"There is something about this movie, I just can't put my finger on it…"
Jasper Sebastian Stürup's film drawings By Inger Marie Hahn Møller From the catalog Today We Escape 2008
Today We Escape with Jasper Sebastian Stürup's movie drawings. The museum institutions otherwise white walls have been transformed into the darkness of the cinema - we enter into this intimate, dim room where we for a time are lost and seduced in the dark and in Stürup's fragile, delicate lines and inscrutable world of motifs. The film drawings title with its double meaning points naturally to the movies' classical potential for escapism. In the darkness of the cinema, where for a while, removed from reality, we are transported into another world, one that generates everything from pleasure, lust, angst and hate to tears and delight.
The title refers to the movie world that Stürup is submerged in and draws. A re-occurring feature about these pearls from movie history, all of a more or less obscure character, is that they all in different ways encompass a type of escapism: It can be the escapism of the human in outer space as in the classics - Solyaris, 2001 A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Or it can be of the individual trying to escape his existing reality into hallucinatory drugs, parallel realities, daydreams, sex, lies and constructions. They are in pursuit of a new identity, as when the characters in differing ways grope their way through the drugs, hallucinations, the ravings and the personal breakdowns with genders confused and in a bewildered haze as in Christiane F, Cocksucker Blues, Taxi Driver, Performance, Quadrophenia etc. This forfeiture of the self is categorized in the dimmed rooms of the museum and referring to the cinema; this is also a recurrent theme in the movies Stürup has chosen to rework.
Another characteristic of the movies underlying Stürup's film drawings is the fact that they are movies with a narrow audience. One of the films is practically non-existent. There is a long way from these strange, experimental and hard to access underground films to mainstream Hollywood productions. Stürup's movie sources are lacking the narrative buildup of traditional movies with plot, intro, story line, an arc of excitement and closure. In other words they are movies that contribute to the dissolution of the classic movie genre, in the same way one might say, that Stürup's drawings are dissolving the drawing itself. There exists a subtly underplayed accordance between the exhibitions' form and it's content, between the style of the movies and Stürup's style - both seductively rouse the audience's curiosity and at the same time place essential demands on it's engagement and participation.
Part of the point is that these drawings encircle these narrow films – films that most of us probably only have heard of or seen snippets of, as they perfectly support the drawings difficult readability and barely suggested character, thereby creating a double indecipherable. The fact that we might not have seen the movie doesn't exclude our reading of the drawings, they are not fixed in a specific connotation and they are extremely open to interpretation. The difficult access to the movie becomes a clue in connection with the drawings: The movies genre (or non-genre), their inacessibility for a restless mainstream audience, one which demands action, plot and prefer a happy ending, exists as an underlying theme in Stürup's drawings.
The Machinery of memory
Jasper Sebastian Stürup graduated from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art in 1999. He belongs to the generation of artists who during the 90's and through the new century revived the so-called "old" medias of drawings and painting. A few artists began to dedicate all their attention to the drawing and it's technique and potential, which they expand on and refine into their own full unique expression. Stürup represents with his characteristic fine line this development within the drawing, where the drawing manifests itself as it's own media on the same level as e.g. sculpture and painting.
The characteristics of Stürup' drawings are the neat, intimate, yet confident line, combined with the motifs more cool and sometimes ambiguous figures that affect the delicate nature of the drawing and gives the compositions a contrast-filled expression. Using few elements in unexpected compositions Stürup creates a vibrating seductive mood that whets the audience's curiosity and at the same time draws on a wealth of recognizable motifs from popular culture with references to music, movies, photography, fashion and lifestyle magazines.
Using few but delicate lines Stürup hints the figuration in a play between appearance and absence, motif and abstraction, fragment and the whole, order and chaos. There will often be a minimal but precise notation present on the white paper - loose elements and body parts as, for example, a hand, hair or a plant. The many unfilled fields and "holes" demand an involvement from the viewer who then has to expand on the minimal notes and references. In this way the works seem extremely open yet at the same time are precise, underplayed and calculated. The artists immediate and economized lines draws on our common cultural pictorial archive thereby activating our unconscious collective pictorial universe.
