In Woody Allen’s film “Annie Hall”, Alvy Singer stands in line for a movie and unwillingly hears a man behind him misinterpreting media critic Marshall McLuhan. Singer gets out of line and turns to the (film) audience to counter the man’s pontifications. Finally, Marshall McLuhan himself appears from behind a film poster, to clarify the misinterpretations of his work.
Similar to Alvy Singer in “Annie Hall” who repeatedly breaks with the conventional narrative structures of film, Mandla Reuter (*1975) introduces shifts within the exhibition context with seemingly simple interventions. The Berlin artist allows us to look “behind the scenes”, revealing structures and production strategies.
Gwangju Biennial 2008: A thick, blue hose worms its way through the exhibition hall – between the exhibited art works, down the staircase and into the open – where its end is attached to a water hydrant. Mandla Reuter named this work Bellagio (2008). Yet while 1200 spouts of water shoot up over 75 meters into the air daily from the fountain at the famous hotel in Las Vegas, in Gwangju the water in the blue hose is obviously still and stagnant. Still, the hose is connected to the hydrant, the water pressure is strong and the hose is full enough to create a water spectacle. Reuter’s installation implicates possible scenarios, creates potential, new images – from the still lying water to the high spouting fountains. Mandla Reuter often stages temporary situations whose perpetuation can be further conceived in innumerable variations. For instance BG (2007), which the artist presented in the exhibition “Neue Heimat” (New Homeland) in the Berlinische Gallery in Berlin: A simple key ring hangs on the wall. It is only from the accompanying caption that we know that the key ring holds the keys to the Berlinische Gallery itself. Reuter’s simple gestures bear a critical potential – the possibility to transform a situation.
Reuter’s Fourth Wall (2008) deals with similar possibilities. In this work, a cable runs from a specially installed, high voltage current connection through the exhibition space, and ends in a junction box in an otherwise empty room. The energy that is theoretically available here is enough to supply a large theater or cinema with several screening rooms. The work can also be seen as a sculpture, “which meanders through the exhibition to reveal its actual purpose only at the end, thus playing with mechanisms such as those established by the entertainment industry” (Mandla Reuter). The term “fourth wall” derives from 19th century theater, where only the front of the proscenium stage is open to the audience. Film and theater critic Vincent Canby once described the “fourth wall” as “that invisible screen that forever separates the audience from the stage”. Still, Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer walks out of the ticket line and straight through the “fourth wall”. And with his own Fourth Wall, Mandla Reuter also offers observer a different view of the exhibition: Not only does the cable delineate an alternate route through the rooms; like Bellagio, this work also lays bare the mechanisms that ultimately produce the images. With the keys at the Berlinische Gallery, Reuter provided a similar, “backstage” access.
Sometimes such shifts also function over memory and imagination. In two recent installations, Mandla Reuter transports observers through their own associations. For the sound installation Credits (2008), film music is played at the end of the day, shortly before closing time at the museum. The pieces are from final credits sequences of various films. The work Test (2008) functions similarly. Every hour, the THX signature tune – the quality seal of George Lucas’ production company Lucasfilm – booms throughout the exhibition space. For a moment, the museum is transformed into a massive cinema in which the images of collective memory, along with the personal images of the visitor are projected and mix with the reality of the museum. The imaginary space of film images overlaps with the museum space. Although the music is the same for all, the associations that the music generates vary from visitor to visitor.
This tension between the imaginary and the real is what Mandla Reuter provokes time and again. The documentary precision with which he has a Hollywood sunset photographed, for example, seems nigh absurd, in light of the fact that it is less a sunset’s geographical location than the expectations, desires and clichés surrounding it that determine its image. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (2006) captures a sunset in five acts, in glowing colors until black, “as if it were a Hollywood film that had lasted a moment too long” (Lars Bang Larsen).
As with Test – where the familiar sound logo awakens expectations of a Hollywood film to follow – the sunsets evoke a succession of images and emotions that, ultimately, offer no satisfaction, but rather fade away: Following 31 seconds of the THX logo, the music stops and the museum is once again a museum; the sunset ends with nightfall as its final image.
The play between documentation and fiction is pushed even further when Mandla Reuter produces the sunset himself. At the End of the Day (2008) shows a dark sunset behind a mountain panorama that, at second glance, seems somewhat odd. The landscape is indeed artificial: Reuter had the sunset staged by a professional photography team. Here it is not Hollywood – the place representing the illusory space of fiction – but rather the production methods of its film industry, which Reuter appropriates, in order to both double as well as break the cliché.
At the end of the day, Hotel Bellagio is also but a reproduction, of a Lake Como township. And this is where the displacement of the northern Italian landscape to the desert of Las Vegas meets Mandla Reuter’s interventions: with an artificial sunset that moves the heart, or an aquatic spectacle concealed in a water hose.
Translation: Lisa Lieu Anh Kotmair