Claudia Lofelholz

‘Trapped in the mirror’  – Claudia Lofelholz – Catalogue Text for solo exhibition at Spazio Pubblico Arte Contemporanea, Udine, Italy, 2008

What do we see when we look at ourselves? This is one of the key questions addressed in Charlotte Ginsborg’s films and videos. The works highlight the gap that can exist between the perceptions we have of ourselves and the perceptions that others have of us. Her films focus on the contradictions inherent in the painstakingly built identity that we often use to mask inefficiently a sense of solitude. This solitude retained, as one could say, ‘behind the scenes’. The films quote the documentary format and appear as evidence of empty – almost archaic – spaces of existence in which the main characters reveal themselves via appearances and at times banal statements. They are witnessed narrating their desires and unfulfilled dreams that subsequently become reflected ad inifinitum in the gestures, silences, and innuendoes into which their daily anxieties and worries have been distilled.

That nothing is what it seems in Ginsborg’s films is taken for granted, her analysis of the given reality seems to be emphasised in every frame. As we view the constructed scenes and hear the collection of words we become aware that behind the surface of what is being presented lies a profound psychological site that we are invited to delve into, to penetrate and reveal, layer after layer, a veritable labyrinth. But what is unearthed is not at all reassuring, neither for the viewer, nor for the characters, nor for the photo-realistic image that society of ‘the sense’ assumes to represent. The individual is depicted as the protagonist in a role that is decidedly alien to herself, an object that fails to become a subject, a unique project pre-programmed for a date yet to be decided.
The films focus on the stage of professional life revealing the motivations that drive interpersonal relationships alongside desires that are held internally. The individual is seen as carrying on the same ‘formal’ trench-warfare attitude in both public and private arenas 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

A tension arises between the expectations and needs placed on the individual by the outside world and an understanding, seen through ‘the mirror of life’, of an authentic core of one’s own nature. The protagonists in the films, who have been placed under the viewers gaze, seem unable to distinguish between the cause and effect of their problems. They appear trapped within a mesh of social ties and extreme relations – a truly inextricable tangle. As happens in the best (?) traditions of TV investigations the characters issue statements to an alter ego of the artist whose presence is sensed off screen and who acts as a narrator, thus eliminating all possible actual dialogue in favor of an impersonal story. Ginsborg records scenes that appear to be (re) constructed in a workshop, quoting from a witnessed reality, using only the desired parts. But desired by whom? And to what purpose?

Ginsborg forces us to look closer into the abyss of the technical world we occupy to examine how the limits of its physical and mental spaces characterise our every existence. Her lens runs over the architectural-operative structures that surround the main characters, onto which mental attitudes become superimposed resulting in a series of metaphorical links. Through a poetic but detached narrative style, the artist deals with the relations between people and things, their functions and roles, depicting the existential contexts in which individuals operate, or are operated upon every day. Ginsborg’s cold and almost clinical method plays with the balance between things that are common but also foreign, so that in the end it is difficult to separate documentation from narrative, and above all from fiction. The sheer impossibility of understanding these sets of relationships fully, and catching a glimpse of their origin, further complicates the entanglement of seemingly isolated existences. The characters never seem able to fully reveal the concealed plot lines that underpin their lives.

Each film is shot with a refined and analytic technique that is beyond reproach. They relate in a cold and detached style the individuals search for an identity and the anxieties, existential expectations and insecurities involved in relationships that form part of modern life in so-called complex societies. In the icy coldness of the narration the famous British self-control, appearing as it does on a stage where all emotions held in check, becomes irritating. It seems to hide a volcano of despair, depression and reined-in aggression, frustrations for which there are no answers, and disappointments that flow into silent solitudes. This British reticence hiding the real phobias of the protagonists who find themselves in a role they believe to be their identity, but which is more like an acted part from a script imposed on them by life…. or is it imposed by themselves? We don’t know where exactly the part begins and ends, precisely because we cannot distinguish clearly when the artist’s intervention has modified or molded a real life testimony, layering a game of mirrors and allusions.

