Following the passing of renowned Austrian artist Maria Lassnig, a body of new films was unearthed from the artist’s estate, pieces that marked a continuation and elaboration of her unique and exploratory approach to the human form and its movements. This body of films has traveled to New York this month, following a close collaboration between the Maria Lassnig Foundation and the Austrian Film Musuem to execute an attentive and exacting restoration, resulting in their presentation as Maria Lassnig: New York Films 1970–1980 at MoMA PS1.
The show highlights both finished films and film fragments, all produced using 16mm, 8mm, and Super 8, comprised of live action footage, animated drawings, animated paper cut-outs, and documentary footage of the artist’s studio and her surroundings in New York. Incorporating animation, sound and poetics into a swirling assemblage of images and icons, Lassnig’s videos function as a sort of playful counterpoint to her painted work, presenting a body in space as much as a body in flux. Parts of the human form twist and writhe on screen, subject to the artist’s own manipulations and inclinations towards gradual, flowing movements. In some works, the artist explores biographical points and ideas, exploring her own visage on camera, or suspending her body in a vortex of different poses and framings. In one piece, legs spin in place, as hands and arms run up and down their surface, creating a series of overlaid patterns that complicate the visual perception of the body, and its function in relation to the filmed image. Rather than a rote depiction of the image or subject, Lassnig is interested in its agency on-screen, its actions and gestures adding up to create something beyond an easily read index of parts and pieces.
With this in mind, the newly surfaced films enrich and complicate readings of Lassnig’s approach to figuration and self-portraiture, as well as other key themes that she investigated throughout her career, including the social roles assigned to women, the tension between public engagement and private seclusion, and questions of technological advancement, especially of imaging technologies and shifts in the way images circulate. Moving away from rote questions of representation and identity formulation in mediated environments, Lassnig, as always, seems occupied here with behavior and image, how the actions of the body and the human mind can ultimately render new forms and iconographies visible in whatever medium they pass through. Presented here through Lassnig’s endlessly inventive artistic lens, this concept adds new energy and vitality to a body of work already bursting with the expression of life itself, and its mediation through art.
The show is on view through June 18th.
— D. Creahan
Maria Lassnig: New York Films 1970–1980 [MoMA PS1]