by Claudia Siefen-Leitich
With her seemingly never-ending energy, there is a moment when you experience the painter and filmdirector Mara Mattuschka in peace and in almost frozen concentration, and that is while eating in a restaurant. As a performance artist, painter, author, actress, professor and even singer, Mara Mattuschka surprises her audience time and again and is one of the figureheads of Austrian avant-garde cinema. The body is at the centre of Mattuschka’s work, quite conscious in its impulsiveness and defectiveness, through which the unconscious seems to burst forth and leap at us. If one allows it to. Born in Sofia in 1959, she studied painting and animation with Maria Lassnig at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, but began to explore the medium of film at an early age.
With QVID TVM Mattuschka has made her first feature film in 2012, where the main character named Guckilein watches her mother falling in love, observes herself having sex and finally brings her love… a plate of soup. With graceful powerful steps the fat eyes twitch, and the mother tries to distribute some muffins. The building in question is huge and houses all kinds of people with their desires. People are dancing, this feeling is dancing. Love! What is that actually? Guckilein remains confused, just looking, and the dancer Sandra Bra confuses in beguiling beauty. QVID TVM! That’s how it is. This film emphasises the special position of an exclusive living world presented here by the figure of an art curator – who has to stay outside. Inside, however, there is plenty of room for improvisation and the art of living. From oblique camera angles, one follows a rather loosely assembled scenic round dance, which has a lot to offer, from vocal exercises to poker games with expressive gestures, sex in the open air to various forms of (dance) theatre. Gucki is the character who curiously moves through it all.
The art of looking, the eyes would stretch invisible tentacles towards the images and meet those of the images halfway, an art historian once explains in QVID TVM. A model of perception by the philosopher Plato that is not accidentally touched upon in Mara Mattuschka’s film: In her artistic cosmos, too, gazes, bodies and images intertwine. It is about changing relationships between figures, about the haptics of expressions and representations that break with rigid forms and are happy to suffice themselves for once!
In peace and in almost frozen concentration, a conversation almost without words, I came to see the cooperation of Mattuschka and choreographer and dancer Chris Haring. Dream and reality are one and the same in life. All that energy needs its way out. Dancing, movement and words: ¨N-n-n…¨ one dancer starts, ¨n-n-n-nack-nack-naked- Naked n-n-n-noodles. Naked noodles!!¨ Bursting and flaming. And the dancer goes on: ¨Penetration, penis, pussy, peppers, paradise, prostitute, perfection¨. But there is also a „clear“ story in this wonderful orgy of movement called Perfect Garden. A mafia boss seeks control of a cosy establishment and while watching and listening to the dancers he finds unexpected his own happiness. Again Mattuschka and Haring are putting emotions into wonderful movements, sounds and the climax of grimacing. Erotic is still not easy to define, whether in a person’s speech or movements, and they bring them all together, leaving the audience with that cheerful desire to move every inch of your body because you have something to say: „Naked noodles!“ „This movie is like a drug“, Mattuschka warned before screening. She gives us five dancers strolling through labyrinthine corridors, whether in a person’s speech or movements.
But let me go back to the restaurant where I sat with Mattuschka, eating pasta salad and chatting about filmmaking. When we agreed that the less you know, the more you stick to rules, dots or commas and are not free. You have to know something thoroughly, from the inside out. Thinking and continuing the following but using it „now“. Maybe with photography, painting has been liberated. It has been freed from the compulsion of depiction. Now something similar is happening in the international film context. On the one hand, there are the blockbusters that have an incredibly epic fantastic breadth and on the other hand, there are the television series that also have an epic length and can have a spread and film has been liberated from the narrative constraint because others fulfill that function, but much better.
The feature-length film is becoming more poetic and now almost fulfills the function of what the short or experimental film used to be. It’s an incredible liberation that others can tell the functions of narrative much better in much more film time and with more means. Making a film according to a relatively stringent script and finding that the passages that want to tell something, that want to follow the narrative strand, seem almost superfluous to any director. Mattuschka mumbled between bites, her next script would be a very stringent narrative script, but it won’t be shot, not a single scene! What will be shot is what was before, after or next to it, but still in such a way that the viewer can piece together the story. Without this aid, without this obstetrics, which are unnecessary. Let us believe for a moment that feature-length film is given a chance on the one hand by the democratization of the means of work and on the other hand by this liberation from narrative constraint.
Liberation and compulsion seam currently close to each other. Individualization and commercialization are still the poles of body culture today. The industry is behind ever new sports that demand ever more futuristic accessories. The art of dance has also become part of a commercially driven body cult. The art of movement and dance (in theatre or cinema) oscillates between attracting and and repulsion of mystical content, without ever being able to completely shed their actual ritual function as integration, reflection and preparation for social change. Mattuschka continues working on that and leaves the audience with humour and wisdom: in the end, it is always political to put the emphasis on the intimate, the private, the spiritual.