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In February, the arsenal 3 streaming platform will present a retrospective of films from Birgit Hein for streaming. Experimental, political, private: in retrospect, these terms can perhaps be applied to the entire spectrum of “independent” cinema. Birgit Hein’s work, created together with then-husband Wilhelm Hein until their separation in 1989, reveals however the friction behind these terms, as well as the moments of differentiation that were necessary in order to explore positions that today seem to have disappeared completely.

Through her books and writings, Birgit Hein has created needed connections between theory and practice, between history and the present. Her movement from visual art to films experimenting with materiality, the showing of films and the fluid transition into performance, her autobiographical work involving the body—all of these are points within the same discourse: how are the interior and the exterior connected? Where exactly is the dividing line between the two and what does it consist of; in what forms are they conveyed, and how can all this be made tangible?

Birgit Hein was born in Berlin in 1942. From 1962 to 1968, she studied art history in Cologne while Wilhelm Hein studied sociology. Together, they bought a secondhand Bolex camera. What mattered to them were not the technical possibilities of depiction, but this new, different way of addressing the image itself. The challenge "film as art" was in fact a demand to regard “film as film and thus as art.” It was not a matter of more images, but of different ones, and to this end the film image first had to be destroyed. Experimental film was understood as a political issue. This necessarily included representation as well, and in 1968 she co-founded the XSCREEN Cologne Studio for Independent Film.

In 1971, Birgit Hein published “Film im Underground,” the first German book on avant-garde film, and in 1977, she and Wilhelm Hein jointly directed the experimental film section at documenta 6. Their films have been shown at numerous festivals and retrospectives around the world. From 1990 to 2008, Birgit Hein was a professor of film and video at the Braunschweig University of Art.

As part of the showcase on arsenal 3, an online discussion will be held with Birgit Hein at 6 p.m. on February 14, moderated by Marc Siegel. (Link to come)

ROHFILM (Birgit and Wilhelm Hein, BRD 1968, 20 min)
ROHFILM engages squarely with the materiality of film. The filmmakers scratched at a film strip and pasted over it with image segments, film perforations, ashes and other scraps. The result was pulled through a projector, burning additional areas of the film material, and filmed from off the projection screen. The outrage that this work provoked is difficult to imagine today and can perhaps be largely explained by the fact that the film leaves behind only a subjective experience as a memory and no images that can be objectified. Birgit and Wilhelm Hein’s material films are among the pioneering works of European avant-garde film in the late 1960s. They deal with film as an artistic medium whose aesthetics are based on the properties of the film material and the laws of perception.

LOVE STINKS – IMAGES OF EVERYDAY MADNESS (Birgit and Wilhelm Hein, USA/BRD 1982, 82 min)
“Eighty minutes of images, sounds, shocking moments: snapshots from a yearlong artist fellowship in New York. Birgit and Wilhelm Hein have taken honest, unsparing pictures, looking over their own shoulders with the camera as they made love. No crew, no actors, just the two of them as themselves, simultaneously in front of and behind the camera. The alter ego is obsolete. For them, filmmaking means exploring, staging and illuminating themselves with the camera, down to the last fold of fleshly existence.” (Jochen Coldewey, taz)

VERBOTENE BILDER (Birgit and Wilhelm Hein, FRG 1984–85, 87 min)
A room above the slaughterhouse. While the animals are beeing butchered below, upstairs an adult is playing out scenes of early puberty. The woman in the room of the slaughterhouse cuts off all his hair. Aloud the man reads a story of the unrestrained Scheherazade. The children cheerfully cook the dog’s carcass and the adults resolutety expose their private parts... „Memories and dreams, which were banned in the cinema until now and which have magically freed themselves from the chains of the prohibitions and the realms of the taboos.“ (Dietrich Kuhlbrodt)

KALI-FRAUENFILM (Birgit and Wilhelm Hein, BRD 1987–88, 10 min)
The KALI-FILME are a compilation of 8 single short found footage films, which were composed of Hollywood war-, horror- and women in prison B-pictures, historical war documentaries and porno films. In the trivial films we find images of our own subconscious instincts , which are tabu in the official high culture. KALI is a mother goddess of the Hindu mythology. She is the birth giving mother and in the same time the killing and castrating woman. Since primeval times men do fear her power.  We are showing one of the KALI films.

