Textured forms out of urban chaos
By Manfred Schneckenburger
In the future artists will draw on the screen with the video camera like they have until now with pencil
on paper, predicted Nam June Paik in 1969. A quarter of a century later, the painter Gudrun Barenbrock
is given a digital camera and begins to paint with it. She feels that she has merely swapped
mediums not her metier. Already a dozen years ago, walls for Barenbrock were not just there to have
nails driven into them, nor to just demarcate space; they were intrinsic to her art and actively inter -
vened. In 1993 she had presented a concept in London where the glass walls of railway station waiting
rooms were to be painted over with a glazed finish, creating a solid ´colour room´. Her colour-field
painting lent worn, everyday spaces a new perceptual freshness, giving them a lyrical appeal.
Thus, when today the artist takes hold of the large hall of Cologne´s Neues Kunstforum with video
images of city life, she is only translating her interest in the city and space into three dimensionality.
She has swapped the brush for the camera and the canvas for the projection surface. But she uses the
newly acquired flexibility of digital image data for changing forms, for creating contrasts, contractions,
concentrations and abstractions. She traces the pulse beat of fluctuation and change, drawing from
them new pictorial, graphic courses between the tectonic and organic, between the grid and the ornament.
It is with the digital camera that she can first develop aesthetic strategies which match her
aspiration to create a rhythmical, three-dimensional spatiality.
She sets up a stationary camera in three large cities and a travelling train: in Seoul pointing at
skyscrapers, neon advertising, and a street with flowing traffic; in Cologne looking out of her own
window onto the street and pavement; in Paris above a pavement in front of a wall; and aboard the
InterCity from Cologne to Hamburg. The main motifs of this journey are the bridges spanning the Rhine
and a passing freight train. The objects literally run into the focus of the stationary camera. She follows
and pursues no one. She simply captures what passes by. "Whatever goes, goes. Whatever comes,
comes", writes Gudrun Barenbrock. "The order that arises disintegrates just as quickly as it has formed.
It is time itself that is being observed". This is the source the artist draws on.
In itself this could furnish the material for a classic film collage. Urban motifs put together in harsh
confrontation. But their arrangement in fact disintegrates the material, transforms it, so that new pictorial
sequences emerge. A few basic patterns stand out. Amongst these are extreme zooms of up to
1000%. Colour halftones are extracted until gleaming black and white outlines run into one another.
For the most part, advertisement hoardings, building facades, snaking lines of traffic, bridge pylons
and waves contract into constructionist-like textures, pointillist systems and grids, only to then dissolve
in the very next moment and flow organically and to crawl as one like amoebas. Remnants of colour
still occasionally flare up on the margins. The changes into the abstract convert the filmed aspects of
the large city into a common denominator between the tectonic and movement, architecture and traffic,
window facades and neon advertising, bridge pylons and river currents: a formal base figure. Simultaneously,
the shifting between the total view and the detail, between distance and nearness brings a
fundamental dynamism to the pulse beat of urban life.
The wagons of the freight train passing by the window of the InterCity also have a weighty impact. The
colour surfaces of the box wagons rush past in the usual blur. Barenbrock films the containers whizzing
past back and forth at varying speeds, dismantles them digitally - and leaves the viewer with just the
swiped traces of speed. She then plays back the whole movement very slowly, as if the train had almost
come to a stop. The detailed view is reduced to the pure colour surfaces. Emerging out of this fusion
of fleeting appearance and (almost) static projection is a colour field with alternating orange and blue
shades. Unexpectedly and unintentionally, Barenbrock saw herself reminded of pictures by her early
teacher Ulrich Erben. She quickly modified this. Nevertheless, such a convergence shows a decisive
element of her painting in film sequences. Visual effects set the benchmark time and again. Besides
the colour-field painting there is also the presence of the gestural accentuating practiced by Abstract
Expressionists like Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. Here the broadly conceived, fissured bands
find their counterpart. Even wood and linocuts in all their uniqueness come into consideration. One
is moved to ask: Does the resemblance to related pictorial representations thus have a say in when a
sequence is seen as completed and its reworking finished?
A further technique is also observable. Rain or tiny motifs like microorganisms in puddles are filmed
under a microscope. Drops turn into hopping, dancing blots with an irregularly rounded edge. They
swirl up the projection surface like an exploding confetti bomb. A joker amidst the serious business
of the city? At the opposite pole of the film processing are transport situations, traffic snarls, the shadows
of marathon runners - unaltered film shots from which only the colour has been filtered out: a
suggestion of the documentary. Only the quick and slow motion takes vary the pace and integrate,
beyond the dynamic of closeness and distance, their very own rhythm.
All the possibilities from the pool of the four basis films appear in changing parallelisms and overlaps
on all four projection surfaces. The overall effect is richly orchestrated through arrangements and
transparencies. Three square gauze sails span the hall, a fourth projection is imaged on the floor. The
ray cast by the beamer hits every sail at right angles. The rear side shows the film in its mirror inversion.
Simultaneously, the ray penetrates the transparent gauze and falls on the built walls in acute angles.
The other angle of incidence distorts the images lengthways and extends the hall, through a glass wall,
outside. The result is a moved space unfolded in eight images. Because the films each run from 34
to 38 minutes, when started at the same point in time they end staggered from one another. When
making a fresh start, the result is an almost unlimited multiplicity of overlaps. This is no ostensible
urban dash but a rhythm in which acceleration and deceleration are sovereignly balanced out. A rhythm
that, like the sound collages of Carl Ludwig Hübsch, relativizes the hectic and upholds urbanity.
Excerpt from "run-run", 4 channel video installation by Gudrun Barenbrock
exhibition catalogue Neues Kunstforum Cologne, 2006
Translation: Paul Bowman