Corinna Schnitt

Galerie Olaf Stüber

Many people are familiar with the Schnittraum in Cologne, a small storefront in the middle of the city repurposed as an exhibition space that became a favorite gathering spot for young artists, students, art critics, and aficionados in the late ’90s. Few realize, though, that the founder of this space, Corinna Schnitt, for whom it is named but who no longer participates in its activities, is herself an artist who has a series of rarely seen short films to her credit. This screening of two films from 2003, Living a Beautiful Life and Das Nächste Mal (Next Time), was the first time any of them has appeared in a gallery; both subsequently traveled to the Kunstverein Bochum.

Schnitt’s films inhabit the space between documentary and fiction. She wrings stories out of everyday situations, intentionally leaving the viewer uncertain about their actual relation to reality. In one of her first films, Schönen, guten Tag (Have a Great Day), 1995, one sees the artist cleaning her apartment and run-down stairwell. Her actions are accompanied by the frail voice of her building’s caretaker, who repeatedly leaves a request on the answering machine: Would Frau Schnitt please remember to always shut the doors of her WC on the stairwell? In Zwischen vier und sechs (Between Four and Six), 1997, Schnitt explains how she spends her afternoons with her parents, who live in a boring subdivision of single-family homes: She accompanies her father, who carries a ladder, and her mother, bucket in hand, as they set out to follow their detailed plan for cleaning street signs as a family activity. In Next Time, filmed in Holland, a boy around eleven years old, lying in the overgrown grass of a traffic island in the middle of a highway cloverleaf, makes a (scripted) declaration of love to a girl of similar age.

Schnitt always permits her immediate surroundings to enter her films. While studying in California, she made a film on happiness. Where else but in this state, home of the world’s most proficient manufacture of fictions, should she ask fourteen-year-olds about their idea of happiness? A career, a car, a house, and
a sexy wife were what the boys wished for, while the girls wanted fresh flowers, independence, nice clothes, and the best education for their children. In Living a Beautiful Life, these wishes are then borne out by a beautiful woman and a confident-looking young man, who appear now before the fireplace, now at the computer, now beside a swimming pool, now in the chic dressing room of a sunny, airy villa in Beverly Hills. Suffice it to say that so much happiness is hard to take. I might prefer the images running as a counterpoint on the opposite wall: naked little children in a paradisiacal landscape, surrounded by balloons and playing with a tiger cub. These come from a different fiction factory, the East German film production of the ’70s. Fiction, dream, wish—why does their fulfillment seem so hollow?

Schnitt’s films drag fiction into the everyday; fantasy, wish-dreams, and sad, sober reality all combine into a single grotesque omnipresence observed by the artist with an affectionate but wicked eye, making the quotidian an impenetrable mystery. Fact or fiction? Who can keep them apart, especially when happiness is at stake?

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.