No Real Body
«The Fiction of a Singular Identity»
Baltensperger + Siepert (Stefan Baltensperger, David Siepert, Uwe Lützen), 2020
in cooperation with Soe Arkar Htun + Sai Naw Kham (Myanmar)
Victoria Akujobi + Bunmi Ajakaiye (Nigeria)
Rushdi Al-Sarraj + Ahmed Hassouna (Gaza)
Text: Doris Gassert, Research Curator Fotomuseum Winterthur, 2020
How would your life have evolved if you had grown up in a different place, influenced by completely different social and political realities? This question is at the heart of the latest work of Baltensperger + Siepert. Taking the duo’s everyday working life as a starting point for a fictional story, they joined forces with screenwriter Uwe Lützen to script an instructional screenplay which was subsequently interpreted and implemented by three different film production companies: one based in Yangon, Myanmar (Soe Arkar Htun & Sai Naw Kham; Kefka Film Productions), one in Lagos, Nigeria (Victoria Akujobi & Bunmi Ajakaiye) and one in Gaza (Rushdi Al-Sarraj & Ahmed Hassouna; Ain Media).
The experimental setup spawned three 16-minute feature films based on the same narrative yet shaped in the light of different cultural codes. More than just revealing these codes, however, the complex interweaving of images and imaginaries directs the gaze back at the audience who find themselves confronted with a whole range of questions.
Who are the authors of these parallel stories? For which audience were they produced? When Nigerian Nollywood, the second largest site for film production in the world, contributes its perspective – generally meant to target the African continent – to a commission from a Western employer, what reality is staged, what gaze and spectator is imagined? Is there room for artistic exploration in Gaza, a place primarily known as a war zone through media reporting? And what expectations do we as Western Europeans have of the film scene in Myanmar, which after decades of military dictatorship is beginning to open up to the rest of the world? The three-channel installation shown for the first time at Fotomuseum Winterthur creates a form of spectatorship in which the tension of intersecting and entangled gazes becomes palpable.
Text: Damian Christinger, Curator and cultural historian, 2020
No Real Body is a practical metaphysical experimental arrangement: three film productions at three different locations were given the same directions in the form of a screenplay (Uwe Lützen) that follows A strict time table but at the same time leaves room for improvisation. The resulting situations depict plausible and probable configurations in worlds far removed from the cultural context in which the screenplay was written.
What if we had been born in another place, the same life, but exposed to different conditions in other places? Reality can also be conceived of as a succession of parallel universes. Let us imag-ine for a moment that we could jump back and forth between these universes and actually experi-ence the plethora of other potential spaces, the variations in patterns, similarities, divergences, and cultural topographies.
How would these experiences affect our self?
The question “What if?” is both banal and radical at the same time. Banal, because it is a basic drive of the human imagination, and radical because it challenges that which is supposedly irrefu-table: our existence, our environment, our feelings and thoughts.
Perhaps its radicality lies precisely in its banality. We seem to sense that the way things are could be different at any given time. We know from experience that life consists of infinite permutations and potential spaces of possibility, that the river flowing before our eyes is always different to the one we think we are currently perceiving.
How does this radical banality affect our biographies? What if we had made a different decision, learned or studied something else, or turned left instead of right?
Does life follow a script that we constantly reperform in new ways? What happens if we provide this script as an empty vessel, and allow it to be filled by other people in different cultural contexts is the vessel also changed? Do we change, too?
This question of biography and fate, developed and expanded through the concept of character, is also posed by Walter Benjamin in his essay “Schicksal und Charakter” (Fate and Character), in which he writes, “Not only is it impossible to determine in a single case what finally is to be con-sidered a function of character and what a function of fate in a human life (this would make no difference here if the two only merged in experience); the external world that the active man en-counters can also in principle be reduced, to any desired degree, to his inner world, and his inner world similarly to his outer world, indeed regarded in principle as one and the same thing.” Walter Benjamin, Reflections, Page 305 This amalgamation of fate and character as a basic characteristic of human action — a little unorthodox, even for Benjamin’s early work, with its simultaneous references to both Nietzsche and Stoicism—ultimately leads to an almost fateless state, he argues, for a person takes control of their destiny by permitting this interplay between a possible future and their character.
The extent to which these speculations already contain his more coherent historical and philoso-phical observations regarding the drawing Angelus Novus has not yet been fully discussed. Our text, however, takes a slight detour here and — in a different way — raises questions about the character of an artistic work, specifically about the experimental arrangement that is revealed here through No Real Body. Baltensperger + Siepert, whose working method begins with a body of work that almost erases their individual characters, pose these questions in a self-deprecating and critical manner:
What if our everyday life as artists, our artistic production, was not influenced by our realities in Zürich, but by those in Myanmar, Gaza, or Nigeria? How many of us (who set out a strictly timed screenplay but also leave room for improvisation) would still exist? Does a work have a body be-yond the fate of its birth? What if it did?