Critics’ Picks

Clemens von Wedemeyer, The Fourth Wall, 2009. Performance view. Photo: Sheila Burnett.

Clemens von Wedemeyer, The Fourth Wall, 2009. Performance view. Photo: Sheila Burnett.


Clemens von Wedemeyer

Barbican Art Gallery
Barbican Centre Silk Street
May 29–August 30, 2009

In 1971, the “discovery” of a Stone Age–style society living on the Philippine island of Mindanao triggered an international media buzz. Purportedly, the Tasaday people existed untouched by technological advances. Fifteen years later, they were found to be living in far more modern conditions than first reported, which led to still unresolved accusations of a locally orchestrated hoax. This is the starting point for Clemens von Wedemeyer’s new commission by the Barbican, which, in a series of eight films of both original and appropriated materials, embeds the fascinating mystery of the Tasaday within broader questions about the blurring of fact and fiction in cinema.

The viewer’s move through the dark, tunnel-like gallery—punctuated by projection screens of varying sizes—is paralleled by a growing confusion in the narrative. A seemingly straightforward 1983 documentary composed of original photo stills, moralistically narrated by an American journalist, and von Wedemeyer’s own found-footage compilation are countered by the artist’s self-produced reels, including aerial footage of the forest and a short scene of a fictionalized Tasaday woman disjunctively transplanted to an urban concrete landscape. The show’s greatest moment comes with Against Death, 2009, a nine-minute loop set in an apartment looking out at London’s night sky, in which a tormented explorer commits a violent self-inflicted assault to prove the improbable immortality that has resulted from his contact with an unnamed culture. This reads as fiction until the viewing of von Wedemeyer’s earnest interview with one of the characters, further unhinging any stable reality. Beyond raising questions about truth, von Wedemeyer also attempts to interrogate theatrical conventions by contributing his own films of a supposed enactment of Tasaday culture on the Barbican stage and a subsequent afterparty. This turn to the stage, however, muddies the project, which has more than enough material in the compelling Tasaday chronicle and its filmic dissemination, enlivened by the artist’s refusal to provide any ultimate conclusion.