Aarau

Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler

Aargauer Kunsthaus

A young woman arrives at a house in the middle of the night completely out of breath. She appears to be running from something. In front of her stands a large stone house, modernist in design, with a long wall of windows. All the lights are on. Inside, another woman is sitting at the piano, still dressed in an evening gown, her shoes kicked off. As she plays a sad piece, the camera pans across the remains of a festive evening—wineglasses, hors d’oeuvres—until the camera comes to rest on a photograph of a little girl. While this woman immerses herself in sad memories inside the house, the other one is lurking about its periphery. Something connects these two women—we just don’t know what it is. Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler’s House with Pool, 2004, is an ingeniously orchestrated work of narrative video. And it avoids something that is often problematic in Hubbard and Birchler’s work: the heavy-handed staging of scenes and didactic gestures. A sense of rhythm rarely encountered in video art gives House with Pool its suspenseful air and makes it the best work the duo has produced in recent years.

Most of Hubbard and Birchler’s works are concerned with spaces and the ways in which protagonists deal with them. The pair are obsessed with the opposition between inside and out, often staging their actors on the edge between an interior and an exterior. Whenever the characters cross that line, drama happens. In Single Wide, 2002, a woman drives her pickup truck directly into her trailer home. As the camera moves around the scene, we see an immaculate interior split in half by the smoking truck.

In House with Pool, we watch the story evolve in a twenty-minute parallel montage. The young woman outside breaks into the house, grabs a sweatshirt, and ends up sleeping outdoors by the illuminated swimming pool. Meanwhile, the lady of the house prepares for bed. The two women, in their diametrically opposed positions, move through the very same spaces but never meet. But we notice a photograph on the nightstand in the bedroom that reveals that the two women are connected. They pose side by side in happier days for the camera: mother and daughter?

Unresolved family conflicts, implied guilt, separation, and the inability to forgive are at play here. The daughter (if that is who she is) has seemingly run away and now returns to the comfort of her bourgeois roots, yet she doesn’t want to be what she sees. For the grand finale, the daughter plays the piano: the same mournful piece her mother played the night before. A gardener fishes a dead deer out of the swimming pool, and the girl runs away again. There is no conciliatory conclusion; the loop simply begins again. The setting, the modernist house itself, seems to determine how the characters move around until night falls over the suburbs once more. The whole story might be a little clichéd, but it is so simply and cleanly staged and edited that it is intensely affecting—one of the finest works of video art I have seen in quite a while.

Stefan Zucker

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.