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93 min. Without dialogue.

The film begins with the sound of water. A building site on the other side of the Rhine: Block 9 of Mannheim Power Station. The opening was planned for 2013.
Years of Construction follows the demolition and reconstruction of part of the Kunsthalle Mannheim between 2013 and 2018. Starting from the fountains in the Friedrichsplatz opposite, Emigholz’s camera approaches the building complex. A passage leads from the imposing Jugendstil edifice to the 1983 extension by Hans Mitzlaff; the sculptures it was built for seem to be trying to find their place in a space not big enough for them. The architecture isn’t suitable for paintings: it casts light and shadow according to its own whims. In between, Emigholz shows streets that cross at right angles, bridges and overpasses, the city of Mannheim. References to the vision of architects Gerkan, Marg and Partners: after the demolition and construction phase, a complex of cubes, passages and terraces appears and forms an interior. A stone and a clock swing through the air: “The Moving Emptiness of the Moment” is the name of the installation. Metal meshing holds the new Kunsthalle – a mighty cube when seen from the outside – firmly in its grip. (Stefanie Schulte Strathaus)

Heinz Emigholz was born in 1948 in Achim, near Bremen. Since 1973, he has worked as a freelance filmmaker, artist, writer, cinematographer, producer, and journalist. In 1974, he began an encyclopaedic series of drawings, Die Basis des Make-Up, which was the subject of a major exhibition at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof museum in 2007/08. In 1978, he founded his own production company, Pym Films. In 1984, he began a film series called Photographie und jenseits / Photography and Beyond. From 1993 to 2013, he held a professorship in experimental filmmaking at the Berlin University of the Arts, where he is a co-founder of the Institute for Time-Based Media and the university’s art and media course. Since 2012 he has been a member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin. His publications include Krieg der Augen, Kreuz der Sinne; Seit Freud gesagt hat, der Künstler heile seine Neurose selbst, heilen die Künstler ihre Neurosen selbst; Normalsatz – Siebzehn Filme and Das schwarze Schamquadrat (all four published by Martin Schmitz); Die Basis des Make-Up (I) und (II); Der Begnadete Meier; Kleine Enzyklopädie der Photographie; Die Basis des Make-Up (III) and Sense of Architecture.

The Mannheim project

We began shooting YEARS OF CONSTRUCTION on Saturday, 17 August 2013 and finished on Tuesday, 12 June 2018. When I decided to carry out this project, which had been suggested by Ulrike Lorenz, the director of the Kunsthalle Mannheim, I did not know who the architects would be. And I did not care, because what interested me, as the core of the project, was the process of construction, of renovation, of demolition, and of reconstruction, as well as the necessary repetitious loops of an accompanying contemplation.
All three activities – the preservation and restoration of the Billing building from 1907; the demolition of the Mitzlaff building from 1983, including the destruction of the Nazi-era underground bunker beneath it; and the new construction of the museum by gmp on a levelled foundation pit – are included in the film. You can see the before and after in chronological order, from the last exhibition in the old building to the first art installation in the new building. This also means that the before and the after are brought together in 93 minutes, allowing for their comparison rather than letting them disappear in nebulous time windows. There were also excursions in the urban surroundings, in whose traffic we let ourselves drift. The city of Mannheim offered a site of contemplation and meditation, which was built in all calm and excitement, while around it business continued as usual. That the idea arose of observing and documenting this construction activity was a worthy exception. Municipal archives and collections often only offer random discoveries, they seldom become active as producers of documentations. Television and public film funding bodies, because of their production processes and regulations, are usually unable and sometimes unwilling to take on this task. In this case, a commissioned artistic research project had to bridge the gap. I am grateful for this opportunity, because I think that documenting this world’s designed spaces and surfaces can reveal the mystery of the human spirit and of human activities.
Seeing is always also a liminal experience. In the five years we spent shooting YEARS OF CONSTRUCTION, there were thirteen phases of shooting, each two to three days long. In the same period, I completed five feature-length and three short films and several music videos; added to that was a severe illness that lasted a year and hindered my work. The Mannheim project therefore accompanied the principal, but also crisis-ridden, conclusion of my series of architecture films, and a renewed interest in advanced forms of cinematic narrative after a 25-year break. I think that this film also reflects this shift in a mediated way. It provides a space for thought and for necessary changes. ‘Changing of the guard’ has always been my motto. Long-term projects are fairly rare in cinematic biographies, unless an entire filmography is regarded as a long-term experiment, with many connecting lines and an uncertain outcome. I tend towards this perspective. (Heinz Emigholz, Photography and beyond – Part 29)

