Academic journal article CineAction

I Know It When I See It: Mona Lisa on the Move

Academic journal article CineAction

I Know It When I See It: Mona Lisa on the Move

Article excerpt

What kind of art do we find on the walls of our films? How does that affect our viewing of the same art in its museum context? What happens when the Mona Lisa suddenly becomes a moving image?

In Kunst und Leben, (1) a 2012/13 installation of found and cropped film stills by the German conceptual artist Timm Ulrichs, Mona Lisa might get more than the standard fifteen-second glance to which she is accustomed in the Louyre. (2) We see her right away, visible in plate no. 4, but it takes time to acknowledge her. She is placed not in the center of the still, as we might expect, but rather at its edge. Part of her golden decorative frame is displaced; the entirety of her famous face is barely captured. Moreover, she is not the only attraction in the frame, but vies with several competitors for spectatorial attention: a mosaic Coca Cola lamp, a glass vase with flowers and two wine glasses on either side of it, a bent leg mostly concealed by a stocking, an unbuttoned flannel shirt revealing a hairless male chest, part of a jaw, and another smaller painting across from Mona Lisa in the corner, most likely a still life of another vase with flowers. In this installation, Mona Lisa has become a moving image in more ways than one. She is an image that has moved to a different medial platform--a still--and Ulrichs also puts her image into motion by cropping this still. Whereas she might have been just another object in the background of the porn set, the way in which he ref rames the still highlights her presence, moving her back into focus.

As with this recontextualization of Mona Lisa, spectators are likely to take a closer look at the other artworks found in the background of the remaining twenty-nine plates that constitute Kunst und Leben. The stills in this installation originate from pornographic magazines dating from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, which often accompanied the pornographic films. These still photographs were either produced exclusively for the purpose of the magazines, were shot before or after specific film scenes, or they were shot parallel to the film, a common practice that allowed pornographic production companies to maximize profits. (3) The imagery in these stills is related, but not identical to the filmic material itself. As Winfried Pauleit clarifies, even if stills are made during the recording of a film, they are, nevertheless, "shot from another camera angle and usually with different focal lengths and exposure times. In the strictest sense, one can only ever find similarities between filmic shots and film stills." (4) In 1978, when Ulrichs began collecting these stills, the magazines were his only way of accessing the pornographic material, as he didn't own a Super-8 projector. (5) The images have not been altered except for the precise cropping that highlights the 'found objects' in the set design--each still reveals a reproduction of a canonical work of art. Ulrichs' installation complicates the relationship between film and art not only by situating film stills in the museum, thereby inserting objects of film production and advertisement into the context of fine art, but also by looking for art in filmic environments, such as set designs, and playing with filmic conventions. In Kunst und Leben, Ulrichs employs and parodies the filmic practices that are so familiar from 'tasteful' Hollywood sex scenes: His cropped stills zoom in on objects, pan away from the sexual act and insist on interludes. At the same time, he plays with notions of canonicity. In the museum installation, the typical roles of the actors and set design are reversed. The bodies become the marginal elements, the "Randbemerkungen" as Ulrichs calls them, while the artwork, the object of the set design, is kept in clear sight. (6)

In the museum, as well as in the exhibition catalogue, these stills are arranged chronologically, replicating the conventions of art history anthologies, beginning with ancient Greek sculpture: a small reproduction of the Venus de Milo (c. …

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