In her films, drawings, and installations, German artist Ulla von Brandenburg explores how things are staged and made theatrical, the relationship between audience and actors, the rules of performance, and the overlap between reality and illusion. In her first solo exhibition in Austria, Innen ist nicht Außen [Inside Is Not Outside], Ulla von Brandenburg is showing her new film Die Straße [The Street] as part of an installation which she created specially for Secession
s main gallery.
The black-and-white film Die Straße shows a man entering an unfamiliar village community where he is confronted with the rituals and conventions governing the villagers social interaction. In a single, uncut tracking shot, the camera, like a third person, follows the actors' performances, staged by von Brandenburg in an ephemeral Potemkin village made of white canvases in the open air.
He enters another world and tries to understand the various goings-on that strike him as foreign. Its as if he were time-traveling, although its not quite clear what sort of temporal context he has landed in, and there is no real development in the sequence of events. (Ulla von Brandenburg, interview with Nina Möntmann)
The stylized film set, the mysterious rituals that govern the performers interactions, and their alternating singing lends the film a particular poetry.
Die Straße represents a logical development in Ulla von Brandenburg's work. Her early black-and-white films feature seemingly motionless tableaux of people performing minimal actions; they explore ritualized behavioral patterns and the relationship between reality and illusion. One typical example is her film 8 from 2007, in which the camera moves through suites of rooms in a Baroque French castle, encountering individuals or groups of people who perform enigmatic gestures, laden with meaning. Her film Shadowplay (2012) also addresses the doubling inherent in acting and the tension between directed performance, identification with the role, and the performer's own identity. A woman and two men meet in a theater dressing room; they put on their costumes and their makeup, get into character and start dueling.
For her films Ulla von Brandenburg often develops presentations tailored specifically to the exhibition space, which establish a dense web of cultural and historical references. In the Secession the situation portrayed in the film of an entry into another world is doubled in the architectural space of the Hauptraum by the complex stage construction that the artist has installed as a sort of gateway to the film projection. The viewers enter this stage from behind and move across it, through a series of curtains and backdrops, on their way towards the auditorium, before reaching the film behind the final curtain. Ulla von Brandenburg uses these various theater curtains, platforms, and viewing levels to initiate a play with notions of onstage and offstage, outside and inside, that ultimately confront viewers with themselves and their own role. In his catalogue text René Zechlin describes this central feature of her works as follows:
Ulla von Brandenburg's references to the theater repeatedly lead us back to the fundamental questions of our existence and society: Who are we? What roles do we play? What position are we given through our roles? In her work, too, it is impossible to leave the theater of life without questioning one's existence. In her film-based allegories and installations she allows the scenography and setting of the performance metaphorically to come to light. She gives us a view behind the scenes without compromising the allure of her own game. (René Zechlin, catalogue text)
As is often the case in Ulla von Brandenburgs work, the curtain is a means of marking the transition from the real world to the world of the theater, a mental space ruled by the imagination, dreams, and the unconscious, where space and time have no limits. In her installation in the Secession this is particularly emphasized by the final red-orange curtain. Its faded pattern corresponds with the ceiling grid of the exhibition space and thus points to the site-specificity of the work as well describing a further projection of light and shadow in the traces of the sun.