Opening by Eugen Blume
The most astonishing thing about the video project “Synapses 2005” is that it comes not from a woman, but from a man. If it is true at all that there is a difference between the female and the male view of the world, then the viewer is most likely to presume that the author behind this elaborate work, devoted in a special way to the role of woman, is female. Reporting on the inner condition of woman was long a man’s affair until in the wake of the general emancipation women pushed their way from the second row into the front line and began to speak about themselves. In Germany it was above all the women of the Romantic Movement, who not only described themselves, but who also stepped self-confidently out of the shadow of men or became the men’s true power.
An infinite number of scholarly works on the role of woman relating to a wide variety of themes have come into being in our present-day, modern industrial society. The emancipatory enlightenment of the Modern Age seems to have touched everything, even the most extreme and darkest recesses of the female being. By her very nature, however, Woman only allows Man to know the other sex as far as the door to an inner realm which he cannot enter.
The biological difference also means a different psyche and a different view of the world, which was constructed over centuries by man out of woman’s enforced state of being different as a cultural convention. The resultant female feeling of resentment towards men is that of a victim of a false view, held even by her loving partner, who is not really capable of penetrating to the last depths of the female soul. The encounter between man and woman fans in the unconscious mind the eternal fire of the battle of the sexes – the offence committed in collusion with and against one another at the Fall of Man, of becoming aware of one’s own sexuality, of not keeping oneself eternally in a state of godly neutrality, but of reproducing and of sacrificing the likeness of God to mortality. Every encounter between man and woman is henceforth played out between Eros and Thanatos, between life and death. When man and woman face one another, Evolution looks at its own face. The price of being able to beget and to give birth, of marching on in time, is one’s own extinction. Nature awoke when Eve picked the forbidden apple from the Tree of Knowledge.
Not only was Eve from the very beginning in Western monotheism given to the man, she was “taken out of” the man, the human being. He was Mankind before she, the woman, came into the world:
“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (KJV Book of Genesis 2:21-2:25)
The fallen angel Lucifer is similar in character to the serpent “more subtil than any beast of the field” which sows eternal discord in Creation and which tempted the Woman, not the man, to eat the forbidden fruit, for: “then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
Adam falls victim to female curiosity. It is she who wants to find out about the world, it is she who is susceptible to temptation and succumbs to temptation. Before God he relieves himself of guilt: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”
Throughout centuries of male dominance men have invoked this and invented all manner of degradation. Henceforth Woman was the serpent itself, not the tempted one; she represented the greatest danger to Man, whose legitimate task seemed to be to castigate her. The further humankind strides on through history the more determined his attempts to match Creation with his own work. He invents the world, swims like a fish and flies like a bird, he heals himself and makes himself sick, he plants gardens and destroys Nature. He ceaselessly produces and comes no nearer to himself. He loses himself as man and as a woman. He behaves atavistically as if he had just been driven out of Paradise of which he has only a distant sentimental memory. Nowadays Man tolerates Woman in his administrative offices; it would seem he is incapable of living with her.
He still makes his way through the world as a cold warrior, as a fundamentalist terrorist as someone who expunges the female in himself, as he has been put out by woman.
Knoefel now shows the ambivalence of the female, shows the woman not as an object, not as a reduced male fantasy but as a being that speaks about herself. Knoefel is driven not by the male view, not the politically correct condescension of Man to look “fairly” upon women, but by the aim of giving women the opportunity to speak, without comment from the artist. The speakers are all actresses who, through the text of another, speak about themselves and to others. The director left it up to the women what they confided in the camera. Of course, this confiding in all innocence is not an end in itself, which remains concealed with a therapeutic intention and which does not encroach upon the intimate; as those women invited were told, it was destined to be published. It is a piece of public speaking which does not centre solely upon the personality in front of the camera, but is an artificial event, detached from the person speaking. Even the at times extremely shocking speech about sexual practices, for instance, is a text written by another and chosen by the actress for this session. The motivations to read aloud precisely this text are steeped in the female, although the text was originally born of another woman’s urge to express herself. The question of identification is blurred in the public consciousness. Whether reading aloud this text is a speculative act out of vanity or a piece of psychological self-denunciation, is neither here nor there. The woman speaker in the art installation is released from this biographical decision, she is speaking generally as a woman. She is speaking about something which happened to Woman and how Woman felt when it happened. She stirs up the feelings of the viewer, she upsets others who reflect upon themselves and not on the speaker in her subjectivity. The latter only has to endure this subjectivity where she is known as herself, among friends and here too she is the actress who is not speaking about her own experiences. The speaking women dominate this work in voices emanating alongside each other, over one another. Fluttering a spoken-word fan, the speaking women confront directly how it feels and what it is to be female in this world.
Knoefel has worked banal everyday existence into this highly sophisticated spectacle that is performed in the literary texts. Subjects such as frying ice-cream or washing in the shower and going for a walk in the woods are simultaneously integrated into speeches about fucking or the rose. Human beings, whether man or woman, lead a banal life which they flee and which they cannot flee.
Knoefel sets scenes from everyday life not against, but alongside the lofty texts from literature spoken by beautiful women, the harmonious dance movements of young women, the hope of love and a fulfilled life. The ironers, for instance, who, with the effortless skill acquired through practice day-in-day-out, masterfully go about their work, which can be seen as mindless but which is also a joy to them. These women are not exposed as an object of scorn or pity, but are shown as two different facets of Woman. Knoefel succeeds not in positioning woman in the social hierarchy, not in illustrating groups and degrees of misery and of beauty, but in providing a far-reaching view of being a woman in this society. It is not a piece of voyeuristic theatre about women, not a search for extreme and shocking elements.
The multiple projection makes it possible to see everything at the same time. A game that demands above all the willingness to look at oneself, to listen to oneself and to find oneself.
Translation: Joanna Rowe