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"BERLIN CALLING" Wolf Kahlen's Video-Performance Ann-Sargent Wooster The work of Wolf Kahlen (1940- ), Berlin artist and teacher, veteran ofover two hundred shows and one of the first in Germany to be involved with video and performance, is little shown in America and virtually unknown by his American peers, many of whom he has helped to show internationally . Empathy and the act of perception are the subjects of Kahlen's performance and video work. In the late '60s and early '70s he formulated his work in terms of an understanding of certain relationships in the world. He believed that of the two major ways of reacting to a situation-adjustment and assimilation-the more desirable condition was assimilation. Perception or the process of knowing, especially through the senses, is another continuous theme in Kahlen's work. Using basic devices-parts of the body, simple props, ordinary aspects of nature-the pieces either intensify the bond between viewer and subject, or attack it, breaking it down, thereby proving the seductiveness of art and, by extension, life itself. In 1969, Kahlen began working first with film and then with video as natural offshoots of his photographic sequences, which he continues to make today (a collection of his photobooks was shown at P.S. 1 24 during Dec. '80 to Jan. '81). His work with video remains close to the premises of conceptual art prevalent when Kahlen began. Unlike other artists in America who began using the medium at the same time, Kahlen's technological relationship to the medium has remained virtually unchanged from the unsophisticated TV equipment available early in the '70s. He does not think of himself as a video artist, though it plays a prominent role in his work. Video for him is an aid to performance, a way of I) 'e" I r~c-r e c 6 , / X demonstrating some of the basic premises of the medium. Eschewing technological sophistication, the strength of Kahlen's work lies in his ideas and their often peculiar, affective power. Kahlen calls his video pieces "video sculptures,'' and many of them involve the addition of other materials to the monitor. In Frozen Medium--Frozen Message (1977, shown at Anthology Film Archives, Dec. 1980), a monitor is embedded in a block of FtA~,*~;vA - ________________ P~OEfV.4~AMA(E ice. Playing on McLuhan's pronouncements on television as "coolness," the heat of the TV set melts the block of ice. At the same time, a tape ofslow moving hands appears on the screen; by the time the ice has melted, the hands have stopped moving, suggesting a transfer of temperature and activity. Several of Kahlen's pieces further disrupt the usual passivity of television watching. In I Can See What I Want (1977), a closedcircuit camera is trained on the viewer, and his or her picture is shown on the monitor. The picture only comes into focus when the viewer nears the screen, enticing him or her to greater proximity. In front of the monitor obstructing the view is a plexiglass box filled with flies. In a living image of discomfort (as in Hitchcock's The Birds), the flies appear to land on the viewer's face causing involuntary swatting motions. Kahlen calls the work he executed in New York during a 1980 Berlin D.A.A.D. grant Entropies after witnessing conditions in the city. The word is employed in a more circumscribed fashion than in the early '70s as used by Robert Smithson and others to describe vast, time-absorbing geological cycles. Kahlen identifies entropy as discontinuity -Nam June Paik's "Global Groove. " Two video performances from the Entropy series deal with usually unrecognized limits of perception. In one of the earliest approaches , I Can't Get Hold of Her (1975, recreated in 1980), the camera tracks various parts of a woman's head-ears, eyes, nose, lips, capturing them briefly before the camera goes out of focus-showing through concrete maneuvers a greater truth: the ultimate inaccessibility of those one is intimate with. In Body Horizons (made in New York and first shown Jan. '81 at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation), two nude women, one black and the...


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