words by Michele D’Aurizio
Loretta Fahrenholz’s films confront a cynical understanding of a prevailing reality with an ingrained affection for human life—an ethos one might call “emo-core.” The prosaic muteness of some of the characters in her films could be said, in fact, to stem from certain “arty” attitudes that mimick a Brechtian non-identificatory exploitation of language—not to mention the equally “arty” hipsterism, or rather a slant that renders hipsters, often urban youths, incapable of effectively inhabiting any prescribed role within society. Behind muteness, the true cynic sees tenderness. And how can one not lose oneself in tender feelings in front of the young men thrown into revolutionary narratives in Implosion (2011); or the budding artists caught up in the destitution of their intimate, everyday life in Haust (2010); or even the chameleonic Emily Sundblad as portrayed in Que Bárbara (2012), performing her music, shopping for wine in the company of her mother, hanging out with friends. Towards these characters one could feel, if not compassion, at least empathy. And no matter their beauty, their naïvité, what surfaces is a tragicomic life, hailed by the phoenix of a démodé nihilism, a cultural stance fueled by a sort of metropolitan white-trash imaginary, which represses even the most hyperbolic formulation of any political statement on the present.
Seemingly, the characters’ bodies are the point in question in Fahrenholz’s films. In Ditch Plains (2013) most of the bodies are corpses: they seem rather weighty, but warm, as if they are just trapped into a slow-wave sleep. Among them, members of the Ringmasters crew perform liquid choreographies of muscular moves. Their virtuosity lingers in the ability to render a deliberately severe geometry of the space in which they dance, each movement suggesting a graphic image, and thus freezing the time of the action—video games, along with animation movies, are among the dancers’ primary visual references. The film indeed never drops out of the realm of the two-dimensional: it stays in the pure virtuality of the representation of fantasy imagery. In Implosion the bodies of the four young men featured in the film are almost impalpable: their muscles stay under their skin like water in a flask. The bodies are white and bluish, and explicitly the bodies of gay men, and of victims—they are “living currency,” as Pierre Klossowski would have put it, fetishes for deviant thoughts rather than pure, instinctual desire. Here as well, it seems that Fahrenholz’s interest lays in their tokenistic qualities, or rather in their capacity to narrow a sociocultural scenario, along with its interrelated symbolic systems.
The domain of Fahrenholz’s films could in fact be framed within a social body, which from time to time is molded by the act of filming. Infrequently, a screenplay governs the events. In the case of Implosion, a play by Kathy Acker offers the four young men a weighty narrative in order to cope with the abstract nature of their bodies. This drama about the French Revolution, set among the punks, drug addicts and sex workers of downtown New York City in the 1980s unfolds here against a backdrop of the glass curtain walls of a high-rise condominium, propped up by laptops and bouquets of flowers. The characters’ movements unfurl along with their speaking, not eliciting nostalgic sentiments towards terms like “revolution,” but instead animating the picture of a shared void. Implosion stages life as a proof of concept, in which language implies neither nature nor culture, and emphasizes the characters’ formal reality: a life spent in gyms, in clubs and on iPhones while working as graphic designers or Internet porn actors, between occupations and in flux. Hence Acker’s play serves as a device for depicting a real community of people—namely the urban hipsters, the inheritors of punk disenchantment that are incapable of parroting subcultural angst, as well as of jeopardizing the dialectic between what is gone and what is left, chained to the instability of the present. Implosion is imbued with empathy. Every statement in the screenplay sounds incredibly significant, yet remote—to the point that the film itself appears to slowly turn into the simulacra of a film, pure melancholia instilled by light.
Each of Fahrenholz’s films depicts a community of people and never forces the permeability of its boundaries. On the contrary, each work garners its specific filmic language from its self-referential quality. For example, all the performers in Ditch Plains belong to the same network of Flexing/Bone Breaking dancers in Brooklyn; against the backdrop of the apocalyptic landscape of the film, they rehearse as poltergeists of the urban fabric. In My Throat, My Air (2013), the family members of Ulli Lommel (a former Rainer Fassbinder actor and horror movie director) are framed within the domesticity of their dwelling in Munich, where the discreet, minimalistic tone of the narration gradually glides into a dense, pensive atmosphere. Grand Openings (2011) documents the program of events held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in the summer of 2011 and staged by the artist collective of the same name, comprising Ei Arakawa, Jutta Koether, Jay Sanders, Emily Sundblad and Stefan Tcherepnin. The film is as chaotic as the motley contributions of Grand Openings members and as airy as the structure of the program.
Fahrenholz handles life within the artworld with disarming sincerity. Because of the moderate budgets backing her productions, her films teem with artist friends, whether providing technical assistance or also serving as performers—most of the dead bodies in Ditch Plains are artists and art professionals of the New York Lower East Side art world, itself a deliberate community. By recounting artists’ everyday practice, Fahrenholz has been able to question the social role of her peers, individuals caught between economic discomfort, cultural ambitions and the stress of professionalizing. Films such as How to calm down (2008, co-directed with Hans-Christian Lotz) and Haust both center on young artists grouped together in enclosed scenarios, where instinctual attitudes are smoothed over by co-existence, and intellectual drifts cut by a critical debate turn into a quasi-mechanical exchange of personal opinions. In How to calm down three artists hold a workshop with young African immigrants in order to expose art’s power to affect the sociopolitical realm. Here marginalization takes on the shape of an anthropologic experiment—a claustrophobic theatricality charges each statement with deadpan humor disguised by sentimentality. In an almost opposite fashion, Haust is charged with humanity, and it is both rough and moving: the Leipzig household shared by a group of former art students is rendered in the same afflicted hue as air-raid shelters, a doom which seems to haunt every human existence in art. The characters here have no bodies, just clothes, simple yet colorful. Occasionally, they have a voice, which is almost a whisper. Their dialogues are abstract. The epic of Haust doesn’t function according to the mechanics of hope, as one could label the diagrammatic path toward professional success. Rather, it emphasizes the integrity of love, intimacy and trust, performing the “freedom in production” that a lecturer (Andrea Fraser) introduces in the film as what constitutes the artist’s privilege: a talent in facing destitution in favor of an emotional understanding of life.