Ursula Panhans-Bühler: The second voice

Petra Lottje’s new videos investigate the relationship between the medial staging of emotions and our affective entangle- ment in them. Through the technique of lip synch,„Message“ transplants statements from a video message from Charlie Sheen into the artist‘s mouth. In the Youtube clip, Sheen uses foul language to directly confront and revile Chuck Lorre, the producer of the American sitcom series „Two and a Half Men,“ who fired Sheen from the show, generating a scandal that was taken up eagerly by the media. In „Message“, Petra Lottje ap- pears frontally and in the nude, a bust with a radiant corona of hair which seems to emerge from a dark background as though from another world, a hieratic impression that is reinforced by the superposition of Charlie Sheen‘s voice with an echo. What began as an act of embarrassing self-exposure is revisited now in a uncanny manner, especially since the provenance of this tirade is revealed only in the closing credits – after the viewer/ listener has experienced the voice as though being interrogated by a mythical Ananke. here exists the rare and peculiar phenomenon of people who speak in a second voice – not as ventriloquists or voice imitators, but instead as though some abyssal Other speaks out of them in a deeper register, an uncanny event when perceived in humorous terms, and even when the one spoken is not transfor- med into someone demonic (as in the trivial horror film „The Ex- orcist“). From Charlie Sheen’s text, „Message“ filters in particular invective which the speaker associates with the sense of smell. Inescapably, the (in)ability to detect something via the olfactory sense propels listeners toward a lack of emotional detachment, entangling them in an unendurable and primordial realm of ex- perience, at the same exposing the voyeuristic addiction which plays itself out via such media events.
In many of her videos, Petra Lottje shifts lip synch – a manipulative method of voice substitution used in film and television, and one generally inconspicuous for beholders/listeners – into critically absurd or comic recognizability. „Daily,“ an exhibition being held at the Kunstverein Buchholz/Nordheide, consists of an installation featuring four new videos. These deploy dialogue from the sitcom „Two and a Half Men,“ from the Chinese feature film „Perhaps Love,“ along with speech sequences by television stars external to the fictional frame, i.e. by the actress Inge Keller, and of course by the celebrated /notorious Charlie Sheen.
The unsettling vehemence that is captured by Petra Lottje in the Punch-and-Judy-style scenario of „Message“ is present in three further videos as well. By sliding a narrow, observation-slit-style strip of film across the visual field, allowing sequences of the original material to be more intuited than seen, Das Nest (The Nest) and „Vielleicht zu lange“ (Maybe too long) allow viewers staggered views of their medial references. We are presented with the „nest“ itself only from the outside, while an emotionless female voice recites dialogue from „Two and a Half Men.“
In „Vielleicht zu lange“, the dialogue from „Perhaps Love“ ap- pears in mute form as subtitles, while a lip synching, arguing unhappy twosome, filmed in a pale gray which gives them a sense of remoteness, is accompanied by the melancholy strains of two rehearsing string instruments. In „Vorher Jetzt & Später“, Petra Lottje, dressed as an elderly Berlin lady, sits on her balcony draped in a red cloak, lipsynching a stocktaking of the expectations and failures of her life in the female main role of „Perhaps Love.“
While dissolving the homogeneity of the videographic and acoustic space of illusion in a range of specific ways, Petra Lottje configures situations in which emotions which are staged be- hind masks come into play with our own emotions in unexpec- ted ways. While conventional media fiction transports us into an ersatz world of experience, Petra Lottje‘s constructions create a space within which we have the opportunity to confront our own emotions anew, regardless of whether these are monstrous, farcical, or yearning in character.
© Ursula Panhans-Bühler 2012