Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler

Galerie Bob van Orsouw

At first, there is only a projection of darkness. Then, with dreamlike slowness, the camera pans across a doorway, giving us a glimpse into a room. Inside, we see a man busying himself with preparations for a move. He sweeps up, packs up a box, eats an apple. The room appears to be empty; he sleeps. Before we have finished looking, the camera reaches the other side of the door frame and a wall comes back into view, closing this short sequence of Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler’s video projection, Gregor’s Room II, 1999. For several moments, a dark emptiness takes possession of the image field until the camera reaches another doorway, revealing the same room from a different angle. Gradually the realization takes shape that we are circling a square space, past three doors and a window that allow us to see inside. By virtue of the great precision with which every detail appears to have been chosen, this space is slowly revealed to be a construct, like a film set.

The room appears again in Gregor’s Room I, 1999, a series of photographic diptychs showing a man in a jacket in various situations: sitting, his face turned toward the stream of light from a half-open door, or standing on a chair, about to search the ceiling with a flashlight. The diptych presents the same action taken from two opposing angles, as in film, when the camera might switch viewpoints to establish the positioning of two characters. Along with the figure’s mysterious actions, the unnatural lighting heightens the sense of unreality, locating each image somewhere between a spontaneously captured moment and a consciously produced scene.

In Hubbard and Birchler’s work, French cineast Eric Rohmer’s distinctions between “image space,” “architectural space,” and “film space” are demonstrated only to be dissolved. The framing of the photograph, the composition of the shot, are at times even reminiscent of painting. It is the “architectural space” that dominates, however—what might be called the sculptural side of Hubbard and Birchler’s work, which also comes to the fore in their installations. The two artists build sets like sculpture, only to reduce them to two dimensions in filming. In the end, the set becomes a filmic space through the camera’s movement around this “sculpture.”

Hubbard and Birchler do not seek strong images but rather fleeting moments, fragments of a nonlinear narrative that might continue to branch out. “Gregor’s Room,” of course, harks back to Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (1916). In it, Kafka describes in minute detail the room in which Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to find he has become a gigantic insect, an event that transforms his perception of his environment. Between the lines of Kafka’s story, as within the images of Hubbard and Birchler, the perpetual metamorphosis of an intimate space comes to pass.

Hans Rudolf Reust
Translated from German by Diana Reese.