Cinema’s Doppelgänger Remarks on Two Works by Julia Rudelius


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Cinema’s Doppelgänger

Remarks on Two Works by Julia Rudelius

Tagged (2003) and Economic Primacy (2005) are two closely related works by Julika Rudelius. Economic Primacy is a double projection in which Dutch businessmen expound their convictions and prejudices, whereas Tagged focuses on young men, mainly of Moroccan descent, and all living in Amsterdam. Tagged consists not of two but of three aligned and immediately adjacent projections, but the general structure of the works is the same. Both show members of a group who share certain values and a habitus, and in both cases the members of this group are shown in an abstract, generic space: a bare hotel room in Tagged, and a bland office in Economic Primacy. In both works, a shot usually shows only one person in this interior (in Tagged there are brief shots of two boys together). Double or triple projection enables Rudelius to practice a kind of synchronic montage that establishes connections between the various protagonists, between two or more images – in addition to the diachronic montage between two shots within one and the same projection. While the coexistence of these two forms of montage is by now rather common, as multiple projection is ubiquitous in contemporary video art, the way in which Rudelius deploys double and triple projection is specific to her practice.

Long before double projection became a staple of film and video art, Heinrich Wölfflin had established the double projection of slides as an indispensable tool for art history lectures. Juxtaposing slides of different works of art – and the related method of juxtaposing illustrations in books and journals – offered Wölfflin and others a chance for defining and distinguishing between styles such as the ‘classical’ and the ‘baroque’, or the linear and the painterly; it also facilitated the comparative analysis of specific works and the reconstruction of artist’s oeuvres. In this way, double projection helped to increase art historians’ skill at appraising works of art, thus providing crucial services to the art market. In the 1960s and 1970s, both single and multiple slide projection were also adopted by artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, who turned the methods of art history against itself, creating sequences and juxtapositions of images that sabotaged traditional stylistic or iconographic attempts to come to terms with them. [1] But the projection of two parallel streams of moving images in double film or video projection gives the viewers much less control over the material than even the most absurd – and the fastest – slide projections. This was exploited by the expanded cinema movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when filmmakers and artists sought to introduce more stimulating and activating, participatory modes of spectatorship than that of passive consumption in the standard cinema dispositif. In this context, double projection became a kind of minimal form of expanded cinema. [2]

Andy Warhol, who was among the artists and filmmakers who pioneered multiple film projection in the late 1960s, emphasized the aleatory, Cagean potential of double projection – its capability to create unforeseen combinations that need not make sense in the way of classical montage. As with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Warhol aimed at sensory confusion and a kind of blank exhilaration rather than analytical comparisons. [3] By contrast, Harun Farocki’s recent double video projections represent a starkly different position: like Jean-Luc Godard, and in the line of Sergei Eisenstein and other Russian montage theorists and practitioners, Farocki conceives of montage as a critical tool, as a dialectical procedure in which images function as thesis and antithesis. Although Julika Rudelius seems to curtail the possibilities for synchronic multiple-projection montage in an extreme and arbitrary way by juxtaposing images with identical decors and highly similar people, her work still uses double projection as an analytical device, and in Farocki’s case this is an analysis-in-movement that can never congeal into two static pictures that can be contemplated and dissected at will; any constellation of images and sounds in these works is ephemeral.
In his video essay Schnittstelle (1995), Farocki puts double video projection not so much in the lineage of expanded cinema pieces by Warhol, Dan Graham or Valie Export, but rather presents it as a consequence of video editing, which replaced the laborious splicing of film strips with the possibility of seeing and selecting simultaneously from two or more video images. While these images will usually be edited into a single-channel video, the video editing booth itself witnesses a constant parallel montage of multiple images. Perhaps this, rather than the linear product that comes out of it, is the true form of video montage, in which – as Farocki puts it in Schnittstelle – an image is not commented on with words but with another image. In a way arguing like an avant-garde version of Wölfflin – if such a thing is imaginable – Farocki elsewhere states that ‘today there’s always the image, and then the image being read in terms of what’s next to it’. [4] Using the characteristics of video editing as the basis for his double-channel video installations, especially Ich glaubte Gefangene zu sehen (2000) and the recent Eye/Machine trilogy, Farocki creates a dialectical tension between new and archival footage – such as images from contemporary high-tech prisons and footage from old slapstick films – as well as spoken and written language. This tension is never resolved in simple statements or linear argument; his work is more open-ended than Russian revolutionary film, not leading to a synthesis that represents the Party line.

