M + M
29. April 2005 - 1. Mai 2005
Curator: Georg Elben, Videonale Bonn
1 The film that´s not a film
A rather strange scenario: a young couple is relaxing on a bed and chatting ... about this and that, one might presume. But suddenly he says, "You have to insult state officials, it´s what they need, I tell you, otherwise they get too smug, they take liberties. Why do you think a difference is made between a normal insult, lèse-majesty and insulting a public servant? If anything, insulting a public servant is just a peccadillo. Actually, it´s self-defence." Cut!
According to press reports, Dance with me, Germany by the artist duo M+M is about the young Munich Turk, Mehmet, whose numerous offences caused him to be deported as an adolescent to Turkey in 1998. But on closer examination the film is about much more, if not indeed about something entirely different. In the course of 13 minutes, on four translucent screens, six episodes are recounted which in highly varied ways all deal with interpersonal dialogue and communication. A cool encounter between two dealers in a suburban ghetto, the aforementioned relaxed ruminations of a couple lying on a bed, the violent conversation between a teacher and his pupil, someone calmly zapping channels on his living-room TV and, last but not least, the exaggeratedly cool closing credits whose typography heightens the mood of each film sequence and derisively chants: "Actual native citizen", "Ex-native speaker", "Tape me the song of death"1!
The formal and conceptual reference to Westerns from the 1960s and 1970s is as obvious as it is disturbing, for the constantly repeated question is never answered. Who is bad, who embodies good, who wins out over whom? Henry Fonda vs. Charles Bronson: whereas in Once upon a time in the West the bad white man faces down the good Mexican in the blinding midday sun, in Dance with me, Germany the hierarchy between the teacher and his Turkish pupil is discomfortingly reversed. The focus is on power and hierarchy - not in the conventional sense of physical superiority but as the psychological expression of power driven by language, role-play and body language.
2 Place and non-place
M+M present their film project Dance with me, Germany in the manner of the itinerant cinemas our parents experienced in the 1950s as a modern alternative to funfairs. Mounted on the roof rack of an old BMW 3 series are four beamers projecting into an imagined square venue which acts as an indoor and outdoor space at one and the same time, seeking to mark the interface between the private and public realm. As part of the exhibition series Ortstermine, this work was shown during the summer of 2004 in various districts of Munich. The artists erected their mobile cinema in the daytime and showed their film after dusk, only to move on to another site the following day. Many local residents saw the film en passant as it were, stopped for a while, chatted to their neighbours and then - at times disappointed, at others animated, but occasionally also annoyed - carried on their way. But the film´s images live on in their memories, for the venue was precisely not the stylish, darkened auditorium of a cinema or even the living room at home, but the "dirty cube" of the city´s public space, which crucially influences the response given to a film of this kind. For instance, the project was shown in the Munich suburb Neuperlach - in the face of protests by the district authority -, an area of high social tension, but one that also matches the film´s own locations. In this respect the seams of reality shown in the film merge with those of the actual outside location where it is publicly presented.
"I don´t know exactly what I consider to be public space. It´s quite a lot if one succeeds in raising a provisional, temporary question in it - even for a single second. It is against this background that such temporary questions are interesting since even in this very moment, this very second, a colossal idea can address itself to one."2 With these words, the German artist Bogomir Ecker for once left the question unanswered as to the meaning of art in public spaces - deliberately so, in order to emphasize that it is not always possible to make a clear demarcation between what is envisaged and what is experienced. The film also proposes an indecipherable overlap of the virtual and the real, a confusion which the viewer will not succeed in evading.
