Forum expanded Talk and Show
Episode 2: Materiality - Conversations
08.02. 14:00 - 17:00 Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart (admission free)
Screenings of rare films are relatively common at film festivals. What is truly unique, however, is a presentation of work by an artist who has steadily produced films, photographs, and aesthetic theories for the past forty-five years, but has never shown his work in public. Forum expanded is extremely proud to present: Stupid Structures, Happy Structures: Films, an Installation and an Exhibition by Ludwig Schönherr.
The German artist, Ludwig Schönherr, began making photographs and paintings in the late '50s. In the mid-'60s, his interest in the visual arts shifted to film. From 1967-1970, a period of intense productivity in European experimental film more generally, Schönherr made scores of short super8 and 16mm films that explored specific technical, aesthetic, and representational aspects of the medium, namely, the zoom, the use of flickering color, and the depiction of the face. At approximately the same time, Schönherr acquired his first black and white television and produced a lengthy series of "electronic films" or single-frame films of television images, interrupted by flickering color. This beautiful and ever watchable series marked the start of the artist’s lifelong focus on the ubiquity of television and popular cultural images in modern life. Schönherr has also produced numerous single and multi-frame photographs of television images. On his preoccupation with television, Schönherr quipped, "Life in television is much more interesting than real life outside."
In the mid to late '70s, over several visits to New York, Schönherr produced an astounding 107 hour super8 film, a "visual diary" that consists of impressions of the city, its inhabitants, and its television culture. In the mid-'80s, Schönherr made a similarly stunning portrait film of the city of Hamburg. The sixty minute film, Unknown Hamburg (1983-88) – the artist's only work produced with public funds – intersperses carefully framed shots of unfamiliar Hamburg cityscapes with silent, close-ups of ballerinas from the Hamburg Ballet, images reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Screen Tests. Alongside television and urban landscapes, ballerinas surface again and again as the objects of Schönherr's gaze, both in his films and photographs. (In the mid-'60s Schönherr even wrote two ballets himself).
The artist's diverse production has been accompanied by the development of ever changing, concisely articulated theories about film, television and photography. Most of these one to two page theories address questions about the formal structures governing the organization of images in the respective media. Schönherr's interest in form and structure in both practice and theory avoids the dry academicism and self-important humorlessness that characterizes the thinking of many of his contemporaries in the realm of formal or structural film. In addition to pursuing his own projects, Schönherr frequently became involved with the work of other artists and friends, filming actions by Otto Mühl, photographing performances by Nam June Paik and by the seminal American underground artist Jack Smith, and contributing a film to Dieter Roth's 1979 The Hamburg Ballet. That Schönherr has never presented his work publicly is due as much to the artist's own humility and idiosyncrasy as to the fact that the work defies easy categorization. Neither stridently structural, nor purely pop, Schönherr has forged his own path between Fluxus and formal film.
Film Scholar and Forum Expanded Guest Curator Marc Siegel worked closely with Ludwig Schönherr to select examples from four decades of the artist's work for this first-time presentation. Stupid Structures, Happy Structures consists of three film programs (see below); an installation called Sonata for four Televisions (1969-1970) in the Filmhaus; and an exhibition of photographs, films, objects, and texts spanning the artist’s career.
Zoom Doku Germany 1967-69, Super8, 18 minutes
Unknown Hamburg Germany 1983-88, 16mm, 60 minutes
Face I and II Germany 1968/69, Super8, 9 minutes
New York: A Visual Diary Germany 1976-79, Super8, 60 minutes
New York: A Visual Diary Germany 1976-79, Super8, 720 minutes
Marc Siegel is a Research Fellow in the Collaborative Research Center “Cultures of Performativity” at the Freie Universität, Berlin. As an independent film curator, he presented Underground, Overseas: From Jack Smith and Andy Warhol to Zanzibar (Forum expanded 2007). He is co-founder of the artist group CHEAP.