An Elusive Nostalgia

Written by: Irina Giri

Edited by: Adrienne Gibbs

Two Films About Pressure  by Andreas Bunte at the Or  gallery,October 18 — November 22, 2014

“Two films about Pressure” by Andreas Bunte is an installation of two films shot in 16 mm. One is called Underdruck (Low Pressure) and the other, Künstliche Diamanten (Synthetic Diamonds).  Each film deals with physical infrastructures made in the former German Democratic Republic that are now abandoned because they were too expensive to destroy and too expensive to maintain. Understuck (Low Pressure) is about an athletic training centre made to simulate the effects of high altitude so that the athletes could practise sports of high altitudinal regions without having to leave GDR. Künstliche Diamanten (Synthetic Diamonds)  was shot at Vollstädt Diamant GmbH, a company set up by mineralogist Professor Heiner Vollstädt under the GDR to produce synthetic diamonds, rather than having to import them from USSR or western nations. The combination of the physical set up of the two projections, the specific format of the film, and the cinematic language used, provides a contemporary lens into these physical remnants of a specific historical period, implicating the spectator in the contemporary act of historical reconstruction.

Upon entering OR gallery’s installation space you are confronted by a dark room bisected by two large screens joined together. One side shows a projection of the 12 minute film “Underdruck”(Low Pressure) and the other side shows “Künstliche Diamanten” (Synthetic Diamonds) which is about 13 minutes. Both are looped. A spectator can only view one projection at a time but the sounds and flashes of light from both loops seep into each other, disrupting the seemingly clear-cut binary of the two sections of the gallery.

In “Underdruck” The 16 mm film transferred to the video is prefaced with an introduction to the athletic training centre, through the use of text on a black screen. This provides the context for the athletic training centre as a facility, built in top secret by the GDR, for athletes to train for the Olympics without leaving the country. Following this are a series of static shots that show different areas of the building. We get to see the different pressure lock rooms with rafts that haven’t been used for years. Grime is settling on the pool and life jackets hang in disuse. We see the relaxation room with its antiquated television and radio and the observation room with flickering fluorescent lights. We get to see static close ups of the machinery that no longer runs. The walls are covered with accolades and sports magazines from the mid 70s. The film evokes a former human presence and constantly brings up the question of what it must have been like to train in this facility. The slowly transitioning images and the buzzing sound of the fluorescent lights allow our minds to linger on these questions. However, at times the voice over and the flash frames of the projection on the opposite side assert their presence.

Stills from Unterdruck (Low Pressure), 2013

Stills from Unterdruck (Low Pressure), 2013

Stills from Unterdruck (Low Pressure), 2013

Stills from Unterdruck (Low Pressure), 2013

On the other side of the room, “Synthetic Diamonds” plays. This film is different from Low Pressure in that a voice over interjects and structures a narrative for the viewer. The film starts with shots that frame the industrial space, followed by the machinery as we hear the voice over explaining the history of the company. Then we see how a synthetic diamond is produced as though it were a didactic video. Unlike “Low Pressure” we see three men in the film who are involved in the production of the synthetic diamonds. The voice over then veers away from the history of the building and enters a philosophical discourse. As we see the process of synthetic diamonds being made we are made to think about what the subjective will is working to achieve and what it accepts. Materials required to make synthetic diamonds are unaffected by the fact that what takes billions of years to make in nature is being produced in the span of a week. The human subjective will is a different matter and we are reminded of what we saw on the other side of the room, the will of the athletes working under the pressure of an authoritarian government, willing to take massive technological leaps to achieve its goal. The artist points out in the catalogue that the fate of these buildings changed drastically after the reunification of Germany, signified by the revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Stills from Künstliche Diamanten (Synthetic Diamonds), 2013

Stills from Künstliche Diamanten (Synthetic   Diamonds), 2013

Stills from Künstliche Diamanten (Synthetic Diamonds), 2013

Stills from Künstliche Diamanten (Synthetic Diamonds), 2013

 

These two videos lead viewers in many directions and the exhibit becomes a ground upon which multiple speculations can be made temporally, historically and socio-politically. The formal characteristics of the film and the cinematic language direct our speculations. Andreas Bunte chooses the 16 mm format intentionally. This format has a grainy texture and a colour palette that has the effect of recalling the past and also prohibits manipulations that would have been possible to add within a digital format. The cinematic language used is deceptive. It is similar to the didactic, instructional videos that were produced in mid 70s when these buildings were active.

“Two films about Pressure” are different from watching a film like One Way Boogie Woogie, by James Benning, a 60 minute film of one minute static shots of Milwaukee’s decaying industrial valley, shot this in 16mm in 1977. The subject matter of this film is somewhat similar to Bunte’s subjects but Benning has a more immediate association to the 16mm format that he is using. Bunte on the other hand, is consciously adding layers to the construction of his content. By using 16mm film he is creating a disjointed temporal dynamic between the spectators and the places depicted in the two films.

The key to the unique experience embedded in this installation lies in Bunte’s intentional use of anachronism. Although both the videos were shot in 2013, they use a cinematic language and format that recalls the period they are referencing. These contrivances allow viewers to become conscious of the contemporary restructuring of the past through representation. As viewers, we are implicated in our own participation in rethinking our present. Many rapid changes directed by economic and technological development has created interventions into nature is a similarly drastic way. What starts off as a seemingly nostalgic experience becomes something else entirely.

Through its minimal physical layout “Two Films about Pressure” invites speculation upon a wide array of topics. The buildings shown in the projections exist contemporaneously, despite the dated shooting style. The use of the 16 mm format and the cinematic language of the 70s creates a nostalgic distance but this distance collapses when we become conscious of the fact that this was shot in 2013. This installation complicates the thematic focus of the visual narrative as well as our position as spectators of that narrative, leading to an expanding field of questions. This installation is not self-contained in one’s experience of it in real time. Instead, these deceptively nostalgic images become a starting point for a critical look into the similar forces at play in the present.

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