3 The viewer's dilemma
The cinematic fiction Dance with me, Germany is augmented by the real spaces of this strange itinerant cinema´s various locations - and vice versa. For each specific site of its presentation - whether some dilapidated wasteland in the suburbs or an elegant square in front of a museum - is affected by the film´s projection, in both senses of the word. Moreover, while the viewer is generally used to seeing films in a two-dimensional and static setting, this particular form of screening forces him to abandon his habitual response. Either he focuses individually on one screen at a time, which takes four times 13 minutes and thereby considerably exceeds the average duration of receptiveness people can sustain in public spaces, or else he lets his gaze zap to and fro between the four screens, at the risk of once again missing something of supposed significance which at any moment just happens to be showing on one of the other screens. Thus the flaneur becomes a voyeur who steps out of the enclosure of projected interior space into the "dirty cube" of the outside world and deludes himself into thinking that from a proper distance he can at last see all four films at once: two of them, logically, from the front, but the other two from behind, and thus the wrong way round - it doesn´t work after all! Nonetheless, in the same manner as the film itself works with shifts between calm, unhurried scenes and rapid, aggressive sequences, the viewer too is caught up in the need to choose between nervous zapping and tranquil contemplation. But the film´s reception matches its message: as the Turkish artist Ayse Erkmen once said, "Art should not ask questions which have already been answered".3 Or, as is self-ironically recounted in the car scene in the film: "The lyrics of a song are registered by the left half of the brain, its tune by the right. And with the third half we drive our car. The fourth directs our hands and jaws. As Stiftung Warentest4 says, that´s a problem!"
4 Brief boredom
As a medium, the popularity of film is generally ascribed to the possibility it offers of absorbing reality in two dimensions, hence in a more memorable and swifter fashion. But the presentational form chosen by the two artists amounts to a somewhat complicated way of extending this mode into the third dimension. For it allows the viewer to circulate inside and outside the cinema and thereby, through his own real time of viewing, standing still and moving about, to inexorably erase the residual fictive time of the four films. The time factor common to the four sequences of cinematic events corresponds to a fourth dimension in the viewer?s receptive process. In one instance split up, in another synchronized, then brought forward or else rewound - almost as if an invisible director were playing with a remote control and uncontrollably sliding his thumb over the buttons "PLAY", "FF", "REPEAT", "STOP", "REW". The projected images and sequences thus assume the function of a pictorial record that the viewer stores without grasping the logic of the plot or succeeding to place these images in a comprehensible order which, on recollection, would generate a narrated story. Yet these brief spots composed of film and language seep into whatever the viewer himself has experienced and seen, into his own associations and thoughts, into the images of his own individual reality - regardless of his pool of personal experience. The outcome is odd: the viewer completes the film and its story only once he decides to stop watching Dance with me, Germany and then, later on, alone in the metro on his way home, finds the time to be bored.
5 The chapters of a book
In these terms, the film - or the four films, its scenes and sequences - should be regarded less as a genre lodged somewhere between fiction and documentation than as a pointless set of instructions about the reception of present-day reality. What in the late 1980s Nam June Paik prophesied in jest about the ascendancy of the so-called New Media in western society, namely that "If you want, you can even make electronic sex",5 has at the onset of the 21st century indeed become reality with shocking speed and lack of reflection. Mobile phones, e-mail, online shopping and live chats have played their part in allegedly making our humdrum daily life more pleasurable. If only there weren?t such projects as those of M+M, which so rudely upset the well-ordered and undisturbed passage of our lifetime. It´s either Lindenstrasse, Super Nanni and Big Brother6 or Dance with me, Germany - who exactly is dancing with whom? Society with the individual, the image with language, the powerful with the powerless; or the artists with the viewer, prompting him to continue reading the open book of the film, to make a transfer into his own reality, to ask himself uncomfortable questions, to become the narrator of his own self, even to switch from being a passive consumer to an active protagonist? Because, "Dance with me, I am the all-knowing narrator, I am the meta-machine. Learnt German so as to read Dieter Bohlen7 in the original version?" And finally: "The toughest of all hard questions is, after all, what are you doing in your real life?"
Text: Florian Matzner
Translated from the German by Matthew Partridge
3 Quoted in Matzner, Florian, "Künstlerumfrage" in Metzel, Olaf (ed.), Basisarbeit, Akademie der
Bildenden Künste München, Munich: Selbstverlag, 1999, p. 182.
4 Translator´s note: "Stiftung Warentest" is a German consumer magazine that tests and
5 Quoted in Bussmann, Klaus; Matzner, Florian (eds.), Nam June Paik, eine DATA base, Ostfildern, 1993, p. 130.
6 Translator´s note: All names of German TV soaps and docudramas.
7 Translator´s note: King of dumbed down television, Dieter Bohlen is an omnipresent presenter and
obstinately proud of his vulgar German.