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Julieta Aranda
Babylon Mitte
June 20, 2014 12:00 AM - 5:00 AM

Out of the white cube; into the darkness
by Guy Parker

When I think of Midnight Movies I timeslip to the early 90s and all-nighters at the Scala in London's Kings Cross. The imagery is that of The Trip, Eraserhead, Vanishing Point, and Blue Sunshine. The aroma is of popcorn and hashish, the taste—cheap stimulants and vodka. I think of a motley crew of film geeks and freaks who have stumbled out of the pub at closing, dashed to the off license, and now gather inside the crumbling flea pit for an all night fix of kitsch, action, and high weirdness on the big screen.

Here in Berlin there's another Midnight Movie experience—far less sleazy but no less fun. Videoart at Midnight is a non-profit project that presents artists’ films and videos on the main screen of the Babylon Mitte, a beautiful cinema, right in the centre of the Hauptstadt. Once a month since 2009, organizers Olaf Stüber and Ivo Wessel have held screenings, with artists in attendance, of works that would normally only be seen in galleries or as part of installations.

Impression of Videoart at Midnight, Babylon Mitte; Photo: Jan Nicolas Hartig and Stephan Bögel; Image courtesy of Videoart at Midnight


Traditionally getting anyone at all to show up for screenings of Video Art or Artists’ Film was highly problematic; the healthy turnout here is an indicator of the high level of interest and participation in artists’ film and video in Berlin. As Stüber told me, “We have a hardcore of around forty people—artists, curators, critics, collectors—a lot of people we know from the Berlin art scene. But more and more people, especially young ones, we don't know…We think it's great, even if they don't stay until the end. It's a chance for them and for the art.” That the Babylon is so central and admission is free must help as well. There are no tickets or queues—you just walk in off the street and grab a seat. The event's success no doubt also results from the high quality of work and the artists who’ve participated including Douglas Gordon, Harun Farocki, Hito Steyerl, as well as Video Art legends such as Ant Farm, who visited in 2010.

Last Friday the curators introduced Julieta Aranda who screened two of her videos starting with a re-edit of Stealing one's own corpse (An alternative set of footholds for an ascent into the dark) (2014) that was first seen as part of an installation at the 8th Berlin Biennale last month (see my review here). The second was Notes for a time/ bank (2012) part of a collaboration with Anton Vidokle that investigates notions of currency, identity, and the reification of time. It focuses on experiments where monetary currency was replaced with promises of reimbursement not in gold, but in time.

Impression of Videoart at Midnight, Babylon Mitte; Photo: Jan Nicolas Hartig and Stephan Bögel; Image courtesy of Videoart at Midnight


Both videos share a style that blends philosophical, political, and scientific inquiry, word play and puns. Post- (or continuing?) crisis angst expressed as ’68 style slogans and layered sound creates a sense of lingering unease. On screen text and voice-overs demonstrate the persuasive advantage a well-put question has over a statement.

How do we escape?

Whoever said we'd be going back to Earth?

Why not want madness?

The imagery is loose and flowing, composed of whirls of floating, dreamy sequences underpinned by a taut sense of immediacy and gravitas. The way she mixes sources and formats—classic movies, training videos, stock footage, and corporate video—reminds me of a less didactic version of the films of Adam Curtis. Whereas Curtis employs a more lineal, documentary style, Aranda's content is delivered as a series of suggestions, like a slightly unnerving session with an NLP practitioner; they release a slow, subversive, subliminal drip of subtext.

The videos looked amazing projected onto the big screen at Babylon Mitte. If the change of environment tested the work then it certainly passed, with both pieces operating just as well as they do in a gallery. The excursion of these works from the gallery space momentarily releases them from artspeak, art history, the codes and filters through which artwork is evaluated and discussed. Experiments like these could be part of an opening up in art, towards a less isolated or elitist practice.

The event closed with music by Tisha Mukarji performed by a very cool quintet and featuring the startling voice of Margareth Kammerer. Mukarji provided sounds and music for Aranda's videos including a musical piece that utilized EKG recordings made while the artist was in zero gravity during the filming of Stealing one's own corpse...

The organizers of Videoart at Midnight seem to be on the right track to finding new eyes for this material as the event is becoming a central component to the Berlin Film and Video scene. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before the old school Midnight Movie crowd gets hip to it too? Could a teaming up of the two herald the birth of a new subculture? Film geeks and Art geeks up all night together—a kinda Bruce Nauman before the interval, Bruce Lee after thing? Chopping through cultural boundaries! Somebody save me a seat!


Guy Parker 


(Image on top: Julieta Aranda, Notes for a time/ bank, 2012; Courtesy Babylon Mitte, Videoart at Midnight 2014; Photo: Guy Parker)

Posted by Guy Parker on 6/25/14 | tags: video-art film

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