Urs Fischer: Douglas Sirk, review by Freddy Synborn
The title of Douglas Sirk’s film, All That Heaven Allows (1955), comes from a poem by the Earl of Rochester. Sirk was an ironist: how else could he name a melodrama about forbidden love over the class divide after a line from an aristocrat who boasts of buggering servants’ The true connection is between Sirk’s cinematic language and the ironic weightlessness of Rochester’s promise that, ‘if I by miracle can be : This live-long minute true to thee, : ‘Tis all that heaven allows.’ Sirk’s films feel so surfaced as to leave us convince d of a powerful interiority concealed behind the cliché. His characters are sincere to the point of insincerity, so unlifelike that their created individualities dissolve almost instantaneously into the haze of strings and pastel.
The finite space - of time, of film - explodes with a sensation entirely contained within it - this is an idea which interests Rochester, Sirk and Urs Fischer too. Fischer’s exhibition at Sadie Coles centres on mirrored boxes. Onto five sides of each have been printed photographs of the sides of objects: chairs, shoes, screws, cigarette packs, dolls’ houses. The effect suggests the two-dimensional planes of these unremarkable things are being held together by an unseen but material depth. Deformed, they have been recreated to a grotesque scale around mirrors which feel living if only because their audience temporarily live in their reflection. A taxidermist’s duck is the strangest object Fischer reproduces. Standing at about six feet, its Technicolor details are exaggerated to the point where they cease to belong to a recognisable body. We want to believe in its interior life, though its matter is now artificial, its proportions mad. This duck is Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman kissing.
As with Sirk’s, Fischer’s subjects have a scale which makes them superficially reminiscent of human beings. An old sponge looks like a brain suffering atrophy, the pithy, cranial top of half an orange suggests the same organ from another angle and a mask shaped like a fox’s face looks like vacuum-packed bone. Around the gallery, Fischer has hung images of men and women with forks and food superimposed on them. The male figures are blurring of different monsters - Frankenstein’s and maybe bits of John Merrick - over the faces of which are brightly coloured strawberries and bananas. The women are models from the forties, with massively-enlarged forks and spoons similarly juxtaposed against them. The objects have shadows painted around them to suggest a crude and shallow depth. This depth is used to highlight the artificial scale not of these objects but the people, the actors, obscured by the inanimate.
By investing a drama both vivid and inanimate into small, unremarkable things, Fischer does not humanise them but instead seems slyly to make us wonder at our taste for representations of people which dehumanise them into containable sensation. As with the nut and bolt reconstituted from circular to square, our natural shapes and functions are manipulated in art to suggest an alternative, more easily consumed life. Artificiality, it seems, is all that’s allowed.Related Articles