DIE UNHEIMLICHEN FRAUEN (Birgit Hein, Germany 1991, 63 min)
Since the beginning of history women have also been perpetrators. They have been as courageous and brave as men. They can be equally brutal and criminal and of course just as horny. Nevertheless, to this day, there exists the feminine ideal of 'nonaggressiveness - peacefulness - asexuality' with which women have been suppressed for centuries. This film shows us women as soldiers, partisans, watchmen, criminals as well as child-bearing, drunk, masturbating, strong females but also as circumcised, dismembered victims, who thus must pay for the fear that women cause within men. Scenes from old and recent documentaries, from trivial films and my own stages sequences are mounted to a collage of images. These are supplemented by a collage of sounds and a montage out of quotes and my own texts. It's also about me, about my fears and fighting myself to be able to live my own strengths. (Birgit Hein)

BABY I WILL MAKE YOU SWEAT (Birgit Hein, D 1994, 63 min)
In this highly personal and intimate travel diary, Birgit Hein has filmed with great candour her problems with aging, her need for tenderness, the frustration for being alone and her experiences in Jamaica. “The entire film was shot with a Hi-8-videocamera and then refilmed and processed on 16mm, which gave an especially painterly quality to the images. This was a way of overcoming the realism of documentary filming. Nevertheless the authenticity of the images remains, as my presence behind the camera can always be felt. The personal aspect of the film is backed up by hastily scribbled diary entries." (Birgit Hein)

EINTAGSFLIEGEN (Birgit Hein, Germany 1997, 24 min)
The film unites images and texts from the painter and writer Gabriele Kutz. The text is meant as a statement regarding her loves in a statistic of hours spent in silence, miles spent driving on highways, beers drunk in bars and red wine stains. Her paitings of beer mats with telefone numbers and names, of torn out leaves from a calendar with scribbled appointments, and of check-out slips and price tags complete the picture in a visual commentary tinged with quiet irony.

LA MODERNA POESIA (Birgit Hein, Germany 2000, 67 min)
A very personal travelogue of Cuba. The anarchy and vitality of everyday survival is one level of the film, another is the portraits of Che Guevara dominating the country. We see his huge face on walls and billboards which proclaim: „Your example lives“, „Your ideas survive“. We also see his icon everywhere at the souvenir markets, on T-shirts, ashtrays and mugs. The contradiction between those high demands and reality, between pathos and kitsch, mirrors my own divided situation as a tourist in asocialist country. I wonder: „ What has become of Che? And then I ask myself: What has become of us?“ (Birgit Hein)

KRIEGSBILDER (Birgit Hein, Germany 2006, 10 min)
The film is a found footage montage of war coverage since World War II. The clips are taken from television documentaries from Arte to CNN. The images show an aestheticized fireworks from Dresden to Bagdad, where people only appear as shadows. The sound is also a collage with Liszts Prelude as the pathetic annoucement of the nazi news to the fanfares of CNN. Only in the last sequences death becomes real. The images of operational missions come from amateur videos of the american soldiers who have posted them in the net, accompanied by rock music.

ABSTRAKTER FILM (Birgit Hein, Germany 2013, 9 min)
The film is a compilation of short sequences of "raw videos" from the fighting in Libya and Syria, which have been uploaded by the affected people to inform the world about the events. The series of fragments shows the uncontrolled flow of nearly abstract images, as a result of the shock, when the filmmaker looses control over his body during the shooting while the mobile phone remains switched on, sometimes even filming his own death.

SHANGHAI LIGHT IMPRESSIONS (Birgit Hein, Germany 2007, 10 min)
The film is a short documentaion about the multitude of lights in Shanghai. Huge image walls at the high-rise buildings dominate the city. They open wide landscapes or cover the facades with colourful abstract moving images. At midnight all the lights go off. Then only the white moon shines above the dark buildings.

In addition, IM SPIEGEL DER BILDER. DIE FILMEMACHERIN BIRGIT HEIN (D 2001) by Karin Jurschick will also be shown. The documentary focuses on Birgit Hein herself, who vividly tells of her artistic beginnings in the late 1960s, of the making of her films and their reception, along with excerpts from some of her films.

arsenal 3 is available for a monthly fee of 11€. Information and registration here.

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media