Maria Lassnig

Film Works

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Maria Lassnig (1919–2014) is internationally recognized as one of the most important painters of the 20th and 21st centuries. The leitmotif of her painting, the act of rendering her body awareness visible, found additional expression in film in New York in the early 1970s. While several of these films have long since been part of her canonical works (e.g. Selfportrait, Iris, and Couples), many remained unfinished. These "films in progress" can be regarded as autobiographical notes as well as an artistic experiment featuring many of Lassnig's recognizable subjects and methods. In 2018, this filmic legacy was restored and in many cases completed according to her original concept and instructions by two close collaborators, artists Mara Mattuschka and Hans Werner Poschauko.

This publication, available in English and in German, provides the first comprehensive index of Lassnig's film works, offering insight into the filmmaker's world of ideas through a wide selection of her own, previously unpublished notes. It includes contributions by James Boaden, Beatrice von Bormann, Jocelyn Miller, Stefanie Proksch-Weilguni, and Isabella Reicher and extensive conversations on the rediscovery of Lassnig’s fascinating films.

The enclosed DVD contains a selection of the "films in progress."

Maria Lassnig. Films in Progress INDEX-Edition DVD Cover
Maria Lassnig, New York, ca. 1969 Photo: Archive of the Maria Lassnig Foundation
Women/Artist/Filmmakers, Inc. (top left to bottom right: Susan Brockman, Martha Edelheit, Nancy Kendall, Doris Chase, Silvianna Goldsmith, Maria Lassnig, Carolee Schneemann, Rosalind Schneider), 1976 © Bob Parent Photo: Archive of the Maria Lassnig Founda
Maria Lassnig in Stone Lifting. A Self Portrait in Progress 1971–75, Maria Lassnig © Maria Lassnig Foundation
Moonlanding/Janus Head Early 1970s, Maria Lassnig © Maria Lassnig Foundation
Nitsch 1972, Maria Lassnig © Maria Lassnig Foundation
Bärbl 1974/79, Maria Lassnig © Maria Lassnig Foundation
Alice 1974/79, Maria Lassnig © Maria Lassnig Foundation
Maria Lassnig in Kopf (Head) Mid-1970s, Maria Lassnig © Maria Lassnig Foundation
Drawings for the film Selfportrait (Pencil and felt-tip on paper) 1971, Maria Lassnig © Maria Lassnig Foundation
Maria Lassnig in Stone Lifting. A Self Portrait in Progress 1971–75, Maria Lassnig © Maria Lassnig Foundation

Soul Sisters: Watching Maria Lassnig’s Self-Suppressed Films

The release of these works reveals a whole other side to the introspective painter, who filmed extensively in 1970s New YorkBest known as a painter, and especially for her innovative self-portraits, Austrian artist Maria Lassnig spent the 1970s in New York. During that time, she worked extensively in moving image, completing several works, including the animated Selfportrait (1971) and Couples (1972), and joining the Women/Artist/Filmmakers, Inc collective with Carolee Schneemann and others. She left New York in 1980, when she received an invitation to teach at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna – which, to her astonishment, met her demand that she be paid the same as her new colleague, Joseph Beuys; she was a chair at the school until 1997, and kept painting for the rest of her life.

After Lassnig died, in 2014, aged ninety-four, two former students, filmmakers Mara Mattuschka and Hans Werner Poschauko, revisited some of the unfinished 8mm and 16mm short films that had sat in a trunk since her return from New York, and that she had not wanted screened again during her lifetime but was willing to let others complete after her death. Finished using Lassnig’s notes and Mattuschka and Poschauko’s intuitions, final cuts and colour corrections, 19 of these works have been released on DVD as Film Works by the Austrian Film Museum. They come with a book that includes reminiscences from Schneemann, Paul McCarthy, Ulrike Ottinger and others, an interview with Mattuschka and Poschauko about the restorations, an article on Lassnig’s sadly unrealised Anti-War Film, in which she planned to address violence and conflict from the ancient era to the present, Lassnig’s essay ‘Animation as a Form of Art’ (1973), scans and transcriptions of her notes and drawings, and an extensive filmography that includes these newly available works.

Poschauko tells us that once Lassnig returned to Vienna, she broke off all contacts in New York. She also distanced herself from the feminist movement that had so interested her there, not wanting to be ‘pigeonholed’ as a woman and using the male form of artist (Künstler, rather than Künstlerin) to describe herself in German. The members of Women/Artist/Filmmakers, Inc shared few stylistic or political principles, making these works hard to place within that context, but Schneemann remembered them fondly, calling them ‘charming, ironic, shifting between static images and density in motion… always colourful with a subtle, brutal gender appetite towards erotic happiness’. Indeed, the Film Works are more outward-looking than her intimate, introspective self-portraits and animations – perhaps because, as Lassnig is quoted here as saying, in film, the ‘eyes of the painter are half-replaced by a machine that makes its own demands’.

