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All films about prison are wrong
or: A christmas tree in august


Clemens von Wedemeyer, »Big Business«, digital video, mono, 30 min., 2002

In film, »match-cut« describes a special technique of juxtaposition. One recalls the scene in Stanley Kubrick&#rsquo;s classic »2001 – Space Odyssey«, in which a bone catapulted into the air revolves in front of a blue sky, changing after the cut into a spaceship careenning through space. This editing techniques is central to Clemens von Wedemeyer’s film remake entitled »Big Business«. However, here, a prison wall performs the cut, and instead of having two successive images, a filmic allegory from 1929 by comedian du Laurel and Hardy is projected onto the institutional reality of the Waldheim detention centre (JVA Waldheim) in 2002.

The story is simple. Stan and Ollie go about selling Christmas trees in the middle of summer. Big business! They park their car in front of a house, stride through the front yard, ring the doorbell and try to palm the tree off on the door’s unsuspecting opener. Of course he doesn’t need a christmas tree at this time of year. Not accepting being sent away, Stan and Ollie ring a second time. To complicate matters, the tree gets caught in the door, as it is slammed shut on them again. This leads to more ringing of the doorbell, inevitable misunderstandings and rising aggravation on both sides. A quarrel flares up, and the catastrophe takes its course; the pretty bourgeois home (including a piano) and the automobile of the two salesmen alternately become the objects of violent assault. Each party’s attack on the other party calls forth a respective counter-attack, a situation that even a policeman (suddenly appearing on the scene) cannot change, and who also soon finds himself in the midst of utter destruction, incapable of intervening.

Clemens von Wedemeyer transposes this succession of scenes to within the confines of the Waldheim detention centre, perhaps to examine the argument of the prison as being a mirror of society. Yet, while Stan and Ollie’s comedy, in which the common right to freedom of opinion is clelebrated in its most violent variations, attacks the fetishes an values of pre-war middleclass America, the inmates in Wedemeyer’s remake are subject – in a strangely awkward manner – to the logic of imprisonment: as expressions of mobility, self-determination, luxury and culture, the car, the house, the piano, like the Christmas tree too, causing such conflict in summer (and also in a place with the highest suicide rates at Christmas) are decidedly out of place. As a false idyll, and as symbols of a world whose very exclusion constitutes the JVA Waldheim, their destruction represents neither a chain of absurd misunderstandings (Stan & Ollie), nor revolutionary potential (Fluxus), nor even the prisoners’ inherent criminal energy, but no more than a formal act within the order of state sovereignity.

Significantly, the JVA Waldheim provided the basic model of this form of destruction inherent to the system: the prisoners actually build houses not far from the film&rsqauo;s location. In a sort of covered training hall, the »houses« (about half-a-dozen cubicles with parquet flooring an fireplaces) resemble the ready-to-occupy products at a prefabricated housing fair. Built as part of a training programm for later employment as bricklayer or roofer, teh houses’ demolition is an integral condition of their repetitively Sisyphean construction. (Cynics claim that this is an exercise in the Derridean dialectic of construction and deconstruction.)

»Big Business« is a filmic intervention in both spatial and institutional interrelationships, and thus continues on from Wedemeyer’s 35mm short film entitled »occupation« (2001), a production also reflecting the sovereign power of institutionalised spaces (here, the cinema auditorium instead of the prison) determining the conditions of artistic and filmic action. In Wedemeyer’s artistic practise, film is employed both as a medium and as a mode of action: indeed, continuing on from »situationist« and »interventionist« art if the 1960s and 70s, as well as from the contextual strategies of the 1990s, Wedemeyer sometimes exploits film to »actionist« ends, seeking to use it – as integral to the functions an demands of social systems – to display precisely these processes and ultimately expose them in their specifically political structure.

By transporting Stan & Ollie’s comedy into the context of state imprisonment at JVA Waldheim, Wedemeyer installs an uncannily distanced space of action – shifted by filmic imprecision into the distance of aesthetic artificiality – on the very threshold dividing the inner confines of the prision from the outside world. In this »non-space« as ist were, and by means of re-screening, the destruction of the car, the house and teh garden may, at a primariy level, be understood as a bureaucratic automatism. However, in increasingly precise images towards teh end of the roughly 30-minutes film »Big Business«, the extent becomes evident, to which a disallowance of such precarious materials resemble a systematic assault on architecture an on the human body. In the final »murdering« of the piano, the whole physical brutality becomes visible: the destroyed piano is a painful sight.

Alexander Koch
Translation: Oliver Kossack?