Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

The Curtain between the Images

Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

The Curtain between the Images

Article excerpt

The artist Susanne Weirich recently exhibited a poetic machine which promises to prophecy or to herald good fortune: The Fortune-Telling Machine (1995). (1) In my film Prufstand 7 [Test Stand 7], (2) a creature appears that similarly wishes to herald something. There is, however, a problem. A curtain surrounding planet earth prevents this creature from meeting us and from speaking or heralding events in its own appropriate language. Unlike the curtain in Weirich's The Word Wolke (2001), another work which seems to be in dialogue with rocketry, this curtain is impenetrable, and the sphere behind it remains invisible. (3) But sometimes the curtain turns into a surface for projection. Then we see various styles of images: we see pictorial discourse of, on and about the rocket projected onto it. The first five minutes of Prufstand 7 give an impression of how these different picture dialects are connected within the film--and of the way Bianca (the name of the creature) wanders through them. (4)

First extract from Prufstand 7 (running time 0:00:00 to 0:04:45 [hr:min:sec]) (5)

Bianca: I was the first to fly into space, and my image came to life.

I have experienced things I would like to reveal, but there is no way for us to meet. Your planet is shrouded by a curtain I can't get through.

Whenever my desire to meet you becomes strong enough, then you can see me and I can see you. But I'm not really there.

I live between the pictures you create of your own world.

I am trying to find out where I come from.

He: I can help you.

Bianca: Who are you?

A map will be lying in the car. I am in Peenemunde, Germany.

It says here, "the cradle of space travel"--Test Stand 7--dear rocket lovers, and I'll show you my favorite failed take-off.

Seven cameras for one V-2! Not even an actress gets that much attention! Hello? Hello?

Speaker 1: Peenemunde.

Bianca: Hello? My map says: Nordhausen, Germany.

Andreas: The world's largest underground factory was built under Mt. Kohnstein, near Nordhausen, in the Harz Mountains. The workers came from Mittelbau-Dora, a concentration camp located next to the factory. The production of over 6,000 rockets cost the lives of 20,000 prisoners. (6)

The piles of ashes around the crematorium were still smoldering when the American Army arrived on April 11, 1945.... The dead were already invisible.

All the rockets, documents and rocket parts were taken away by the Americans.

He: I'll show you the "oven." That is what the Germans called the rocket's combustion chamber. The oven carried you into space.

Bianca: I know nothing about the oven. It looks organic. It's just lying around on the beach....

He: ... In Peenemunde. They are testing the combustion chamber for the V-2 rockets. They don't realize that they are preparing your birth.

Bianca: Do I come from the oven?

Bianca's search follows a trail through the myth of the rocket. We encounter fascination--at the outset German fascination--with this first, so concrete object of autonomous technology, of a technology which has begun to lead a life of its own. The character study of a machine emerges. This machine brings together everything we are no longer able to bring together. As we know from Gravity's Rainbow, "the Rocket has to be many things, it must answer to a number of different shapes in the dreams of those who touch it" (727). So it has to be at once super phallus, machine bride, young girl, old witch, technology with 20,000 individual pieces, spirit, ghost, inspiration and finally vampire.

Hence, in the context of "art as science" and/or "science as art," the rocket, on the one hand, figures as the product of exact sciences such as physics, chemistry, aerodynamics, mathematics and information technology, and at the same time, on closer examination, on the other hand, radiates a shimmering ambiguity. …

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