What is remarkable about Rudelius’ multi-channel works is the apparent refusal to fully use the possibilities double or triple projection offers, its opportunities for dialectical combinations of apparently incommensurate images: if one can use images to comment on other images, then why are her images so utterly alike? Both in Tagged and in Economic Primacy, Rudelius’ footage has been shot on a single location: a hotel room and an office, respectively. Both spaces are bland and generic, with white walls and minimal furniture. Both in Tagged and Economic Primacy, the people in these spaces are also rather alike. The youths in Tagged all spend a lot of money on clothes from certain brands, which they show in the video, while the businessmen all wear roughly similar suits and talk similar business talk about taking risks and being different from the passive masses. Even Warhol’s Chelsea Girls is varied by comparison – the apparently monotonous conceit of women talking in various rooms of the Chelsea Hotel being relieved by changes from colour to black and white, by the differences between the flamboyant protagonist and various other factors. A work that resembles Rudelius’ two works more closely is Rineke Dijkstra’s The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mysteryworld, Zaandam, NL (1996-1997), a two-channel video projection consisting of footage – shot in two clubs – of teenagers dancing, kissing or dreaming in front of a white background. While the piece invites one to compare the various dress codes and individual attitudes, it also creates a montage of swelling and receding rhythms – both on the soundtrack and visually – that emphasizes the musical and in a sense formalist aspect of double projection.

Tagged and Economic Primacy seem to foster a more detached form of spectatorship than Dijkstra’s Buzz Club/Mysteryworld: all attention is focused on dress codes, behavioural patterns and modes of speech, and there is no music and dance – however industrialized and monotonous the music and the dancing may be – to offer relief from their uniformity. The protagonists in both Rudelius’ videos seem to be stuck in a world of sameness and repetition, in a world of boys and men cast from similar moulds. In this sense, Tagged and Economic Primacy are somewhat less explicit variations on Rudelius’ three-channel video Plush (2001). Shown on monitors rather than projected, Plush is an exercise in understated horror: the video depicts three uncannily similar blonde girls, or young women, who seem to be stuck in a sugar-coated girlish universe symbolized by plush animals on their beds. The counterpart of Plush is Train, in which a group of teenage boys discusses girls and sex during a train ride. Their behaviour is a stereotypical and conformist as the girls’ very different behaviour, but Plush differs from Train in that its effect is uncanny. The boys are part of the same group and thus show comparable behaviour, but the girls, each shown in a stereotypical girl’s room, are triple doppelgängers ­– they are in fact actual triplets, though the viewer is left to guess whether this is the case, or whether the similarity is the result of an inspired bit of casting.

The doppelgänger motif, prominent in western literature since the late eighteenth century, is symptomatic of the fear that modern man – historically, most doppelgängers seem to be male, as the male subject was the subject par excellence – is under attack, under threat of disintegration. As society becomes more and more regulated and complex, man becomes a cog in a machine rather than an individual, a man of the crowd dressed the same as the others, essentially becoming part of a collective of doubles. Increasingly, the human body was also supplemented and even replaced by machines acting as the body’s functional, mechanical doubles, while the new medium of cinema created moving doppelgängers of people’s appearance – turning them into shadows of their own celluloid representations. [5] ‘The feeling of strangeness that overcomes the actor before the camera, as Pirandello describes it, is basically of the same kind as the estrangement felt before one’s own image in the mirror. But now the reflected image has become separable, transportable.’ [6] It is not surprising that cinema eagerly embraced the doppelgänger motif and related film to mirrors: in Der Student von Prag (1913) , a man’s life is taken over by his mirror image, which had become autonomous and three-dimensional, and murderous.

The video art of the past fifteen years, in which multiple projection has become such a commonplace, is itself a split doppelgänger of cinema; video art constantly reflects on the heritage of cinema, de- and reconstructs moments from film history. In Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1995/96), Douglas Gordon has staged the return of the gothic horror tradition and its filmic afterlife as a double projection in a gallery space. The two projections show slow-motion sequences, on one screen in positive and the other in negative, from the 1931 film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, showing the transformation of Jekyll into Hyde and back again. The work’s title refers to an earlier Scottish doppelgänger story, James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, 1824. Here, the relation of one image to the other becomes predicated on the model of the doppelgänger: the doubling of the image does not lead either to the aleatory effects of an ‘open work of art’ or to a dialectical montage in which images comment upon another; rather, the doubling of the image becomes an uncanny splitting and doubling of the allegedly autonomous subject, which no longer controls its own life. Rudelius too works with certain elements from the gothic tradition, but her montage practice aims to go beyond gothic dread. In both Tagged and Economic Primacy, Rudelius’ precise, sometimes acerbic observations of both group behaviour and individual idiosyncrasies within larger social patterns show man as mass man, as a reproduction of certain sartorial and behavioural conventions; the doppelgänger is no exceptional phenomenon that inspires gothic dread, but commonplace.

