In the 1980s we tried to identify where our ideas concerning the social and political were able to question the Socialist ideology. In the 1990s we focused our work on subverting the Western system of aesthetics/ethics/visuality. Art and pornography were silently forbidden, and body art never came to life in Slovenia.
Today we are obsessed with turbo capitalist system, processuality and politics of performativity.
In the video The Moments of Decision (Gržinić/Šmid, 1985), one of the two actresses, “borrows,” through video-effects, the face of the actress who played the leading role in the 1950’s Slovenian motion picture of the same title, directed by Frantisek Čap (Czech film director who moved in the ‘50s to Slovenia and made one of the most important films within Slovenian film history). Within the video image, the film story thus continues, with the introduction of live acting and new iconographic elements. By exposing the female character from Cap’s partisan movie, the drama is transformed into a melodramatic love story by means of double acting, blue-key effects and artificial reminiscences (biographical, historical, political, artistic) from Gržinić/Šmid private life and reference to M. Duras. Surely, the process of “keying” a film into a video actually announces some concrete destiny for film and, in a more general sense, the faithfulness of film as viewed from the point of video. Our positions in Moments of Decision critically depict imageries forbidden in public cultural life in Socialism, similarly as were forbidden women talking to each other about sex, love, death in public.
The first sequence of the video The Axis of Life (Gržinić/Šmid, 1987) features an alluring female body, cut just above the bust. Suddenly, the blood starts spurting out: red, thick, sticky and “real” – at least to the degree of reality permitted by the transformation from the static image of blood to the one, which overflows from the body and the screen. The body, with its smiling face, is not convulsed with horror, but with sensuous delight. The character is actually seized with pleasure, and gasps rhythmically as the blood spurts out. This “Bloody Madonna” sequence contains references to pop icon Madonna, as well as Caravaggio’s Judith and Holofern (1598). The body is simultaneously heroically exposed and stigmatised. The body in the Communist context occupied different positions, from an alien position (corpus alienum) to one in direct association with crime (corpus delicti). Here, we are witnessing two methods of media visualization, which also attempt to intersect the video medium with high and mass culture. The video refers to the dialogues and subtext of the Stalinist purge processes, and to the period of the Cold War, as visualized in the aesthetics and mythology of American Pop Art and hyperrealism. References in the video are Edward Ruscha’s Hollywood (1968) and The Loner (1969) by Gerald Lang. The subversion is produced by the Stalinist secret police text, changing the reading of Ruscha’s work from Hyperrealism into a Socialist- realism. (Ruscha’s work is now functioning as a Socialist poster). The use of a reproduction of Robert Cottingham’s picture F.W. (1975) represents homage to American urban hyperrealism, and again, the American urban landscape of the 1960’s and ‘70’s is transformed into a setting for a hard-boiled Communist detective story.
In the video Axis of Life Gržinić/Šmid used parts of their own black & white 16mm film At Home (done in 1986) as historical reference. The script of At Home is based on the diaries of the Slovene writer Edvard Kocbek. It is the story of a man and his role in World War II. The film evokes at least three themes: the longing for a “home,” the impossibility of being truly loved, and the inevitability of death. The main references for Gržinić/Šmid in this film were sequences from Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, Psycho, etc,. and, in particular, the famous camera trick in Frenzy, where the camera, in one continuous takes, travels up and down the staircase and announces that the murder was committed. This sequence is first carefully reconstructed in the film At Home, and then deconstructed in the video Axis of Life.
At Home applies the aesthetics and iconography of 1950’s Socialist realism, while, at the same time, paying homage to Hitchcock. The fascination with classical film genres (e.g., the detective story, science fiction and the horror movie) is transferred to video mythology. At Home represents the impossible reflections of the Hitchcockian suspense. Moments of Decision, At Home and Axis of Life together form a trilogy, depicting three specific periods of Slovenian (as well as the so-called Eastern European) history and art. Those periods correspond as follows: Moments of Decision – the pre-WWII bourgeois past of Socialist countries, and War during the 1940’s, Doma (At Home) – the leaden 1950’s, with the antipode in Hitchcock, and Axis of Life – the leaden 1970’s, mirrored in American hyper-realism and Pop Art.
The location where many of these video works were made was not a place clearly visible within the structure of the social system; rather, it was the bedroom or bathroom in a private apartment.
The position of the body in relation to history and theory in the so-called post-Socialist, context can be grasped precisely with Bilocation (Gržinić/Šmid, 1990). Bilocation is the simultaneous residence of the body and soul in two different places. The term is perfect for delineating the process of the video medium, and for describing history in relation to the body. In Bilocation, original documentary footage shot by TV Slovenia during the “civil war” in Kosovo in 1989 (a territory in the south of the former Yugoslavia, racked by national unrest and conflicts between its Albanian and Serb populations) has been used and juxtaposed with the imaginary world of synthetic video images. The documentary footage, which had not been shown previously on national TV, is overlapped onto the image of a ballet dancer (e.g., inserted into her eye, encrusted in her intestines, etc.). In Bilocation, the body is prepared and embalmed similarly to the way a body was prepared for a Socialist parade, or, for example, that of a man condemned to death, before he is taken to the scaffold. It is as if the culmination of every parade was not the excitement it aroused, but might just as well be a body – embalmed, glazed, and made up as a victim. However, it is not only this; the way the body is presented in Bilocation clearly shows that the body in video is only the video resolution.
