Katharina Sieverding

In her latest solo show, which formed part of the “Forum Expanded” program associated with this year’s Berlinale, Katharina Sieverding invited viewers to enter literally into a pictorial space in which—as critic Rainer Bellenbaum noted in a lecture during the film festival— the apparatuses of cinema and art exhibition overlapped. Sieverding projected a randomly controlled digital slide show, Projected Data Images, 2009, directly onto a large wall of the gallery, creating a dynamic surface with fragmentary views of architectural monuments of postwar German history repeated in parallel. These diagonally framed strips appeared in constantly changing constellations, juxtaposed with similarly formalized shots of the artist’s own performances and work dating as far back as the 1960s, including iconic self-portraits from 1969–71.

The sixty-two black-and-white motifs running on four separate channels left viewers with afterimages, inviting them to speculate on the forms and roles of recognition. The steles of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin appeared in bird’s-eye view and then sank from sight again; the ruins of the Palast der Republik slanted up at an angle and then vanished—meanwhile, the structure really has vanished to make way for the future reconstruction of the Berlin City Palace, so that history can repeat itself as farce. Hermann Göring’s former Ministry of Aviation, now the seat of the German Ministry of Finance and the central office of the Treuhand agency that privatized East German enterprises after the fall of the Berlin wall, was also shown again and again. Amid this rhythmic spectrum of historically symbolic sites, the backpack belonging to Sieverding’s teacher Joseph Beuys also made an appearance, along with glamorous pictures of the artist posing like a movie star or making an entrance at her openings, and snapshots showing her famous large-format C-prints being installed. These last components are taken from Sieverding’s series “Schichtseite nach unten” (Emulsion Side Down), 1970–2007, in which the artist reworks documents from her archive, dissecting the image of her own body through pictorial fragmentation. They thereby lose any ability to serve as forms of indexical representation, so that the empowering gesture of self-dramatization—a crucial aspect of feminist art since the 1960s—dissociates the self-portrait by emphasizing the split between its subject and its producer, rather than sealing it, though without discarding all documentary aspirations. Projected Data Images was flanked by digital projections of large-format montages (Projected Data Images 1–4, 2009), including a classic film kiss between Bogart and Bacall—whose faces threatened to dissolve in a nearly colorless, abstract blur so that the affective content of this “formulaic pathos” was emptied out precisely by its own representation—and a similar scene depicting Sieverding herself posing with actor Alexander Beyer.

The hypnotic work Life-Death, 1969/2004—originally a 16-mm film presented for the first time at Harald Szeemann’s Documenta 5 and here shown in digital form in a side room—exploits the rift between our persistent faith in mimesis and the logic of technological media that structurally distort the image. The body and face of the artist are programmatically driven to extremes of unrecognizability in long, slowed-down shots, becoming abstract or opaque surfaces. On the other hand, Foto-Film, 1964–2008, on view in a second black box, compiles clips and images from earlier works and exhibitions in chronological order, with the addition of contemporary documentary material; to this extent, the work can be seen as a supplement to the retrospective projections in the gallery’s main room. If David Joselit concludes his book Feedback: Television Against Democracy (2007) with a manifesto that instructs us, among other things, to “[a]ssess the image ecology you live in and respond to it,” Katharina Sieverding’s Projected Data Images does just that. The project feeds both individual and collective memories as preserved in analog documents into the contemporary digital space of the global image stream—without nostalgia, and beyond an apologia of immersion.

André Rottmann

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.