Bernhart Schwenk

... and over and over the same thing happens differently ...
Observations on the Johanna Cycle by M+M

A landscape on six projection walls all the way around, somewhere and nowhere. A chance place, one that you would not seek out, but where you might just find yourself. The words of the two men are lost in the expanse of the space. Six cameras circle, prowling around the events. Cut.

The unity of the large panorama dissolves in the restlessness of different images: noises, scraps of dialogue, faces, close up. Two men, a woman in alternating constellations of pairs. The conversation situations suggest an impression of concentration and intensity.

Through the unmediated presence of a fresco cycle from the past, the observer is surrounded by a kind of monumental image arena of the now. It makes the observer, simultaneously viewer, listener, witness and voyeur, the center of events that are as complex as they are mysterious, plunging the observer into an overwhelming multiplicity of synaesthetic impressions. Yet the mind equipped with experience, knowledge and prejudices soon begins to seek orientation.

Which story links the three people on the screens? What kinds of relationships are these? In which temporal sequences do the single events move? At first glance, there does not seem to be a logical progression in the conventional sense of a beginning, movement and end. Is there an evenly progressing temporality here at all, a diachronic development of the scenes? Or is it perhaps a matter of leaps in time, flashbacks, parallel sequences, alternative plot lines?

Observers have to move in the space in order to go into the details and grasp the different conversations. Yet a feeling of uncertainty always remains, whether at the moment when you focus your attention on a certain situation, you may be missing something else behind your back. This experiential moment creates a feeling of closeness and distance at the same time. It calls for a fundamental decision in favor of the whole without details or of the details without distance. Covering both of these perspectives at the same time is not possible. Countless stories are imaginable in light of the obviously conflictual, sometimes eerie, strangely beautiful and always touching scenarios.

Even though the key to an unequivocal understanding is missing, the vividness of what is spoken attains a high degree of tension, the lyricism of the fragmentary is fascinating. Like a zapper in front of a screen, despite the rapid change of images and abrupt interruptions of the plot, you remain mesmerized.

The Johanna Cycle by M+M consists of a total of six narrative lines in five scenarios. All the scenes are played in parallel with exactly the same length and a similar structure. The progressions are given an additional synchronization by the simultaneous appearance of identical motifs (windmill, feather), by analogous actions (glances, approaches), bodily reactions (sweat on the forehead), and finally by a uniform camera motion. Another essential element for the atmospheric unity is the soundtrack by Thilges 3. Filmic strategies like this lead back to a wholeness of the installation and imbue it with a suprastructure that prevents arbitrariness. The choreography of the images interweaves with the crafted dialogues by Helmut Krausser, highlighting and intensifying the ambivalence of concrete meaning and open structure.

To the same degree that the question of an "objective" connection of the content becomes porous, the fundamental question of identity becomes compelling: the question of the identity of the word, the identity of a narrative, the identity of the protagonists. Who is this Johanna that is always being spoken of, is she a real person? Is it the woman that may be seen in some of the scenes? Is Johanna even a woman at all? Identity is increasingly perceived as a multiple entity, appears interchangeable. The notion of a truly, subcutaneously existent event becomes as liquid as the firm contours of an object through digital morphing.

Strangely enough, though, this insight does not lead to confusion on the part of the observer. The openness provides an opportunity to question the narrative structure itself: Haven't you already seen a certain scene? Yet was the intonation of a sentence really the same and not different after all? Again and again, scattered second-long sequences irritate the perception that had just been soothed and cast doubt on what is already familiar. The same situation is then received and processed differently. What has been seen resembles remembered dream sequences, blurred and clear at the same time without contradiction.

Even when you are apparently randomly zapping through TV channels, a different, unconscious yet thoroughly stimulating form of narration makes a space for itself. It imbues consciousness with a freedom that is hard to grasp and as yet hardly useable, by freely linking information from the most diverse sources and filling it with a new meaning. In the Johanna Cycle, difference and accord enter into a fruitful interaction. Story enters consciousness as a magnitude that is neither determined nor recountable. Here, time as a linearly directed, regulatively structuring, elementary category is rescinded in favor of a more circular experience of time. What is activated is a cyclical world view that has a clear dramaturgy, but not the expected, releasing climax.


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