Before the invention of the cinema, the special magic of stages, theatres, song and choreography were some of the most powerful devices for sharing narrative collectively.
German artist Ulla von Brandenburg, who lives and works in Paris, draws on all these traditions in a practice that intertwines and animates them through film, installation, painting and drawing. The Australian Centre for the Contemporary Art is mounting the first Australasian survey of von Brandenburg’s work in a gallery-wide exhibition that includes a major new film work commissioned by ACCA and a number of international art institutions.
Von Brandenburg’s films are often shot on grainy Super 8 or 16mm before being digitally transferred, yet they have a concern with early or pre-cinematic narrative modes. Shadow theatre and tableaux vivants are just two of the art forms the artist has drawn upon. Opera, choral plays, dance and the almost medieval processions of actors are other features of a practice immersed in Germanic traditions of literature and performance.
The exhibition has been curated by Hannah Matthews and Juliana Engberg, the latter whom featured the artist in her 2014 edition of the Biennale of Sydney. While talking about von Brandenburg’s work, Matthews describes the traditional hierarchies of audience seating at the theatre, where the rules of sight lines and perspectival staging mean there are only a certain number of optimal places to view a performance from.
Von Brandenburg embraces the temporary architecture of stage direction – patchworked, richly coloured curtains and fabric walls abound in her installations – only in order to overturn it, creating spaces where the audience will constantly shift in relation to films or other narrative devices.
“The works speak to theatre and opera, and the history of theatre – really the experience between the audience and what is staged,” Matthews says.
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
21 May – 17 July