What we are witnessing in the video medium is the act of taking possession of documents, photographs, images, faces and bodies, which are constantly produced as types, stereotypes and prototypes.
Through an electronic and digital process of encrustation, a concrete destiny for the video medium – which in the 1990’s relates to an entirely changed political and artistic context – is realized. Video works identify with the Zeitgeist of the War in the Balkans of the 1990’s. The documentary shots of the war are encrusted with constructed fictional material. Instead of simply identifying with a documentary about our present situation, the structures of electronic processes offer paradoxes and non-linear editing. Peace conferences to stop the War in Bosnia-Herzegovina seemed to be constructed with equal skill, but without resolution. Through video and the processes of re-appropriation, such as recycling different histories and cultures, a multicultural hybrid aesthetic condition is provided. This is an attempt to create empathy where apathy reigns, and to create anxiety without ecstasy.
The video Three Sisters (Gržinić/Šmid, 1992), presents a different visualization of the classic play by Anton P. Chekhov, and relates to a radically altered political and artistic context. It can also be understood as an attempt to discuss the disintegration of Communism, as well as racism, nationalism, and the new political machinery of free-market Capitalism. It contains, for instance, a remake of a famous Benetton commercial. It also explores the relationship between Chekhov and Eisenstein (referring to Battleship Potemkin), and between Chekhov and De Palma (referring to the film The Untouchables).
In Three Sisters, the last act of disobedience perpetrated by the stereotypical transvestite body (the same as the heroine of Liliana Cavani’s Night Porter) is her line at the end of the video: »I shall live.« Three sisters touches the issues relating to position of women, the roles between men and women and religious racism.
In Labyrinth (Gržinić/Šmid, 1993), we view the juxtaposition of artificially constructed surrealistic imagery based on Magritte’s work (e.g., Young Girl Eating a Bird, The Heart of the Matter, The Lovers, etc.), and documentary footage from the refugee camps where Bosnian refugees live in Ljubljana. We witness to a disturbing psychological game that is played out between the striptease dancer and the audience.
In Luna 10 (Gržinić/Šmid, 1994) the video picture is displayed as hypertext with hidden spots of history and present. The mass of new technology today gives us completely shiny, glossy images. VHS technology on the other hand allow us to produce an almost wounded surface of the electronic image. Mistakes in the image, are something like a fingerprint on the film, or a scratch, or scars on the skin, that are the evidence of existence of the image. To make a mistake is to find a place in time. A mistake is like a wound in the image, it’s like an error in the body. It is a situation when we produce an open moment, a gap, a hiatus, where we can insert not only a proper body, but an interpretation.
On the Flies of the Market Place (Gržinić/Šmid, 1999) deals with the idea of the European space, divided, sacrificed. Two important approaches in aesthetics of film production are put one against the other: Bergman vs. Goddard. Eddie Constantine in the film Alphaville – the adventures of Lemmy Caution (by Goddard), who before James Bond was addicted to alcohol, women and action, is re-staged in this video and put in relation to the reconstruction of the famous scene of chess game from Det sjunde inseglet – The Seventh Seal (1956) by Bergman where death is trying to win the game. In On the Flies of the Market Place all the elements of the scene, from the posses of the body of the actors, to the angle of the camera, are as in Bergman film, but instead the Bergman actors, in the video, a reincarnation of Giulietta Masina from Fellini’s La strada and Szabo’s Mefisto are playing chess. Mefisto, giving a new path to death through double personalities and ritualistic symbolism, replaces the death.
In this video also personalities as Mia Farrow from Rosemary baby, Mafia emblems and the boxer Jack Dempsey are having small parts. USA’s capitalism was always about demons, Mafia and sport. The tempo in On the Flies of the market place is elliptically growing from hallucination, schizophrenia, apathy, sexual frustrations, etc, to suddenly eclipse in a mute end. We found ourselves in Costa Gavras’ 1982 film Missing’s cadavers. The theoretical matrix developed in the video is a twisted subversion of Masculin-féminine film by Goddard done in 1966. In 1999 (see the twisted game of the number as well) we have a new proposal: the Eastern Europeans or “the monsters matrix” represents the female side and Western Europeans or “the scum of society matrix” represents the male side.
The myths of science fiction are pressed within psychedelic paths and we can develop at least three fiction paradigms: political fiction is the 1980s in Gržinić/Šmid work, space-fiction is developed within Bilocation, Three Sisters and Luna 10, but the horror fiction (vacui)–is reserved for On the Flies of the Market Place.
Gržinić and Šmid, the children of Karl Marx and coca cola, are drowned into citations, mixture of styles, documentaries and death. Our work is also the story about location of theory and identities, because it is crucial not to forget our own complicity in apparatuses of exclusion and inclusion that are constitutive in what may count as theory/technology of writing and politics of making videos.
Marina Gržinić, Ljubljana