The delicate hints in some works are juxtaposed against small explosions of a very different character. Over the fine lines are areas of uncontrolled spray paint or running watercolor. Eruptions the artist purposely lets intervene in the universe of the lines as controlled coincidences or "accidents". Sometimes these allowed burst of color are clean explosions in red or yellow that unfold over the otherwise black and white field. Other times the artist creates gentle rations of the delicate drawing by cutting holes that abruptly carve their way into the figuration and on closer examination open up other layers, motifs, compositions and contrasts in the piece. Stürup has also worked with foil, as a base for the drawing where the reflecting surface nearly makes the viewing impossible in a traditional sense as the motif gets blurred and the surrounding room and the viewers' body become unwitting participants in the piece.
Form and content reflect each other, the many concrete layers of paper on paper and technique upon technique mimic the complex nature of the motifs. Reflections and perforations expand the two-dimensional medium and at the same time the figuration is expanded by the small holes and views into underlying layers of narrative and nearly invisible dimensions, recalling the character of memory with its never-ending accumulation and unconscious infinite layers of association.
With subtle hinting at underlying structures Stürup evokes activation of the viewers own engine of memory, whereby the many layers, clues and references can possibly be linked to a personal narrative and eventually lead the viewer onto other glimpses of memory and history. This is quite evident in Stürup's film drawings where a specific scene, a particular mood or a remarkable character are distilled from the movie, and maybe - or maybe not - evoke memories in the viewer of a certain cult movie, a special night spent in the cinemas darkness, a favorite actor or a favorite emotion. A movie can surround a movie and take place in the viewers body long after the actual movie and the events surrounding it are long forgotten.
Everybody Cares. Everybody Understands
In Today We Escape Stürup contributes with a video of his own alongside the drawings: Everybody Cares. Everybody Understands. In the dark room we step into the intimate frame of the dressing room, it is the universe of the movie. We see a young woman trying on an amazing dress. She fumbles a bit with the zipper and the straps of the dress; she turns round and round, reflecting her image in the mirror, sorts out the folds and looks over her shoulder. Her awkward fragility and vulnerability In her half-nakedness penetrates the intimacy of the dressing room and our viewing of her - like the white lilies that are cut in like a second layer of images.
The young woman's trying on of the dress is repeated without end - through the loop, but also through the reflections: these are inserted in the video as one endless refractions. We both see the young woman through the camera lens and through the reflection in the dressing room. She pops up repeatedly in steady intervals of ultra short cuts alongside images of the lily. We then see her in the third image of the video wherein the first video is viewed in a cinema-like interior as indicated by rows of chairs standing in front of the screen, making a final reflection, via the cameras' lens. The faceted mirroring becomes a metaphor for the situation in the cinema, where the viewer becomes consumed by a voyeuristic situation up on the screens and its action, as a parody of his own situation in the cinema. By repeating the intimate image indefinitely we become aware of the illusion of the cinema by looking on into a closed world.
In the famous essay from 1973, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, the feminist movie theoretician Laura Mulvey explains how Hollywood's mainstream movies are built up around specific codes of viewing structures, involving an ingenious network of narcissistic voyeurism and fetishism. Stürup plays on all these structures in both the movie drawings and all these lust-based viewing structures - even though he skews, dissects and displaces them. In traditional movie going all the viewer has to do is lean back and submit to the viewing structures andthe moods and lusts that the movie dictates. In Stürup's video and movie drawings this is not at all the case.