Several of them are from Lassnig’s Soul Sisters series, made between 1972 and 1979, where she created portraits of her friends Alice, Bärbl and Hilde. As with the rest of the collection, they are prefaced with an explanation of their format, length, whether they were a rough or final cut, and what is used to soundtrack them – in these instances, works by Anton Webern and George Frideric Handel. Lassnig uses English-language voiceovers for Alice and Bärbl, speaking in sympathy with two women struggling in their relationships: Alice, an Icelandic artist who moved to New York, couldn’t keep up with her many boyfriends and disappeared “like a comet”; “typical Austrian woman” Bärbl was frustrated with a partner she rarely saw, and felt she might rather be alone. In their detached view of sexuality and creative use of the naked body – Alice, blindfolded, pins the names of her lovers and their defining qualities to the wall, and then to herself – these films recall Lassnig’s younger compatriot VALIE EXPORT. But there is no distancing of the viewer from the subject through experimentation with 16mm form, as with many works by the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative, or structural filmmakers such as Kurt Kren. Besides EXPORT, whose films are generally far more confrontational, it’s hard to discern many influences on Lassnig, but easier to see how her approach inspired Austrian artists such as Mattuschka, Ursula Pürrer and Ashley Hans Scheirl, whose portraits of themselves and their friends during the 1980s share a similar playfulness.

Autumn Thoughts (c. 1975) is, like Black Dancer (1974), concerned with movement as a way of conveying personality, displaying the influence of Maya Deren – often cited as the founder of US avant-garde film, and one of the only women included in histories of its development before the 1970s. In just two minutes, Autumn Thoughts efficiently contrasts a melancholic, middle-aged woman (Lassnig) gazing into water with a youthful male dancer, quickening the film’s tempo and blurring its frames to emphasise the divides between young and old, suggesting in the cutting between the two figures that while men see (heterosexual) relationships as a source of energy, for women they can be exhausting.

Other films engage with the media in wryly amusing ways. Francis Ford Coppola shot parts of The Godfather: Part II (1974) near Lassnig’s studio, so she joined them on set, capturing the 1920s ‘Little Italy’ that Coppola had recreated in the East Village, calling her piece Godfather I, II and III. Her use of double exposure gives the sense of two time periods happening simultaneously, while a lens that shifts in and out of focus reminds viewers that they’re watching a film – but it’s only when Lassnig catches an important moment in Coppola’s narrative that we realise we’re watching a ‘drama’.

Moonlanding/Janus Head (1971–72) combines found footage of a NASA mission (it’s not clear which), figure skating and American football with Lassnig’s own material. Again, she uses multiple exposures for dramatic effect, suggesting this bombardment of images and stimuli can be invigorating rather than overwhelming, and capitalising on the shared sense of wonder at the televised broadcasts from the Moon.

The centrepiece, and longest film of the collection, also shown as a work in progress during Lassnig’s lifetime and then left unfinished, is The Princess and the Shepherd. A Fairytale (1976–78). Lassnig examines the gendered tropes and clichés of the genre without overbearing cynicism, mocking its male archetypes with the subtle brutality that Schneemann highlighted in her recollections. Its conclusion, with the princess opting for a simple life over social expectations, is perhaps unsurprising from an artist who always valued honest self-expression and personal independence above all else.

Juliet Jacques, 09 April 2021, ArtReview




Maria Lassnig, die Soul Sister mit Schmäh

Das Buch "Maria Lassnig. Das filmische Werk" beschäftigt sich mit den lange unterbeleuchteten Filmen der Künstlerin. Praktischerweise gleich inklusive DVD

Eine der bedeutendsten österreichischen Künstlerinnen hielt für die Nachwelt einen Schatz bereit. In ihrer Wohnung verwahrte Maria Lassnig in einer Kiste Filme, die sie in den 1970er-Jahren in New York verwirklicht hatte, bevor sie sich nach ihrer Rückkehr nach Wien hauptsächlich wieder der Malerei zugewandt hat.

Ein Geschenk, zunächst vor allem aber eine heikle Aufgabe für Kenner und Restaurateure ihres Werks. Mara Mattuschka und Hans Werner Poschauko fiel die Aufgabe zu, das lose Material – Super-8- und 16mm-Formate, einzelne Filmkader wurden teils nur mit Malerkreppband zusammengehalten – in mühevoller Arbeit zu bergen und zu rekontextualisieren.

