Critics’ Picks


Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Akademie der Künste | Hanseatenweg
Hanseatenweg 10
September 14–November 19, 2017

The name Straub-Huillet is practical in that it designates not only two individuals who worked together but also emphasizes that they did not regard the distinction of authorship as important. Nevertheless, Jean-Marie Straub, who has survived Danièle Huillet, has often stood in the foreground as a filmmaker; this exhibition examines Huillet’s role and finds her to have been a valuable partner, correspondent, and facilitator. The multilayered show is structured around Kommunisten (Communists), 2014; one of Straub’s recent films, it serves as a compilation of the duo’s creative concerns as a whole, shown here along with various archival materials such as letters, sketches, and other fragments.

Also included are works from other artists that affirm the contemporary relevance of Straub-Huillet’s practice. For example, Oraib Toukan uses photographs of the landscape in Jordan in his video Palace of the Slave, 2017. Detached from their context, Toukan’s images imitate the distanced gaze cast on artifacts and ruins. This piece itself would seem to be a takeoff from Straub-Huillet’s Trop tôt, trop tard (Too Early, Too Late, 1981), a film partly based on Mahmoud Hussein’s book Class Conflict in Egypt, 1945–1970 (1968). This documentary—part of the tradition of ethnographic cinema and complementary with the work of contemporaries such as Harun Farocki and Chantal Akerman—similarly focuses on how, as an outsider, it’s possible to construct meaning using foreign cultures and landscapes as material. Over the course of the exhibition one can watch around fifty films in chronological order in different theaters, but these pieces resist casual consumption, making it clear that watching them in their native setting—the cinema—remains best to grasp their sensuous and political dimensions.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.