elements of a landscape
Single-channel video, 2018, 38'min, 16:9, HD, b/w and color, stereo, en
Based on the prevailing cultural-historical narrative that encompasses the Austrian mountain resort Semmering – the former mundane summer and spa-destination for the Viennese bourgeoisie at the end of the 19th century – Elements of a Landscape interweaves both fictional and documentary material and locates its story in the year 2020. The focus of the film is the Grandhotel Panhans. Strolling through the hotel and its surrounding landscape, we follow two tour guides who work in short-term, seasonal employment. Listening to their increasingly uncanny stories, it becomes evident that the two women seem to know more than they can actually know, and they seem to comment on things that they might actually not be allowed to refer to. Playing with the seductiveness of tour-guide language and the common understanding of the landscape through which we move, the film asks how such a multi-layered topography is constructed and what will have remained of its elements in the near future.
Elements of a Landscape by Barbara Juch and Laura Nitsch evokes an atmospherically dense and historically loaded topography saturated with numerous narratives. And yet, its place of interest, the Semmering – this traditional summer resort of a culturally open-minded, indeed intellectual Viennese bourgeoisie – is never shown as a complete constellation. Instead, it is unfolded into a range of constituent parts.
These include the famous hotels and a mountain landscape that inspires both patriotic and sophisticated narratives, the poetry of a few symptomatic and surprising life stories, the present-day efforts to compensate for the absence of tourists, the precarious work in the tourism industry, and the trembling of the sublime aesthetic between pathos and psychedelia. But whereas upper-middle-class Vienna employed the interplay of panorama and abyss to heighten subjective intensity, the film unfolds its aspects of economy, history and aesthetics.
Nevertheless, the film – which, like its brother on the other end of the budget scale, The Shining – begins with a car ride to the enchanted place, is also not completely absorbed in its analytical intentions and offerings: The authors stand, as it were, in the middle of the landscape. Their perspective of dissection and their refusal to give a sleek overview – indeed at times their deprivation of fundamental components of a film, image or sound – is nevertheless not simply that of an unaffectionate gaze. Because precisely those who employ well-established analytical means are far from being exempt from fascination and enchantment. On the contrary: Only those who know how to succumb to the magic of the Magic Mountain, can also understand it analytically.
After all, the film asks what kind of operation it actually is with which we give a name to such a heterogeneous complex of meanings. It asks what makes us think that a complex composed of natural facts, as well as their cultural hyper-formation, is something constant and predictable; something to which we can not only refer to verbally, but also physically – as an actual place of destination. Barbara Juch and Laura Nitsch have looked at what is there. They have enumerated, accumulated, deleted, hidden, multiplied, forgotten and found again. They oppose the possibility of a landscape as a fixed cultural entity – something commonly suggested by the "Heimat" discourse – just as resolutely as they celebrate the fact that after the removal of such concepts, there is not nothing, but rather a wealth of possibilities for description and representation.
Diedrich Diederichsen, translated by Barbara Juch
Concept & Idea: Barbara Juch & Laura Nitsch
Performances: Sheri Avraham / Barbara Juch
Camera: Laura Nitsch / İpek Hamzaoğlu
Edit: Barbara Juch / Laura Nitsch
Music: Barbara Juch / Simon Trummer