Erik Bünger, review by Jenine McGaughran
This year’s presentations at The Event, Birmingham’s bi-annual art festival were concerned with ideas explored in Plato’s seminal text ‘The Symposium’. In its literal and ancient interpretation the symposium provided the opportunity for men to meet, drink and discuss the guiding principles of being. Considered as a cornerstone in philosophy, The Symposium affirms the prominence of the oral tradition in the narrative of history.
Exploring ideas of knowledge transfer and the arena of exchange Grand Union offered a ‘curatorial relay’, an exhibition presenting four artists selected by five curators via a process of discussion, counter suggestion and elimination. Departing from the framework of the symposium ‘Which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together’’ was an exhibition of ‘...multiple voices; different positions coming together and merging indistinctly to link back to a common thread.’ It was this context that Berlin-based artist Erik Bünger presented The Third Man (2010). Available as both video and live lecture The Third Man relates to notions of multiplicity in its use and appropriation of film clips, ranging from well known movies such as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music to lesser known Hollywood adaptations such as Charles Laughton’s haunting Night of The Hunter. Hitherto unconnected film clips were sewn together, linking their unconnected narratives to create a quasi-logical, linear argument.
Staging proved critical: the artist poised before a stark light, casting a dark, foreboding shadow and throwing his body into silhouette. Performing this lecture in tandem with the works filmic counterpart attributes an authority: the artists’ authored authority. Bünger brings the viewer on a tendentious journey through recontextualised media, attesting to its veracity in its convincing delivery and the seamless, yet subtle connections between each composite segment. A skilfully selected scene from Night of the Living Dead creates the opportunity to introduce the music box, adding to the already haunting atmosphere of the performance. Indeed, the music box could be considered to be an analogy for the performance or the nature of the genre itself, enacting its own demise as it slowly chimes to a halt. While the music box alerts the viewer to the ephemerality of the moment it conversely illustrates the endless potential for the sampling of media forms for alternative ends via their intelligent and cunning appropriation. Existing works with a relative permanence in the world have the potential to be constantly resurrected, relived and thus reinterpretated. Whilst the nature of performance necessitates that it is quantified in the terms of its given context.
If we are to consider this work within the milieu of the mutual exchange of knowledge by means of the spoken word Plato’s Symposium offers its most appropriate starting point. Similarly, the curatorial relay mirrors the very framework of The Third Man, bombarding the viewer with a maelstrom of conflicting ideas to create a structure and narrative which is not only entertaining but entirely plausible.