Publication: The Times
By any reckoning the first episode of this three-part show is visually sparse and contains a plethora of obscure references. In the upper foyer of the gallery a poster advertises Schmitz’s programme : Palasthotel, Horizontes Soroa and Sindanao, with ‘cameo appearances’ by Tobias Berger, Lisa le Fevre, Ulli Lommel and Wang Nanming.
Schmitz’s work is couched in the language of film and various cinematic influences pervade his imagery. Even the poster advertising the show bears some kind of resemblance to 1950’s movie artwork.
Projected onto the foyer walls are various images: blurry, obscure, and just beyond our grasp –
a broken frond of a palm-tree adjacent to a swimming pool; the bespectacled face of an middle-aged man of south-east Asian origin; and a crumbling concrete structure.
In the main exhibition space three elements vie for our attention. A bright yellow neon sign delicately set on the floor, propped against a white expanse of wall. A TV monitor, also on the floor, from which comes a looped voice intoning “'ich muss noch hier bleiben, ich bin noch nicht fertig, OK, OK, OK” ("I have to stay longer, I am not yet finished, etc."). The third element is a two-way mirror of the kind found fictionally in Bond movies but also, in reality, in totalitarian states such as the former German Democratic Republic. In it, we see reflected not only the blank monotone of the TV screen but ourselves. We have no knowledge of who or what lies behind the mirror.
In one of those strange incidences of happenstance, a notice on the floor in front of the mirror (placed there, one suspects, at the behest of ‘Health and Safety’) reads:
CAUTION SOLID SURFACE NO THROUGH ENTRY CAUTION SOLID SURFACE NO THROUGH ENTRY
Perhaps those faceless, pernicity bureacrats have at last seen the value of playful irony and ‘found’ poetry?
Schmitz’s motifs and props conjure a sense of paranoia, surveillance and suspicion; a world in which nothing is quite what is seems. The atmosphere is akin in these respects to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s 2006 film Das Leben der Anderen(The Lives of Others) in which the characters played by Martina Gedeck, Ulriche Mühe, and Sebastian Koch, amongst others, wrestle with morality in a society which has grossly distorted its value.
Here, Schmitz refers to the Palashotel in the former east Berlin which acted as the headquarters of Stasi surveillance. The Stasi (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit) were the feared secret police whose tactics owed much to their immediate predecessors, the Gestapo. Schmitz’s neon sign is a copy of the original from the roof of the building while the two-way mirror is an original artefact, borrowed from the hotel. It’s chilling to be reminded of the real scenes which must have been played on both sides of this mirror, as von Donnersmark, metaphorically was was keen to portray elsewhere. These were not images of entertainment but reflections of lives blackmailed, destroyed and obliterated by a ruthless state machine.
There are a number of important ideas here – the political and moral dimensions are clearly to the fore. The apparent sparsity of visual material and the seeming obscurity of a number of the references should not lead one to feel that the work is more exclusive than inclusive. It’s a show which will certainly appeal to curators, film buffs and students of cinema but the majority of viewers, if given enough context and intellectual footholds, will be left more fulfilled than baffled.
The two further episodes, which will combine to become a ‘triptych of ideas’ will build on the material already presented here, demonstrating curatorial vision and the idea that an audience ‘s capacity for new and challenging material should never be underestimated.
episode 1: palasthotel, 18 October - 6 November
Named after an East Berlin hotel in the German Democratic Republic under StaSi surveillance, from which it borrows a bronze tinted window finish.
episode 2: horizontes soroa, 8 November - 27 November
Set in the swimming pool of a remote Cuban resort, under refurbishment in the early 2000s.
episode 3: sindanao, 29 November - 14 December
sindanao, takes its title from the fictional South China Sea island in a 1986 Ulli Lommel horror movie, and is set in 2017 just before the opening of the M+ super-museum in Hongkong’s West Kowloon Cultural District.