Clemens von Wedemeyer

Cast behind you the bones of your mother
KOW, Berlin

‘Cast behind you the bones of your mother’ is an instruction found in the Greek Ovidian myth Metamorphoses (AD 8), that was issued by the Oracle of Themis to the desolate Deucalion and Pyrrha—the last humans left on earth after Zeus’s great obliterating deluge. Initially perplexed, Deucalion and Pyrrha soon realise that they are the children of the earth, and the bones of their mother therefore are the stones beneath their feet. They cast these stones behind them and from the ground upon which the stones fall, a new generation of earth dwellers emerge.

It is in this terrain of dramatic myth and emerging sculptural forms that Clemens von Wedemeyer’s solo show at KOW resided; it is an extension from his 2013 solo project/exhibition Cast at MAXXI in Rome. Cast focused on ideas pertaining to cinema production: from the underlying politics of the local Cinecittà studio of Rome (the Mussolini-founded ‘Italian Hollywood’), to the many smaller industries, economies, and types of labour that surrounded it; whereas the development for Wedemeyer’s show in KOW took the project into a more textual and theatrical realm. Two newer works were included with three works from Cast thus generating a fresh thrust.

The Beginning, Living Figures and Dying (2013) comprises five HDTV screens side-by-side on the ground-floor wall of the gallery space. The screens are elevated on the wall, and show snippets of found footage from films such as Jason and the Argonauts, Ben Hur, Planet of the Apes, and so on. The clips often feature characters/actors finding, clambering over, or trying to topple large god-like (film-set) effigies. A clip appears on the right-hand screen, passes on to the screen to the left, then a new clip replaces the old one, then it gets passed on again from right to left, until all five screens are active. Time passes laterally from screen to screen while also circulating within each frame, constantly throwing out images and new associations. Each screen generates momentary (Farocki-like) contexts with its neighbouring screen(s) as the moving images and emphases collect and dissolve before you. At one point, each of the five screens holds the face of a different female actor, at another point, an armed skeleton emerging from the dirt is staggered across the five screens, it from Ray Harryhausen’s infamous animated fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts, then a grab from Fritz Lang appears, then another of an athlete throwing a javelin, and another, the final scene from the Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston has sunk to his knees before the fallen Statue of Liberty. A proportion of these films index golden-age Hollywood epics alongside scenes from other fields of film making. Looking upward at the elevated row of screens brought a sense of spectacularity to the work in a theatrical and Debordian sense.

In the basement space the remaining works were supplely interspersed with each other. Procession (2013), a sumptuous black-and-white projected film, was screened in a side room. It is a well made and suggestive piece that re-enacts a forgotten news item about a violent protest at the Cinecittà studios in 1958, during the filming of Ben Hur, when thousands of extras turned up under the impression that they would receive paid work, only to be told that they were not required. Procession plays with planes of reality and representation, while pulling into focus the relationships between terms like ‘model’, ‘tool’, and ‘film extra’, particularly in how these terms operate within the ideas of labour, deployment, and employment in a cinema-industry sense. The voice of the extra (the cast object) becomes important, especially in how it remains unheard by those in power. This film work gracefully and dramatically traces issues of this kind over and back between the ‘realities’ on either side of the studio walls, not only in 1958, but also now.

In the centre of the basement, Cast Behind You the Bones of your Mother (2015) comprises two dark, 3-D sand-printed sculptures of the top halves of two classical sculptures. These truncated forms are representations of Deucalion and Pyrrha ‘emerging’ from the rough concrete floor, and above them, suspended from the ceiling, is a large dark disc—the Oracle. This immersive arrangement is lit with spot lights and each object has an audio-speaker from which a scene from Metamorphoses can be heard—the objects are given voices, but only to carry out a script. The voices seem computer-modified and, with the 3-D printed sculptures, this renders a sort of sci-fi-ness to the work, which is furthered with A Recovered Bone (2015), a sculptural homage to the opening scene of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The sculpture, placed discreetly in the back-left corner of the basement is a 3-D sand-printed model of the bone that is hurled heavenward by the apes/men in the film, once they realise its weapon/tool function. The re-cast bone here sits upon a pale, slim, waist-high, monolith-shaped plinth, and above this, projected upon the gallery wall is a loop of the camera movement from the same scene panning upward to the sky. These sculptural/theatrical works are evocative moments in a continuum of research and making that draws this film-history project towards what is theatrical in film production, taking at once a step forwards in time while also taking a step back into some of the more formal aspects of stage acting and production.

Clemens von Wedemeyer, Procession, 2013. Video Still. © Clemens von Wedemeyer and VG Bild-Kunst. Courtesy Clemens von Wedemeyer and KOW, Berlin.

Clemens von Wedemeyer, Procession, 2013. Video Still. © Clemens von Wedemeyer and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Clemens von Wedemeyer and KOW, Berlin.

Clemens von Wedemeyer, The Beginning. Living Figures Dying, 2013. Exhibition view KOW, Berlin. Photograph Ladislav Zajac. Courtesy Clemens von Wedemeyer and KOW, Berlin.

Clemens von Wedemeyer, Cast Behind You The Bones Of Your Mother, 2015. Exhibition view, KOW, Berlin. Photograph Ladislav Zajac. Courtesy Clemens von Wedemeyer and KOW, Berlin.