Seetha & Lamberto‘ speaks through images that evoke a highly symbolic phobia relating to an inability to cross bridges. This affects a man and a woman in very different and distant places who exchange their respective experiences only in the virtual world of the Internet. Filming the main characters in their everyday lives, Ginsborg, in two interviews records her reflections on the two phobias that result in a sketch – a (self)-portrait of the whole phenomenon. Nevertheless, the more Lamberto, the hotel hall concierge and aspiring manager, emphasises that he is satisfied with his life, the more one perceives his latent uneasiness. In the documentary film the confession of the two appears at times so distinct and also so lacking in emotion that we get the impression of an acted script. Are they acting a role decided upon by an invisible director hidden behind the camera? Or has this role been imposed by the standard social role models of real life? We are left to consider what the fear of crossing bridges means?

The same happens in the film ‘The Mirroring Cure’ where individuals involved in various jobs on the construction site of a large office complex in the centre of London meet in deep solitude. The main characters speak of dreams and hopes, of weariness and frustrations in an effort to link their professional identity with their existential one. Among the jackhammers seen demolishing the derelict floors and the sterilizing silences of the reception-hall everyone moves about with professional dignity, carrying out their work. Subtle cracks appear in the confidence of the project manager, just as there is an obvious uneasiness in the responses of the engaging British Afro Caribbean construction worker. Uneasiness requires answers and the shouldering of one’s responsibility. Is there a cure? The solution, proposed towards the end of the film, comes in the form of a disturbing behavioral adaptation. But does it symbolise vain hope or simply a Darwinian example? As usual, the artist does not offer pre-fabricated solutions, offering instead only questions about the human being who has been compelled to act the part we see played out.

Stretching out flat’ relates the story of a retired sociologist who after taking part in a peaceful protest-march against the war in Iraq finds himself sitting in a pub looking at his pictures freshly developed by the photo-lab. But these are not the pictures he thought he had taken. It’s the same protest march but not the one seen through his eyes. Confused, he tries to find an explanation for the discrepancy between the pictures and his own interpretation of things, his memory of events, in a déjà-vu that seems to include and delude an entire life. As in Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up’ the reliability of any taped or recorded perception of events is questioned. This questioning is taken symbolically a step further as the convictions and viewpoints expressed are placed under scrutiny. We become consciously aware of the struggles and the flags under which one’s life is lived and this serves to underline the fragile, bizarre, sometimes tragic links between experiences, truth and reality. At the end of his adventure, the main character decides to replace his old reflex with a digital camera. He reasons that the possibility of printing pictures privately, within the confines of his home, would save him the potentially unreliable experience of having his pictures printed at an outside photo- lab where a confusion over ownership could arise.

Perhaps the key to the meaning of the films lies in Ginsborg’s amalgamation of fact and fiction to the point of eliminating all shades of difference. The artist uses various strategies to question reality, the one everybody perceives – in a subjective manner. Her reflections on the authenticity of the main characters, of the story, and of the very sites, conduce our attention to the fact that in everyday life one adopts and interprets different roles according to changes in circumstances, situations and the people one has to face. These roles or standards are as authentic as the artist’s characters and stories where the boundary between fact and fiction is useless or erased. It is important to emphasize that although Ginsborg’s films are based on purely social themes the main characters filmed in their work surroundings never communicate amongst themselves but speak only with the interviewer. Even when faced with symptoms of real malaise and discomfort they do not rebel and don’t take ‘drastic’ measures. It seems they resist but it would not be correct to call it passiveness, perhaps we should call it inevitability.


Looking at the mirror, one no longer knows in which film, we see ourselves trapped between the interviewer’s questions and the ‘standard’ and obliging answers of the characters; trying or refusing to recognise ourselves in a reality in which we take part whilst simultaneously believing we hate. A reality which we believe we fight but which we also endorse, trapped in plays of which we believe we are the stars, but in which we really only play non-speaking parts; in non-conformist stances which are really only conformist in different ways. In short, in a world of appearances and substances which knows us very well, but in which we find it increasingly difficult to see ourselves.
Claudia Lofelholz