Since 1986 my artistic work deals with abstract painting and single - frame
films.The result are artistical processes at the edge of static and moving images.
Similar to that, I always follow a visual theme in my films. Despite of filmic
aspects you can understand these films as pictures that have a dynamic
dimension in time.
The films of the series Ballett 1986 - 1988 were performing pictorial processes,
releasing the means of animation film from the rigid frames of filmscripts.
I used the technique of multiple exposure in the film Ikonostasis for the first time.
Ikonostasisis based on drawings combined on strips. These strips were part
of my first installation at the Fischerhalle in Linz.
In the following films multiple exposure plays a definite role. The mixing of
several levels and the invisibility of the result until the film is projected, is
corresponding with methods of the informel disposition of my pictures:
drawing blind and working as spontaneous as possible. The accepted
incident makes it possible to create films as well as to paint with upmost
NATURE IS A BEINGThis assertion, once made by Goethe, can be comfortably placed at the beginning of reflections on Thomas Steiner's work. Indeed, these few words stress the conjunction of humans and nature, and are proximate to the state- ment of Albrecht Dürer, who wanted to conquer nature with his art, "only he who can tear her out, has her." For Dürer, too, she was "a being" to be recog- nized. Although the attempt to pry nature's secrets from her was still a meti- culous sketch in the days of Goethe and Dürer, today it is no longer a contra- diction to take up the theme of nature without depicting flower, tree and hill, but rather seeking its innermost essence and making room for sensations in expressive abstraction, with grand gestures and artistic passion, correspon- ding to the moment of drawing and painting. The awareness of being part of nature results in a genuine approach, enabling a freedom of observation and making insight possible.Making relationships, creating conjunctions, allowing confrontations, enabling encounters. These are the tasks that life sets and which take shape in art through the urge to depict and the search for truth. It is not the superficial reality of the commonplace, but rather the inner condition that becomes the actuating content, determines rhythm and form. Objectless art is far ahead of object art in this process, as it has a far more comprehensive opportunity for association and is far better able to delve into the unspoken values.Thomas Steiner is graphics artist, painter and filmmaker. In his art, these three paths of working conjoin to form a convincing formal multiplicity. Static and motion, calm and restlessness, order and chaos are the respective poles, around which he circles and which define his images. The processual course of work becomes clear, without one medium disturbing another, but being instead mutually conditional and comple- menting one another in a way that is at once harmonious and highly charged.The concept of the works is confrontation and exploration, both in terms of the content and the technique. The composition is convincingly simple and yet extremely complex. Thomas Steiner poses the monochrome surface against the expressive gesture, thus defining contemplation and spontaneity and using the possibilities of painting and of graphics to an extreme degree. Involuntariness and consciousness, intellect and emotion are closely related to one another, and he knows exactly how to use each medium with concentration, discipline and skill.Even though much emerges in art from the subconscious and the artist himself is a medium, still and particularly in conceptual works, the intellect plays an important role. Thomas Steiner works in blocks that he forms into groups, which are already conceived in the creation phase as belonging together, through which they acquire an inner har- mony, although the formal solution appears as the confrontation that he seeks to reach with his work. Attentiveness and precise observation need to be compelled by the con- vincing solution of the task at hand. Thus the pictures are created, one after another.Like the frames of a film, the separate blocks of four or six are synchronized and tuned to one another on several tables. The individual steps are planned, decisions of color t aken serially, and the aim is to relate the works to one another, but keeping them variable at the same time. Several levels and layers are needed to reach the last step, which picks up from the characteristics of the preliminary work, sensitizes and completes it, thus re- sulting in the interactivity of the images among one another.The working days are marked not only by a creative spirit, by energy and immediacy, but are also subject to vacillations, changing moods. Intellect and analysis alternate with self-criticism - for there are no corrections, only successful or not successful. This kind of