Theresa Baumgartner presents an excerpt from I do not wish to be known as a Vandal, a collaboration with Grammy-award winning musician Sam Slater.
I do not wish to be known as a Vandal is a 40-minute, audiovisual installation work from musician Sam Slater, performer Lukas Malkowski and this month’s Fact Resident, artist Theresa Baumgartner. Spanning 40 minutes in length in its original iteration, above Baumgartner presents Vandals, a short excerpt of the stunning film that functions as a moving image metaphor for failure, pain and resolve in the face of both. Captured in ultra slow motion with four high speed cameras, the work follows Malkowski, standing naked, falling on his face before picking himself up and returning to his original position. “It’s about defeat and failure, like seeing a car crash in slow motion, watching someone falling, watching the point of no return and then hurting themselves by falling on their face,” explains Baumgartner. “But it’s also watching the rebuild process, returning to point zero again, very slowly.” Slowed to a barely perceptible crawl, through a process of A.I.-enabled upscaling each frame of the film takes on the quality of a Caravaggio oil painting, each second of chiaroscuro amplified in a moving portrait.
“It has this tragi-comedy, Buster Keaton quality, or like one of Samuel Beckett’s characters,” says Baumgartner of Vandals. “It’s absurd and it’s painful, but it’s also essential. Failure is essential in terms of your own practice, you have to be okay with really fucking up.” Originally paired with the new album of the same name from Sam Slater, who collaborated with Hildur Guðnadóttir on her Grammy-winning soundtrack for Chernobyl and her Oscar-winning score for Joker and was the sound designer for the late Jóhan Jóhansson, the excerpt presented above is set against an original composition from Slater. “It is the soundtrack to falling uncontrollably in ultra slow motion; an event happening too fast to control, displayed as a barely moving image,” describes the artist. “It is a simple visual image which speaks to moments of personal and social collapse and recovery, and the repetition of this arc. The music traces this form, ending where it starts, creating a simple audiovisual cycle – in which all things break and something is made from the mess.”
“We thought about the nudity as portraying some level of vulnerability, but also as a question: who do you not want to see fail? Who will be okay with falling on their face?” posits Baumgartner. “To a degree it’s just a body, but those things are choices and are there for a particular reason. In my view the piece is not super sexualized, it’s a naked body. It depends on your cultural background and your own attitude towards nudity, but for me it’s whatever.” At once confrontational and meditative, in Vandals Malkowski’s naked form is transfigured through Baumgartner’s lens and under her lights. In another subversion of the male gaze that calls back to her collaboration with Abyss X, the male form is rendered the subject of our gaze, yet documented in painstaking and slow detail that is almost dehumanising, transformed into illuminated flesh, both the subject and raw material with which Baumgartner paints her digital picture. “People react in very different ways to the portrayal of nudity in that context, some sort of sexualization is quite quickly assumed,” she reflects. “That’s not what it’s about. It’s about being vulnerable and falling on your face. There’s nothing sexy about someone smacking their face.”
In this sense, Vandals is representative of Baumgartner’s ability to work across different techniques and varying scales, from the largest and most complex to the smallest and simplest. “I like when things are quite minimal,” she says. “It’s one statement. It’s one gesture and it’s quite easily understood, but then by stretching it out for that long and making it 40 minutes, there’s a lot of story in a lot of nothing.” As an installation, both angles of I do not wish to be known as a Vandal will be reflected on each side of a freestanding screen, allowing the audience to move around the depiction of the fall at their own pace, lending real-time movement to the ultra slow scene. What ever sorts of personal or communal failure the viewer maps onto the piece, ultimately what it depicts is a bleak sort of optimism.
Though we are invited to witness every second of pain spreading over every inch of Malkowski’s skin as he falls, as well as every excruciating minute it takes from him to pick himself up, the film always returns to the start of the cycle. This kind of repetition could be understood as Sisyphean, but another view is that the stretched out duration of the footage presents us with a seemingly endless number of opportunities to intervene, to recognise the cyclical nature of failure and progression in our own lives. “It’s challenging in its own way,” concludes Baumgartner.
I do not wish to be known as a Vandal will be presented for the first time in early 2022. For more information about Sam Slater and his music, you can visit his website and follow him on Instagram. You can follow Lukas Malkowski on Instagram.
Director – Theresa Baumgartner
Music – Sam Slater
Dance Performance and Choreography – Luka Malkowski
High-Speed DOP – Christian Klimke
Filmed at Tectum, Berlin