Linda Bilda for Ernst Schmidt Jr.

Ernst Schmidt Jr. (1938–88) was one of Vienna's most important avant-garde filmmakers and theoreticians. So how can his work be shown other than in a movie theater or in print? Both forms of presentation were employed in a recent survey of his work, a posthumous “collaboration” with Linda Bilda, yet most of the exhibition took place in the gallery spaces of the Wiener Secession.

An artist living in Vienna, Bilda has been working with Schmidt Jr.'s estate for several years now. There are several salient points of intersection between her work and Schmidt Jr.'s. Both artists proceed by taking visual and language-based material out of its context and arranging it in new sequences. Since the '80s, when she co-published the magazine Artfan—she later founded the Artclub Wien and, more recently, participated in the collective editing of the feminist art journal Die weisse Blatt (The white page)—Bilda's theme has been the “production of a (counter-) public.” Her comic strips, drawings, and topical paintings about feminism involve a fraught play with the relationship of word to image, splicing relatively long text passages into narrative sequences of images. But Schmidt Jr.'s theme was film itself—its possibilities as a medium.“ For him, film is a medium of investigation and discussion, of oneself, but also of one's own context, music, fine arts, and literature, and problems of social reality. His entire filmic work is a single transgression of film language, the techniques and the genre,” the filmmaker wrote about himself. His cinematic oeuvre includes documentaries (several on Viennese Actionism), concept films, and an “expanded cinema” installation, as well as animation and a narrative feature.

Bilda has come up with a fascinating way of presenting Schmidt Jr.'s continuous effort to break with convention. This was no retrospective but rather an almost surgically precise selection of archival material, in many cases previously unseen. Thanks to this, it was not the films qua moving pictures that formed the heart of the exhibition; it was the complexity of the work as a whole. At the entrance, pages taken out of Schmidt Jr.'s diaries from 1958 to 1973 were applied directly to the wall. The same method of reproduction by means of photographic emulsion and frottage was used for all the texts and stills, robbing the materials of their monumental character as original museum pieces and giving them instead the look of something fleeting or fragmentary. Filmstrips were attached to the doors; films played on a small television; on a table, one could peruse the publication Drehen Sie Filme, aber keine Filme! Filme und Filmtheorie 1964-1987 (Make Films, but no Films! Films and Film Theory). But Bilda's most daring move was to include the work of several contemporary women video artists (Terese Schulmeister, Anna Kowalska, Mikki Muhr, and Ulrike Müller), for she is as interested in reappraising Schmidt Jr.'s artistic legacy as she is in recontextualizing the work itself. Bilda has found a thoughtful way to do this, simultaneously introducing us to Schmidt Jr.'s work and presenting it as the source of an artistic method for working with visual and linguistic material that is independent of its media, its era, and even its author—a method both exhibited and applied.

Sabine Vogel

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.