artistic work particularly, which follows no trends, but rather relies com- pletely on itself, requires a critical spirit that is not satisfied with merely obvious aesthetic solutions. Thomas Steiner is aware of this danger, and for this reason, he continuously attempts to question and clarify his position, and he does not let go of his works, until he is sure they can stand up to his stern gaze.For Thomas Steiner, nature as the starting point and basis for life, thinking and artistic agency is closely linked with the consciousness of the recurrence of die and become. Knowing of the eternal circle that has no end is also a perpetual impulse and a challenge to his development of images, to his striving for confrontation and encounter, and for his constantly recurring question of the continuing path of life and of art.Angelica Bäumer, September 2000
PRISMS AS PROGRAM - AND STRATEGIES OF CONCEALMENT?Andrea van der Straeten"Everything grows out of everything else..."1 wrote Yud Jalkut in 1967 in a short text, in which he differentiated the terms mixed media, intermedia, etc. based on the experimental approaches of the total theater of the 1920's in the course of the ongoing discussions of expanded cinema in the 60's. At the same time, he attemp- ted to redefine these terms with a view to more sophisticated technical possibilities in the future. Decades later and well practiced, so to speak, in the routine of an expanded praxis of the mutual pollination of the arts, a statement like Jalkut's does not evoke in us so much a thrill at an unusual transgression of boundaries between artistic discipli- nes, as a slightly condescending smile: yes, ... everything grows out of everything else... Is there anything to add to that? At the turn of the millennium, we know how to deal with the cultural compost of the 20th century. Our view has become cooler, perhaps even more calculating than it was in the hot period of the first avant-garde experiments. Indeed, there is rather a stronger interest in (re-) defining reality, materi- ality, information, etc. again and again with an analytic gaze through various media.Since the early 90's, Thomas Steiner has been developing a filmic oeuvre with and sometimes parallel to painting. For this, "everything grows out of everything else" could almost be a meth odological motto, which the following is intended to detail more precisely. In these 16mm films, diverse artistic and occasionally acoustic material is organized in rapid rhythmic sequences. The purely drawing repertoire or the gestural painting of the early work group IKONOSTASIS (92 and 94) is expanded in RHAPSODIE (98 together with the author Richard Wall) by writing - including its characteristic as a pictorial element, as in the tradition of the poetic texts of the Vienna Group that became pictures. The photography that became so important in later films like ZOCALO (97), HALLE II, SCHWENK (both 98) and WALK (99), "sneaked into" the films in a way, as Thomas Steiner says. Does this formulation express perhaps a skepticism that the reference character of photography could subvert the fundamental strategy of these films by infiltrating the strict, rhythmic dramaturgy of the picture sequence with the germ of an unintended narration? At first glance, the artist's intention seems quite obviously to seek statements that are more structural than literary, to amalgamate different and thoroughly heterogeneous elements to the point where the boundaries bet- ween haptically experiencable material qualities, like chalk lines or oil paint mixed with ground pumice, and the technical materiality of layers of film dissolve com- pletely into one another. Two respectively static media, painting and photography, are animated in the non-time-dependent medium of the moving picture. From the synthesis of the compositional principles of the two single media, a third inevitably evolves in the final medium of filmic projection. In this respect, these films follow the principle of depicting "... not primarily structures of the `world', but rather structures of the `film'. The matrix and depiction procedures that constitute the `normal film', serving it in non-problematical, trivial, unconscious ways, are being topicalized again by the experimental film itself. Experimental films are thus not to be understood as films, but rather as `theories about films', as `meta film language'."2 Thomas Steiner's films attempt to redefine experiences with the image and material language of painting and drawing especially, but also of photography, with the new vocabulary of film. His artistic intention is thus not to formulate a story by animating what is in- herently static in a moving picture, but rather to create a kind of new, open system with the organization of the various compositional components. Yet who relies entirely on a first glance? "Perception is nothing other than the dynamic search for the best interpretation of the available data, the active organization of