Cláudia Cristóvaõ: The File Project

Exhibition: 26 June - 27 July 2009

Cláudia Cristóvaõ’s (born in Luanda, Angola in 1973, raised in Lisbon) multimedia installations examine forms of memory, identity and their ties to individually and culturally-informed spaces and places. Often using years of research,, observation and interviews as a point of departure, Cristóvaõ’s filmic documentaries search for clues among people whose real experiences have been obscured by recollection and projection, such as those forced to flee their home countries in early childhood as a consequence of de-colonisation (Fata Morgana, 2005-06 and Le Voyage Imaginaire, 2008) or, as in The File Project (2005-2006), among individuals affected by the East German secret police. In both projects, the documentary form lends the work a certain stringency and structure while condensed (moving) images sustain a unique, atmospheric-aesthetic dynamic. The artist focuses on and superimposes the various narrative levels either by moving over the surfaces of things, moving through inner and outer spaces or mapping them.

Shown for the first time in Germany, the three-part video installation The File Project consists of two film works (Curtains, projection / Skinflower, monitor) and a series of Polaroids. Here, filmed interviews are replaced by a series of staged actions captured on photographs: extras were taken to urban places and asked to re-enact gestures used by Stasi agents as secret codes. The act of substitution, coupled with stylised posturing, allows secret communication to become a kind of typology, referring to the idea of ‘acting’ itself or the roles we commonly assume in public space: "I am very interested in issues related to the limits of the public sphere and the way in which, individually or collectively, we react to the role expectations that this sphere imposes."(Cristóvaõ).

The large-scale projection Curtains begins with a view through an half-parted curtain, a voyeuristic, observational motif that draws gaze into the scene. The twelve-minute colour video was shot without permission in the former Ministry for State Security in Berlin. Open to the public as a museum since 1990, the office had last been inhabited by Erich Mielke and Egon Krenz. Long, static shots of 1970s-style interiors and traces of their use by the former occupants are striking: details and surfaces such as light switches, telephones and carpet patterns are lined up, providing a glimpse into open drawers and cabinets. None of the shots leave the interior to look to the outside. Contemporary reality and the world of mnemonic reconstruction never meet. The sound file, a collage of of bell sounds, interference, numerals and brief instructions spoken in several languages was pieced together from a a web radio station archive. Heard in combination with the image, the sound captures the atmosphere of the place as the historical seat of a repressive intelligence and secret police agency. Barely decipherable, it is impossible to tell if the cryptic information is actually transmitting real secret codes or if they are only meaningless syllables.

In Skinflower, a video loop, we see an open umbrella blown inside out, on top of a house against a grey sky. Shaped like a satellite dish or a world receiver, it could be sending and receiving signals similar to the ones heard in the sound file. Cristóvaõ refers to the single, moving image as a "glimpse" - one that mediates between the Polaroids stills and the projection.

Cristóvaõ’s work moves a camera through archives of collective and individual memories. The artist gives the stories and splinters of recollection entrusted to her access to cultural memory, a memory that plays a similar role to the historical constellations themselves.