alexander koch - breaking the clash /text

breaking the clash /by alexander koch

Ulrich Polster’s medium of choice is large-scale video installation1. His subject matter is the dissolution of spaces of social interaction and of constructions of identities and political meanings. His methodology is one of choreographed editing — a fragmentation of bodies and their capacity to act, a strictly rhythmical dissection not only of real spaces, but also visual or sonic architectures, an — at times imperceptible — interweaving of diverging time axes and horizons of remembrance.

Fractures are central to Polster’s work2. Discontinuity and interruption constitute his productions’ basic formal and argumentative grammar. As a precondition for the construction and reception of images, they determine the structure on every level. Fracture is separation. From separation follows the instance of confrontation, as well as the instance of intermission, of absence. Both these instances, confrontation and intermission, or absence, form integral parts of Polster’s works. In the shape of at times violent, at times erotic, then melancholic, then again purely formal constellations or qualities, they appear as the only constant feature of any possible form of relatedness. They give structure to Polster’s installations in two directions: inwardly they shape the subject matter, images and rhythms, whilst outwardly they determine the relation between projection surfaces and viewer. Viewers find themselves unable to grasp the elusive images and their contents. Despite the tactile quality of their visual surfaces and their imposing, aggressive and at times monumental sculptural presence, they stop short of ever becoming factual. Too distant or fragmented, too diffuse, too big or too slow, maybe too beautiful — or at least aesthetically distanced, too far gone into abstraction to be documentary or real, they are transported into a colour and composition space that feeds off diverse painting and musical traditions.
Ulrich Polster’s artistic practice finds its roots in the experimental filmmaking that developed in East Germany in the 1980s as an informal, cultural space for critical reflection and distance. In the early 90s it repeatedly became a site for a reformulation of artistic and media positions. Ulrich Polster’s contemporary installations draw on a formal vocabulary which encompasses elements of video art since the 70s and the large-scale video installations of the 90s — Bruce Nauman and Douglas Gordon being two reference points.To this practice of image production he adds a number of specific cinematographic processes as well as a new aesthetic and conceptual element taken from an Eastern image world3, which hints at the kind of spirituality that pervades iconographic painting as well as, for example, Andreï Tarkovski’s films. As such it is also making a point relevant to media theory. Stéphanie Katz’s suggestion,to look at Ulrich Polster’s video images as light boxes, aptly describes the specificity of his particular way of doing things. On the surface his projections create an impression of being behind glass — they are impenetrable and cold, while at the same time appearing to be illuminated from behind by an immaterial golden base.
Cold colours, a very matter-of-fact narrative logic, precise editing and a generously and clearly outlined form. From his nervous and aggressive room installations to his quiet, powerful images — at times filmed with an classical attention to detail — Ulrich Polster’s works are that of a purist. Their austere beauty and simple force gives his video pieces a timeless quality not usually found in this medium. Ulrich Polster takes a fairly relaxed approach to staging the social and cultural clashes of our present system: sometimes as drift and derivé between different elements of a possible aesthetic experience, sometimes in explicit, hard images, that speak for themselves: donkeys standing around in stubborn immobility — a man having the ground pulled away from beneath his feet — a man and a woman perpetually falling off a chair — two people maniacally slapping each other’s shoulders — a closed and an open fist.
A sudden snow storm4. Just as the deluge of images and Dolby-surround sounds are about to stop, a little projection screen appears at its centre with a Caspar David Friedrich painting carried by the sound of a Bach fugue. On an incline, the outline of a bare, slender tree in front of a dark sky, barely visible through blowing drifts of snow. An image of classic beauty, full of pride, endurance, reminiscence, without denying pathos and sensibility — a counterpoint to the noise of reality.

  1. 1) Whilst Ulrich Polster’s work is not restricted to large-scale installations, they constitute the main conceptual focus of his practice and also feed into the methodology and imagery of his smaller pieces. [return]
  2. 2) The political, social and technological deformations that Polster became aware of, within the constructions of identity and community in East Berlin and Leipzig, Moscow and St. Petersburg in the aftermath of the fall of the Wall in 1989 and during his study visits to London and New York, had a profound influence on his artistic work. [return]
  3. 3) See also Stéphanie Katz’s text. [return]
  4. 4) Fragment V, 7 channel video installation, 10:59 min, 2003/2004 [return]