Monday, April 20, 2009

Migrating Forms 2009: "DDR/DDR" (Amie Siegel)

by James Hansen

Eventual winner of the Best Long Form (i.e. Best Feature) Award at the inaugural Migrating Forms Festival, Amie Siegel’s DDR/DDR was a fitting winner as it seemed to encompass many of the festival’s obsessions (religion, national identity, “new media”’s relationship with cinema), while it also offers formal challenges to the documentary form sure to puzzle as many viewers as it enthralls.

DDR/DDR, previously shown in New York at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, takes as its main focus the failed East German state, most namely the Stasi organization. Excavating Stasi archives, Siegel uncovers a strange past and examines the modern relationship that former citizens have with their East German heritage. In both instances, the lines, walls, and barriers between the state and its citizens are constantly challenged, as, the work argues, the lines between victim and perpetrator are never clear.

DDR/DDR traces these problems by tracking the discursive nature of media technology – both through East Germany’s obsession with the Western genre (leading to odd works such as The Sons of Great Bear (1966) which DDR/DDR examines in depth) and Siegel’s own attempts to correctly convert the video’s own message from one spatio-temporal period to the next. The centerpiece of DDR/DRR is a long set of interviews with former East Germans who have created their own Indian commune. Siegel works with these “Indian Hobbyists” to explore their identification with, and removal from, the East German state. Here, the “hobbyists” can perpetrate, as the video argues, their continuing role as a victim in a German society that split half its existence.

The camerawork of the interviews, almost always medium or long shots, keeps DDR/DDR at an appropriate distance from the people and their own cultural identities in order for Sigel’s meta moderating commentary to play with its own “free associative” structure and ultimately allow it to conceptually discover its own identity. This, of course, all plays out in a striking manner. The balance between fact and fiction is iterated formally, similar in many ways to more recent work by Jia Zhang Ke, with a mix of staged and scripted interviews, as well as Siegel’s addition of an overtly reflexive questioning of the work’s processes, functions, and techniques.

With its own focus on the migration of culture, identity, and history, DDR/DDR positions itself in many places at once, while highlighting the fine line between the conclusions it draws and previously established modes of historical identification. A true summation of a Migrating Form, DDR/DDR is a uniquely meditative work with no specific identity as a documentary, fiction, or gallery piece – a perfectly fitting, successful assemblage that reasserts its own communicative strategies and structural challenges. Like its title, DDR/DDR feeds back into itself in nearly every manner, while questioning each movement along the way.

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