Georg Elben
SUBSOIL - Crack, wave, tread, fall - the elements, on the ground in motion


"It is an overwhelming impression, standing in the middle of the picture field in the nearly ten meter high room: The projections come out of the heights like a storm shower and encompass the viewers walking through the projection field. It is a feeling of a flooding that flows around and through the body, a stream of picture and sound, there is no way to avoid it, the bright world of pictures and the room-possessing acoustic completely encircles the viewer. It does not matter where you turn, everything is moving. It is not possible to sink into the picture, it is too much to try to take all the details in. The viewer is forced to constantly turn and step to the side, to look where new sounds are coming from, which attract the his attention like a magnet.

The video installation SUBSOIL, a team project from Christoph Girardet and Volker Schreiner, which was exhibited by FORO ARTISTICO in the Eisfabrik in Hanover in November 1996, produces such an impression. The technical equipment is mounted on a filigree construction made of thin steel struts close to the ceiling, which also produce a latent fee-ling of danger. 12 LCD projectors project pictures onto the white painted floor over prisms, so that a seamless mosaic of pictures is produced. The two round columns of the hall are pulled into the square field of light, the projections are distorted on them. When the viewer walks into the picture field, he becomes a part of the installation, as he disrupts the motives with his shadows.Another completely different perspective is offered by the gallery on one side of the room, about four meters high. From up above, the picture field looks like a chess board.

From the gallery it is possible to gain a new point of view, which is a bit like a visit to the movies. Instead of the intense experience inside the installation, it is possible to look upon the pictures with analytical separation, in which it is possible to see and accept the separate dramaturgical picture elements clearly, to see how they build upon each other. The impression of a story is produced, even though it has no clear narrative thread. This is achieved because the pictures flow in series, where they build on one another and produce a classical composition form through the pauses.The installation is a complex unit, which is made possible only through the artistic harmony between Girardet and Schreiner. SUBSOIL is their second big project together. The first, GROUNDED SKY, was exhibited in the Gothic Hall at the Castle in Celle. It is also a clear triumph for both sides; the viewer can see elements from both GirardetÕs and Schreiner's work in the creation. It is however impossible to say who originally had which ideas for the separate elements. Instead, it seems to be an expansion of the individual artistic interpretation. Compromises were naturally inevitable to reach the necessary agreement during the work process. It is exactly this that stimulates a free association between the individual elements, and reveals the depth of the partnership.

The continual conflict between outlooks on creativity also leads to much faster changes, the work is focused through a pointed argumentation. One emphasis is the diversity achieved through the different combinations of short cuts out of films (Found Footage), which play an especially important role in Christoph GirardetÕs work and which first have to be brought into a rhythmic and compository conjunction, in order to reach a sharp statement. These elements oppose the staged process of exhibiting the pictures, which is typical for Volker Schreiner, and which usually is played out on an austere, sometimes even spartan construction, such as rattling boards. The intensity found in SUBSOIL is developed right out of this contrast. The contrast is what causes the work to be a unit, a unit whose peculiarity is built out of these contradictory ways of creating and leads to true synthesis.

The leading hypothesis in searching for pictures and patterns for SUBSOIL is the analysis of locations as real underground, from varying viewing angles and different models of movement. Possibilities of normal and unusual movement simulation are used, based on the kaleidoscopic principle. The short cuts and picture combinations which are constantly being discovered and rediscovered emphasize the intense controversy with the picture material, which is accompanied with similar work on the sound level. The prominent characteristic of SUBSOIL is however the equally valued use of staged recording with the artists as actors and newly cut Found Footage, which is replayed several times in extremely short loops.

The short film clips work like quotes that are not meant to say anything, they just build their own statement within the framework of the theme. There is a reevaluation of the scenes; in the films they have been taken out of, they are not in themselves especially important, simply while they are so short. With a typical length of one or two seconds, such clips disappear in the larger context of the film, like a small gear in a huge gearbox. Removing the clip from the film upgrades it, and the short scene is raised to the rank of an independent statement. These short clips are then adapted to fit into the time structure and the movement rhythm of the complete work. The installation is processed digitally, because only the computer makes a very direct and precise working method possible.

The self produced shootings, which mark especially the beginning, are meticulously structured. The first jump of a man in black pants and a white shirt (both artists are their own actors in front of the camera) into a corner receives a direct answer through another jump into the opposite corner. All the other projection fields which have no jumper remain black. The motif of the jumping works at first playful, but after a while aggressive. Gravity as an elementary human experience in relation to the ground as a solid or unstable subsoil is scrutinized. The scene deals with the dissolution of the borders between projection and the real subsoil. It deals with the question of how far the perception of the immaterial pictures and the solid floor of the hall contrarily influence each other.

The filmings at first seem to be naturalistic, but this is a delusion. Some of them are manipulated in regards to the direction of movement. For example, the pictures that show the jumping from the ground up and out of the picture are played backwards. In order to suggest normality, despite the reversal of the time lapse, the artists ran out of the scene backwards after the real jump, and the viewed scene is the tape played backwards.

The projection field on the ground, a mosaic of 12 separate pictures, raises the same principal problems as a split screen motif, which is produced by using many monitors to create one picture surface: Decorative elements with missing centers develop from simple motifs with help of a clear dramaturgy. That is why the development of SUBSOIL is organized in waves, blocks and rows which flow over the complete length of the floor and which are not hindered by the borders of the individual pictures. A uniting of the 12 projections to make one surface is further made possible by turning the pictures 180¡ or mirroring them from one half of the chess board to the other, depending on the needs of the motif. Several times during the presentation, longitudinally stretched rhombic figures are generated when picture diagonals are rotated to cut across two picture fields. In this way, the fixed gridwork of the individual picture surfaces is annulled by the cross.

The sound track runs synchronously with the pictures. Only at the end does a type of epilogue break this parallel: After a short pause without sound the viewer sees a human figure zoomed in on, lying across the complete picture field. Contrary to the principle of the motionless camera trained on the moving motif, in this instance a moving camera is photographing a body which was excavated at Pompeii, someone who was âfrozenÔ during his free movement, not from the camera. Despite the distorted playback, the viewer can recognize that it is not a statue. The picture marks a return to the earthquake motif of the first third of the presentation and questions the association with time. Above and beyond that, the motif itself works like a question mark: Is the figure in the picture that of a person paralyzed in death, or that of a clay pre-picture, in which life has blown into?

The pictures in SUBSOIL do not let themselves get easily classified. Supported by the presentation form as a space installation, a directness of access and experience is made possible, which gives the pictures the chance to speak for themselves. At the same time they produce a chain of symbolical associations of the four elements, fire, water, earth and air, which, in connection with the title, provide a framework for possible interpretations. The penetrating whistle of a river steamer marks the end of the chronological course of the pictures: Picture and Sound are reunited. This blast of the whistle and the previously often exhibited gyrocompass force the viewer to look for help to reorient himself. At the end of a pass of all picture sequences he is standing in an empty dark room, from which the moving pictures have been temporarily removed. There are, however, no definite answers, just the same pictures over again, which work a little different every time."