|May / June 2005, Vol. 10, No. 5/6|
Matthias Muller: Sleepy Haven
Thomas Erben Gallery
526 West 26th St. 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001
By Aaron Yassin
Film still from Sleepy Haven, 1993.
Sleepy Haven, from 1993, by the brilliant German filmmaker Matthias Müller (b. 1961), is seductive, hauntingly poignant and powerfully abstract. A recent exhibition devoted to this single early work by Müller at the Thomas Erben Gallery afforded a good opportunity to explore it in detail. Müller, who often favors short looped pieces, uses found film and montage to address issues of time, memory, mirroring, repetition, and narrative. In addition to numerous gallery exhibitions his work has been presented at film festivals including Cannes and Venice. Some of his better-known works include Vacancy (1998), Pensao Globo (1997), and more recently Mirror (2002) with Christoph Giradet.
For this installation the gallery entrance and the walls surrounding the projection were covered in black cloth. This succeeded in focusing the space for a very clear experience of the many layers of dream, desire, seduction, longing, destruction, and rebirth that flow throughout this erotic tale of sailors and the sea. In creating this film Müller was inspired by Melville as well as by the imagery in the landmark film Fireworks (1947) by Kenneth Anger. At approximately 14 minutes in length Sleepy Haven loops continuously with only the title marking time between the previous ending and the new beginning.
The film starts with steamships pulling into harbor. One ship, then another, and another, drops its giant anchor crashing into the water. Then there is a male figure, a sailor, lying, rolling, and caressing across the screen as the narrator begins with the singular pronoun, I. Could the narrator be the figure in the image? Could this person, in fact, be Müller or is it yet another piece of found footage spliced in along with the ships, the sea, the veils and the shadows?
Beginning with the title, Haven, which refers to both a harbor were ships dock and a place of rest and protection, it is clear that everything Müller presents is symbolic and has multiple meanings. It is precisely the tension in the different symbolic representations that creates tremendous power in this work as it is woven together into a beautiful abstract tapestry of monochromatic dyed blue film.Müller connects his symbols skillfully using cinematic devices and parallel representations. Each image throughout the film fades to and from black creating a continuous visual rhythm. This connects to the ships swaying, hands opening and closing and continuous repetition of male figures; it also suggests breathing and the pulsing of the heart. On a veil of text the word drowned appears and then appropriated images of Niagara Falls and a figure submerged in water. Muffled narration is coupled with the sound of dripping water and then images of hands grasping, tearing, clutching the cracked, scorched earth and tearing it apart. The seductive male figure returns sleeping and dreaming of his unfulfilled desire and longing, and finally there is the sound of deep echoing as ships sail out to sea.
|all content © 2006 Aaron Yassin|