As she likes it
Female Performance Art from Austria
Aus dem Aktionismus und den Happenings heraus entwickelte sich in den 1960ern und 1970ern die Performance Art zu jener seltenen Kunstform, in der die Frauen zahlreicher und anerkannter sind als ihre männlichen Kollegen. Drei Generationen von Künstlerinnen brechen in As She Likes It auf, um mit der Ausdruckskraft von Körper und Stimme eine Aussage zur Zeit zu formulieren, die selbstbewusster als in den Anfängen auf die Abgrenzung zur Männerwelt verzichtet.
The subtitle puts it best: As She Likes It offers up 72 minutes worth of Austrian female performance art. The disc spans twelve years – from 1992 to 2004 – and is best viewed as a sampler. There’s a terrific range to the pieces found here, a number of differences and similarities, and as such they aren’t going to satisfy everyone. Indeed, such compilations rarely do, but then a handful of titles, at least, should perk the interest and lead viewers onto other things: the huge body of work of Maria Lassnig, for example; or the emerging output of a newer talent such as Ulrike Müller. In fact such a future discovery is almost essential given that the filmmakers featured don’t specialise in one-offs but entire oeuvres – the two-minutes devoted here to Miriam Bajtala, say, could hardly be described as summing up her efforts to date as an artist.
As such As She Likes It forces us to make connections solely through the works present. And, interestingly, a number of them exist. There’s the predominant sense of humour, for example, which links Maria Lassnig Kantata (a cheeky, infectious musical piece of autobiography) and SW-NO 04 (an immersion into picture postcard representations of Austria), whilst both also share a fondness for crude, but colourful animation. Meanwhile, the Lassnig piece is also incredibly personal and as such fits in with the diary-like contributions from Kerstin Cmelka (Neurodermitis), Fiona Rukschcio (Shminki 1, 2+3) and Michaela Pöschl (the particularly brutal and unnerving Der Schlaf der Vernunft). And yet this personal dimension never achieves fruition in the same way twice: the intense, driven cinematic stare of the Pöschl is miles apart from the more tender, slightly voyeuristic approach of Cmelka.
Furthermore, such individualism (and oftentimes these films are the work of a single auteur) means that we’re not always guaranteed of a unanimous connection with these filmmakers and their respective intents. The “slapstick symbolism” of Strangers and Byketrouble, both by Carole Dertnig, left me particularly cold, whilst Legal Errorist’s oblique choreography was similarly not to my taste. However, Im Leo, Bajtala’s contribution, felt particularly alive in its straight-ahead simplicity and cheeky nod to Robakowski’s Nearer-Further (which has also earned a recent release from Index). Likewise, the curious tone of Mock Rock was similarly invigorating in its sheer idiosyncrasy and its plain, immediate visual nature. Most pertinent, however, were the starker, aforementioned efforts Neurodermitis and Der Schlaf der Vernunft - cutting through any overt conceptual/visual concerns, their sheer confrontation stances make for pure, visceral cinema.
As She Likes It, another of Index’s autumn releases, comes as a Region 0 single-layer disc. Original aspect ratios are adhered to, whether 1.33:1 or 1.66:1, though note that the latter are presented non-anamorphically. In each and every case they come across especially well, taking into consideration their various origins of course. The video pieces look just as you’d expect, whilst any grain or any other such “defects” would appear to be wholly intentional. Furthermore, any technical flaws are kept to absolute minimum – other than the non-anamorphic nature of 1.66:1 titles (though this is by no means a major concern) there are few complaints to make. Indeed, only the burnt-in subtitles on selected titles may strike some as an oversight, especially as Index, for the most part, have previously offered optional English subs, where applicable, on their previous releases. As for soundtracks, each film comes with a DD2.0 accompaniment and again to little complaint. Sounds, dialogue and background noise all come across well and certainly never feel compromised.
Special features come in the form of a number of attendant shorts to accompany certain titles. In some cases this means brief ‘making of’ feaurettes, in others alternative versions which serve as companions, and in others still discussions of their intent. All told, there’s nothing truly essential here, but they do make for interesting additions and their presence is certainly welcomed. As we should also expect from Index, a bilingual booklet is also present, one which assembles notes on each of the filmmakers and their particular efforts contained herein.
Review by Anthony Nield, published 2006 on thedigitalfix.com