the material of irritation."3 This technoid description entirely in keeping with a computer-dominated upheaval was how Günter Minas saw the approach to and cognitive interest in experimental films in the late 80's. What do I see, what can I apprehend according to the organization of my perception by probing the rhythmic pattern of images in Thomas Steiner's films?We cannot avoid the necessity of having to describe films in order to write about them. In the following, I would like to take four from the series of films since 1992 to illustrate how Thomas Steiner's concentration on the exploration of diverse materialities may be comprehended. Of course, these descriptions also reflect my cognitive interest and the assumption that there is indeed a subtext to be found under the apparently structural surface of the films. Although I would not necessarily call this subtext a narrative, it opens a space of associations that goes beyond an orientation to material and the filmic processing of it.SCHWENK, 1998, 5 minutes without sound seems to precisely affirm Steiner's description that photography sneaked into his attempts to come to terms with painting and film. Abstract black and white drawings enter into such a perfect synthesis with color photographs of bare, black trees in a white, snow-covered landscape, that the boundaries between the gestural, drawing/painting material and the depicting material blur in some phases to the point where they are virtually indistinguishable. Light reflections and shadow sections, something like the quick random graphics hurled against the window pane of a speeding express train, fragment the overall image, simultaneously creating perspectival distortions, bright insights into dark surfaces, and defining the rhythm. The drawing surface merges with the surface of an imaginary window pane as a quasi filmic projection screen, separating the space as a whole into an interior space, from which the viewer can look out into an external space that is nevertheless a fictive one. At this point, I would like to refer again to Yalkut and his attempt to define inter- media as an instrument for questioning our concept of reality; he cites... "the possibility of understanding humanity or having a relationship to God does not consist in looking out a window or into a mirror, but rather the ability to see the window in the mirror and the mirror in the window. Only then does reality become possible."4HALLE II, 1998, 7.5 minutes with sound, also works with the definition of space and perspective that is differently staged in painting, photography and film. "Spatiality is created in film by the aspect of time, whereas it is mastered in painting through spatial manipulation. The function of time for the expression of slow movement is linked with an emotional effect. Following a slow movement, you are not influenced by the slowness of the object's movement, but rather by the fact that it involves the wrong speed, which you conclude from the rate of your own heart beat."5 In HALLE II, there is no question of slowness in the organization of the structure of space. In the staccato of the quick switching of stills, enhanced by the even stomping of an imaginary industrial or printing machine, photographic views of an interior and an exterior are contrasted, clearly defined here by the recognizable views of the industrial window fronts of a hangar architecture. The result is in fact - as Maja Deren described it, as the opposite of time-lapse, so to speak, from a principle of the construction of her own films as a slow-motion effect - an emotionalization through speed: the fragmentation of the gaze, the "gaze sliver" as Thomas Steiner has defined it in a different context, finds itself in a highly charged contradiction to the pre- sumed spaciousness of the old industrial hall. The montage of views of the building and from inside the building in hard, quick succession leads to associations of imprisonment and panic. Where are the shadows of birds on these thousands of window panes that reveal the space behind the window panes as what it is and unreachable as such? Prisoners from a near-by jail are actually supposed to have worked in this now derelict industrial hall. Of course, this information is not given in the film, at least not as a fact, yet it is emotionally comprehensible as a possible associative subtext.ZOCALO, created between 1992 and 1997, 7.5 minutes, partially with sound, provides the most detailed introduction to the artist's working method and intention. Image layers and sound tracks are multiply superimposed into a complex total impression, pulsating and breathless, like driving a motorscooter and looking at the world through a prism at the same time. Seemingly magically charged images of a strange and colorful Mexican culture, that is yet somehow familiar in its references to catholicism, are placed next to or opposite relatively banal snapshots of a holiday trip. Images are repeated, yet without