Mathias Poledna

Mathias Poledna, an Austrian artist living in Los Angeles, has repeatedly delved into archives, treating them as sources for the reconstruction of recent history. In the project Produktion Pop, 1996, Poledna (together with Martin Beck and Jon Savage) attempted to bring to light sources for a museological examination of the British punk and new-wave scene, while in the group exhibition “Zonen der Verstörung” (Zones of disturbance), Graz, 1997, he examined the history of the militant left, focusing on the radical Italian philosopher Antonio Negri. Poledna also displayed this interest in visualizing political history—which, with respect to the radical left of the '60s and '70s, is necessarily also media history—in his video installation Fondazione, 1998, at Vienna's Generali Foundation, a quasicinematic narrative about the Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, who died in 1972 while attempting to paralyze part of Milan by bombing an electrical pylon. Most recently, in Actualité, 2001, Poledna's new film installation, the artist returned to the theme of historicizing popular culture. But in this 16 mm film sequence, projected in a darkened, boxlike room, he went beyond his earlier method of deconstructing popular or political myths via documentary. Rather than presenting the documentation of a historical moment, he displayed its reinvention.

The film showed a rock band rehearsing. Their music and equipment were reminiscent of '70s new wave, which serves Poledna as a matrix for a historical spectacle relevant today. The film sequence begins in darkness; we hear only the stumbling notes of a bass guitar. The drums join in; a beat forms, then breaks off. The camera pans aaoss a Marshall amp, then across a man's head, shaved on the sides. The background is black; whenever the camera leaves one detail and before the next one appears, the screen goes dark again. The female drummer (new wave also stood for more women in rock) wears a blue-and-white striped T-shirt, sleeveless in the style of the time; just as typical is the guitarist's skinny tie. Concentrating, free of dramatic stage antics, the four—clearly dilettantish—musicians are memorizing a new song. The music recalls bands like Gang of Four or Wire—or the Red Krayola, who in fact originated the song fragments that the actors reinterpreted for Poledna's film. Music suggests immediacy, but the path to it—the mediation of spontaneity—is the theme here.

The impression created by Actualité is that of a professional rock documentary. This ''well-made“ aspect contrasts with the aesthetic, strongly prevalent today, of hand-held cameras in narrative art videos. Poledna underscored the cinematic moment by projecting his film in a specially built ”theater" within the gallery. The only other thing to be seen was a film poster. What Poledna offered was a historical display on pop culture. It remains up to us to piece the fragments of this history into a totalizing déjà vu or to reevaluate them as a model for relevant artistic praxis. A group of artists, as this kind of workshop or studio situation shows, has to select one possibility of expression out of many. At the end, the beat begins to form again in the darkness, then breaks off. The loop starts again from the beginning—a metaphor for the history of pop, recurring in ever-new loops.

Matthias Dusini

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.