Stop Acting, – The Truth Is Real!

Susanne Altmann, Curator, 2008

Apart from the English subtitles, the screen remains dark, becoming a symbolic space or, better still, opening up a literally psychological dimension: for whatever the voice-off now says, those watching can add their own images and ideas. In other words, our very own compilation of social clichés, theater productions attended, artworks, personal encounters, and understandings of gender roles. We hear the voice of an elderly woman reciting the most famous dramatic monologue in German literature, the words from Goethe’s Faust when the ageing scientist, more or less free of illusions, wrestles with his understanding of the world and of nature. A bitter text bordering on desperation, inspired by a striving for knowledge and an admission of ignorance.

Usually, of course, this passage is spoken by a man. But its universality appears almost independent of gender, especially since it reflects on a process of maturing as well as the irreversibility of the ageing process and of human ambitions. The 80-year-old Leipzig actress Christa Gottschalk became famous in East Germany in the role of Gretchen, a part she knows inside out. After a fulfilled life on the stage, she clearly has no problem identifying with the figure of Faust himself, thus striking the listener as credible. In the prologue she explains that if it had been Gretchen, a younger actress would have had to do the job, and that she decided in the course of lengthy preliminary discussions with the artist not to make a visual appearance. This position is entirely understandable, but it also says something about social norms, from which old age is still considered a deviation.

Subtly and with great respect, Porten lays bare such mechanisms of construction and deconstruction, of self-perception and perception by others. The projection screen fills with imagined images and gestures. It seems only logical that this particular work focuses on the invisible workings of such phenomena. Over a period of years, she studied gender stereotypes and their impact. The animated film The Beard Stroke (2004), for example, traces the range of possible meanings of a common gesture—that of stroking one’s own chin—between pensiveness and eroticism, between a specifically male connotation and its use independent of gender. Here and in her study Take off a Sweater (2005), Porten did the acting herself. As her artistic radius grew, her works began to feature other actors; in the case of the Faust monologue and Stop Acting…The Truth is Real! (2007), they also act as test persons in a quasi anthropological experiment. Stop Acting… explores the overlapping stage and real-life behavior of the Ukrainian actress Tamara Plaschenko. The piece takes its cue from an episode when the actress suddenly recognized herself on the stage in a different country, in a different language, played by a younger actress. Many years previously, she had been filmed in Chernobyl and this material was used in a Swedish play. What she initially recognized were words, a joke she had told at the time. But she could also identify herself by a specific repertoire of gestures, facial expressions, and body language. This prompted Marion Porten to work with Tamara Plaschenko on reconstructing these events—as a many-layered interview situation and reenactment. Over the course of working together, it became increasingly clear that authenticity as an expression of uncontrived truthfulness can only be conveyed via the acting out of non-acting. A complex, paradoxical situation which the resulting work tries to capture with its repetitions and experiments.

But like Marion Porten’s previous studies, the film also shows archaic patterns that shape our interpersonal contacts, at the same time as unmasking the inconsistency and negotiability of social and cultural conventions: Stop Acting…

Text aus:
Marion Porten / Einzelkataloge der Columbus,
Ohio StipendiatInnen 2008
Hg. Kunsthaus Raskolnikow, Dresden