releasing a view of an obvious compositional, structural principle. The montage clearly follows less an exactly pre-defined score, but more of an associative, even ran- domly defined pattern. Yet does randomness itself, in particular, not already contain a germ of the most minimal narrative? It is not at all the case that the picture information is merely combined or faded in with the graphical/painterly information. It seems instead as though it is un- covered, layer by layer, and transported to the surface. Similar to scratches in the coating of the color film material, the graphic line leads through the color spectrum to the blank film of the picture layers below and transports more and more image information to the surface in the course of the film. Correspondingly on the acoustic plane, the superimposed sound tracks are faded out one at a time, until the last singular sound track fades out in silence, while the images continue like an extremely long echo. Paradoxically, this results in an impression of overflowing abundance, that is created by systematically reducing the amount of information, removing various layers of material, uncovering what is underneath. The film begins with a painted black surface - like a reference to painting, to Malevich's Black Square, under which the photographic image information is uncovered, line for line through layers of colored foil. The image sequence, allowing the respectively more comprehensively revealed images to appear perceptible longer in a temporal dimension as well, makes it clear in the final, soundless part of the film that it is not at all a matter of material that is only structurally arranged or rhythmized. Despite the repetition, this image information is not redundant, but rather "information that makes a difference."6 In particular, the apparent randomness, with which the quickly recognizable, snapshot-like holiday photos are pulled to the surface, leads to a hierarchization in a wordless stream of images, similar to the way unexpected images emerge in the greatest clarity in dream sequences. Cees Nooteboom found an expres- sive image for this process that we cannot rationally control: "Memory is like a dog that lies down wherever it feels like it."7WALK, 1999, 3.5 minutes with sound, opens up a view of a photograph of a family walk, over and over through layers of material, in which drawn lines spread out craquelure-like, like cracks in the emulsion layer. Yet here, too, the order in the image material results in a kind of dramaturgy: supported by the sounds of distortion, as viewers we enter further and further into sections of the very same photograph. It is not a matter of a structurally ordered rustling, but rather of a tangle of mutually referential information: the drawing refers to the scratch of a damaged layer of film, this refers to an old (?) family photo, zoom and sound to something concealed - something to be deciphered?A symbolic order emerges that goes beyond the system of formal films. Instead of a redundancy of information, there is information that makes a difference, constructing a world of relations and involving the viewer in an act of searching or communication. "This characteristic of redundancy, being a difference that makes no difference, is a communication-theoretical trans- lation of what Heidegger calls world's forgetting of worlds. Yet there is world. The world of the system, of the place-ment, the world that continues to work along the same lines, like a machine, but there is no more information in the place-ment. The meaning system gets lost... What happens when information becomes redundant? The result is boredom and meaninglessness. The rigidity and the lifelessness of redundancy motivate a turning. In communication theory, what Heidegger calls the turning may be considered as the creation of information. Information is created so that communication takes place again. Unconcealment also happens inside it by refusing.."81Jud Yalkut: "Understanding Intermedia", p. 92 ff. in: Avantgardistischer Film 1951 .p.71: Theorie. Ed. Gottfried Schlemmer,Munich 1973 2Bernhard Lindemann: Experimentalfilm als Metafilm. Hildesheim/ New York 1977. p. 11 3Günter Minas: 10 Thesen zur Wahrnehmungspsychologie des Experimentalfilms. In: Ingo Petzke: Das Experimentalfilmhandbuch Dt. Filmmuseum, Frankfurt/M. 1989 4Yalkut. op.cit. 5Maya Deren: Lecture on April 6, 1951 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. In: Avantgardistischer Film 1951 . 71: Theorie. Ed. Gottfried Schlemmer, Munich 1973. p. 29 ff. 6cf. David J. Krieger's "Übersetzung der Heideggerschen Metaphysik-Kritik in die Kommunikationstheorie" in : David J. Krieger: Kommunikationssystem Kunst. Wien, Passagen Verlag 1997, p. 71 ff. 7Cees Nooteboom: Rituale. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M. 1998. p. 9 8Krieger, op.cit.
Please look for pictures of the artworks in the german section.If you have any remarks on the artworks, please feel free to contact me.