Der Schatz, Lassnigs nunmehr titulierte "Films in Progress", wurde im New Yorker MoMA und anschließend im Österreichischen Filmmuseum präsentiert, jetzt sind die Filme auch dem neu erschienenen Buch Maria Lassnig. Das filmische Werk als DVD beigelegt. Kannte man Lassnig im filmischen Bereich als Verfechterin eines höchst eigensinnigen Animationsfilms – das Wort "Trickfilm" behagte ihr nie richtig –, mit dem sie ihre Körperstudien zu beweglichen Metamorphosen beschleunigte, so liefern diese Arbeiten das Bild einer in vielerlei Richtungen experimentierfreudigen Filmkünstlerin.

In Godfather I, II, III bewegt sie sich etwa 1974 wie ein Zaungast durch die Sets von Francis Ford Coppolas Dreh von Der Pate 2. Selbst wenn der Regisseur darin in einem bunten Wintermantel kurz wie ein narzisstischer Harlekin auftaucht, begeistert sich Lassnigs in Mehrfachbelichtungen gedrehter Film mehr für die Verwandlung von Little Italy, wo Gegenwart und filmmythologische Inszenierung zu einem Bild verwachsen.

Weiblicher Dionysos

Solche Verdichtung wird in Moonlanding/Janus Head noch radikal gesteigert. Da lässt Lassnig TV-Bilder von der US-Mondlandung, Kriegs- und Spielfilmszenen mit Eisläuferinnen, tanzenden Beinen und einer dionysischen, an Weintrauben kauenden Frauenfigur in Dialog treten – am Ende wird das Filmbild zerkratzt, als wären die Kufen darübergerast.

Lassnig ging auch deshalb nach New York, um ihre Position als Frau in der Kunst schärfen zu können. James Boaden rekonstruiert in einem der Essays des Buches den kulturgeschichtlichen Horizont der Szene, in die die Österreicherin eintrat, um ihr "Körperbewusstsein" an gegenwärtigen Verhältnissen zu messen. Der Film war das Medium der Zeit – wobei Lassnig, wie sie in einem schönen Text schreibt, improvisieren musste: ihr "Animationspult, das sind zwei Plastikbücher, auf ein Stanniolpapier gelegt; zwischen ihnen befindet sich eine längliche Glühbirne, darüber als Brücke eine Milchglasplatte".

Doch auf sich allein gestellt war sie nicht, denn es lag der Geist der Kollektivierung in der Luft. Lassnig gehörte neben Carolee Schneemann, Rosalind Schneider oder Yvonne Rainer zur feministischen Gruppe Women Artist Filmmakers, Inc., mit der man gegen die Marginalisierung von Frauen in einer Kunstszene antrat, die selbst im Underground-Bereich schon wieder patriarchale Strukturen herausbildete – rund um das Anthology Film Archive wurde eifrig an einem "Kanon des Films" gebastelt.

Lassnigs Soul Sisters-Serie, ihre so witzigen wie feinfühligen Porträts befreundeter Frauen, kann man dahingehend als Ergänzung verstehen. In Alice rückt sie etwa einer Isländerin nahe, die in New York wie ein "funkelnder Komet" eingeschlagen war. Nackt besprüht sich diese mit Wein, anschließend werden ihre vielen "boyfriends" rückblickend mit Eigenschaften versehen und als Kärtchen am Körper befestigt – denn "gut waren sie schließlich alle".

Das Buch enthält übrigens auch zahlreiche Faksimile, die Einblick in Lassnigs unrealisierte Ideen gestatten. Eine davon lautet: "Ich möchte einen Mann, den ich auf u. abdrehn kann wie TV."

Dominik Kamalzadeh, 13.2.2021, derstandard.at

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Soul Sisters Alice
5 min
Autumn Thoughts
ca. 1975
2 min
Soul Sisters Bärbl
5 min
Black Dancer
1 min
Broadway I + II
early 1970s
2 min/1 min
Dog Film
3 min
1 min
Godfather I + II + III
5 min/3 min/2 min
Soul Sisters Hilde
5 min
Kopf (Head)
1 min
Moonlanding / Janus Head
early 1970s
7 min
Mountain Woman
8 min
5 min
The Princess and the Shepherd. A Fairytale
13 min
2 min
Stone Lifting. A Self Portrait in Progress
7 min

Total running time: 78 min

This publication is a collaboration between Austrian Film Museum, Maria Lassnig Foundation and INDEX-Edition, a sixpackfilm project. 

