Critics’ Picks

Ulla von Brandenburg, Kravatten, abgeschnitten (Cut-Up Ties), 2010, ties, dimensions variable.


Ulla von Brandenburg

The Common Guild
21 Woodlands Terrace
April 2–May 21

Experimenting with the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, German artist Ulla von Brandenburg’s exhibition “Neue Alte Welt” (New Old World) centers on Chorspiel (Choir Games), 2010, a black-and-white operatic film with text, music, and concept by the artist. The film’s narrative unfolds with a Bergman-like blend of explorations in literature, psychology, and theater. Shot in a forest, the film has a sparse set delineated by a white rectangle painted on the ground. Contained within this area, five performers weave the tale of a wanderer arriving in a town where he meets four family members spanning three generations, and offers them a mysterious box. The libretto’s refrain, translated as “We didn’t choose, it was done to us. Now we are here, but for how long?” speaks to the predetermined place of one’s childhood, the longing to venture beyond boundaries, and the dramatic tension prompted by stepping outside the familiar.

Theatre, 2011, an orange and white mural, is an impressionistic image of a theater audience, referencing the viewer’s role as spectator. The exhibition continues with a collection of objects, conceivably serving as illustrative props that reveal clues to the film’s possible meanings. In Krawatten, abgeschnitten (Cut-Up Ties), 2010, colored ties dangle across the gallery entryway at approximately forehead height. Viewers walk through, ritualistically crossing into a new experience as the ties symbolically brush away that which came before. Schachtel (Box), 2010, is a cardboard box containing carefully rolled-up colored ribbons—perhaps an indication of the stranger’s enigmatic gift in Chorspiel. Mounted on the wall side by side are two beautiful pieces, also from 2010—Mephisto and Angel—each composed of a rectangular piece of fabric from used theater curtains faded by sunlight, which von Brandenburg hung beside a small wooden hoop in the first work and three parts of a fishing pole in the second. The result throughout is both familiar and visionary.