July 27, 2015

Asta Upset: A Cinematic Mindfukc of the Art World

Let me come clean with some secrets: I’m not so much into movies (somehow film doesn’t bring me the bliss of escapism that other people seem to draw from it) and I rarely go to the theatre (I just can’t take the risk of sitting through a bad theatre play). Yet recently I bought the newly released DVD of Max Linz’ 2014 movie Ich will mich nicht künstlich aufregen (Asta Upset) because, (a) two critical minds (Anna Bromley and Wolfgang Müller) highly recommended it to me; (b) the movie is about art; and (c) I got to know Max Linz as somebody who speaks a delightful German and I was curious to see how this elocution transfers to film. And sure enough, the film confronted me with what I fear most about the (German) theatre: the artificiality of its set-up (cardboard) and its acting (posing), combined with a strong philosophical load (Brecht) (Adorno) (Brecht). And yes, it references all those genres of film I have mixed feelings about: the American blockbuster, New German Film, French cinéma. And on top of it, it talks about political art and you know how touchy I am about that alliance.

However, I might not sit through most theatre plays once, nor be that keen on the movies, but I saw Asta Upset twice. The thing is, Max Linz crosses and crisscrosses my wires somewhere in between - where the film meets the theatre (the actors don’t speak, they declaim), the theatre is confronted with motion-picture cameras (unreal because too real), and the film extends itself into art (aesthetics is political and the political is aesthetics). It even obeys (hurrah for Germany!) to the Rule Nr. 1 of good art: humor. Admitted, I didn’t grasp the whole movie fully, not only because I’m better in capturing the written words in German than the elocuted ones, but incomprehensibility was clearly part of the deal. Luckily, it wasn’t the International Art Language that made me dur de comprenure but rather the above mentioned Brecht & Co explaining the workings behind the capitalist production process - texts that might not have been written with an eye for what Max Linz formulates so nicely as the “Allgemeinverständlichkeit” (general understanding), but are better to be taken in while being in heightened strata of consciousness, for instance during the Brecht Yoga session of the film. 

But what is most refreshing about this Asta Upset is its visual intelligence. It starts with the casting - except for Hannelore Hoger who is a public face, it is played by a cast of unknowns, and among them also people with the Down syndrome. An unusual sight for the art world, which is quite exclusive and homogeneous as you can notice when gallery hopping, although it claims to be such a liberating place. And although the film is essentially a meta-discourse with multiple references to cinema, advertising, and sitcom, it manages to deconstruct without loosing an own overall style, and this style is not “catchy” , “slick” or “pleasing” - how fresh is that! I can’t actually think of another film that does visual criticism on the art world using the medium of film - I can only think of the Black President by Mpumelelo Mcata that I saw earlier this year at the Berlin Berlinale, but then this one didn’t really hit me. And for the rest we’re inundated by these awful, heroic biographical films on artists like that miserable Jackson Pollock movie or, ugh, the one on Frida Kahlo.

And I didn’t really tell you about the story yet, but I would say Asta Upset is more a film about ideas than it’s necessarily about the narrative (curator searching for an exhibition budget). My favorite scene is the brainstorming session for a curator’s project titled Cool, Cool and Cool: “What is Vogue? Vogue is fashion, Vogue is romance, yearning, aspiration and success. What is Vogue? Vogue is luxury. Temptation and mystery. Light, fire and Riefenstahl. Vogue is between proletarian obscenity and aristocratic perversion... which doesn’t work in Germany. What a pity! Vogue is career. Alone at the top. And men! Expensive men. Expensive perfume. Vogue is knowing the rules of the game. Is inspiration and creativity. Comfort isn’t enough. Luxury!” And this is not the only mindfukc (which is more screwed than a mindfuck) that takes place in Asta Upset. Shall we finish off with the following proposal and try “to think of neo without the liberal and see what is left”?

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