Marcel Odenbach

Galerie Ascan Crone

Video art has undergone a fundamental change during the last couple of years, with video artists trying more and more to translate traditional fine arts media into video, to imitate drawing, painting, and photography using the flickering language of video imagery. In the case of Marcel Odenbach this change can be seen both in his videos and in his growing preoccupation with drawing. Although he incorporated drawings into his video works of the mid ’70s, the relationship of the two media in his work since 1981 has been somewhat different. The drawings, which originally began as sketches for his videos—those rapid sequences of images that together form a sharp analysis of his environment, a nostalgic recollection of his childhood, and a bitter investigation of his parents’ generation—have become autonomous works, large paintings executed in latex paint, pencil, and collage on paper. These in turn have influenced his videos, in their close observation, meticulousness, and layering.

The pictures frequently play with juxtapositions of inside and outside. Die Einheit der Gefahren (The unity of dangers, 1986), for example, is divided in two. In the upper half, which shows part of an interior with a bay window, Odenbach has depicted in minute detail the floral patterns of the surrounding wallpaper and the gleaming surface of the polished floor. The window is open, and the view contains superimposed photographs of various people, including a shot of a group of people with posters hanging around their necks reading, “I’m a jackass who still believes Jews are being gassed in German concentration camps.” The lower half of the picture is of a section of partially coiled rope against a freely drawn abstract ground, which acts as a sort of barrier in relation to the scene above.

In Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht (If I think of Germany at night, 1986) Odenbach is alluding to “the big black hole in his historical consciousness,” a reference to his having learned nothing about the years 1933–45 either at home or at school, nothing about the persecution of the Jews or about the persecution and torture of those who tried to help the Jews. Odenbach was born in 1953. It wasn’t until his studies in the United States that he began to think about the Nazi period, began to learn something about the German past and the past of his parents—a situation that is by no means uncommon.

Each picture is like a grand partita, divided into several parts and composed of many miniature images: slender glimpses into the German past, the horrors of the Nazi period, touching memories of his childhood, or the exciting flash of first love—a kaleidoscope of little windows, doors, and cracks that reveal both his own past and the tabooed past of his parents, all mixed in with newspaper photos from the present and reproductions from the history of art. Sometimes the tiny images are drawn or collaged into cell-like areas—windows of high-rise office buildings, spaces between the pleats of a lampshade, imbricate scales of a decorative border—but just as often they appear as part of the shading of a larger object, such as a tree trunk. These works at first seem like nothing so much as innocent little games of “find the picture within the picture” but then shock and confront us with brutal suddenness. It’s not just the shock effect that fills these pictures with tension, but also the way Odenbach holds the inner and outer worlds in precarious balance. In many of these works, it is not clear if his figures are standing inside or outside the window, or if the viewer is in front of or behind the pane. Odenbach moves along the narrow border between the two realities. In his constantly revolving kaleidoscope of peepholes he exchanges inner and outer reality in a fast-paced, confusing rhythm. But he never simply pulls the inner sphere into the outer like a pants pocket. Rather, he represents the inner by means of the outer, and vice versa. This sense of flux is enhanced by the way he uses his media—black latex paint, highlighted with white and varied with pencil strokes, recalling the flickering of a video screen. But even more it recalls those magic-lantern images of long-ago days that would emerge with the light and fade back into the shadows.

Doris Von Drateln

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.