Moser & Schwinger

Arndt & Partner

“I always anticipate what people want from me and I like to give them what they expect, but then something goes wrong every time.” With this reflection, Amanda Cook, a character based on Monica Lewinsky, ends her appearance in Time Flies, 2006, a recent video by Frédéric Moser and Philippe Schwinger. The piece, which lasts less than five minutes, is a cleverly compressed portrait of a woman who, having hosted a TV show, designed a handbag collection, and searched for God, is now reduced to walking around an empty theater and reflecting on her situation. Will she ever be able to marry a normal man, a carpenter or a schoolteacher, say, now that she has held the former president’s genitals in her hand? Not very likely.

What is certain, however, is that she has earned a place in history, and Moser & Schwinger let her make a final appearance. It may be a fictitious one, pieced together from media reports, but it is done with a sure hand. Like Frankenstein’s monster pieced together from discarded parts, the media figure is brought back to life. Composed and placed on an intimate stage, Amanda surpasses the original by far: Monica replugged. The artists have staged her as a kind of lone entertainer/speaker, played by an elegant, very pale young actress wearing a black sequined dress. The audience is gone, the rows of seats are empty, and it is only by accident that the TV camera is still running. But she is still in full control. Every step, every turn, every look is precise, and everything is perfectly orchestrated. The way she plays to the camera creates a sense of trust—she is certainly a very talented seductress—but her slumped posture as she broods over her naïveté emphasizes how helpless she was in the face of the overwhelming publicity it brought her. She tells her story almost casually, yet it is also a kind of confession.

Moser & Schwinger had already used this material in Unexpected Rules, 2004–2006, shown at the Bienal de São Paulo two years ago; a small-format version was shown here. This video installation sums up the Lewinsky affair in about sixteen minutes. The parties involved gather on a simple wooden stage: the president, his family, Lewinsky, prosecutor Kenneth Starr, and so on, a compressed version of an illusory world. Accusations are leveled, lies are told, confessions are made, forgiveness is granted. The arguments of the parties are irrelevant. At the end of the piece, even Starr encourages the president to deny the affair as long as the people will believe him. Moser & Schwinger are less interested in the authenticity of the story than in the strategies of human behavior. Their behind-the-scenes view portrays the maneuvering between public, private, and political concerns. The stage, ringed by thirteen hundred colored lightbulbs, is more reminiscent of a puppet or marionette theater than a film set.

Another video, Donnerstag (Thursday), 2006, documents prosaic, everyday life, and it is almost as if the artists have had enough of their theatrical world. A day in the life of Amanda/Monica on a ranch? It is a startling contrast—an indication that the uncertainty between documentation and fiction can never be resolved.

Stefan Zucker

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.