The video “Verbal/ Nonverbal” shows a number of test subjects against a neutral, white background, either individually or in pairs, in the context of an experimental test protocol. Each subject seats him or herself in an office chair, breathes deeply, concentrates, each appearing somewhat nervous. Each then places a balloon to his or her lips and breathes into it; the balloon than expands and contracts with each inhalation and exhalation. Before long, something curious occurs: their faces relax noticeably. Several subjects begin laughing aloud. A few attempt to repress these outbursts of hilarity. Others appear mentally absent. Still others attempt to articulate their experiences verbally. The intensity of these emotional responses careens out of control, their hilarity is irrepressible. Their laughter is infectious, yet one observes that an element must be present which somehow enhances the potential for affect and empathy. For a moment, all of the lightness of the world seems no further away than a balloon – and yet remains nonetheless evanescent.
The video piece “Verbal-Nonverbal” alludes to the construction and deconstruction of the self. And yet its images do not retreat toward mental states or introspection, but instead foreground a politically legible motif in the context of a collective autoexperiment which involves the overcoming of the self and its construction of the world.
Alongside this recently completed work, the exhibition features additional thematically related videos. To some extent, as in “Visiting a Contemporary Art Museum und Hypnosis” (2006) or “3 Selbstversuche zur Trance” (2008), it is a question of autoexperimentation on the part of the artist, while other works deal entail investigations of other states of consciousness and their depiction. Shown on two screens, “Shaman Travel” (2002) draws upon scientific documentary films of the 1960s in order to distill a parallel narrative of shamanism and ethnography. Other works as well belong to the context of the new exhibition. Leading to the very boundaries of language is the video installation “Interpreters” (2008), in which a simultaneous interpreter who translates in two directions reflects on her work. For the “Hypnosis Film Project” (2007), Keller has compiled various scenes dealing with hypnosis from the history of cinema form a single film. The video “Deux Cieux” (2007) documents a contemporary possession ritual in the forests of western France.
Emerging beginning with the early film “retrograd” (2000), which deals with the medical film history of the Charité Berlin, and “Encyclopaedia Cinematographica” (2001), has been a cycle encompassing three broad thematic fields: the archive and its transitoriness; the rituals of science; and techniques of the self and of its overcoming.
In many cases, the works of Christoph Keller resemble experimental test protocols, ones which incorporate the viewer. They reflect upon scientific models in the artistic context, positioning and challenging both artist and beholder as experimental subjects. Rational conceptions of the world are confronted now with the spatial and aesthetic experiences of art.