Edgar Honetschläger, Los Feliz, 2016,  Super 8 and HD digital video transferred to 35 mm, color, sound, 105 minutes. 21er Haus.

Edgar Honetschläger, Los Feliz, 2016, Super 8 and HD digital video transferred to 35 mm, color, sound, 105 minutes. 21er Haus.

Edgar Honetschläger

Charim Galerie/21er Haus

Edgar Honetschläger, Los Feliz, 2016,  Super 8 and HD digital video transferred to 35 mm, color, sound, 105 minutes. 21er Haus.

Those who make the pictures rule the world: By shaping our view of reality and informing our desires, pictures control what we do. Few institutions have exploited this power more expertly than the Catholic Church. For many centuries, images were the primary medium through which it disseminated its messages. In the twentieth century, however, Hollywood ousted the Vatican as the global capital of visual production. Near the beginning of Edgar Honetschläger’s new feature-length film Los Feliz, 2016, three cardinals congregate in Rome to confer about the Church’s fall from supremacy; they decide to hire the devil to help them regain their former visual hegemony. The archfiend is joined by Lydia, a museum attendant whose yearning for fame leads her to surrender her soul to him, and the Shinto deity Kaya, who is looking for romantic love. Kaya, Lydia, and the devil get into an old Mercedes for a magical ride from Rome to Hollywood. On the way, they discuss the world in terse dialogues, mulling over ideas of freedom, love, and happiness, and arguing about art and illusion.

Honetschläger calls Los Feliz—named after a Los Angeles neighborhood—a “road movie shot in a studio.” He painted huge canvases over the course of three and a half years, and he had a machine built to roll them behind the action. The canvases become scenic backdrops that loop endlessly to evoke an idea of America passing by as one drives cross-country. The electric pole repeats itself to infinity. The Austrian artist drafted the first script in 2000; the filming, by contrast, was finished in a mere six weeks. The street upon which the Mercedes parks, the landscapes that scroll past as the three protagonists traverse the United States, the gas station the devil blows up, the prison the characters are held in, the bar, and even the newspaper a patron is reading—all are drawings by Honetschläger. The eighteen giant banners rendered in Japanese ink on canvases measuring thirteen by fifty-two feet each, as well as the hundreds of drawings used to build the sets, quote American films by auteurs ranging from Sidney Lumet to Steven Spielberg to Jim Jarmusch.

To celebrate the Austrian premiere of his film, Honetschläger presented several of the large drawings in Vienna’s 21er Haus. Hanging them would have been a challenge given their size, so he laid them out on the floor. A concurrent exhibition at Charim Galerie featured film stills and drawings. Both shows illustrated the subtle art that comprised the film’s visual universe. The artist lived in Tokyo, Rome, New York, Brasília, and São Paulo before settling in Vienna and Los Angeles, and his pictures reflect this richly diverse experience: austere, even minimalist, they implicitly contain the whole world around them. His conceptual use of the blank derives from Japanese aesthetics and engenders visual spaces that challenge the viewer’s imagination to supply surroundings, movements, spatial relationships, and pictorial depth—which is why the term “road movie” is apt, even if the action is set in a flat world.

Indeed, this phrase points us to a second aspect that is vital to Honetschläger’s art. In the film, the Japanese deity Kaya muses about central perspective, a European invention: “Central perspective,” she argues, “is a problem,” and so, more particularly, is perspectival depth: The more fully we believe in the illusion of space, the more deeply we become immersed in it, forfeiting our critical distance and agency, and that is the recipe for the power pictures have over us. Toward the end of the film, the three arrive in Hollywood. The film ends with the disillusion of all hope: The devil reinvents himself as a plastic surgeon, the goddess has metamorphosed into grass, and Lydia abandons her dream of fame. What remains is the two-dimensional world of drawing.

Sabine B. Vogel