The gradual production of spaces through construction

It was late autumn 2012 when I first met Heinz Emigholz in the Zwinger Galerie in Berlin. The wild sprawl and the iconographic texture of his series of drawings had hit me like a bolt of lightning. Never before had I encountered such a lucid dialectic between the pop-cultural worldliness of splinters and the overall hermetic withdrawal of meaning, drawn with the clearest lines. At the time, I was only able to perceive the architecture films by consciously looking past them, to use Paul Valéry’s expression. I was not capable of penetrating the wordlessly sound-rich image density; my gaze slipped off passing surfaces. It was only when the author’s voice suddenly rose above an anonymous Los Angeles intersection during the opening sequence of the film SCHINDLERS HÄUSER that something fell into place. Because the initial, focussing search was not rewarded with the discovery of a signature architecture, a mental suction effect ensued. From this point forward, my own thinking vision follows the vibrant, exploratory visual axes that, for more than 40 years, Emigholz and his camera have drilled through constructed reality like a tunnel.
In Mannheim, a new version of the more than 100-year-old modern art museum was to be developed. I was able to persuade the project’s private sponsors to also fund Heinz Emigholz’s anticipated film project. I address the artist directly. He answers with supreme indifference. My idea is to commission a hitherto unthinkable long-term project that will devour life energy and hours of work. Then Emigholz visits Mannheim. I set my mind on anchoring the Kunsthalle project in the urban context of this city, which was traumatically bombed in the Second World War, by situating it in the most beautiful square. With the magical Schindler moment in the back of my mind, I bring Heinz to the anonymous concrete growths that, since 2009, have made the strongest impression on me: the roaring traffic junction at the western edge of the city centre and the massive, smoking coal-fired power plant by the Rhine, which you can drift towards on a ferry as if it were a science-fiction fortress. Only later does it become clear that this not only contributes to the stream of Emigholz’s filmography, but also to our museum concept, ‘City in the City’.
Heinz agrees to do it. The initiated experiment, meticulously planned as a sequence of homogenous steps, develops an aesthetic sense of its own. For the first time, the film does not observe already existing spaces, but rather the gradual production of spaces through construction. Although the director continues to break down three-dimensional reality into cinematic compositions, constructing it anew in his projection, this second step in the design is overlain by the construction process itself, which generates unexpected narrative tension. In a way, this potentiates the energy fields within which the photography of the site takes place – a site that is completely transformed over a period of five years. In the film YEARS OF CONSTRUCTION, Emigholz photographically bolts together not only space, but also the fourth dimension of the filmed process. The constructed images of the reality under construction, arranged linearly, are layered upon one another through the act of seeing and remembering. The film thus forms an ‘imaginary architecture in time’ out of the years that it took to construct an emerging architecture in space, placing the viewer in the oscillating mode of an interactive film projection: ‘The eye as interface between brain and outside world, the gaze as a composing force that turns an idea outward, presents it reflected in reality and grasps it with the means of cinematography.’ (Ulrike Lorenz, Baujahre – Kunsthalle Mannheim 2013 – 2018)

Production Heinz Emigholz, Ulrike Lorenz. Production companies Heinz Emigholz Filmproduktion (Berlin, Germany), Kunsthalle Mannheim (Mannheim, Germany). Written and directed by Heinz Emigholz. Cinematography Till Beckmann, Heinz Emigholz. Editing Till Beckmann, Heinz Emigholz. Sound design Christian Obermeier, Jochen Jezussek. Sound Till Beckmann.

Premiere February 11, 2019, Forum


selection: 1973: Schenec-Tady I (27 min., Forum 1975). 1974: Arrowplane (24 min., Forum 1974), Tide (33 min., Forum 1976). 1976: Hotel (27 min., Forum 1976). 1981: Normalsatz (105 min., Forum 1982). 1985: Die Basis des Make-Up (85 min.). 1987: Die Wiese der Sachen / The Meadow of Things (87 min., Panorama 1988, Forum Expanded 2016). 1999: Maillarts Brücken (Photographie und jenseits – Teil 3) / Maillart's Bridges (24 min., Forum 2001). 2003: Goff in der Wüste (Photographie und jenseits – Teil 7) / Goff in the Desert (110 min., Forum 2003). 2005: D’Annunzios Höhle (Photographie und jenseits – Teil 8) / D'Annunzio's Cave (60 min., Forum 2005). 2008: Loos ornamental (Photographie und jenseits – Teil 13) (72 min., Forum 2008). 2012: Parabeton – Pier Luigi Nervi und römischer Beton / Parabeton – Pier Luigi Nervi and Roman Concrete (100 min., Forum 2012), Perret in Frankreich and Algerien / Perret in France and Algeria (110 min.). 2014: The Airstrip – Aufbruch der Moderne, Teil III / The Airstrip – Decampment of Modernism, Part III (108 min., Forum 2014). 2015: Le Corbusier [IIIII] Asger Jorn [Relief] (29 min., Forum Expanded 2016). 2017: 2+2=22 [The Alphabet] (88 min., Forum 2017), Bickels [Socialism] (92 min., Forum 2017), Streetscapes [Dialogue] (132 min., Forum 2017), Dieste [Uruguay] (95 min., Forum 2017). 2018: Two Basilicas (36 min., Forum Expanded 2018). 2019: Years of Construction.

Photo: © Heinz Emigholz Filmproduktion

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur