Marcel Odenbach

Galerie Etienne Ficheroulle

For Marcel Odenbach, the historical and the personal are mutually determining, and over the past twelve years, he has produced video installations, single-channel tapes, and collage/drawings, which all, in one way or another, tackle the relationship between global and sexual politics. The first of two video installations, Frau Hölle ein Schnippchen schlagen (Outdo Mrs. Hell, 1988), presented here along with a new series of drawings, opens with a shot of a man in a T-shirt passing by the camera. Throughout the course of the tape, a white cover (the shirt?) passes back and forth over the screen, obstructing a procession of newsreel images of the arrest of members of the Baader-Meinhof group and the protests that ensued, as well as sexually charged shots of a nude man writhing on a bed.

Odenbach has used the masked image in many of his tapes and drawings: it functions as a metaphor for political and cultural repression and as a voyeuristic means of implicating the viewer in the resolution of the images. An installation entitled Vogel friss oder stirb (Eat bird or die, 1988) provides another example of a work in which Odenbach examines the ways we read and interpret images. Two monitors are situated in the middle of a room, facing each other. As it is impossible to see them both at the same time, the viewer takes a position in the middle and “switches” his/her attention from channel to channel. On one monitor an image of the back of a man’s head, as his gondola heads down a Venetian canal, dissolves into a series of views of world leaders, including Khomenei, the Shah of Iran, Reagan, Hitler, Kohl, Gorbachev, Stalin, etc. We also view war atrocities, e.g., a scene in which a man is murdered by a gang of soldiers. The other monitor features a close shot of a group of pigeons that become more and more agitated as the tape progresses; the scene culminates in a horrifying, cacophonous scramble for crumbs that is as terrifying as the climax of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Why is this sequence as frightening as Odenbach’s inexorable march of historical references? Perhaps we have become immune to the political horrors that parade across our television screens each day. Our reception of the mass hysteria of Khomenei’s funeral, or the daily detention of Palestinians is conditioned by the way in which they are presented through the media. For Odenbach, it is the facility with which he manipulates images (the claustrophobic angle on the pigeons, the progressively rapid editing of the shots) and sounds (the combination of African Burundi drummers, Schubert, and pigeon squawks) that makes the work so effective.

Odenbach’s drawings also present a series of obstructed, layered images. Embedded in recognizable depictions of objects such as lamp shades, trash bags, or windows, we find details from Veronese paintings, newspaper clippings, and photographs from porno magazines. The larger images become repositories for smaller ones, in a process that seems to expand as we scrutinize the works. Like the video installations, these drawings foreground the fact that no image is entirely stable. They are constructions in flux, simultaneously assembled and disassembled by the active viewer.

Michael Tarantino