film not only reflects the recursive nature of the filmic medium, the action filmed, and perception; it also raises the issue of the media-ontological status of the depicted cloth in relation to the physically present cloth that is mounted on the wall. In Mauer’s work the image thus has a precarious status in multiple aspects. The image is not an absolute, secure unit of representation, but instead it always exists—interpictorially and intermedially—in relation to other images and also to the image-producing apparatus and to the “apparatus” of perception. Thus to a great extent Maurer draws on the expectations of the viewer in relation to what is observed and precisely activates the capacity of the gaze to supplement what is seen. To this extent, also the non-image, the loss of visibility, takes on a constitutive aesthetic significance. The subtle temporal autonomization of the material creates a shift in focus from the depicted to the process of perception. This temporal dimension is most clearly pronounced in the film Timing. Fragmenting as the cloth is folded, the pictorial space of the film is transformed by its own logic into a chronoaesthetic action.
Dóra Maurer creates scenarios that recall experiments, in which the human body is presented as a model or “instrument” instead of being individualized. Nevertheless, because different recordings show the same sequence of actions in parallel, thus revealing the differences between them, they emphasize the element of subjective aberration and the individual experience of temporality through action. The artist develops a filmic-perceptual framework, in which the individual film recordings can be alternated and placed in relationship to one another. In the process she makes use of musical-compositional processes in terms of the presentation of the material (repetition, augmentation, diminution, mirroring/inversion, etc.). However, the artist is not concerned with creating a type of composition, in which the material serves a specific aesthetic concept. Instead, Mauer aims to create a dehierarchization of aesthetic experience. The recorded and juxtaposed scenarios and series of movements, which entail only rudimentary narrative content, are used in such a way that they are decontextualized, desemanticized and thus made freely available in terms of their aesthetic reception; it is thus possible to recombine and semanticize the film segments in a new manner. The actual aesthetic “object” that the work focuses upon is the differences between the repeated actions, the aberrations of what appears to be the same.
Maurer exposes the viewer to a situation in which it is necessary to constantly verify one’s perceptions. Each image can be examined in reference and in comparison to the following. The notion of an object of perception that is static and stable is not merely deconstructed and dissolved but it is called into question as a phantasm. The filmic image is not a merely a depiction but an ephemeral manifestation, which is only mediated to the viewer through the visual synthesis occurring in the viewer’s perceptual process. Seeing thus proves to be a process of projection that unfolds through the interplay of observation and verification, a perceptual continuum of relationships that are constantly being reformulated. The central protagonist is the viewer, the aesthetic and semantic-epistemological capacity of the individual observer. These two elements of the aesthetic and the epistemological do not work in opposition to one another but interdependently merge into an “aestheticological” (Baumgarten) form of perception.