Althea Thauberger

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Imagine Action

Mark Wilsher
London: Art Monthly | 2007

Perhaps the most daring and therefore fruitful collision of form and social content in this exhibition [Imagine Action, Lisson Gallery, 2007] came thanks to Althea Thauberger’s wonderful Social Service ≠ Art Project, 2006, a slow-paced black and white digital film shot in an obviously staged interior space. Participation in this project was offered to a group of typical disaffected young men in Berlin as an alternative to community service that is itself an alternative to national [military] service. Can you imagine the response on the first day of work when told that this easy option would involve filming a succession of heavily stylized tableaux vivants based on the real actions and responses of the participants? The men are therefore in a sense playing themselves, and as such have to come up with stylized poses and actions that somehow communicate their thoughts and desires: their own intuitive formalism of the body. A fluid camera circles around these young men as they stand for minutes at a time, arms raised in defiance or looking moodily at the floor. The prolonged duration of each tableau allows us a good chance to assess the belief and commitment behind each pose. But at the same time, as we watch, the arbitrariness of every symbolic gesture emerges as the muscles waver. Explanatory captions precede each scene (‘The individuals divide into two factions and establish protocols and customs’ for instance) and it is possible to follow a fairly clear narrative of the gradual evolution and establishment of a society in microcosm between the men. The film’s success rests on the extent to which this narrative seems to reflect the real relationships between the various protagonists. Are these genuine events that art being translated into abstracted forms? And is this artistic artefact an honest reflection of a set of social relations? It is these questions that underpin the whole exhibition…