Los Angeles

Mathias Poledna

Richard Telles Fine Art

Version, 2004, the most recent film by Mathias Poledna, is strongly reminiscent of his last one, Actualité, 2002. Once again, the gallery was painted black, and a 16 mm projector beamed a film onto the far wall. And this work, too, depicts a group of attractive twentysomethings shot against a black backdrop, conveying a vaguely purgatorial impression. The sense that Poledna’s subjects are spirits trapped in a liminal zone between art gallery and movie theater is, again, corroborated by a looping repetition that keeps them turning hellishly in place, as well as by the pronounced grain of the film stock. By subtly reconfiguring his material over time, Poledna works with the “fallout,” as he puts it, from a prior project. The audience, in turn, is asked to connect the dots between then and now.

Against this backdrop of continuity, every instance of misregistration and distinction becomes acute: the choice of black-and-white over color, silence over sound, and above all the shift from a context of production to one of reception. Both films thematize music as an activity that is both about and of the social, but whereas Actualité featured a band lurching toward a groove, Version is more about the effect of music on its listeners. Recalling television shows like American Bandstand and Soul Train but replacing their promotional jubilation with a gothic penumbra, the film follows a group of dancers as they go through their paces, performing a languid, swaying jig that displays a subtle waxing and waning of commitment and has each one teetering on the border of self-imposed exile and collective release. Although the musical source of their exertions is withheld, Poledna nevertheless leaves a clue on the checklist in the form of the Adorno-esque title “Sufferer’s Song,” taken from an early-’80s reggae track by Junior Delahaye. Onscreen, however, the scales never tip one way or the other: Even as the camera trawls up and down the dancers’ bodies, it never locates that punctum-like detail of dress, pose, gesture, or expression that might occasion our empathy.

In these “fragments of 20th Century culture,” as Poledna calls them, every aesthetic detail is considered, determined, emphatic, and at the same time oddly diffuse. Periodically, two or more of the dancers appear to sync up, their discotheque vernacular giving way to the somewhat more formalized, yet still loose, aleatory choreography of modern dance. Such transitions are executed so casually that one could easily overlook their implications with regard to categorical relations—and that is also partly the point—but each one opens onto a different context and a different set of cultural associations. Ultimately, Version is about extracting a surplus of reference from a seeming deficiency, perhaps as a gesture toward reversing the conditions of the present technological moment, in which unlimited data-storage capacity increasingly yields to historical amnesia.

Poledna’s dancers enact this crisis in their divergent interpretations of the song that should unite them. Yet in so doing, they also suggest another kind of history, one that—like pop music itself—invites competing accounts, an endless succession of versions.

Jan Tumlir