At experimental concerts, we generally take it on good faith that the balding iBook musician clicking away on stage is indeed helping to create the sounds we hear, and not checking e-mail or downloading pornography. Yet no such goodwill exists for the documentary image: after so many tales of posed famine victims, scripted reality TV and staged military rescues, disbelief of visual representation has become a reflex.
Though Julika Rudelius makes no claims of vérité, she nonetheless teases out the porous boundaries between the directed and the spontaneous. Two new videos at Diana Stigter present everyday tableaux. “Only sight and touch enable us to locate the things around us” (2003) shows a wheelchair-bound woman busy with her daily chores, and “Looking at the other / desire” (2003) is a semi-stealthy shot of three teenagers with nowhere to go: two amorously engaged, the other a moping third wheel.
Much has been made of how Rudelius fuses real with fictive, as in 2001’s “Train”, in which she has a group of teen boys inimitably recreate a previous conversation about sexual conquest. But perhaps more compelling is how she imbues voyeurism with a refreshing dose of pathos. While the gaze of most reality TV focuses on aspirational glamour, Rudelius instead gives us a broad cross-section of the pitiful and the marginalized: cripples, thuggish teens, navel-gazing outcasts smoking on a bench. These aren’t empathetic anti-heroes, but a rogue’s gallery of losers.
Or are they? Rudelius pulls no punches in highlighting an underdog’s boorish qualities, or drawing attention to just how subjective that highlighting process invariably is. But she doesn’t deny her subjects a voice, even though they may not instinctively use it to defuse clichés. We acknowledge, for example, the righteous quest for respect of the Prada-fetishizing young Turks and Moroccans she interviews in “Tagged” (2003, screened at the Stedelijk) – they may actually be onto something weirdly pure in swallowing whole the transubstantiative promise of brands, but their philosophies on women dispel any reasonable hope of a sympathetic response, feeding the audience’s hunger to feel superior, even elect. Armed with a pinch of misanthropy to ward off easy expectations, Rudelius doesn’t flinch at the risk of codifying the occasional stereotype, if only in the service of bending genres.
(Originally published in Flash Art in January 2003)