Ellipse in Time

Ursula Mayer

September 19 - November 22, 2009

Ursula Mayer (*1970, lives in London) has repeatedly turned to the subject of architecture and its social functions in her films. She does not see spaces as merely film settings or locations, but instead casts them in the role of fictitious characters within a narrative. They stand on an equal footing with the protagonists, who are usually well-known female characters portrayed by actresses using authentic period dress and poses modeled on photographs or film footage. Removed from their time and historic context, they enter into a dialogue in which their rela-tionship remains indifferent, thus allowing various interpretations.

This is also true of Interiors (2006). It is set at 2 Willow Road in Hampstead, London – the house designed by the architect Ernö Goldfinger, where he lived with his wife Ursula Blackwell and his family until his death in 1975. In addition to his wife’s studio and various pieces of furniture designed by Goldfinger, the modernist building houses an extensive art collection with works by well-known representatives of modern art, ranging from Max Ernst to Marcel Duchamp. In the late 1930s, the house was a popular gathering place for the artistic avant-garde. In "Interiors" it serves as a backdrop for two women of different ages, who echo each other’s actions although they never encounter one another directly. They stride through the striking rooms of the house, apparently lost in thought and fascinated by the artworks sur-rounding them. Although the house looks lived in, the two women seem like extras on a movie set or silent observers of an unfamiliar environment. The private, “feminine” sphere of the home is contrasted with the outside world, which features only as the noise of a thunderstorm in the background. The spiral staircase that links the different levels of the building serves as a hinge between the real exhibition space and the setting of the fictional narrative of the film. The projection extends over an entire wall and opens up a further space where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. The alternating use of black-and-white and color footage further manipulates time and reality. A sculpture by Barbara Hepworth is assigned a central role, acting as both a connecting and a dividing element between the female characters and reflecting their hopes of uniting life and art.

The silent film Memories of Mirrors / Theatrical personalities after Mary Wigman and Madame d’Ora (2007/08) stages reenactments of well-known photographs that Madame d’Ora took of Mary Wigman’s Dance Company in the 1920s. These images are visual representations of Wigman’s philosophy; the dancer/choreographer developed her own style of modern dance that broke away from its subordination to music and was characterized by dramatic, expressive gestures. Madame d’Ora (born Dora Kallmus) discovered dance as a subject early in her photographic career and found innovative approaches to representing scenic arrange-ments and minimalist poses. The central female figure in Ursula Mayer’s film wears a se-quined dress that, with her movements and the play of light and shadow, becomes a shimmer-ing, iridescent gown. As the choreography unfolds, her initial self-reflection in a mirror is shifted to the audience, which itself becomes part of the tableau vivant as the mirror reflects the light and short-circuits the space between the dancers, the camera, the projector and the spectators.