The event and the big bluff by Mona Schieren

Singing tents, knocking lockers, dancing photos and a video travel guide for the outskirts of one of the largest cities of the world. Documents of „reality“ and their fictitious continuations often unite in the installations of Stefan Demming to suggestive stories, to which the viewer associates – but which also make him doubt his own ability of perception.
In Camp 3 (2005), a media installation by the artists group SMC that was shown in the Überseemuseum in Bremen, 26 camping tents were illuminated in different combinations every second. Stefan Demming (alias stemming) extends this installation to an audiovisual device for the interpretation of films in Camping ensemble (2007). Twelve blue tents represent a moving image that is reduced to only twelve pixels. In accordance with the measured brightness of the film sequence the lamps in the tents are continually being dimmed. Also a sinus tone can be heard in each tent, varying according to the brightness of the lamp. Thus a polyphonic composition arises. Random selection marks the composition of this piece while the methodology of the possible compositions is determined.
In visual terms this principle also applies to the installation Kleiner Bildertornado/Little picture tornado (2004), which consists of four machines for blowing away leaves and several hundred photos lying on the ground. The machines are arranged in a circle, facing each other. Every seven minutes the machines change the arrangement of this private archive by blowing it around. For eight seconds the gusts hitting on one another with a big noise thus produce a small whirl of flying photos, causing the viewer to form new chains of association.
In the piece Engels Dias/Angel’s slides (2004) a similar method is applied, which also reminds of the securing of evidence (Spurensicherung)1 . For this installation Stefan Demming saved approximately 2500 private slides from the garbage: a collection of a man called Helmut Engel, which he had taken on several journeys from 1950 to 1980. Demming digitalized the slides and labeled them with keywords Engel had noted on the slides. These keywords are combined randomly by a computer program that presents a different set of images together with the keywords every second. Thus a moving line of images evolves, which reminds of Bildatlas. Accompanying the visual ma-terial selected audio tracks from Stefan Demming’s own travel archives can be heard. The arrangement of these travel documents helps the viewer start his own imaginary journey. At the same time the installation raises ques-tions about the authenticity of the presented constellations: How are the scenes connected to each other? What might have happened next to what we see according to the chosen camera angle? What did „really“ happen? Or is all in the end only a big bluff?
„To speak of an event is to say, what happens, i.e. to communicate things as they present themselves, to describe historical events as they have taken place. That is the problem of information.“2 According to Derrida it is questionable to define an event as „a report of knowledge” or information as „cognitive speaking or description”, because speaking necessarily always follows the event. It is even more difficult to apply this to films as the technical reproduction itself is part of the construction of the event instead of merely illustrating it.
Stefan Demming’s installations often focus on questioning the truth of images and dealing with the „impossible possibility of communicating about an event“. As a graduated historian he often refers to history as being constructed. Using both individual and collective memories, which in turn are shaped by personal memories as well as by socialization through media, he creates collages, which combine familiar and unfamiliar elements. His latest work refers to a place where public and private spheres clash: the city. „The city is invisible: If you look at it from close to it, it only reveals extracts, but if you observe it from a large distance it hides its details“3 the office for cognitive urbanism, a group of artists and researchers, notes.
This quote describes a problem that also the two travellers Wonne Ickx (architect and urbanist, Mx/Be) and Stefan Demming were faced with during their search for the outskirts of Mexico-City.
„A perspective, that focuses on the city, tries to meet the unreal. In these terms the city represents a phantasm.“4 The film The edge of the city (2007) shows the search for the outskirts and the encounter with the phantasm „Zona Metropolitana de la Ciudad de Mexico“ (ZMVM). Urban interest merges with the curiosity of a tourist in a video collage that shows a „trip through the urban (un) reality of one of the biggest cities of the world“ (Ickx).
From a bird’s-eye view the sea of light of the mega city in the night is a magic moment. After this opening scene the film becomes a mixture of a heroic epic, a news channel program and a travel diary. Instead of hearing a typical documentary voice over the artist’s very personal comments make one aware of the construction of the narration. This suggests various stories and makes one doubt the truth of them at the same time.
Members of the youth gang the „Cacos“ (thieves) talk about the rules in the streets of Neza, a place where the roads aren’t paved. „As if God forgot to come ‘round here to pave the roads,” one guy comments. The gang members’ dreams are focused on a border that is further away than the city boundary: the USA. An ostensible edge of the city is the urban highway, which runs straight for miles from Neza to Ciudad Azteka. However, behind it a gated community was being constructed at the time the film was made – with walls around it and uniformed security guards in order to dissociate oneself from the rest. In the north, a wall that was built to stop the city from growing has already been overwhelmed by new settlements. In the south traditional Chris-tian feasts are being celebrated in modest dwellings, whereas in the rich west the skyscrapers of Santa Fé, an international business headquarter, stretch towards the horizon. Gratefully the travelers reject an offer to film a kidnap-ping. However, in the initial scene a man with a mask „saves“ a woman: a scene, that alludes to the cliché of the legendary Mexican fighter Santo and comments on his heroic performance in Mexican films.
In suggestive scenes the storytelling is demonstrated and maintained at the same time. Presenting personal experiences of the artists, the narrative perspective shows how subjective a point of view can be but how one never-theless tends to look out for the unreal. The relation between the supposed real and the unreal, the present and the virtual is constantly being reorganized, while differing facets of experience are demonstrated. Like a music piece The edge of the city jumps from one rhythm to another making the „report“ somehow unreal and fantastic.
(translation by Ruta Urdze)

1 The German term Spurensicherung was first introduced by Günter Metken in 1974. He uses it for the conceptual artistic practice of collecting, organizing and working with material in order to secure evidence of an event or person. For its similarity to anthropological methods, it is also known as “anthropological
art”. Günter Metken: Spurensicherung : Kunst als Anthropologie und Selbsterforschung, 1982
2 Translated from: Jacques Derrida: Eine gewisse unmögliche Möglichkeit, vom Ereignis zu sprechen.
Berlin 2003, p. 21.
3 Büro für kognitiven Urbanismus: Prospekt, Wien/Köln 2003, S. 8.
4 ibidem, p. 7