Maria Lassnig. Film Work
Edited by Eszter Kondor, Michael Loebenstein, Peter Pakesch, Hans Werner Poschauko
Editorial work: Isabella Reicher
192 pages, in English
ISBN 978-3-901644-85-6


In May 1979, the Austrian Film Museum screened a program of Maria Lassnig’s “animated films” for the first time—and what would, for a full four decades at least, also turn out to be the last. It was a roundabout route that brought her work to the “Invisible Cinema”: the International Forum of New Cinema (today’s Berlinale Forum) showed this selection of seven films (her complete film oeuvre known at the time ran to nine titles, which she had produced in New York in the 1970s) at the Berlinale and afterwards in Vienna.
This episode illustrates the frequent lack of attention given to Lassnig’s cinematic work during her lifetime, even after she was able to establish herself as a painter of international standing in the 1980s.
What was the reason for this? On the one hand, it undoubtedly had a lot to do with Lassnig’s tendency to radically reposition herself on a regu- lar basis and thus regard her previous engagement with specific forms, colors or means of expression as having been brought to a conclusion. When her New York period came to an end, she didn’t just pivot away from (animated) film as an important medium for expression and representa- tion, she also left behind many living and working contexts of the time, which ranged from collective cultural work to political feminism.

The films literally ended up in her loft, with the exception of one com- pilation reel of her “canonical” works, that is, those regularly screened and distributed in her lifetime (and which have been receiving greater critical attention since the 2000s). It was only after her death in 2014 that the Maria Lassnig Foundation and her former students Mara Mattuschka and Hans Werner Poschauko were to unearth, restore, and exhibit this cine- matic legacy. How this came about and its significance in reappraising Lassnig as a moving image artist is being comprehensively documented in this publication for the very first time.

Alongside such biographical aspects, other factors also played a role in Lassnig’s cinematic oeuvre receiving such little attention, not least in Austria. As someone who had emigrated from and subsequently returned to her home country, she was not part of the Viennese cultural scene for nearly two decades and was active as a filmmaker almost exclusively in the US. There too, she worked outside of the New American Cinema and structural cinema movements given such great attention in Austria; this was accompanied by a systemic disdain for female filmmakers and the generally neglectful treatment of animated film that stretched all the way into the 1990s. Lassnig’s filmmaking: an underappreciated figure in the canon of international avant-garde and experimental film history, as Peter Tscherkassky stated in an essay only eight years ago, in 2012.1

The restoration of the films, their presentation at museums, cinema- theques, and festivals, and the publication of this book with a supplemen- tary DVD are all serving to redress the balance. For Lassnig, film was by no means just a past time or an excursion into low or popular culture. Like other 20th century artists, she embraced film as a unique means of expression. As the artist herself put it, while it is only ever the final layer of a painting, that is, the “finished” image, that remains, film allows the unfolding of time itself to be depicted, frame by frame, film image by film image.2

Yet Lassnig’s film work is hardly just “painting in time,” as the essays published here by James Boaden and Stefanie Proksch-Weilguni as well as the film (and project) descriptions by Beatrice von Bormann, Jocelyn Miller, and Isabella Reicher all make clear. Her work reflects her engagement with the medium, its history, and its narrative techniques, ranging from Holly- wood cinema via American independent film and animation all the way to television. And in aesthetic terms too, Lassnig rejects any sort of orthodoxy. Much as she did in her drawing and painting, she made a range of creative techniques her own and explored their full potential: from hand-painted film to cut-out animation, and from studio shoots to handheld documen- tary camerawork. She arranges complex double exposures in camera, uses the optical printer, and supplements the visual worlds created in this way with soundtracks that run the full gamut from voiceover narration via elec- tronic sound creations to tape recorder experiments. In so doing, she breaks with all manner of existing categories and attributions—as a woman and as an “alien,” both within the film scene as well as within 1970s America.
We believe it is Lassnig’s bold interdisciplinarity with which she de- voted herself to film and the possibilities of new (feminist) artistic produc- tion that explains the considerable response to her oeuvre. What one can now discover and explore is an entirely corporeal, tactile, personal cinema which equally bears witness to the social and political struggles of the time at which it was made.

Our interest here thus isn’t restoring Lassnig to some cinematic canon (which one would that be anyway?). We are rather driven by the sheer joy of archaeology: the present volume explores Lassnig’s filmmaking both from the maker’s point of view (her sketches and notes on her film work which are published here in extracts for the first time, the reprint of her text “Animation as a Form of Art”) and in the context of Women/Artist/ Filmmakers, Inc., animated films, the major political fault lines of the USA of the time, but also the salvaging, restoration, and completion of her un- finished film oeuvre over the last years. For we would ultimately like to whet the appetite for the films them- selves, their projection and reception. The complete filmography and the included DVD are meant to supplement the cinema experience, the in- tended, most beautiful way of experiencing Lassnig’s film art: in the cinema auditorium—on 16mm, or, in the case of the “films in progress,” digitally—alone while in the company of strangers.

Eszter Kondor, Michael Loebenstein, Peter Pakesch, Hans Werner Poschauko Vienna, fall 2020

1 — See Peter Tscherkassky, “There must be something in the water...,” in Peter Tscherkassky, ed., Film Unframed (Vienna: Synema, 2012), p. 25.
2 — According to Hans Werner Poschauko, Lassnig repeatedly made reference to this analogy between film and painting in other contexts too.