heretofore

What is the firmament if not an illusion? In Maurice Blanchot’s The Writing of Disaster (1980), one night a young boy discovers, that out of a sudden, all the stars have disappeared and all that is left is a gaping empty sky. The inside and the outside of a world, oriented towards a distant, imaginary horizon, have equally collapsed. Surprisingly Blanchot’s character is not scared due to this event, but senses a strange feeling of comfort – the need for belief, for orientation towards an outside, an Other has vanished.

„You have made my stars disappear“ is the defiant manifestation hurled from the disrobed speech in heretofore, a desperate appellation towards an implicit Other. It is a peculiar setting, a female protagonist behind glass, decisively articulating a monologue in an altered, dark and dwelled voice, addressing an audience that remains invisible. A glass window opens up the view to the inside of a recording cabin, a conclave in which the statement is being produced shut off from its recipients. Their reaction is integrated artificially, as the postproduced, echoing murmurs of the masses and the anonymous lights of the cameras, flashing up like shooting stars in the backdrop of the scenery.

The relationship between the I and the Other is incorporated in this interplay of perspective and production. Functioning as a mise en abyme, the setting represents a spatial montage that reduces the complex apparatus of gaze at the bottom of the medium as message, to this scenario. Who is she looking at, who is she speaking to? What are we gazing back at? The subjective view through the camera at the speaker is extended and duplicated by the frame of the window, the reverse gaze of the protagonist is directed towards the outside of the cabin and into the camera. The implicit audience, that is present as marginal acoustic and visual reaction, is shifted to the center of the image. The entire scenery is shaken by partially erupting flashes of lightning, flickering over the tinkered firmament, that is there indeed. The stars are present, gazing back from the backdrop apathetically. Exposed to a merely aggressive, multiplied spectator, that remains impersonal but dominates the choreography, the speaker is constantly interrupted, blinded by the lights.

Within this junction of gaze, the configurations of the speakers and the audiences identity, the plot and the context of the speech stay enigmatic, vibrating in a constant state of oscillation. In a gesture of erosion and overdrawal heretofore is a Re-enactment of a political speech, stripped from all specific references, content and narrative. Its subject is its own production, in an enacted analysis through the looking glass.

In this video piece Gabriele Stellbaum refers to Richard Nixon’s Resignation speech that he held in 1974, in a conciliatory address on national television, stating that he was leaving not with a sense of bitterness but with a hope that his departure would start a “process of healing that is so desperately needed in America.” The set up of heretofore embodies some central elements of the original Sujet that was created to serve as a stage for a dignified farewell of the 37th President of the United States. Stellbaum alters the scenery in various aspects, first of all by revealing the „forth wall“, displaying the setting as a recording cabin and exposing the frame within the frame. Secondly she exchanges the male speaker through a female one, inverting the coding of the event and rendering the viewing habit tangible through its disruption. The voice, that has been altered by an accelerated speech during the recording, followed by a decelerated play-back, creates an other moment of irritation. By reducing the statements dramaturgy to a mere scaffold, gestures and references turn into utter shrouds. Linguistic markers of identity such as the addressed „You“ and the supposed „this nation“ turn into semantic props for a play with a script narrating its own production in which the missing stars are the only orientational constant, the only fixation point left.

The scene turns into an autoreceptive spectacle for enacted pathos, gestures appropriated from a well known iconography. The stubborn, infantine habitus underpin the desolate approach of making a stand for ones pride in the moment of resignation. It draws a line to gestures and behavior that seems familiar from a contemporary political context, of which Donald Trump is a picture perfect example. The explicit reference to „Fake News“ incorporated in heretofore serves as a disclosure of the relation between identity, alterity and its production, that drowns content and precise argumentation in a shimmering potpourri of specularities.

Despite the emphasis, the unyielding refusal of an actual resignation, there is an evident glimpse of bitterness, of irrefutable pain. A notion of solitude creeps through the urgent countenance in this ardent effort to reach out to the absent public, the gaping black sky.
The empty firmament does not create a feeling of comfort in this case but the opposite –
a desperate need for its re-production, a childish insisting on bringing back the stars in to their proper position.

Swaying in a slow waltz to the round dance of lost signification, the protagonist is hooked in a spiral of self-endorsement. Has she found new allies? Keeping each other in suspense, they dance along on the abysmal parquet of what used to be stable and fixated. The framework of relations to the outside and the self collapses to the indifferent, perpertual tune of the music. Slowly the camera circles around the oval office – one of the most fierce and firm representations of national identity. Like a satellite it orbits around a planet, whose outside has vanished, in the very moment that the first rocket rushed into the skies delivering an imagery of the world as a blue taw, hovering through outer space. The perspective had been irreversibly inverted.

We stare back at the world from the black void. The stars have disappeared again, there is no firmament, no beyond the horizon, and all that matters is what is being produced on the glass surface.

Text by Anna Gien

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