Rudolf Frieling
(published in: "40JAHREVIDEOKUNST.DE - part 1", Karlsruhe 2006)

“How far can a stylistic principle be taken? How often can the assembly logic be dismantled with the result becoming predictable? Since the late 1980s, Volker Schreiner has regularly succeeded in taking his electronic material and the appropriate tools for linking the material seriously, in short but concise attempts, without being boring for a second. His structuralist studies of the material quality of the electronic image and the immaterial quality of traditional materials represent a kind of fundamental research and a consistent group of works. Musical and rhythmic in their editing, always surprisingly complex in their subject matter despite all their simplicity, these videotapes are full of lightning irony.

In WIPE BOARD (1989), only his second videotape, which caused an international furor at film festivals after WHITE SCREEN (1988), 130 changes of image take the wipe literally as a technique. The screen mutates into an image and its copy. In the shallows between image, copy, and blank, the montage brings off the amazing trick of combining the opening and closing of an image - a window on an image or a piece of the world - in such a way that the viewers rub their eyes in amazement. What have I just seen? The rapidity of the image change does not, of course, facilitate direct identification, but motifs that can be recognized instantly recur constantly, bringing viewers back to the shaky ground of reality.

We are literally in the artist’s workshop. The material is spread out on a table: in the first tape we still had the white sheet of paper (WHITE SCREEN), but now the analogy is with the canvas, the cardboard, the rolls. The material quality is emphasized by areas the color of earth. Nothing is sketched artistically, not a line, not a fleck of paint, not even any priming. The horor vacui of the beginning and an empty space practically provoces the enervated gesture of throwing away, of clearing up - the artist’s arm lashes out. This has to be a new start with new material. It is precisely from this dynamism inherent in artistic work that Schreiner develops his pictorial motif. All the materials now serve a single purpose only, namely that of opening up a potential image by covering up (tidying away) another one. The dialectical movement of showing by concealing creates an idea of infinitely layered planes, shifted furiously from top to bottom, from left to right. And it is only in the in-between phase of the loudly rolling pieces of cardboard that the electronic noise sounds through the image levels, running counter to the apparent craft, the almost substantial quality, behind the working steps of pictorial creation. In the end, the monitor image is always made up of electronic lines. So Schreiner reads against the line structure of the electronic image, setting musical punctuation marks against the even sequence of the 625 lines. It is precisely the unpredictability of the materials used, and that of the editing rhythm, that makes this early video work one of the high points of 1980s’ video art.

And yet Schreiner does not shy away from suggesting hints of an ability to portray. At rare moments, for a fraction of a second the voyeur’s eye is thrown the bait of a distorted figure behind glass. This would suggest the promise that it is only by working through the mechanisms of concealing images that a possibility of watching is created.

Schreiner constantly touches on these ambivalences between abstraction in lines, grids, moirés, et cetera, and representation in later works (OPEN UP, 1991; FOLDER, 1998). But in SEESAW (1997) he goes the opposite way and offers concrete sequences of images, but then makes them abstract through rhythm. He combines three places and three times in a structure that is once again musical, using a metronome sequence. Scraps of words and bars of music combine and seperate at the same time. The involved but consistent and even (metronomic) editing sequence not only condenses these three everyday places to a simultaneous time, but also to simultaneous times and simultaneous places. But far from creating a deliberately contrasting montage in the spirit of Eisenstein, Volker Schreiner is more inclined to examine what surprising combinations are produced by different material running in parallel.

The systematic, mechanical access to re-ordering visual material is a basic feature of all of Schreiner’s video works. In contrast with artistic positions mounted on documentary or narrative pictorial sequences or that pursue the continuities of pictorial material in a more painterly way by collaging pictorial levels, lines and pixels, Schreiner insists on the cadre, the grammatical principle of editing, and the musical principle of imposing rhythm. He could be described as an analyst who has nevertheless devoted himself to the poetry of surprising ‘montage finds’.

In the context of other serial montage positions (Peter Roehr) and on to film with found footage (Girardet and Müller) or today’s database-related films, Volker Schreiner’s videotapes are distinguished by a combination of music, poetry, and modernist analysis of his own working conditions, which is central to video art. The generation of artists who devoted themselves to video as a medium in the 1980s, has been pushed aside in recent years by an interest in art that is above all narrative or documentary. But in the long term, their masterly handling of abstraction and mechanical poetry will develop a lasting aesthetic effect.”