Writing a text about an artwork that has been produced in and is directly related with a specific region this author has never been to is an interesting proposition. It was this alienated position that, when addressing Theo Prodromidis video piece ‘Je mehr es hervordringt’, brought me to the correspondence between Maxim Gorky and Lenin, which I had recently read.
The Russian Soviet writer lived between 1906 and 1913 in exile, for political and health reasons on the island of Capri in Campania, Italy. From this isolated location he continued to support the work of the Russian socio-democracy and especially the Bolsheviks. On this small island, the southern part of the gulf of Naples, far away from the heart of the discussion, he developed his philosophy ‘God-Building’, leading to his suppression by Lenin. Gorky had set up a school, but soon saw himself being left by his students.
The letters, travelling back and forth, likened a commentary, revealing problems and underlying structures of the debate, while Gorki himself moved farther away from the centre of the discussion with every letter. This process of unravelling through negotiation is closely related to the title Theo Prodromidis chose for his work, which loosely translates into ‘the more it becomes apparent’. Interestingly, writing this text on ‘Je mehr es hervordringt’ – knowing the artist but being distanced from the work’s context – evokes the position of the commentator – in a Brechtian understanding – addressing the artist’s approach. Ideally this text is read while watching the video, turning it into a commenting voice over the actual film.
Introduction of the characters
In the film we detect several protagonists: the architect, the musicians, the architecture to be build, the cityscape and the places of artistic production and presentation.
The female architect can be considered as a spy, forming a portrait of the artist. She records the built environment, reflects upon it through various media producing architectural propositions. The musicians, a local heavy metal band, appear on several occasions throughout the film. We can see them first rehearsing in an empty building site, later driving through the city to pick up a musical score in the theatre, and at the very end performing for the city. But it is the city itself, which is the subject of the film. From the architecture we read its social, political and ideological constitution. Further there are three central locations, the Mall of Sofia, Sofia Business Park and Europe Park Sofia; of which Europe Park Sofia with it the Europe Tower is yet to come. This site reveals through its potential, the current state of Sofia. Spread throughout the city these commercial architectural structures evoke the region’s adoption of free-market capitalism. In contrast to that, we are presented with the footage of a theatre owing much to a strong communist aesthetic.
Registration of a social political landscape
A heavy metal band is rehearsing in an empty building site in front of Sofia’s business centre; the view is rhythmically interrupted by footage of the sharp-edged architecture taken from steep angles. The thick sound, characterised by highly amplified distortion, echoes through the building and the band members’ address each other, defining their relations and interpretation of the cityscape surrounding them.
In the following scene, the architect is by herself in an office – we are still left in the unknown whether she is actually an architect or a spy. On the table we see plans, images of buildings, and modernist icons such as Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building. The camera moves over a collection of antecedents, references, influences, and plans, reflecting and framing the position of the design at hand. On the wall we detect a map locating the different building sites in the city. Images of the commercial structures are attached to this plan and show the future shape of the city. She answers the telephone and… Prodromidis reminds us of the nature of the work. Instead of satisfying our expectation of a standard filmic narrative: he has her citing in German from Hegel’s work The Science of Logic. We cannot follow. She speaks to fast. But given the luxury of knowing the text we could understand this passage as a signifier for the artist’s approach to his work. The quote is serving as a catalyst to jump to the next sequence while we are made aware of the role of the actress and our own as viewer. We see the architect drawing over the material in view, moving into the painting of triangles: red, black and blue on tracing paper. A book by Berthold Brecht is in view, pointing us once more towards the act of intertwining the work and its very critique. With the French Nouvelle-Vague in mind, the insertion of philosophy is considered as an object and is part of the film set. He negotiates the present, future and past by translating the building into various media while making no attempt to suspend the viewer’s disbelief that there is a plot in the sequence of the moving images.
The act of translation
We find ourselves in a theatre. Architectural features, witnesses of a communist aesthetics reveal the history of the city of Sofia. A set is being built and references to constructivism with it. Triangles are the main shapes occurring. (I wonder weather it is indeed possible, that due to the simplicity of these basic geometric forms, a new beginning can be signified.) The architect recites again; a quote from Walter Benjamin Goethe’s Wahlverwandschaften. Cinematic time and space seem to break apart due to this insertion. As described in the quotation ‘the subject matter and the truth content, united in the work’s early period become apart during its afterlife’, the theatre’s architecture captured by the camera and the set design are negotiated in a future context. The architect takes notes on a musical score – processing the building through yet another medium into a musical notation this time, as an immaterial state of the architecture. Throughout the movie it is the same building, The Europe Tower, that is captured from a different angles, simultaneously performing as a notation and as a cultural object. Its references and the ideological state are abstracted.
The simultaneous production of architecture
We follow the heavy metal band tracing the city from East to West travelling through the trajectory of the film. Building sites, a huge amount of towers appear in front of us. We arrive in the historical centre where the places for cultural production are connected to the urban layout. The front man of the band picks up the musical score left behind by the architect in the theatre – after which the band starts playing. All this in front of the Mall of Sofia next to a socialist apartment block locally referred to as the ‘Chinese Wall’. To choose a heavy metal band to express form into music may seem surprising, as we know this research from early modernism where form was performed trough serialist systems. Here instead, the musical antipode for the Europe Tower is found in the aggression and power of heavy metal, while the humble position of the underground scene is criticising the current political and social state.
These transformations between materiality and immateriality contain the memory of every single one, a memory that is captured through the movement of the camera.
The architecture that is yet to be built is created and rehearsed. The constructivist structures of the set design sketch out the angles of the camera to represent form. In parallel we experience a musical and cinematic performance; of the band and the camera. The camera does not register its environment anymore but expresses the architecture and its critique by creating an affectionate and expressive cityscape.
Representation as production
Now the props and the film are displayed or displaced in a German rather then in a Bulgarian context. Emare commissioned the film, and this exhibition in Halle, Germany, works as a time loop. By placing the set-design next to the projection Theo Prodromidis reflects upon the origin of the production of the work and tests the correlation between representation and production. The incorporation of time is a common thread throughout the artists work. The relation of the work to its present state is in constant dialogue with the past and the future, negotiating and creating its own position. As such the negotiation of this particular architectural form reveals the history, current state and potential future of the region in which the film is produced. The underlying structures and problematics become more and more apparent.
©The author 2009
Images:© Theo Prodromidis 2008
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