Compared to the traditional movies viewing lust here it's not a question of a visual possession of the young woman trying on clothes. She is aware of the camera, she smiles and laughs and talks to whoever is filming. This effectively negates the voyeuristic spying aspect. It's a poetic everyday situation, that we all can recognize - the split-second where reality disappears in the dressing room and the recognition of a heretofore-unknown identity, loosing itself in a beautiful dress, in the mirrors reflection and in the whiff of something news. This is a moment that reminds us of the cinematic experience, where we loose ourselves in the identification with the films' characters. The young woman in the video is as active as he who films and as us, the onlookers. She is not submerged by our glances, as is the case in fashion photography or advertising with its traditionally passive version of visual perfection. After trying on the dress she puts on her clothes and gets ready to leave. The traditional viewing structures and dictum between passivity and activity are subtly displaced in Stürup's small homage to one of everyday life's small vanishing points, in dressing rooms. An escape from reality, one which we all can recognize. Everybody Cares. Everybody Understands.
According to Laura Mulvey there are three differing points of view connected to a film: the cameras', the audiences' and the personages' view of each other within the illusion on the screen. In the traditional movie conventions of the narrative the view through the lens and the audience are denied. The cameras "view" is eliminated to gain the illusions of a perfectly slick surface and to hide the construction of the movie. The audience's view is directed towards and with the hero of the screen and whom the audience is expected to identify with. In this way the audience is not given any space to become engaged or criticize the narrative but must submit to the given conventions of gender roles and structures. In Stürup's video the presence of the camera is not hidden - we even see it in glimpses of him filming in corner of the dressing room. The physical process of recording interrupts and invites the potential for a critical viewing. Thus narrative cooperation is made available in Stürup's video - like the critic, engaged and active viewing are given a place in his drawings.
Non multa sed multum
In the movie drawings these traditional structures are skewed further by the transformation from movie media to the drawing. The drawings don't invite a classic structural narration nor provide a final interpretation of the movie. They present an array of loose fragments, extracting variegated moods. There are reacquired elements - certain gesticulations, screens or actors who are barely hinted at in the characteristic style of Stürup. All this is done without saying too much and without giving away the plot or postulating a final answer. In on of his essays Roland Barthes speaks about the nature of drawing- how scarcity in the expression can lead to a concentration of density, which in turn, leads us towards enigma. The name of Barthes essay is Non multa sed multum. This seems to fit perfectly with Stürup's movie drawings, that the uses of limited marks on the paper have much to say. Perhaps - or maybe not - we can recollect the scenes – anyway it is now up to ourselves to fill in the blanks, to continue the lines and the relationships and narratives the lines hint at. We are invited to fill in the moods, beginnings and openings these motifs quietly strike up.
Stürup's drawings are "slow". They demand time of the viewer. He has to get up close and surrender to the delicate soul of the drawing. These are almost blurred, and in contrast to the living movie images static, completed visual expression. But the movies that Stürup draws are also slow to the point where the slowness can be seen as a rebellion against traditional films requisite use of action and progressive narration. It is the same with the characters in the movies Stürup selects to draw- they are "anti-heroes", again creating a rebellion against traditional movie heroes. The anti-heroes of Stürup's movie sources are almost always immobilized, dysfunctional, introverted outsiders in existential crises.
In Martin Scorsese's classic, Taxi Driver from 1976 we meet the 26 year old Travis Bickle, haunted by insomnia he drives night after night through the streets of New York in his yellow cab. Travis Bickle becomes a symbol of loneliness, and the alienation and isolation of a large metropolis. He is incapable of making emotional connections; his meeting with Betsy is wrecked when he invites her to the local porn theater on their first date. Travis remains an outsider and in the movies slow pace he becomes more and more obsessed with breaking out of his hopelessly depressing existence and finding a new identity. On every street in every city, there's a nobody who dreams of being a somebody - is the movies tag line. In Stürup's Taxi Driver drawing we see Travis Bickle lying on the bed with his can of coca cola the night before one final showdown that must to alter the course of his life. From Travis' slim body beam a network of lines all leading to a chaos of street signs. Signs Travis on his never-ending odyssey through the city has driven by again and again. In spite of all the signs there is no direction in Travis's life. He remains the incarnation of the alienated urban man, in grand contrast to the continuously blinking neon signs of the city, the guidelines and directions, the ads, all of which contribute to the individuals feeling of isolation and loneliness and creating a paradoxical abyss.
