29 September 2015

The September edition of DOUBLE FEATURE presents the latest work “The Vampyre” by British artist Tai Shani. Following a talk with the artist, her favourite film “Ludwig – Requiem for a Virgin King” will be shown.

In Sigmund Freud’s essay on “The Question of Lay Analysis”, published in 1926 the founder of psychoanalysis summarizes: “We know less about the sexual life of little girls than of boys. But we need not feel ashamed of this distinction; after all, the sexual life of adult women is a ‘dark continent’ for psychology.” When people are unfamiliar with things, fear is evoked that is fairly often manifested as aggression against the unknown or what they equate with it, a phenomenon that can be found in the past and present. As such the misogyny of a male-dominated world leaves a trail of both physical and emotional violence behind it throughout the entire history of humankind.

In 1405, French author and philosopher Christine de Pizan completed her work “Le Livre de la Cité des Dames” (The Book of the City of Women), which was written in response to the misogynous book “Lamentationes Matheoli” penned by a priest Mathieu of Boulogne. “Le Livre de la Cité des Dames”, which is deemed one of the first works of feminist literature, talks of building a city for women, intended to offer women protection against misogyny and violence committed in its name; it also includes a comprehensive list of remarkable female figures down through history.

In her multi-media installation “Dark Continent” London-based artist Tai Shani (born 1976) cites both de Pizan and Freud as a starting point for associations. Composed of performances, text, sound and video fragments the installation seemingly conjures up a city of women far removed from reality, in which categories such as femininity, alienation, subjectivity and sexual stereotyping per se are completely transcended. The work “The Vampyre” (2015), which Shani will present in DOUBLE FEATURE, is a firm part of the overall installation.

In her past pieces, Shani has used a similar approach to that employed for “Dark Continent”. Time and again, she refers either to historical events or (Pop) cultural products and, using them as a Launchpad, addresses associated topics. For example, during her performance “Last Night I dreamt I was Venus from Beyond the Mirrors” she cites Salvador Dali’s “Dream of Venus Pavilion” in “Thee Kitty Genovese” (2008) Shani refers to the famous murder of Catherine Genovese, who in 1964 was attacked in front of and in her New York apartment by Winston Moseley, subsequently raped and finally died of her injuries. The case caused a sensation and triggered a wide debate on the cold-heartedness of modern society, as it was assumed at the time that a total of 38 residents of the building watched the murder, but made no attempt to intervene. In “Thee Kitty Genovese” Shani braids recurring sequences to form a gloomy collage about violence and sexuality.

Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (born 1935), according to film critic Katja Nicodemus “the most obssessed post-War director”, can be said to follow a similar approach. In his film series meanwhile known as “Deutsche Trilogie” (German Trilogy) the director attempts in his own words “to find the origins of possibly many current developments”. The trilogy begins with “Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King” (1972), two years later the second film addresses the figure of Karl May, and finally in 1977 ends in the monstrous, monumental work “Hitler – A Film from Germany”, produced by Bernd Eichinger. In just under seven hours the film attempts to grasp Hitler and make him comprehensible as “a synthesis of the German madness of this time” as cultural theorist and literary critic Klaus Theweleit explains.

In his “Ludwig” film Syberberg employs the device of back projections and creates cross-references to the other parts of his German Trilogy by having both Karl May but also Wagner and Hitler appear in the film and placing them in relation to one another. As such, in terms of both production and narrative, Syberberg’s oeuvre can be read as an alternative concept to the Ludwig adaptation by Italian director Luchino Visconti released that same year, which in turn is part of a German trilogy. Consequently, Syberberg’s approach links historical, political and also social aspects, relates them associatively but also in an avant-garde manner to each other and in doing so forms a link back to Tai Shani’s works.