My latest studio visit has been rather unconventional, as I didn’t get to visit Bettina Hutschek personally in her studio, but virtually via Skype. One could say I‘ve expanded my visits into the digital realms of the Web 2.0. But as ‘zeitgeist-rich’ as this may seem, one shall not be afraid. I still prefer the tangibility and connectedness of the good’ol visits with the occasional glass of wine! Nevertheless, time and money doesn’t allow me to hop on the next plane to the picturesque island of Malta, where Bettina is currently living and working (she is frequently going back and forth to Berlin, though). So, on the one hand, I’m of course devastated not to see Bettina in her studio, but on the other hand, I’m quite enjoying my laidback virtual visit – with a glass of wine.
Bettina mostly practices within the fields of film and performances, in which she merges reality and fiction in order to open up new realms of perception. Generally speaking, the starting points of her stories stem from legends and fairies that develop into contemporary mythologies intending to offer fresh interpretative approaches. Thus, Bettina strips off certain details and facts – she literally peels off the stories to its fundaments – up to the point, where she starts filling in the gaps with fictional elements again. The ‘naked stories’ should function as intelligible transmitters to other languages, cultures, and times; they then acquire a universal validity and open up new dimensions for subjective readings. What is more, Bettina questions the universality of legends and mythologies, which have been transmitters of common knowledge for centuries.
Have a look at her film YS: Oder ich habe Zweifel am Begriff der Wahrheit (YS or: Doubts about the Notion of Reality), for instance, which is based on the French ‘version’ of Atlantis. The legend is rooted in the Bretagne, where the city Ys gets flooded by God for the sinful behavior of its inhabitants – or rather because of one’s vixen, Dahut, who had the habit of seducing and killing men… End of story: The city count the costs by getting flooded without a chance of atonement. In the video work, Bettina subtracts the story up to its fundaments and adds, adjuncts, merges elements; she translates it into another mindset, while always keeping its veracity and authenticity alive, as well as a vibrant shimmer of doubtfulness. “It’s these archaic situations that attract me to the stories. The rough fundamental questions of how we live in our society; how we come into existence; of what our beliefs are…”
These queries are also starting point for her latest work Hubertus. The film is Bettina’s first documentary and is based on Hubert Zeitlmair, founder of the Maltadiscovery Prehistory Research Foundation and (re)searcher of Atlantis. His goal and life commitment is the search of the origins of men on Earth, which he’s found on Malta/Atlantis. So, for Hubert this island is not only the place where he detected the remains of the legend of Atlantis, but moreover his primeval roots. He is able to feel a kind of electric power there, a fruitful energy of what happened and where he gets reunited with the ‘missing parts of his existence’. It is quite difficult to explain his complex endeavors in an equitable fashion, but let me tell you how I perceive it: Hubertus exemplifies the seeker and believer of our times, who is on the search for one’s roots and a sphere where existence makes sense. He demonstrates this infinite longing for a final destination that has been theorized and phantasized about for thousands of years. To me, he is a hunter of this utopian place, where – once arrived – one can find meaningfulness and harmony; a world that allows us to finally quit being scared of existing. In an objective documentary style, Bettina presents us this parallel reality without any add-ons. Bettina: “There are two important aspects of choosing Atlantis for my works: Firstly, this search for the ideal state – what Atlantis stands for in a mythological sense and secondly, trying to find a balance between a world of phantasy and scientific research. Two ways of thinking are merged and exist mutually in one person.” These binary worlds can be perceived in a humorous, yet sincere way. Bettina very much emphasizes that she respects Hubert and his believes and is interested in opening up new ways of seeing through humor. “Humor is vital. Through laughter the access to people’s minds and hearts opens up immensely. There is a lot of potential in that!”
Her second major body of work consists of performances, with which she once more tackles the threshold between reality and fiction. Her so-called ‘Visite Surprises’ are guided tours and lectures in museums, art centers and universities; places where traces of historical evidence form our perception of the past for eternity. Bettina invades those ‘factual’ worlds and adds a fictional touch while keeping their interception unclear. Months in advance of these performative acts, Bettina researches into the respective institutions, their historical backgrounds, their collection and the cities they are staged in. She digs deep into its archaic knowledge, creates a script, and rehearses like an actress. Subsequently, in tours and lectures – although the audience knows it’s a ‘performance’, they usually blend out this fact after a while – she takes on the role of a fictitious authoritative figure and guides through her reinvented histories or lectures on reevaluated subjects. At the Albertinum in Dresden, Bettina took on the linguistic and ideological usage of three particular epochs and drove the discourse about their paintings ad absurdum. In the room with a Caspar David Friedrich, for instance, she mimicked a DDR-lingo and introduced the artist as THE embodiment of socialism – leaving her group understandably baffled. “In my performances, I want to explore the elements that constitute our knowledge about different times and periods. It is about the potency of language as conveyer of this knowledge and the truth inherent in a certain time period, and of power and credibility of certain ideologies.”
At the end of our Skype talk, I came to the conclusion (and no, it wasn’t (solely) due to the influence of too much wine) that Bettina continuously keeps us alert: Can we trust those signifiers collected and showcased in museums? Is it truly our history? What about the missing pieces and to what extent can we interpret ‘the signified’ individually? The way she is capable of repeatedly churning our understanding of history is what I find immensely intriguing in her works: This slight joggling of our perception of reality at the beginning; the then shaking until we become insecure, the continuous rattling, shaking, boulting…just right to the point where the fundaments of truth start cracking. There’ll be no final shattering, though. Bettina keeps the quest for these elemental questions seething as long as our longing for meaning doesn’t cease to be satisfied through the telling of stories, legends, and myths.