Ana Torfs

The video installations in Ana Torfs’s exhibition “Album Tracks A” work by way of overlappings and oppositions. Whereas the figures in the black-and-white sequences at first seem to be acting in complete isolation, suspended within abstract spaces, their stories soon prove to be powerfully interwoven with European political and intellectual history. In Battle, 1993/2009, the earliest work in the show, we see three singers statically juxtaposed in a video triptych as they sing Claudio Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624). On a separate screen, we can read the subtitles isolated from their images: They sketch the story of Clorinda, who is in love with Tancredi and dies in a senseless, ill-matched sword fight with her beloved. While in Monteverdi’s opera, death appears in the context of a dramatic love story, in The Intruder, 2004, based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1890 one-act play L’Intruse, it intervenes in the tight circle of a family bound together only by their anticipation of it. As do all of Torfs’s installations, this one includes an offscreen voice, the presence of which intensifies the emotional distance between the figures. In Du mentir-faux, 2000, we see in close-up the head of a suffering, withdrawn-looking woman with a severe pageboy haircut. BEFRAGT, OB SIE FRAUENKLEIDUNG WOLLTE (Asked if she wanted women’s clothing) and BEFRAGT, OB GOTT DIE ENGLÄNDER HASSE (Asked whether God hates the English) we read on the intertitles. These are passages from the trial of Joan of Arc in 1431. We know how the story ends from history class. What we are being shown here only via this portrait and this text is the hopelessness of Joan’s situation.

Torfs employs a diametrically opposed approach to this claustrophobic focus in her staging of the court protocols concerning the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Anatomy, 2006, which uses large numbers of actors and monitors. On one monitor, twenty-five actors matter-of-factly read out answers to questions presented as intertitles. These are excerpts from the interrogations of the military tribunal investigating the murders. The English translation is piped into cordless headphones. On a second monitor we see seventeen actors standing in the tiers of an anatomical theater, where, instead of a body, a situation—the murder of two Socialist leaders—is being dissected, along with the way we approach history, portray it in the media, translate and archive it.

Torfs confronts us with projections and imaginings, challenging us to reassess our own images of reality. The pictures and words we see are only a framework: History is constituted principally in our perception. With a nod to Roberto Rossellini’s film Viaggio in Italia (1954), Torfs’s Displacement, 2009, shows us the journey of a couple who are becoming increasingly alienated from each other, via a “displacement” of patterns of perception ingeniously exacerbated by splitting image from sound. On one side we see a villa, the remnants of a military installation, a hotel, a beach. On the other are alternating close-ups of a man and a woman; we can add in dialogue from Rossellini’s sound track using headphones. The travel narrative is intercut with relationship dialogues; we look for analogies and metaphors and constantly lose ourselves in the overlappings of literary, historical, and political themes. “Jede Geschichte ist eine Reisegeschichte” (Every story is a travel story) we read over and over. This might serve as a motto for all of Torfs’s work, for these tales guide us through the bigger story behind them, that of a Europe shaped by injustice and violence.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.