Isabell Heimerdinger

A man stands in an empty white room, by turns bored and annoyed, then intent, thoughtfully staring into space. What we are seeing is a close-up of Wolfram Berger, a famous Austrian movie actor, for a full seventeen minutes. Isabell Heimerdinger titled her 16 mm film, which came out of her residency at the Atelier Augarten in Vienna, Waiting, Acting Waiting, 2003. She hired Berger to play a man waiting but instructed him first to wait before being filmed. In fact, the camera was already running, giving rise to two portraits.

The viewer quickly begins to search for the line between the acted and actual waiting. When a light meter is thrust into the picture and the light switches from too bright to too dark, the illusion of drama is interrupted—it is the moment of preparation for a role. When Berger puts on sunglasses and smokes a cigarette, he’s acting—and acting a cliché at that. But “waiting” is by definition an actionless act, expressed not so much in motions as in the eyes. So we end up unexpectedly close to the actor and even start to wait with him, never really knowing whether his emotions are acted or genuine, whether we are looking at the man or the actor.

Since 1996, Heimerdinger has been thematizing this line between staged and authentic reality, interrogating the difference between acting and being oneself. In 2002 she filmed German actor Rüdiger Vogler watching himself perform in Wim Wenders’s film Alice in the Cities, as she had done the year before with Udo Kier watching himself in Andy Warhol’s Dracula—both films from 1974, and both career breakthroughs for the actors. While Vogler watches almost without a word or motion, Kier comments audibly to himself—all the while memorizing his lines for a new film.

Different realities and roles, past and future, are interwoven here. Heimerdinger picks up this role-playing in a similar way in the photo series “Before and After,” 2002. We see actors of the Vienna Burgtheater in preparation at the makeup table, on the stage, and finally relaxing just after the performance. When are the actors being themselves? For her Polaroid series “From Hana to Dorothea,” 2003, each visitor to her apartment has to assume a certain pose. The pose then has to be copied exactly by the next guest—a kind of physical game of “telephone.” The deviations increase, but we don’t know whether these are conscious or accidental, for the individuals could be hamming it up, having seen through the game or played it before.

Heimerdinger raises the general question: What is authenticity? Is it even possible? The longing for immediacy assumes that there exists something independent of representation and that representation is simply a communication through some transparent “medium,” be it a film or an actor. And yet authenticity, as Heimerdinger seems repeatedly to suggest, is not some essence or quality that can be separated from the form of its representation. Her exhibition is titled “Performance,” and it is only through performance that authenticity can be engendered.

Sabine Vogel

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.