Thuistezien 150 — 18.01.2021

Christoph Draeger

Christoph Draeger’s work focuses on a unique intersection between two preoccupations that define his work. On the one hand is an attraction to found images and film and a tendency to interact with them in a fastidious manner, one which focuses on their technical and structural properties. On the other hand is a strange obsession with unexpected, shocking, and at times horrifying moments of human existence that can shake us to our core, be they fictional or real.

There seems to be something specific to be found in this intersection he is drawn to. Like a moth to the flame, we are all unable to look away from shocking moments documented in print or film. In nature documentaries we often see depicted the moment a predator attacks a herd, ultimately capturing a single victim and ruthlessly devouring it. To an upsetting effect. But the more nuanced aspect of this that seems to fascinate Draeger is when the more fortunate herd members who manage to escape will then stop and look back at the bloodshed from a safe vantage point. This moment takes on a new meaning in our world where the sights from the vantage point can be documented photographically and in film.

As such, found materials from news reports or classic films that depict violent and distressing moments find their way into the Draeger’s work in various subtly altered forms. Yet, despite the graphic nature of the depicted images the artist shows a detached methodology in working with the repurposed images. Sometimes the approach seems scholarly, or archival almost, and often he seems to recreate the selected images in what looks like a technical exercise, as if more fascinated with the film as an object than in what it depicts. Possibly it is some kind of attempt to dispassionately and rationally organise these documented moments which in every other way are completely out of his control. As such, his work interlaces reinterpretations of film material with the originals, and other times the artist adds his mark to the originals in an emotionally withdrawn and meticulous way, which yet results in opening new insights into the source materials and the topics they depict. A chasm is opened in the inability to truly recreate found film when he attempts to do so between the source and the imitation, and Draeger seems to distance himself further from the original object of depiction when he alters it, yet the effort and its results shine new light on to the original video and the horror it holds.

In his work ‘Schizo’, Draeger finds a perfect vehicle for these artistic tendencies when he brings together Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic ‘Psycho’ and Gus Van Sant’s 1998 frame-by-frame recreation of it. Van Sant’s film is a baffling and strangely remarkable endeavour, resulting in a colour version of the film with a whole new cast and crew. It showcases an obsessively detailed recreation of the film’s set and cinematography, and uses the original script with only a few minor – yet notable – deviations. Often seeming obsessed more with the methodology of recreating the classic film and less in trying to reinvigorate it for a new audience, the 1998 film proved a commercial failure that confused and angered audiences and critics.

By forcefully overlaying the two films in a simultaneous showing of the scenes leading up to and including the timeless shower scene, we witness the bizarre and brutal fictional crime from a whole new perspective. Sitting alongside each other the two films create two ghost-like instances of one another and Draeger’s ‘Schizo’ becomes an original work that drags the viewer into a surreal and confusing version of an irrational and gruesome act of violence that holds a strong place in our collective pop-culture subconscious. The near forty-year gap in film technology gives the original black-and-white version an almost lo-fi reductive feel next to its more recent colour version, yet at the same time the strange forced replica that is the 1998 film is clearly seen shadowing the original in every way. At the same time, we are invited to closely compare from a cinematographic perspective how the two versions differ, and get to notice every micro-deviation from one another. We sense the strain that is inherent in Van Sant’s film as the actors often seem stifled as they attempt to recreate performances in a level of detail that can never be truly recreated. We see how strange and dated many aspects of the original film seem when forced into a more contemporary context. But we also sense the outpour of the original film’s tense atmosphere through both versions, and bizarrely, we just can’t look away.

Text: James Alexandropoulos – McEwan