Reduction | Acceleration | Dissolution:
Notes on the cinematic works of Siegfried A. Fruhauf by Gerald Weber
A group of factory workers moves between boilers and pipes, nearing the camera; a second group crosses the picture in the background. The grinding, monotone noise of a machine dominates the accompanying soundtrack. The first group appears again, the scene begins anew, again and again. The repetitive structure is immediately recognizable. But only gradually do we perceive that the short scene accelerates each time, at first almost imperceptibly, later rapidly. With each repetition, Fruhauf shortens the loop based on a strict mathematical principle. As a result, the end of this increasingly furious Ballets méchaniques leads to an absolute standstill: the frozen single picture, in which no further movement is possible.
Fruhauf already began to negotiate with the mechanisms of the cinema in his first film LA SORTIE (1998), made when he was 22-years old.
Here, he works with the mechanics of film movement, based fundamentally on the deception of the human eye, which is subject to the illusion of perceiving movement when a certain speed of succession of single pictures is attained. The smallest building block of every film is, after all, the single frame. Fruhauf leads us back to this in LA SORTIE. It is no coincidence that the title and subject of the film refer to cinema history?s first film, the scant, one-minute recording by the Lumière brothers entitled: LA SORTIE DES OUVRIERS DE L?USINE from 1896. Cinema, with its mechanics, has always been a product of the industrial age. Yet when Fruhauf takes on the cinema pioneers, he does so without nostalgia or sentimentality: his interest is in the aesthetic principle ?film.?
Fruhauf, born in Grieskirchen, Upper Austria, in 1976, first trained to be an industrial salesman before beginning his studies at the Universität für experimentelle visuelle Gestaltung (University for experimental visual design) in Linz in 1995. Among his teachers was Peter Tscherkassky.
The confrontation with the cinematic apparatus is a constant feature in Fruhauf?s artistic work. He thereby follows in the tradition of the (not only Austrian) film avant-garde, although his work methods unite various currents. For one, he often follows a strict metric principle of montage and ecstatic acceleration and is thus part of the tradition of structural film. His films are subsequently always created on the basis of a concept that he has long developed and carefully worked out. On the other hand, he also pursues his interest in the materiality of film and the fragility of the photographic image.
As a series, the two videos STRUCTURAL FILMWASTE. DISSOLUTION 1 + 2 (2003) combine, as it were, these two aspects: film?s structure and its material. In DISSOLUTION 1, film trash is mounted together in two picture halves based on a strict, serial cadre plan revealing the edges of the pictures, the glued spots, the perforation holes, and picture streaks. Yet the analogue picture storm is increasingly layered over by pure video images and the film image dissolves in digital black-and-white noise. Part 2, as a consequence, is absolutely void of concrete, real images, but instead reads like a digital remake of Peter Kubelka?s classic abstract film ARNULF RAINER (1960). Back then, Kubelka reduced the essence of film to its building blocks: white (= light), black (= not light), silence, and noise. In Fruhauf?s work, turbulent abstract geometric painting grows from the hypnotic roar of the horizontal and vertical half-tone video images.
The films of this young Austrian filmmaker often transport a fine, ironic commentary. While in LA SORTIE, accelerated industrial progress ends in standstill, in HÖHENRAUSCH/MOUNTAIN TRIP (1999), something similar takes place. Set to the torturous music of a feedback-generating accordion, in a rapid virtual pan, Fruhauf deconstructs the postcard cliché of the idyllic Austrian mountain landscape. The landscape of the two postcard series, which ?mirror? one another horizontally, is increasingly sucked into the ?in between,? in the blue of the strip of sky. The pan across the mountains ends in a ?perception? frenzy.
Even though Fruhauf?s works tend to strive towards abstraction, the primary reference point is always the real film image. At times they also follow the path backward, for example in BLOW-UP (2000). Here, the base material comprises two found frames from an antiquated instructional film about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Fruhauf transfers this content to the film material itself. The filmmaker visibly and audibly reanimates the film strip, which, initially reduced to a small strip, once again grows to full-screen size.
He also operates with found material in the two trailers (FRONTALE 2002, PHANTOMRIDE 2004), which were commissioned for the Diagonale ? Festival des österreichischen Films and Crossing Europe Film Festival Linz. Even in these short works, Fruhauf is able to cinematically condense essential thoughts about film: in FRONTALE, sex and crime, passion and catastrophe as the impulse of the cinema, and in PHANTOMRIDE, spatial perspective as the premise of movement into depth.
Along with the mechanics of the apparatus and the materiality of film, Fruhauf is interested in yet another constituent element of cinema: the construction of the controlling gaze, that of the camera and thereby of the viewer.
In his most recent work, MIRROR MECHANICS (2005), which celebrated its international premiere in Cannes in the Semaine de la Critique, one sees a young woman washing off the surface of a mirror with her hand to give a view of her face, her mirror image. This scene is simultaneously mirrored in the image, giving rise to a type of double projection. The mirror has always been a favorite subject in experimental film. Ultimately, the basic ideas of film are found again in the imagination and disembodiment of the mirror: illusion, identification, and projection. In MIRROR MECHANICS, Fruhauf is concerned with a reflection of ?seeing? in film, and the gaze that glides across the screen, clinging to details. Issues concerning identity and difference are also raised in the play of variations and layering in the reflection of the image.
The film EXPOSED from 2001 can be seen in Vila do Conde as an installation. This film, too, is about seeing. The view of a voyeur scene is, itself, only divulged as though through a keyhole. Small, rectangular fields flit across the screen, revealing excerpts of the image: a man watching a dancing woman through a keyhole. Fruhauf doubles the shown situation and leads the viewer into the position of voyeur, so to speak. It is clear that Fruhauf has established the film viewer?s role as elemental as soon one realizes that the fields, which direct the gaze, are the film strip?s perforation holes. Put in another way: here, it is that part of the shot that is normally not visible ? because outside the picture window ? that first allows us to see. Translated literally, ?expose? means ?lay free? or ?divulge.? In EXPOSED, however, the image?s secret is not aired through the steadily growing number of viewing windows. Precisely the opposite occurs; the picture gradually dissolves into white, into pure light.
And a further aspect is that everything that is film can ultimately and essentially be traced back to two basic factors: light and movement.
The cinema is the corresponding apparatus with which, within certain mechanical and optical parameters, an almost perfect illusion of movement is produced by means of a strip of celluloid, which itself is first subjected to certain photochemical processes.
Movement in cinema is, in turn, subject to time and space.
In REALTIME (2002), Fruhauf brings these aspects of light and movement onto the screen in the simplest conceivable way. The light of the sun is the only light that illuminates the screen in REALTIME. Its path is the only perceivable movement. The viewer experiences none other than the rising of the sun in real-time. The grandiose soundtrack by Jürgen Gruber can be read as though a reference to Stanley Kubrik?s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
And it wouldn?t be Fruhauf if there were no hidden, pointed turn even in this clearly minimal concept.
In REALTIME, the Austrian film critic Robert Buchschwenter sees cinematic potential?s return to its point of origin ? and a shrewd intimation of the possibilities that can again be newly conceived (infinitely) beginning from this point.