Although the people in the films are quite at peace with their readymade selves and feel comfortable in their uniforms and liveries, watching them move and talk generates a kind of democratized, diluted sense of uncanniness. [7] Contrary to many monteurs, from Eisenstein to Farocki, who use montage of different images to shatter the circle of uncanny reproduction of sameness and introduce dialectical movement into the world of mechanical reproduction, Rudelius plunges into sameness. The young men in Tagged – most of whom still live with their parents – often spend their entire salary on clothes, and list the prices of the various items as they dress and undress themselves. They know the symbolical and monetary values of different brands, although the branded differences between the brands could be regarded as no more than a consumerist fiction. But Tagged and Economic Primacy also contain faint glimmerings of hope. Rudelius employs multiple projections – with their combination of diachronic and synchronic montage – to generate an open-ended dialectic between images and voices that are almost, but not quite, identical: there are differences, however minimal they may be. Although she came close with Plush, Rudelius is – thankfully – no Vanessa Beecroft, whose performers are dressed and made up to look like perfect clones. While the men in Economic Primacy are staggeringly alike in their ideology (anti-welfare, pro-‘free market’, and so on) and in their general appearance, they also perform their role in the symbolic order with intriguingly different accents. Often, one of the men seems to listen to what the speaker in the other projection is saying. As the non sequiturs, contradictions and empty repetitions in their various discourses accumulate, there seems to be a silent debate – a possible debate – that is suggested by the editing.

In Tagged, there are recurrent images of boys looking at themselves in a mirror. At one such moment, the projections on the left and right go black – as the images in both works sometimes do, leading to a kind of negate montage of images and black (but subtitled) voids. In this particular instance, the central image shows one of the guys looking into the mirror, while he mentions that he checks whether his hair and clothes are okay whenever he is near a mirror. This moment of intense narcissism needs no other image, as the montage is internal in the image: the mirror doubling the boy within one shot (even if we see only the reflection, the boy is present by implication). However, towards the end of the shot the boy looks distracted and blank. Perhaps this is a kind of reenactment of the mirror stage, in which he is experiencing a budding sense of non-identity between his self-image and his mirror image – and between himself and the near-doubles among his peers. In general, the small idiosyncrasies of the boys and men in Rudelius’ works, the minimal and largely unintentional, uncoded, non-branded differences between them, suggest that doubles may contain potential difference, that they may be able to differ from their hypothetical model and break their mould.

The branded differences between fashionable clothes in Tagged recall the equally coded differences between those even classier commodities: works of contemporary art. The distinctions between artists and their oeuvres could be seen as so many simulations of difference, diligently staged by galleries and their little helpers in art criticism. Like any catalogue essay, this text too cannot help functioning on the level of advertising copy; comparisons between works by Rudelius and established artists like Farocki, Warhol or Dijkstra inevitably serve to legitimize the younger artist’s work. This mechanism is crucial to writing about contemporary art, and it comes as no surprise that a gallery which prides itself in only showing ‘historically important art’ should explicitly instruct a critic writing a catalogue essay for one of their shows to compare the work of the artist in question to Bruce Nauman, in order to provide him with a suitably impressive pedigree. [8] Although the game is now being played with a neo-liberal fervour that would upset old-fashioned aesthetes and genteel art historians à la Wölfflin, they were always glad to put their art-historical connoisseurship and scholarly expertise at the service of the art market; contemporary critics – often with art-historical training – merely continue an established practice. However, refusing to compare one artist to another because this plays into the hands of the market is not a serious option. Rather, critical comparisons must serve an analysis that goes beyond connoisseurship or art-historical blackmail – even if it does contain elements of these. With its questioning montages of apparent sameness and possible difference, Rudelius’ work is not the worst model for such an approach.

[1] On the slide projector in art and art history, see Pamela M. Lee, Split Decision’, in: Artforum vol. XLIII, no. 3 (November 2004), pp. 47-48.

[2] A recent overview and analysis of expanded cinema is provided by X-Screen: Filmische Installationen und Aktionen der Sechziger- und Siebzigerjahre, exhib. cat. Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, 2004.

[3] In an early text on Warhol’s films, Gregory Battcock denied that Warhol was at all preoccupied with ‘questions of comparison and time in the cinema image’ with his double projections. Gregory Battcock, ‘Four Films by Andy Warhol’, in: The New American Cinema (ed. Gregory Battcock), New York, Dutton, 1967, p. 249.

[4] Tim Griffin, ‘Viewfinder’, in: Artforum vol. XLIII, no. 3 (November 2004), p. 163.

[5] See Peter Weibel, ‘Phantom Painting’, in: New Paintings for the Mirror Room and Archive in a Studio off the Courtyard by David Reed, exhib. cat. Neue Galerie Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, 1996, pp. 49-55.

[6] Walter Benjamin, ‘Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit’, in: Gesammelte Schriften I.2: Abhandlungen (eds. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser), Frankurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1991, p. 491. English translation from:

[7] Marcel Duchamp decribed the bachelor apparatus of his Large Glass, with its nine malic moulds, as a ‘cemetery of uniforms or liveries’. See Marcel Duchamp, ‘The Green Box’, in: The Writings of Marcel Duchamp (eds. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson), New York, Da Capo, 1989, p. 51.

[8] This happened to a colleague of mine; usually the comparative imperative is implied rather than pronounced with such explicit bluntness.

Essay from catalogue: ' Julika Rudelijus, Looking at the other, Five Video Works' , Valiz publishers, Amsterdam,


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