Isabell Heimerdinger

Isabell Heimerdinger likes to watch actors watching their old movies. A voyeur of repertory cinema, the Berlin-based artist has previously made videos of Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer watching their performances in Wim Wenders’s 1974 road movie Alice in den Städten (Alice in the cities). In these strange screenings, the actors become witnesses to their own past, which is caught between the roles they played and their memories of making the film. Since Heimerdinger’s camera remains unflinchingly focused on them, their reactions veer awkwardly from spectatorship to performance. When a spontaneous facial expression is quickly brought under control, one realizes that they are acting the part of spectators. Although these staged reunions confound real and fictional histories, Heimerdinger never questions the integrity of the film’s narrative, as Pierre Huyghe does; rather, she focuses on the multiple lives of the actor.

For her recent video installation I Was Andy Warhol’s Dracula, 2000, Heimerdinger filmed Udo Kier watching his 1974 performance as the vampire in Paul Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula, a product of Warhol’s Factory. Kier would make a poor Narcissus; he barely looks at the film and instead recites lines for his next performance (as a man who murders Jesus after the Second Coming). The old movie remains off-camera, but its sound track can be heard, and its presence sensed, through Kier’s changing countenance. Occasionally, the actor falls under the spell of the screen and begins to watch and to reenact his performance. The old lines mingle with both new ones for his upcoming movie and casual asides, creating a heady dialogue that no storyboard could contain. “I need the blood of a virgin” follows “Jesus returns for a second time” and “armer Dracula” (poor Dracula).

While transforming Kier’s existence into a veritable glossolalia, Heimerdinger nevertheless restores a sense of the actor’s unique presence in time. Unlike Blood for Dracula, Heimerdinger’s odd remake is unedited; her two long shots—profile and frontal—never stray born Kier for the duration of the old movie. The immobile double shot underscores the fact that films are usually composed of numerous shots taken at Merent times, which are edited together to create a diegetic narrative. Here, the cut-up performance of the film is replaced with a continuous performance, like that of a stage actor. One of Heimerdinger’s photographic works, Interior 15, 2000, also makes a whole out of disparate parts; this eerie image of Dracula’s bed—without anyone in it—was painstakingly composed out of many different shots of the bed taken from the movie.

In the end, Heimerdinger seems to prefer everything but the film’s main story: sets, audiences, actors. She asked Kier to create his own installation, which, appropriately, focused on another by-product of film: the cult of adoring fans. Kier affixed to a pole a recent batch of letters requesting his autograph and nailed the signed photographs to the wall in the form of a crucifix. After the show, the pictures will be sent to the fans, thus producing a whole new set of contexts for the actor’s face, which will be hung on walls and glued into memorabilia books along with other stars from the silver screen. The most poignant testimony to the weight of these parallel lives came from a fan who wrote: “You play your roles so well—just like real life.”

Jennifer Allen