25. July 2017

Historical events play an important role in Bianca Baldi’s films. The South African artist is July’s DOUBLE FEATURE guest.

By Daniel Urban

First of all, in the right stereo image there is knocking, which comes across as a fast, continuous rhythm. A muffled kick drum? A heartbeat? While the screen insists on remaining black, a woman’s voice sounds out from the left: “Let’s begin by standing with your eyes open at the beginning of your chosen path”. The dark black reveals spherical shadows, swirls of smoke seems to drift through the picture. You think you can make out a tree, branches, everything strangely distorted. “Free yourself from your eyes, brain […] With closed eyes see through the darkness”. The constant rhythm accelerates, threatens to stumble and the eye now understands that we are in a labyrinth. “I come to you because I desire to see – eyes in the back of your head” the voice says finally uttering the title of the work.

The idea for the installation “Eyes in the back of your head” came about in 2016 while she was artist in residence in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In the local Ethnographical Museum Bianca Baldi (born 1985 in Johannesburg, South Africa) discovered documentary photographs by Slovenian engineer Anton Codelli and a talisman scroll from the Togo collection of his friend Leo Poljanec. The two men had joined the company Telefunken, to install a wireless telegraph in Kamina, a town in Togoland (then a German colony) that was to radio to Nauen in Brandenburg.

Banned demons

In the installation “Eyes in the back of your head”, which was on show this year in Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof in Hamburg meter-long strips of cloth hung from the ceiling printed with the photos by Anton Codelli – the video work, which is now being presented in DOUBLE FEATURE is part of this installation. Codelli’s images also crop up again here: on the walls of that labyrinth through which the camera glides incessantly before later capturing it in its entirety from above – where it now reveals itself to viewers as that labyrinth from the talisman scrolls in which demons are to be eternally imprisoned so they cannot harm the scroll bearer.

Essentially, in the work “Eyes in the back of your head” Baldi asks questions about human options for communicating and their impact: On the one hand the technological, scientific form of communication, which repeatedly shimmers through in the symbol of the radio station, on the other communication within a mythological, spiritual world: a labyrinth that captures the influence of the spiritual world in our own lives. On a formal level this principle is taken up precisely in the use of sound: Baldi only lets communication by language be heard from the left – language is said to be located in the left side of the brain. By contrast, the right side of the brain is said to be more for taking in things as a whole, and for intuition. And on the right side Bianca Baldi features a monotonous rhythm that might recall ritual percussion music.

Apartheid and boycott

Baldi is often inspired by historical events in her works: For example, “Zero Latitude”, which was shown 2014 at the Berlin Biennale refers to the Camp Bed Trunk with a fold out bed of colonial explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, which Louis Vuitton designed especially for him. In the installation “Fun Capital” (2012), comprising found footage video material and photographs Baldi focused on Frank Sinatra’s performance in Sun City, a luxury resort and casino complex of former South African homeland Bophuthatswana on which United Nations placed a culture boycott because of its apartheid policy.

Bianca Baldi, Eyes in The Back of Your Head (2017), Filmstill

Bianca Baldi chose as her favorite film Raúl Ruiz’ (1941-2011) “L’hypothèse du tableau volé” (The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting) from 1978 in which we are introduced to the enigmatic imagery of the artist Frédérique by the art collector Jean Rougeul. We discover from the eloquent collector that in the late 19th century Tonnerre’s paintings caused a scandal in the art world, which we find difficult to understand today. Subsequently, the art collector attempts through the remaining six paintings by the artist – one painting was stolen and has been irrevocably lost – to unveil the mystery behind these pictures.

Still more questions

He leads the viewers through a baroque property in which static images are brought to life. While the collector glides through these tableau vivants he leads the observer astray on several occasions, is interrupted now and then by a second voice coming from an unseen person who sometimes agrees with the collector and other times argues with him, and attempts to get to the bottom of the strange riddle of the pictures.

Bianca Baldi, Fun Capital (2012), Filmstill

“L’hypothèse du tableau volé” is a stroke of genius by French-Chilean director Raúl Ruiz. Reminiscent in formal terms of the lost genre of the film essay, over time the work increasingly projects an image of itself as a mockumentary, referring to the literary oeuvre of French author Pierre Klossowski, who was also involved in the screenplay. The film asks essential questions about perception and the nature of visual art, affects to answer them playfully using cinematic means of expression, only to leave the viewer with even more questions than before. As such, “L’hypothèse du tableau volé” is an incredibly artful and entertaining riddle and as such like all good riddles not really intended to be solved. What remains are the images brought to life – in their corporeality and liveliness they represent an objection to the purely expressive form and function of their selves.