In Andrei Tarkovskys Solyaris from 1972 the theme once again is humans isolation and its basis in existence. Here it shown through mans relation with the universe. During the almost three-hour long extremely beautiful movie, we follow the psychoanalyst Kris Kelvin, who is sent to a rundown, degenerated space station hovering over the mystical Solyaris Ocean. The somewhat eccentric Dr. Snaut and the cynical Dr. Sartorius lets Kris Kelvin experience the mystery of Solyaris for himself, before they inform him of the ocean's alarming ability to materialize a persons thoughts. The travel into space becomes a travel within the human; we follow Kris Kelvin's inner conflict trying to understand his ambivalent feelings towards his late suicidal wife who suddenly appears at the space station. What we find on Solyaris in our scientific hunger of mapping and conquering the universe is our own inner fantasies, demons, lusts and preconceptions.
The seductive beauty of Solyaris is a long sensual journey through the silence that pervades outer space and the slowness of the narrative. The scenography creates a strange yet visually seductive play between the surreal placement of everyday objects and their counterparts in the high-tech universe of science-fiction. In Stürup's Solyaris drawing it is this alarming, seductive beauty he captures, as when he draws the intellectual network of references with a thin ink line, tying in the differing elements and their ramifications. The main character in Stürup's drawing is Hari, the late wife of the films hero, who, in recollections and fantasies, in dreams and nightmares, is re-materialized on Solayrius. We see Hari in the upper right-hand corner looking at a photograph of herself, without recognition. We see the first and last of the screens' green plants flowing leaves and water where Stürup has let her hair become one with the waving flow of the plants as a picture of the humans unconscious urges and fantasies.
Hari's knitted shawl that she wears over her floor-length dress throughout the film, are flung over an armchair or draped on a pillow- a theme repeated in Stürup's drawing as a network, with all it's knit stitches and knots mimicking the memory and forgetfulness of the character with all her own loose ends, entangled and full of holes. In the lower right-hand corner we see Hari lying on the floor unconscious and in a dreamlike state. Hari might just be a figment of our imagination, a materialization of the existential longings of man with his visions, angst and lust. In the magical Solyaris drawing by Stürup the networks many loose ends become an invitation to the viewer to go searching in their own memory, to add and expand. With one of his earlier exhibition titles I'm Only Sleeping – a Beatles quote - Stürup points to this stage of memory and dream mechanisms, where the forgotten unconscious and repressed layers are woven into new constellations and symbols.
"There is something about Jasper Sebastian Stürup's drawings, I just can't put my finger on it…"
Inger Marie Hahn Møller, mag.art. i kunsthistorie
Today We Escape are taken from Radiohead's song Exit Music (For A Film) from the album OK Computer, 1997.
Andy Warhol's film Blue Movie was recorded in a New York apartment in 1968, where the filmmakers recorded 133 unedited hours of Viva and Louis Waldon talking, cooking, having sex and taking a shower. The film was shown a few times in 1969, and then it was censored. In response Warhol issued the film as a book through Grove Press with the entire dialogue from the film and still photos. Also Robert Frank's Cocksucker Blues from 1972 is nearly non-existent. Robert Frank documented the 1972 Rolling Stones' infamous tour. Its' unglamorous scenes of touring involving drug use and orgies are captured in the foggy, scratched and grainy movie. Afterwards the Rolling Stones blocked the movies release; the courts decision stipulated that the movie can only be shown once a year and with Robert Frank present.
Laura Mulvey, "Skuelysten og den fortællende film"(1973), Tryllefløjten, nr. 1, 1991, p. 78. Mulvey, p. 81.
Non-multa sed multum translates into 'not many but a lot' and is the title of an essay by Roland Barthes from 1979.
Roland Barthes, "Non multa sed multum" (1979), Kalejdoskop, nr. 6, 1983, p. 26.