Clemens von Wedemeyer

Kölnischer Kunstverein

Michelangelo Antonioni, as film critic Urs Richter once wrote, is the photographer among European directors: Image composition dominates montage and the moment wins out over chronology. Clemens von Wedemeyer’s 35-mm film (transferred to video) Silberhöhe (Silver Heights), 2003, cites the closing scene of Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (1962): Moments of waiting in which the passing of time becomes palpable. The Antonioni citation sets the tone for a cinematic sketch of a concrete-slab housing development in eastern Germany, built between 1979 and 1989, that has lost more than half of its inhabitants since the fall of the Berlin wall—a shrinking city. The camera shows streets emptied of people, focusing on details in brief, almost still shots: a crane amidst debris, crumbling plaster, a bush in the foreground of a wintry cityscape, the interior of a model home in a neighboring single-family development. Von Wedemeyer’s camera is fascinated with the surfaces and fragments of a modern social utopia that was built and then discarded, one whose ruined leftovers are not exactly the triumphal confirmation of a now universally installed capitalism. Rather, they mark an empty space.

Almost concurrently with his exhibition at P.S. 1 in New York, von Wedemeyer presented at the Kölnischer Kunstverein—where he has already been represented in two group exhibitions—a selection of works that approach the relationship between art and cinema from different perspectives. Occupation, 2002, for instance, is a 35-mm film (transferred to video) about the construction of cinema as spectacle. It uses and simultaneously deconstructs filmic strategies such as fade-to-black, dramatic lighting contrasts, and a montage technique that recalls Sergei Eisenstein. Yet all this, as Beatrice von Bismarck writes in the exhibition catalogue, aims “dramaturgically at the visualization of the loss of rules, when everything, at a sign, scatters apart, in full flight, and the dense occupation of the territory, its takeover, ends in the explosive freeing of the surface.” Occupation is adapted, von Bismarck suggests, to the empty space that thus emerges, just as Silberhöhe circles around an empty space.

So does Otjesd, 2005. Its title is Russian for “departure,” a euphemism for emigration during the Communist era. The camera follows a young woman in a slow tracking shot as she moves through an undefined space, past a security blockade with lines of waiting people and others standing in loose groups; occasionally a voice on a loudspeaker gives instructions in Russian. As one learns in the video shown in the adjoining room, The Making of Otjesd, 2005, the shooting was preceded by research in immigration offices in Berlin and Moscow. Transferred to a wooded wasteland in Berlin, the scene takes on a dreamlike, or rather, a nightmarish, presence. The searching, directionless, circular movement of the protagonist is doubled by the film-loop and intensified by the camera’s uneasy changes of focus between foreground and background—as if searching for clues to understand a complex situation whose rules one does not know. But the young woman seems unable to reach her goal, the West, because, as Ekaterina Degot writes in the catalogue, the West as vanishing point no longer exists. Von Wedemeyer stages moments released from the continuum of time, interstices and transitional spaces, thereby revealing a concentrated though nevertheless laconic image of the mental and social present.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Diana Reese.